Nov 14, 2020 in History

Fort Wagner

The Legacy of the American Civil War

The outbreak of the Civil War influenced the American Society for centuries ahead. Nowadays it is difficult to say what forced the South to secede from the North. Partially the reason lies in the racial slavery, which was legal until the Civil War. However, at the height of the war, African-Americans were freed and joined the Northern Army in the fight for the unity of the country. The Battle of Fort Wagner is one of the most significant events of the war, which showed the courage and devotion of African-Americans as true citizens of the US.


The prime example of valor and sacrifice of black people is the 54th Massachusetts Regiment engaged in the indiscriminate slaughter on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863 (Fort Wagner, n.d.). The Union Forces wanted to seize the city of Charleston, and Fort Wagner was a tactical point to capture the rebels. Among 6,800 soldiers who took part in the battle, 5,000 were on the Unions side and 1,800 on the Confederates side (Fort Wagner, n.d.). In total, 1,515 Union soldiers were killed, wounded or captured compared to only 174 Confederates (Fort Wagner, n.d.). The military unit lost the battle under a heavy fire of Confederates that day but debunked the doubt about fighting potential of black people comparing to white soldiers. The real hero of Fort Wagner battle was Sergeant William Carney, an African-American that earned Medal of Honor. During the slaughter, he threw away the musket and raised the American flag. This man was shot twice on July 18 trying to withdraw the survival soldiers of the 54th military unit from the bloody massacre. The brave deed of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment changed the attitudes of Americans towards black soldiers.

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Common participation of former slaves and whites in the battle was a long-awaited victory for the black soldiers. On January 1, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that permitted former slaves to serve in the Union Army (Henretta, Brody, & Dumenil, 2008, p.444). Therefore, the War Department authorized black enlistment, and President Lincoln enrolled as many former slaves as possible. Nearly 200,000 African-Americans were recruited to the Union forces (10% of the Northern Army) until the end of the Civil War (Freeman, Schamel, & West, 1992, p.19). Military engagement of former slaves with the support of white abolitionists pushed the government to pass the famous Thirteen Amendment to the Constitution. Thousands of former slaves were determined to end racial slavery and confer freedom to the country.

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In spite of considerable achievements of African-Americans in the fight for the unity of the country and their freedom, the army service did not put an end to the racial discrimination. In the beginning, former slaves were paid less than their white counterparts: ten dollars per month versus thirteen (Henretta et al., 2008, p.444). Only after a threat to lay down their arms did African-American gained equal payments for the service. Moreover, very often, black soldiers had to build fortifications, garrison forts, and guard supply lines. Former slaves lived in segregated areas and mostly served in separate regiments. Although the African-Americans were formally freed, it is hard to say that they were equal to whites. The unresolved issue of segregation will victimize black Americans for the next one hundred years.

Battle of Fort Wagner was a turning point for the acceptance of African-Americans as free people of the USA. A heroic combat in South Carolina made white soldiers respect and value African-Americans. Former slaves joined the ranks of the Union Army and contributed to the victory over Confederation. Black soldiers were bravely fighting for the new social order where every person is free and equal. Now one can proudly say that Fort Wagner changed the history of African-Americans in the US.


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