FIFTY-FIFTH MASSACHUSETTS INFANTRY REGIMENT
(AFRICAN DESCENT)

Regimental History
by Bennie J. McRae, Jr. lwf@coax.net
Copyright 1995. LWF Publications.



Volunteer recruits of the 55th Regiment Massachusetts Infantry began to arrive at Readville, Massachusetts in early May 1863. Among the volunteers were 222 men from the State of Ohio including Joshua Dunbar, father of the famous Black poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. This contingent joined the nucleus left over from the recruits of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Infantry that broke camp on 28 May 1863. On 31 May 1863 five companies of the 55th Regiment were mustered in, two more on 15 June, and the remaining three on 22 June.

After training at Readville, the regiment broke camp on 21 July and proceeded to Boston and arrived at Morehead City, North Carolina and debarked from the transport CAHAWBA on 25 July. On 2 August the regiment embarked for Folly Island, below Charleston, South Carolina and was assigned to Wild's African Brigade, Vogdes' Division, 10th Corps, Department of the South. During August and September detachments were ordered to work details on Morris Island, building entrenchments and performing fatigue duty while being constantly under fire from Fort Gregg and Fort Wagner.

In early February 1864, the 55th was ordered to Florida and joined the expedition under General Seymour. On the 19th six companies marched inland in support of General Seymour's main column which, on the 20th, fought the battle of Olustee, one of the bloodiest battles fought in the South. Included in the main column were the 8th and 35th U. S. Colored Infantry Regiments along with the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers. The 55th engagement was minor in this encounter. On the 22nd the entire force moved to Jacksonville.

The first major battle occurred on 21 May 1864. The 55th engaged the enemy on James Island, South Carolina. Another battle on James Island was fought on 1 and 2 July 1864 by the 55th and the 33rd U. S. Colored Infantry Regiment. The 55th joined the 32nd, 35th, 102nd U. S. Colored Infantry Regiments and the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers in the battle of Honey Hill, South Carolina on 30 November 1864. On 7, 8 and 9 December 1864 the 55th engaged the enemy at Deveaux Neck, South Carolina along with the 32nd, 34th, and 102nd U. S. Colored Infantry Regiments. On 10 February 1865 another battle was fought at James Island. On 19 February the regiment received news of the evacuation of Charleston by the Confederates and advanced and entered Mount Pleasant, a suburb of the city, the following day. Charleston was entered on 21 February. On 22 February while in Charleston the regiment was attached to Potter's Division and sent on an expedition into the interior of the state engaging the enemy on 25 February at Briggen Creek, South Carolina. The last major battle was fought at St. Stephens, South Carolina on 1 March 1865.

The 55th returned to Charleston on 10 March and a week later was sent back to James Island to perform guard duty. On 5 April orders were received to accompany General Hartwell on an expedition into the interior and was located at St. Andrews on 21 April when the cessation of hostilities was announced. Here the regiment remained until 7 May when it was ordered to Summerville, twenty-one miles up the Ashley River. On 19 May 1865 the headquarters was established at Orangeburg, South Carolina and the regiment was scattered in small detachments at various locations throughout the state. Regimental losses: 3 officers and 64 enlisted killed and mortally wounded; 2 officers and 128 enlisted by disease.

On 24 August 1865 the regiment proceeded to Charleston, and on 29 August was mustered out of the United States service at Mount Pleasant. Six companies set sail for Boston on 6 September aboard the steamer KARNAC, arriving and debarking at Galloup's Island on 13 September. The remaining companies sailed on 14 September aboard the BEN DEFORD, arriving on 23 September. On 25 September the entire regiment was paraded on the Common and disbanded.

Research indicates that most of the Ohio residents returned to their hometowns. Some remained in the Boston area and others returned to South Carolina.

NOTE: Joshua Dunbar was assigned to Company F. On October 28, 1863 he was discharged due to a disability and had been unfit for duty since August 24, 1863 due to varicose veins on his left leg in which he had had a problem for eighteen years and exacerbated by heavy lifting on Folly Island, South Carolina.

Joshua returned to Readville, Massachusetts and enlisted in the 5th Massachusetts Colored Cavalry on January 9, 1864 for a period of three years. He was discharged on October 31, 1865 at Clarksville, Texas with the rank of Sergeant.

REFERENCES

Dyer, Frederick H., A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Vol. III. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1959.

Fifty-Fifth Regimental Association. Record of the Service of the Fifty-Fifth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Cambridge: Press of John Wilson and Son, 1868; Reprinted, Salem, New Hampshire: Ayers Company Publishers, Inc., 1991. Reprinted from a copy in the Fisk University Library Negro Collection.

Gladstone, William A. United States Colored Troops - 1863-1867. Gettysburg: Thomas Publications, 1990.

Massachusetts. Adjutant General's Office. Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War. Norwood: The Norwood Press, 1932.


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