A List of Missing Soldiers After the First Black Union Army Regiment Stormed Fort Wagner

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
July 18 2014 11:35 AM

A List of Missing Soldiers, Made After the First Black Union Army Regiment Stormed Fort Wagner

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This is a list of the men missing from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment—the first unit of black soldiers to be formed in the North during the Civil War—after their assault on Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863.

The 54th led the Union group that attacked the fort, near Charleston, South Carolina, after a day of bombardment from the Union navy. Under heavy fire, the soldiers lost many of their officers, including the regiment’s colonel, Robert Gould Shaw. Reinforcements never arrived, and the Union soldiers were routed by 10:30 p.m. The Confederate Brig. Gen. William B. Taliaferro, who commanded the garrison of defenders, wrote later “I have never seen so many dead in the same space.”


This early casualty list tallied the men still missing after the assault on Wagner. Historian (and Harvard president) Drew Gilpin Faust writes that the system that collected information on casualties during the Civil War was ad hoc and inadequate. A conscientious hospital chaplain might be the one to compile and release a casualty list to newspapers soon after an engagement; a less conscientious one might neglect such a duty.

In any case, the information that ended up in the papers might not be reliable, and families suffered as a result. Soldiers, Faust writes, often took the duty of informing families upon themselves, writing letters so that people could know for sure what had happened to their loved ones.

In the final analysis, the 54th’s casualties numbered 281: 54 killed; 179 wounded; 48 whose bodies were never identified. The regiment became legend, memorialized in an 1897 Boston Common monument by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a 1960 poem by Robert Lowell, and the 1989 movie Glory. You can see photographs of its soldiers and officers in the digital collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. 

Click on the image below to reach a zoomable version, or visit the document's page in the National Archives' digital collections. 



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

The Ludicrous Claims Women Are Pitched at “Egg Freezing Parties”

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Oct. 1 2014 11:48 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
Business Insider
Oct. 1 2014 12:21 PM How One Entrepreneur Is Transforming Blood Testing
Oct. 1 2014 11:59 AM Ask a Homo: A Lesbian PDA FAQ
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 10:54 AM “I Need a Pair of Pants That Won’t Bore Me to Death” Troy Patterson talks about looking sharp, flat-top fades, and being Slate’s Gentleman Scholar.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 12:26 PM Where Do I Start With Leonard Cohen?
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 11:48 AM Watch a Crowd Go Wild When Steve Jobs Moves a Laptop in This 1999 Demonstration of WiFi
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 12:01 PM Rocky Snow
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.