Have you ever been discriminated against or treated unfairly for an unjust reason? The 54th “Glory” Regiment definitely was during the Civil War. All the soldiers in this regiment were Black, but even though their desire to serve their country burned bright in their hearts, they were heavily discriminated against because of their skin color. During the time of the Civil War, Black people were often treated unfairly because the whites thought they were superior.
Even at the beginning of their career, when they were not even officially in the army, the 54th Regiment was treated unfairly. They were not given a bounty, which is the money that you get when you join the army, and their pay was very low compared to the whites. They weren’t given extra money to buy clothes like the whites, and every rank of Black soldiers got the same pay, whereas the higher ranking white soldiers in the army got a higher salary as they were promoted. It was only until nearly the end of the war that the regiment’s pay was raised, and even then, it was only for the soldiers that had been free before the war started and alive at the time the pay was given, which was still only a fraction of the number of Black people that had enlisted.
Also, even when the 54th Regiment was hard at work storming Wagner and Charleston, an anti-Black riot spread throughout the Union. It was a devastating experience; many Black people were killed, and many others were forced into asylum. It is not the typical civil rights protest, where people hold up signs with big, bold, words displaying a motto or opinion; it was an all-out, kill or destroy the first thing or person that you see that is related to African-Americans. It was like Doomsday for the Blacks. Keep in mind that when the 54th Regiment departed to fight, they were treated like heroes. What happened to the Black people’s reputation?
Finally, toward the end of the war, they wanted to promote Sergeant Swails, a member of the 54th Regiment that had served faithfully with his leadership, to an officer. However, their request was denied by someone that had previously warned people to treat Black and white people equally. How hypocritical for him to go against his own word when the choice fell into his hands! Finally, after much persuasion and pressure, Stanton, the Secretary of War, finally approved his becoming an officer.
Now you ask, why did the whites think they had a reason to treat the Blacks differently? According to President Lincoln, if they enlisted Black men, the slave states in the Union, which included Illinois, Alabama and other states, would join the Confederacy. However, the whites’ enlistment rate was dropping, yet the Blacks were still willing to join. The government had to grudgingly admit that if they kept holding back the Blacks, they would have no soldiers at all. But, even though Black men were finally allowed to join the army, they were still seen as dirty and unclean, simply because their skin was darker than the Americans. Ironically, the Black camps were much cleaner and well-maintained than the whites’.
Even though racism is not as liberal and outspoken in America anymore, let this be a lesson to you to never bully, tease, or judge someone because of what they are. One of the most common types of discrimination is pitying someone. When you see someone that is disabled, is your first reaction, “I feel so bad for him/her?” Know this; the pitied are often ashamed of themselves. So, instead of just standing there, reach out for him if you really do pity him.
Prejudice is in human nature; it’s natural. As Mark Twain said, “The very ink with which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.” So why not just change the ink, and make the world a better place?
Undying Glory: The Story of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment by Clinton Cox. Scholastic Biography, 1993. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!
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