English High School History

English High Student Joined Famous Black Civil War Regiment

According to the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War.

The adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation in December of 1862 provided the impetus for the use of free black men as soldiers and, at a time when state governors were responsible for the raising of regiments for federal service, Massachusetts was the first to respond with the formation of the Fifty-fourth Regiment.

On 28 May 1863, upon the presentation of the unit’s colors by the governor and a parade through the streets of Boston, spectators lined the streets with the hopes of viewing this unit.

Research from the Massachusetts Historical Society also shows that one member of this historic regiment had attended English High, based on available records. Giles M. Pease, of Sandwich, and Boston enrolled in English High School in 1856 when he was about 17 years old.

Giles M. Pease

Pease enlisted in the 54th Regiment on 20 July 1863 at the age of 24. He was a physician at the time he enlisted, and ranked in as an assistant surgeon. He resigned on 28 May 1864 because of a disability. At the time of his resignation his rank was 1st lieutenant/assistant surgeon.

The regiment gained widespread acclaim on July 18, 1863, when it spearheaded an assault on Fort Wagner, a key position overlooking the water approach to Charleston Harbor. The assault was launched at 7:45 pm along a narrow spit of land. The men crossed a water-filled ditch and took the outer wall of the fort. Because of the strength of the defending force the position could only be held for an hour before the two Union brigades were withdrawn, at around 9:00 pm.

The 54th Massachusetts numbered 600 men at the time of the assault. Of these, 270 were killed, wounded, or captured during the engagement. Col Robert Shaw, the 54th’s commander was killed. There is a monument to the 54th regiment across from the Massachusetts Statehouse.