Fort Wagner, July 18, 1863

On July 18, 1863, two Union brigades [a group of 2,500 to 4,000 soldiers] attacked Fort Wagner, on Charleston harbor. The attack was led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the son of leading abolitionists from Boston. Shaw commanded the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, an African-American regiment [a group of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers], whose story was the basis for the film Glory.

The Union lost this battle when the Confederacy repulsed [fought off] the Union attack against the fort. Shaw died in battle, along with almost half of his troops. However, the battle affected public opinion in the North, with more citizens recognizing the contributions of African-American soldiers, the cause of abolition, and the resolve to win the war. This position was strengthened when the Confederacy refused to return Shaw’s body to his family, noting that “we have buried him with his niggers.” Shaw’s father’s response maintained the moral high ground: “We hold that soldier’s most appropriate burial place is on the field where he has fallen.”