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With engaging prose, Egerton weaves together the history of three black Civil War regiments: the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry. Egerton argues that because of their status as the first black regiments credited to a free state and the significant amount of coverage they received in the northern press , their successful service created the opportunity for the formation of over other black regiments in the United States Colored Troops USCT.
This in turn helped to change the war from one fought to preserve the nation to one that also sought the abolition of slavery and provided credible claims for citizenship for African Americans. Despite the growth in the number of black regimental studies, it is surprising that it has taken so long for historians to offer an updated history of the 54th Massachusetts, the most well known northern black Civil War regiment.
Black History Theme: African Americans in Times of War | Richland Library
And while there is one recent book on the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry Steven M. Egerton, by analyzing all three units, moves beyond the traditional single regimental history and toward the successful framework used by Stephen V. Egerton seeks to tell the story of the troops credited to Massachusetts by concentrating on the experiences of the black soldiers and their officers, with less attention paid to politicians and the army high command. He does this by focusing on only fourteen of the over 5, men who served in the three regiments. For black troops, military service meant less pay at first , inferior equipment, and segregation; nonetheless, Egerton does not let the ever-present discriminatory and second-class treatment dominate the story.
He also adds to the limited scholarly discussions on USCT as prisoners of war and as prison guards over Confederate soldiers. Overall, though, this is an unequal account of the three Massachusetts regiments.