BlackFacts Details

55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (1863-1865)

The 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was a volunteer regiment made up of men who wanted to enter the already full 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The 54th was the first officially recognized black military unit in the United States. When Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew in 1863 saw the demand for enlistment in the 54th, he created the 55th Regiment.  Like the 54th, the 55th would be commanded by white officers, many of which were of abolitionist families.

The soldiers comprising the 55th were recruited by white and black abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass from across the North.  Abolitionists spoke at churches and rallies where they urged free blacks to join.  Some of those who joined may have been fugitive slaves as well.  When the men did join, they were provided with quality accommodations and conditions which helped to recruit more black soldiers. So many African American men volunteered to serve in the 54th and 55th Regiments that medical examinations had to become more thorough and selective which worked to produce strong and healthy regiments.

The soldiers did, however, face discrimination in the amount of pay they received for their service. African American soldiers made $10 per month while their white counterparts made $16 a month. This pay discrimination caused many black soldiers and some of their white officers to protest, refusing to take any pay until the black soldiers were equally paid. In June 1864 the U.S. Congress passed a bill to approve equal pay among all races.

After training at Camp Meigs near Readville, Massachusetts, the 55th Infantry Regiment saw the majority of its action in South Carolina. They were used mostly for “picket duty,” serving as advanced scouts before the frontline in order to feel out the enemy before an actual battle, and digging trenches while under enemy fire.

They served under General Truman Seymour in the 1864 invasion of Florida where they took part in the Battle of