A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.

Recruiting the 54th


On 26 January 1863, United States Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton authorizes Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew to begin recruiting and enlisting African American soldiers for a new regiment. An outspoken abolitionist, Andrew had long been in favor of using black soldiers for the Union cause. On 21 February 1863, twenty-seven African American volunteers gather at Camp Meigs in Readville (now the Hyde Park neighborhood in Boston). These men become part of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the first military regiment consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War.


Recruitment Broadside for the Massachusetts 54th RegimentSelection from the Massachusetts Historical Society: To Colored Men. 54th Regiment! Massachusetts Volunteers, Of African Descent..., Boston J. E. Farwell & Co., [1863].
Selection from the Library of Congress: Letter from Charles Douglass to Frederick Douglass, 6 July 1863.

Questions to Consider


  1. Who is eligible to join the 54th regiment? What bounty will volunteers receive? When will they receive it? What other benefits will men receive if they join the regiment?
  2. What news has Douglass recently heard from Philadelphia? Who did Douglass argue with at the train station? What did they argue about?


  1. Why was Massachusetts trying to organize an African regiment?
  2. Did other states organize regiments of African Americans? If so, which states and when?
  3. Did the Massachusetts government attempt to recruit any other specific groups of individuals during the Civil War?
  4. Where was Camp Meigs? Did other regiments train there?


  1. Who is the recruiting office attempting to attract with its broadside? Why do you think this broadside is addressed specifically to a certain group?
  2. To whom is Douglass's letter addressed? Why is Douglass writing to this individual?


  1. How did the recruiting office use this broadside to entice African Americans to volunteer? What words or phrases stand out on the broadside? What information did the printer deemphasize (through smaller print) and why do you think he did that?
  2. What information does Douglass share in this letter that he might not have shared with other family members? (What might he exclude if he had been writing to his mother, for example?)


  1. Investigate the role of the Irish in the Civil War. How does their recruitment experience compare to that of African Americans?
  2. What happened to Charles Douglass and his regiment during the war? After the war? Did they receive the benefits promised to them in the recruiting posters?