Galesburg's Civil War ''Glory Troops''

by Terry Hogan

In 1989 the movie ''Glory was released based on the history of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. The unit started with a certain amount of historical promise, as it was the first military unit composed of black men to be formed in Massachusetts. It also had 12 men who traveled from Galesburg to enlist in this regiment, becoming members of Company H. The 54th Regiment claimed its spot in history for fighting gallantly for the North, while being denied equal pay. It was ordered to lead an attack against a heavily fortified position in 1863, resulting in very high casualties to this black unit.

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry began to be established in February 1863. Troops were recruited outside of Massachusetts, including the Midwest. There were 30 men from Illinois who enlisted with the unit, of which Galesburg provided 12:

Name/Rank, Age, Occupation, Date Enlistment, End of Service Date

Sergeant Joseph Barquet, 40, Mason, Apr. 26, 1863, Aug. 20, 1865

Pvt. Reuben Caldwell, 22, laborer, Apr. 26, 1863, Aug. 20, 1865

Pvt. John Davis, 19, laborer, Apr. 26, 1863, Aug. 20, 1865

Pvt. John Dickinson, 30, laborer, Apr. 26, 1863, Aug. 20, 1865

Pvt. Hiram Garnet, 20, laborer, Apr. 26, 1863, Aug. 20, 1865

Pvt. George Hubbard, 23, laborer, Apr. 26, 1863, Aug. 20, 1865

Pvt. Henry Kirk, 22, laborer, Apr. 26, 1863, July 27, 1865

Pvt. William Timms, 23, barber, Apr. 26, 1863, Aug. 20, 1865

Pvt. Clay Welcome, 19, laborer, Apr. 26, 1863, Aug. 20, 1865

Corporal Samuel Wells, 23, laborer, Apr. 26. 1863, Aug. 20, 1865

Pvt. Joseph White, 23, ''hostler,'' Apr. 26, 1863, Aug. 20, 1865

Pvt. Preston Williams, 23, laborer, April 26, 1863, Aug. 20, 1865* *notwithstanding his death by drowning in 1864

The various companies of the 54th Regiment were mustered in as men were recruited between March 30 and May 13, 1863. All the Regiment's commissioned officers were white. Captain Robert Gould Shaw, who had been an officer of another unit, the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry was promoted to the rank of colonel and given the command of the 54th Regiment.

The regiment left Camp Meigs, in Readville on May 28, 1863 and was reviewed by Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew. The unit immediately was shipped out to the coast of South Carolina upon the transport ''De Molay.'' The De Molay reached Beaufort, S.C. on June 3rd.

On July 8,th the regiment moved to Stono Inlet and became part of an expedition to James Island near Charleston, S. C. The force was under command of General Terry. On July 16, the force, including the 54th Regiment, was attacked by Confederate troops near Secessionville. During the battle, the 54th Regiment had 14 killed, 18 wounded and 3 missing. According to unit records, three of Galesburg's 12 enlisted were wounded or captured on the 16th. John Davis and Samuel Wells were wounded and John Dickinson was captured. Dickinson was later released on March 4, 1865 in a prisoner exchange.

The 54th Regiment was then ordered to join General Strong's forces on Morris Island. It was ordered to lead the attack of Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863. It was a terrible assignment and the 54th Regiment paid dearly for its courage. The 54th Regiment lost its commander, Colonel Shaw, Captain Russell, Captain Simpkins and over 20 men were killed. The 54th Regiment also had over 125 men and 11 commissioned officers wounded and another 100 reported missing, many of whom were apparently killed. This was out of a total of about 600 men.

During this battle, two of Galesburg's recruits were in harm's way. Henry Kirk was wounded and captured. He too was released in the prisoner exchange of March 4, 1865. Preston Williams of Galesburg was wounded on July 18th during the battle. He survived only to drown March 6, 1864 in Jacksonville, Florida.

The 54th Regiment remained as a unit and continued fighting battles until it was mustered out of service on August 20, 1865.

The 54th Regiment had battles going on with the North as well. When it was formed in 1863, it was assured by Massachusetts's Governor Andrew that its troops would receive the same pay as all other volunteer soldiers. This did not happen. In July of 1863, an order issued from Washington, D.C. fixed the pay for black soldiers at $10/month, compared to $13/month for white soldiers. The troops of the 54th Regiment refused their pay repeatedly, insisting that they receive comparable pay. Notwithstanding this dispute, the 54th Regiment continued to serve admirably. In November of 1863, the Massachusetts legislature offered to make up the shortfall in payment for the unit to bring the wages comparable to that of the white troops.

The 54th Regiment refused this offering, noting that the full pay should come from the federal government. For 18 months, the soldiers of the 54th Regiment received no payment for their services. Finally, in September of 1864, the soldiers received their full pay from the federal government, including ''back pay.''

An interesting historical note should be offered about Galesburg's Sergeant Joseph Barquet, who was the only married volunteer from Galesburg and who was also the oldest of the 12 from Galesburg. Military records note that he was reported to be dead.

However, Sergeant Barquet, in fact, returned to Galesburg after the war and became a leader in the growing black community in Galesburg. Prior to the war, Mr. Barquet was a leader of the small black community in Galesburg. He was the secretary of the ''African Literary and Debating Society.'' He was already beginning to speak out against racial prejudice in Galesburg. In June, 1860, he wrote to the local Republican paper, noting that children of a black man and a mulatto woman were denied school attendance at Saluda (south of Galesburg, near Lake Bracken), despite the fact that the children were ''Šso nearly white that they have to be pointed out from the rest of the school.''

As the black community grew in Galesburg and became an increasing percentage of the population, Mr. Barquet continued his role seeking full rights for the black citizens. In time, he was sometimes referred to as ''Captain,'' ''Professor'' and even ''Esq.''

He became known for his oratory and frequently spoke at functions including the ''colored ball'' on Christmas Eve, 1869. In July of 1871, the Galesburg Republican-Register reported that Mr. Barquet would likely become a candidate for sheriff in 1872. The paper referred to him as the ''gallant soldier.'' He also played a key role in opposing segregated schools for black students in Galesburg. All in all, he was pretty successful for a guy who, according to the military records, was ''reported dead.''

The movie ''Glory'' is available on VHS and DVD.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online May 23, 2001

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