In January 1863 the Union War Department authorized the creation of “a special corps” composed of “persons of African descent”—the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, commanded by Col. Robert Gould Shaw. Hundreds of free blacks enlisted. When the 54th Massachusetts spearheaded the suicidal charge against Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863, the regiment was showered with acclaim, but that defining event was not its only illustrious moment. After the devastating repulse at Fort Wagner left all of the unit’s ranking officers dead or wounded, Captain Luis Fenellosa Emilio (1844-1918) emerged as the 54th’s acting commander.
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