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The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Discussion Questions

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching. She previously taught high school in several states around the country.

After learning about the contributions of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, use these discussion questions with your high school students to help them think critically about the regiment's role in history.

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment

During the Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was formed to give African-American soldiers a chance to serve their country by fighting for the Union Army. It was formed exclusively for African-Americans and was the second regiment of its kind. It was disbanded after the war ended, but was reactivated in 2008 as a ceremonial unit.

These questions are meant to help your high school students think more broadly and deeply about the contribution, role and significance of this unit.

Thinking Critically about the Actions

  • What historical event led to the creation of this regiment? What kind of success (or lack of success) did recruiters have when the regiment was first formed? Does this surprise you or was it what you expected.
  • Although the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in states that were in rebellion, many people, even in the north, did not treat African-Americans as full equals. Of the information that you learned about this unit, what type of inequality did the unit face?
  • Describe the events that happened at Fort Wagner. How did soldiers of the 54th Regiment fight? What stood out to you about their actions?
  • How did the soldiers in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment work towards equality for all African-Americans on a broader scale? What do you think the fight for equality would have been like without their contributions?
  • For the first 18 months of their service, the soldiers of the 54th received no pay because their leadership refused to accept the reduced rate of pay (seven dollars a month for African-American soldiers instead of the thirteen dollars white soldiers received). Eventually, this was reversed and the soldiers were retroactively paid. How does this knowledge contribute to your understanding of equality and to the actions of the soldiers?

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