This unit, organized by the governor of Massachusetts and commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw after the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, was created for the express purpose of proving that African-Americans could be good soldiers. The 54th left Boston, Massachusetts to fight for the Union on May 28, 1863.
Although the unit participated in skirmishes, the regiment gained nationwide fame on July 18, 1863 when it spearheaded an assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. Although the unit was not able to take and hold the exceptionally secure fort, the regiment was widely acclaimed for its valor and the event helped encourage the further enlistment and mobilization of African Americans which Abraham Lincoln once noted was a key development that helped secure final victory in the Civil War. Decades later, William Harvey Carney, the flag bearer of the unit during that attack became the first African-American awarded the Medal of Honor.
The unit was disbanded after the Civil War and was eventually largely forgotten outside a monument at the Boston Common. However, the story of the unit was depicted in the 1989 Academy Award winning film Glory starring Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington. The film reestablished the now-popular image of the combat role African-Americans played in the Civil War and the unit, often played in historical battle simualations, now has the nickname of The Glory Regiment.