Jacksonville Turns 200: Civil War and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment

The most famous unit to serve in the Civil War in Jacksonville was the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.

It was led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.

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Black soldiers were promised pay equal to white soldiers, but it didn’t happen right away.

After more famous battles in South Carolina, in 1863, they came to fight in Florida in 1864.

“But while in Jacksonville, not only did the members of the 54th Massachusetts fight bravely with honor at the Battle of Olustee in Baker County west of Jacksonville, but when they came back to Jacksonville, they wrote letters about their experience ‚” Dr. Scott Matthews of Florida State College at Jacksonville. “They were not only trying to emphasize their bravery and service to the United States, but they were arguing that here we are serving military and we’re not being paid equally as soldiers, other white soldiers.”

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In September 1864, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment got their equal pay. After the defeat of the Confederacy, many freed slaves made their way to the banks of the St. Johns River.

“So, some slaves stayed loyal to their owners and loyal to the Confederacy,” Dr. David Jamison with Edward Waters University said. “Some slaves said, ‘You know what? I’m going to take a chance and try to get to a place where there are Union soldiers. And that happened to be Jacksonville.”

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