The action was successful and gave them control over the island. The victory encouraged Gillmore to order another attack, this time on Wagner. He ordered the troops to bomb by land and sea. Robert immediately sent out pickets to complement with whites in other regiments. Early on July 16, 54th companies fought with members of 10th Connecticut. A force of Confederate attacked the picket line but the 54th persisted as long as it could. This persistence allowed the 10th Connecticut to retreat behind without much loss and injury. The 54th took the toll for the retreat. It proved that Black troops could put up a fight. That afternoon, Robert and Ned Hallowell exchanged premonitions of not surviving that action. He shared the same with his wife in a letter that the gallantry of his men would make up for the humiliating loss in Darien. By sunset, the 54th Regiment was ordered to leave James Island on foot. It was difficult to tread that night with torrential rains and unfamiliar and dangerous terrain. At Cole's Island, they had little food and drink. While his men slept, Robert received orders to report to General Strong. Gillmore planned a direct assault on Fort Wagner and Strong was to give the first position to 54th. Gillmore was confident that the frontal assault would weaken Wagner after heavy bombardments. Around 6:30 PM of July 18th, Robert asked Edward L. Pierce, correspondent of the New York Daily Tribune to send some papers to his family if he would not survive this fight. Then he went to join the regiment and took his place in front at the right wing. They were to conduct hand-to-hand combat with bayonets. At about 7:45 that evening, the Regiment advanced at fast pace. When they were about a hundred yard from the Fort, the rebels opened fire so strongly that the first battalion hesitated. This pushed Robert in front and screamed, "Forward 54th" and the men dashed forward. Robert was among the first to scale the walls. He stood briefly on the parapet. While he urged his men to go on, he was shot at the heart and fell forward into the Fort. The direct assault was a failure. Sunday morning, the sun shone the bodies of dead Black and white soldiers. Attempts to regain these were stopped. Robert's remains were stripped of uniform and Rebel soldiers took his personal belongings. Bodies of the dead Black soldiers were piled up on his. His father Francis requested General Gillmore to let Robert's body remain with those of his men as Robert would have wished.
Robert died in battle at the age of 26. He and his regiment were remembered 35 years later with much emotion and power at the Boston Common on Memorial Day in 1897. The Shaw Memorial closed the gap between the Blacks and white, between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless by calling attention to an unfinished battle against injustice. The supreme example set by the 54th Regiment inspired 180,000 Black men to enlist to support the Union. Only one percent of the nation was Black, but Blacks accounted for 10% of the Union forces. Many sectors of society joined hands to create the cause of the 54th Regiment and perpetuate its memory. Despite its minor contribution to the overall outcome of the Civil War, its value contributed a lot to the survival of the Union and the abolition of slavery.
Adler, John, ed. 2005. The Impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Harper's Weekly: Harp Week, LLC
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Interactive State House
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