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The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts was established in early 1863 under the direction of colonel Robert Gould Shaw Shaw was only twenty six years old when he was put in charge of the regiment He came from a strong abolitionist family in Boston before the war Before gaining his position as the colonel of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Shaw served in the Seventh New York National guard and the Second Massachusetts infantry In February 1863 Shaw was apointed by Massachusetts govoner John A Andrew to lead the first all black Union regiment the Fighting Fifty-Fourth into the Civil War President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1 Within weeks on January 26 the Secretary of War authorized Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts to raise the first African American corps in the North Prejudicial beliefs that blacks would lack military discipline and fight badly set a negative attitude but Andrew a strong abolitionist supported enlistment of African Americans Recruitment began in Boston on February 9 By February 21 barracks were readied at Camp Meigs in Readville outside Boston Massachusetts had only a small black community so recruits were enlisted from other states including New York Indiana Missouri Ohio and even Canada Among the enlisted men were Frederick Douglass sons Charles and Lewis Reaction from the South to black recruitment was swift The Confederate Congress issued a proclamation that African Americans captured in uniform would be sold into slavery and white officers of such troops would be executed Though not carried out the threat was a grave challenge to every recruit and officer of the Massachusetts 54th Among those calling for the authorization of black soldiers in the Civil War was Frederick Douglass who felt that military service would signal African Americans freedom from slavery and citizenship status Douglass said Let the slaves and free colored people be called into service and formed into a liberating army to march into the South and raise the banner
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