To Colored Men. 54th Regiment! Massachusetts Volunteers, Of African Descent

To Colored Men. 54th Regiment! Massachusetts Volunteers, Of African Descent Broadside
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A recruiting poster for the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the first Black regiment raised by Massachusetts during the Civil War.  Soon after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on 1 January 1863, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton authorized Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts (who had long been in favor of enlisting Black soldiers) to begin recruiting men for the regiment.  African American regiments already had been raised for the Union in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Kansas, but the publicity surrounding the formation of the 54th Massachusetts and its gallant attack on Fort Wagner in South Carolina on 18 July 1863, aided the enlistment of more than 180,000 additional Black soldiers during the Civil War. 

A newspaper advertisement for the 54th Regiment, dated 16 February 1863, helps to date this poster.  It used much of the same text and was signed by Second Lieutenant (later Major) John M. W. Appleton, then a recruiting officer for Company A of the 54th—who had been commissioned and mustered only a few days earlier.  Appleton’s recruiting office on Cambridge Street in Boston faced the north slope of Beacon Hill, the traditional home of Boston’s Black community.  A promise made in the poster would become a source of painful contention: enlistees were promised $13.00 per month, the same pay rate as white soldiers, but the federal government later fixed the pay for Black soldiers at $10.00 per month—the pay received by civilian laborers.  To its credit, the Massachusetts legislature voted to pay the $3.00 difference, but while the men of the 54th continued to serve with distinction, they refused all pay until they received full compensation, including back pay, in September 1864.