On February 7, 1863, Second Lieutenant John Whittier Messer Appleton became the first white officer commissioned to serve with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and memorialized in the film Glory, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry consisted of approximately 1,100 free black men recruited mostly from the North.
The regiment included among its ranks two sons from freed slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. After training through the spring of 1863, the 54th paraded through downtown Boston on May 28, before embarking to Charleston.
On that day, Massachusetts Governor Andrew declared that he could not name another moment in history when a thousand men in arms had been “committed to a work at once so proud, so precious, [and] so full of hope and glory.”