became the nucleus of a second regiment, the 55th Massachusetts.
Ordered to report to Brigadier General George C. Strong on Morris Island, S. C., July 18, the 54th Massachusetts was chosen to lead an assault on Fort Wagner, a strategic bastion protecting the approach to Charleston. Colonel Shaw deployed his 624 men in two wings, five companies on the left and five on the right with Company B on the right flank of the right wing. At 7: 45 p.m. Shaw raised his sword and addressed his men, “Move in quick time until within a hundred yards of the fort; then double quick and charge! . . . Forward!” The 54th Massachusetts advanced to the storming before charged down the beach and into history.
The autumn of 1863 was occupied in the reconstruction of Forts Wagner and Gregg so that they would face toward Fort Sumter and Charleston, and in erecting other fortifications. By Oct. 17 Lieut. Col. E. N. Hallowell had overcome his wounds and now promoted to colonel, returned and assumed command of the 54th. In late January 1864, the 54th was assigned to an expedition on the Florida coast commanded by Major General Truman Seymour. It broke camp on Morris Island, Jan. 29, reported next day at Hilton Head, and sailed Feb. 5, for Jacksonville. Arriving Feb. 7, about a week later it accompanied an expedition into the interior. On Feb. 20, it was engaged with the enemy near Olustee, Fla., while covering the retirement of Gen. Seymour's force from that place, losing 13 killed, 66 wounded, and eight missing. Olustee was the largest battle fought in Florida during the Civil War.
The regiment remained at Jacksonville until April 17, when it returned to Morris Island in front of Charleston, S. C. Now commanded by Lieut. Col. Henry N. Hooper, it spent the summer and fall of 1864 in the fortifications on James and Morris Islands.
On Nov. 27, eight companies, under command of Lieut. Col. Hooper, were transported to Hilton Head, and attached to Hartwell's (3d) Brigade, Hatch's Coast Division. Six of these companies were engaged at Honey Hill, Nov. 30, losing three
killed, 38 wounded, and four missing. On Dec. 6 they were engaged at Deveau's Neck without loss. From Dec. 19, 1864 to Feb. 12, 1865 the 54th, as a part of Hatch's Division, was on guard duty near Pocotaligo, S. C., Sherman's base of supplies, and making frequent demonstrations along the Cambahee River. About Feb. 13 it was reported that the Confederates had retired to the Ashepoo River in the direction of Charleston. Hatch's Division soon followed, crossing the Combahee, Feb. 16, the Ashepoo on the 20th, and reached a position on the Ashley opposite Charleston Feb. 23. Here they found that the city was already in the possession of the Union forces, mostly from Morris Island, and among them Private Alexander Branson and Company B as well as Company F of the 54th which had been detached from the rest of the regiment since the preceding November. The Confederates had evacuated the place the night of Feb. 17, first setting fire to the bridge across the Ashley River and to all buildings in the city that were used as storehouses for cotton, and the following morning the place was occupied by the Federal forces. The main body of the 54th was ferried over the Ashley and entered Charleston Feb. 27, and now the separated companies of the regiment were reunited.
The 54th remained in Charleston until March 12th when it was sent by transport to Savannah, Ga. From there, on the 27th, it was sent to Georgetown, S. C., arriving on the 31st. Here it was attached to Hallowell's Brigade of Potter's Division, and on April 5 set out on a raid into the interior. At Boykin's Mills, April 18, the 54th was engaged with the enemy, losing three killed and 24 wounded. On April 25 the regiment returned to Georgetown, the close of hostilities having been announced four days previously.
Returning to Charleston, May 6, a large part of the regiment was distributed at various points in South Carolina. District Headquarters detailed Private Branson on May 12 as an orderly in the Mayor’s office. Branson and the regiment assembled at Mount Pleasant on Aug. 17, to be mustered out on Aug. 20. Embarking the following day on the transports C. F. Thomas and Ashland, it reached Galloup's Island, Boston Harbor, Aug. 27 and 28. The men were paid off Sept. 1, and on the following day, after being reviewed by the governor, and having paraded in the vicinity of Boston Common and Beacon Hill, the regiment was disbanded. Private Alex Branson received $38.89 pay and a bounty of $100.
An important chapter in the history of the 54th was its fight for the regular soldier's pay of $13 per month. At the outset Governor Andrew assured the men that they would receive the same pay and emoluments as all other volunteer soldiers. But in July 1863 an order came from Washington fixing the compensation of colored soldiers at $10 per month, and several times an offer was made to the men of the 54th of this amount, but each time this was declined. Refusing their reduced pay became a point of honor for the men of the 54th.
In Nov. 1863, the legislature of Massachusetts passed an act providing that the difference of $3 per month should be made up by the State, but the men of the regiment refused to accept this money. They demanded that they receive their full soldier pay from the national government. For eighteen months after the first companies entered the service the men received nothing for their services and sufferings. Finally, in Sept. 1864 the federal government met their demand and all members of the regiment received full pay from the time of their enlistment.
Battles Fought by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment:
Fought on 16 Jul 1863 at James Island, SC.
Fought on 18 Jul 1863 at Fort Wagner, SC.
Fought on 17 Aug 1863 at Morris Island, SC.
Fought on 4 Sep 1863 at Fort Wagner, SC.
Fought on 5 Sep 1863 at Morris Island, SC.
Fought on 28 Sep 1863 at Morris Island, SC.
Fought on 28 Sep 1863 at Fort Chatfiled, Morris Island, SC.
Fought on 9 Oct 1863 at Fort Wagner, SC.
Fought on 30 Nov 1863 at Honey Hill, SC.
Fought on 7 Feb 1864 at Jacksonville, FL.
Fought on 8 Feb 1864 at Jacksonville, FL.
Fought on 20 Feb 1864 at Olustee, FL.
Fought on 1 Apr 1864 at Jacksonville, FL.
Fought on 2 Jul 1864 at James Island, SC.
Fought on 15 Jul 1864 at In A Camp At Morris Island, SC.
Fought on 16 Jul 1864 at Morris Island, SC.
Fought on 30 Nov 1864 at Honey Hill, SC.
Fought on 10 Dec 1864 at Honey Hill, SC.
Fought on 10 Feb 1865 at Secessionville, SC.
Fought on 10 Feb 1865 at Morris Island, SC.
Fought on 12 Feb 1865 at Salkehatchie, SC.
Fought on 7 Apr 1865 at Eppes' Bridge, SC.
Fought on 10 Apr 1865 at Sumter, SC.
Fought on 16 Apr 1865 at Near Camden, SC.
Fought on 18 Apr 1865 at Near Camden, SC.
Fought on 18 Apr 1865 at Boykin's Mills, SC.
Fought on 30 Apr 1865 at Georgetown, SC.
Fought on 9 Jul 1865 at Charleston, SC.