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Soldiers from Shelby County, Ohio Serve With Honor

The summer of 1863 also witnessed a major change in government policy, as blacks were allowed to enlist and fight for their country. The first and most famous regiment of black soldiers was the 54th Massachusetts. Led by Col. Robert Shaw, (who was a white officer as required by law), the 54th was recruited in May of 1863. Elias Artis and Hezekial Stewart, free blacks and Van Buren Township farmers, signed up along with several men from Carthagena, a settlement of blacks in Mercer County. Spurred on by fiery black orator Frederick Douglass (at right), the men readied for their trip south. He sent them off by reminding them: "Who would be free themselves must strike the blow. I urge you to fly to arms and smite to death the power that would bury the government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave!"

Any doubts about the black soldier's will to fight were laid to rest forever at the Battle of Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863. Their charge into a sheet of fire from 1,700 protected rebel soldiers was not successful, but it paved the way for 200,000 black soldiers to serve their country before the end of the war.  The men of the 54th had won the respect of the white soldier. Eben Sturges of Schultz's Battery wrote to his mother on August 24, 1863, and commented, "Each day increases the willingness on the part of the soldier to give the black man his due."

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Frederick Douglass

'Civil War' segment written in July, 1998 by Rich Wallace

 

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