SULLIVANS ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Civil War re-enactors gathered on a wind-swept beach and marked the 150th anniversary Thursday of a famed attack by the black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry — a battle that showed the world black soldiers could fight and later was chronicled in the movie “Glory.”
More than 50 re-enactors, including a handful in Confederate butternut uniforms, left wreaths on South Carolina’s Morris Island honoring those who died there in the 1863 Union attack on Confederate Battery Wagner. The island bordering Charleston Harbor is uninhabited and the battery itself has washed away since the Civil War.
Those observing the anniversary prayed and sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” As part of the commemoration, they also fired a three-gun rifle volley to salute the dead.
The 54th was raised in Boston and of the 600 black Union troops who bravely charged Confederate defenses at Battery Wagner, 218 were killed, wounded or captured in fierce fighting. The 54th later served in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida before returning to Massachusetts at war’s end.
Re-enactor Mel Reid told a gathering of about 50 people gathered on the beach that many members of the 54th never made it back home and those who did were not cheered when they came home.
“So here we are 150 years later saying ‘thank you,’” he said. “Keep in mind, these were free black men” who risked being enslaved if captured, he told the gathering.
Period music also was planned at Fort Moultrie on nearby Sullivans Island about the time of the evening attack 150 years ago. Luminaries were to be lit by nightfall in memory of the fallen.
“This is probably the most significant anniversary of the 150th anniversaries of the Civil War,” said Walter Sanderson, a re-enactor from Upper Marlboro, Md. “It was a primary test for African-American troops in a very difficult assault. They proved themselves to be a quality regiment under the most severe duress.”