The 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was the first military unit composed of men of African descent to be raised in Massachusetts. The first members assembled in February 1863. The unit soon included members from Massachusetts and from other states. Thirty men from Illinois joined the Regiment, including twelve Galesburg men in Company H.
On July 16, 1863, at James Island, South Carolina, Corp. Samuel Wells and John Davis were wounded. John W. Dickinson was captured. All three were Galesburg men. The disastrous assault on Fort Wagner at Morris Island, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863, resulted in the loss of several officers, including Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Over 125 men were wounded and more than 100 were missing. Henry Kirk and Preston Williams of Galesburg were wounded, and Kirk was captured. Additional losses were suffered on February 20, 1864 at Olustee, Florida. The regiment mustered out on August 20, 1865.
The film Glory (Tristar, 1989, Matthew Broderick as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw) is based on the regiment's service.