“The Eternal Soldier: The True Story of How a Dog Became a Civil War Hero” tells the tale of Sallie, a Bull Terrier who joined the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War and became a valued and loved member of the unit. Sallie was more than a mascot to the men of the 11th; she was a friend and fellow soldier who reminded them of the loved ones they left back home. Though the days where grueling, Sallie kept her fellow soldiers in high spirits, running beside them while they marched and eating with them during morning and evening meals. She was proud to serve and protect her family from any danger that came their way. After her passing, a monument was built on Oak Ridge to honor her service and to remind people that not all soldiers walk on two legs. Some of our four-legged companions stand as the bravest and most loyal soldiers in the United States Military.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect granting African American men not only their freedom, but also the right to enlist in the armed services. By February, Governor John A. Andrew issued the first call to enlist African Americans in the Union military. Within two weeks, approximately 1,000 African American men enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment. They came from across the United States, to join the regiment even though the Confederacy had declared that any African American Union soldier captured would be sold into slavery. While the regiment was comprised entirely of African Americans, their commanding officers were white Americans such as Robert Gould Shaw. While reluctant to lead a regiment because he doubted they would see any combat, Shaw agreed and joined the 54th.
In July 1863, after asking for an opportunity to join the front lines, the 54th Infantry regiment joined the Second Battle of Fort Wagner. On July 18, Brigadier General George C. Strong asked Shaw to lead his men to charge forward and storm the ramparts of Fort Wagner. Shaw knew the charge was likely a suicide run. However, Shaw ordered his men to charge forward towards the fort. During the assault, approximately 280 out of 600 men from the 54th were killed including Shaw. Ultimately, the remaining members of the 54th were forced to retreat after realizing there were more Confederate soldiers than originally calculated. While the assault was not a military victory, it showed both Union and Confederate soldiers the bravery and determination of African American soldiers.
One notable story from the battle was that of Sergeant William H. Carney. During the battle, the regimental flag bearer was killed causing the American Flag to fall. Sergeant Carney immediately threw down his rifle and grabbed the flag, raising it high above the ground. Despite being shot during the assault, Sergeant Carney never let the flag fall again. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1900 which was simply sent in the mail without an official ceremony.
The 1989 movie “Glory” brought the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment to the silver screen challenging the belief that the Civil War was fought by white soldiers. Staring Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Matthew Broderick, and Denzel Washington, the movie is a reminder that approximately 200,000 African Americans valiantly fought against the Confederacy to end slavery. One of the main themes of the movie is overcoming one’s prejudice and preconceived notions regarding people based solely on the color of their skin. Throughout the movie, the 54th Infantry regiment is belittled and stereotyped by other white soldiers and officers. However, by the end of the movie, they are shown to be brave and driven men willing to put their lives on the line to win the war and end slavery.
Today marks the 158th anniversary of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry regiment’s assault on Fort Wagner. Come explore our museum and visit our timeline to learn more about the Civil War and celebrate the African American Veterans of the 54th Infantry regiment.
Fort Wagner: Battery Wagner, Morris Island. American Battlefield Trust. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/fort-wagner
History.com Editors. (2021, January 25). The 54th Massachusetts Infantry. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/the-54th-massachusetts-infantry
Klein, C. (2018, September 4). “Glory” Regiment Attacks Fort Wagner, 150 Years Ago: On the 150th anniversary of the bloody battle that inspired the movie “Glory,” take a look back at the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/glory-regiment-attacks-fort-wagner-150-years-ago
Levin, K.M. (2020, September 14). Why ‘Glory’ Still Resonates More Than Three Decades Later. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-glory-still-resonates-more-three-decades-later-180975794/
Robert Gould Shaw. American Battlefield Trust. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/robert-gould-shaw
Zack, A. (2020, December 10). The 54th Massachusetts and the Second Battle of Fort Wagner. National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/articles/the-54th-massachusetts-and-the-second-battle-of-fort-wagner.htm
On January 30th, 1862 the first Union ironclad would be launched. Named the USS Monitor, she was one of three vessels awarded contract by the United States Navy. Designed by John Ericsson, a Swedish-American immigrant very well known for his engineering works, it would be the first American ship to incorporate a turret, though not the first in the world. The USS Monitor, best known for its engagement with the ironclad CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads during the American Civil War, was one of three ironclads built by the United States in response to the Confederate ironclad. The unique design of the USS Monitor gave it very interesting profile. It only had two guns, but they were housed in a turret that could fully rotate. To facilitate this ability to shoot in almost any direction, there was no superstructure except for a small pilot house and the venting required for the steam engine, its only source of propulsion. The hull above the water was heavily armored and sat upon a traditional wooden hull, which was submerged under the water. Finally, it had a freeboard, or distance between the waterline and the deck, that only measured 18 inches. One of the key selling points for its commission was also Ericsson’s claim to have it be built in only 100 days, which he did accomplish. The Navy was behind the ball as they knew the Confederates had already begun converting the USS Merrimack into the CSS Virginia and was pressured to commission a ship of similar type to combat it.
After the Battle at Hampton Roads, the USS Monitor would participate in the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff and be sent for repairs and refit. It would be ordered to Beaufort, North Carolina but would founder at sea while being towed in a storm in December 1862, the exceptionally low freeboard coming back to bite it. Of the 49 crew, 16 would drown in the storm.
The battle between these two ironclads began an arms race between armorers and weapons designers. Previously limited by how much a ship could feasibly carry before becoming nearly immobile, the two ironclads displayed that armor could now be attached in much larger quantities and be effective against the guns at the time. Weapon designers then would go to work to make bigger and more effective guns and ammo. Her legacy would be entrenched very shortly after her sinking, as she would be the only ship outside of HMS Dreadnought to give its name to an entire class of ships and many of those types would be ordered and developed by navies around the world.
Drachinifel. “Battle of the Hampton Roads – The Fury of Iron and Steam.” YouTube video, 36:41. February 20, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28vougAE7LM.
Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. “USS Monitor.” National Marine Sanctuaries. Accessed Jan 25, 2021, https://monitor.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/uss_monitor.html.
The USS Monitor Center. “Creating the Monitor.” The Mariners’ Museum & Park. Accessed Jan 25, 2021, https://monitorcenter.org/the-monitors-crew/.