Year
1863

African-American regiment departs for combat

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the most famous African-American regiment of the war, leaves Boston for combat in the South. For the first two years of the war, President Abraham Lincoln resisted the use of black troops despite the pleas of men such as Frederick Douglass, who argued that no one had more to fight for than African Americans. Lincoln finally endorsed, albeit timidly, the introduction of blacks for service in the military in the Emancipation Proclamation. On May 22, 1863, the War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops to recruit and assemble black regiments. Many blacks, often freed or escaped slaves, joined the military and found themselves usually under white leadership. Ninety percent of all officers in the United States Colored Troops (USCT) were white.

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the idealistic scion of an abolitionist family, headed the 54th. Shaw was a veteran of the 2nd Massachusetts infantry and saw action in the 1862 Shenandoah Valley and Antietam campaigns. After being selected by Massachusetts Governor John Andrew to organize and lead the 54th, Shaw carefully selected the most physically fit soldiers and white officers with established antislavery views. The regiment included two of Frederick Douglass’s sons and the grandson of Sojourner Truth.

On May 28, 1863, the new regiment marched onto a steamer and set sail for Port Royal, South Carolina. The unit saw action right away, taking part in a raid into Georgia and withstanding a Confederate attack near Charleston, South Carolina. On July 18, 1863, Shaw led a bold but doomed attack against Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in which he was killed and the 54th suffered heavy casualties.

The story of Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts was immortalized in the critically acclaimed 1990 movie Glory, starring Mathew Broderick, Denzell Washington, and Morgan Freeman.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Author Maya Angelou dies

On this day in 2014, author and poet Maya Angelou, who published more than 30 books, including 1969’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” a best-selling memoir about the racism and abuse she experienced growing up, dies at 86 at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In ...read more

Ethiopian capital falls to rebels

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, falls to forces of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), formally ending 17 years of Marxist rule in the East African country.In 1974, Haile Selassie, the leader of Ethiopia since 1930, was deposed in a military coup. ...read more

Appeal for Amnesty campaign launches

On this day in 1961, the British newspaper The London Observer publishes British lawyer Peter Benenson’s article “The Forgotten Prisoners” on its front page, launching the Appeal for Amnesty 1961–a campaign calling for the release of all people imprisoned in various parts of the ...read more

U.S. troops abandon “Hamburger Hill”

U.S. troops abandon Ap Bia Mountain. A spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division said that the U.S. troops “have completed their search of the mountain and are now continuing their reconnaissance-in-force mission throughout the A Shau Valley.”This announcement came amid the ...read more

The Virginian is published

Owen Wister’s The Virginian is published by Macmillan Press. It was the first “serious” Western and one of the most influential in the genre.Almost single-handedly, The Virginian turned the American cowboy into a legendary hero. At first glance, author Owen Wister seems an ...read more

Tortilla Flat is published

John Steinbeck’s first successful novel, Tortilla Flat, is published on this day.Steinbeck, a native Californian, had studied writing intermittently at Stanford between 1920 and 1925, but never graduated. He moved to New York and worked as a manual laborer and journalist while ...read more

Comic Phil Hartman killed by wife

On this day in 1998, the comedian and actor Phil Hartman, famous for his work on Saturday Night Live and NewsRadio, is shot to death by his troubled wife, Brynn, in a murder-suicide. He was 49.Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). Along with Reubens, Hartman had helped create the zany ...read more

Mine explosion kills hundreds in India

Methane gas causes a mine explosion near Dharbad, India, that kills 375 people and injures hundreds more on this day in 1965. The blast was so powerful that even workers on the surface of the mine were killed.The mine was located 225 miles northwest of Calcutta near the town of ...read more

Matthias Rust lands his plane in Red Square

Matthias Rust, a 19-year-old amateur pilot from West Germany, takes off from Helsinki, Finland, travels through more than 400 miles of Soviet airspace, and lands his small Cessna aircraft in Red Square by the Kremlin. The event proved to be an immense embarrassment to the Soviet ...read more

Volkswagen is founded

On this day in 1937, the government of Germany–then under the control of Adolf Hitler of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party–forms a new state-owned automobile company, then known as Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH. Later that year, it was renamed ...read more

U.S. troops score victory at Cantigny

In the first sustained American offensive of World War I, an Allied force including a full brigade of nearly 4,000 United States soldiers captures the village of Cantigny, on the Somme River in France, from their German enemy. Though the United States formally entered World War I ...read more