Monday, May 01, 2006


Night has descended on this lone beach in South Carolina. In another time, in another life, lovers might have held each other here, watching the gulls coast on the breezes coming off the ocean; not on this night. On this night, the raging howl of war was to be heard for miles around, and Charleston would groan and bleed as it had rarely before, paying for the crimes it had committed against a race of men.

The all black 54th Massachusetts was to see its first true fight, and how they performed would have a lasting effect on how America would look at all blacks for years to come. This would show that black men could fight, and they did not have to stand idly by while other men warred for them. Enslaved for nearly two hundred years, the weight of centuries was on their shoulders, and the chains they had once broken so quietly to go North were still weighing them down and dragging behind them, leaving trails in the sand with every step forward they made. They went forward anyway.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The great blue mass, bayonets fixed, shuffling towards the shallow moat that surrounded the fort, kicking up a cloud of fine dust as they went, sped up as they got closer. Whereas normally this unstoppable wall of men might have been intimidating, it no doubt simply enraged the defenders of the fort, for the faces in those approaching uniforms were black, not white.
These were not men on their level, as they had thought would come to attack; no, these were the men that they had beaten and starved, the men whom they had sold like pieces of raw meat, the men whose families they had murdered in the name of money of wealth. Tonight would be different though. These slaves had indeed risen against their masters, and with a Biblical rage that only a people that have been nearly destroyed can have, were seething for their retribution. That time had come, and blood would soak the beaches of South Carolina in a righteous way, and the hand of God would sweep this battlefield before the night was through.

Cannon balls plow holes in the advancing regiment, but they move forward anyway, eventually laying on their stomachs to avoid the bullets. Trapped on the sandy slope in front of Fort Wagner, the 54th Massachusetts laid down on the beach, staring right into the mouths of the Southern rifles pointed down at them. They might have stayed there, too, had not their fiery colonel gotten up in an attempt to make them move forward. He is shot three times, and, with cold, stunned eyes, drops dead on the beach. This man who had been like a father to the troops, who had taught them discipline, and how to fight, now lay dead in front of them. He had made the ultimate sacrifice, and he had made it for them.

With wide, furious black eyes, the troops get up and storm straight up the rampart, fire flying around them, illuminating the American flag that briefly passes over the dead Colonel’s body. The clash at the top is brutal, with the sounds of bayonets and swords shattering the calm that would have been this warm South Carolina night; men are stabbed through their backs and shot through the eyes, the soft lead shattering minds and loves and hearts and hopes. Yet, these black troops are finally fighting against the men that enslaved them for so long, they are finally raging against the injustices and brutalities that they’ve endured. They are fighting for the future of their own race, for the freedom of their sons and daughters from an oppression that can only be said to be inhuman.

This fight is like Hell rising to the surface. Both sides are enraged, and all here know that the symbolism of this attack carries a weight far greater than the outcome of the battle. Satan's laughs are masked with gunfire, for his finest invention, this curse of war, is coming to a head in so many hideous ways. The smoke from the black powder guns is a choking fog hanging over this field, with the only light being the stray cannon balls that illuminate the night sky.
Through this apocalyptic scene, the 54th moves forward. They pour over this wall and into the now burning fort, led by one black man who had scaled the wall first. He carried no rifle though; his only weapon was the American flag, the flag of freedom and hope to the world. As long as that flag stood high, they could not lose.
They again advanced in the face of withering fire from the rear rebel ranks. What so often was described as a “sheet of flames” killed many of them, but they would not run. They’d waited too long. This was their time.

There were no questions ever again about them. They showed what they were made of. In the midst of war, the most horrific thing that man has invented, these men were perfect, if only for a few hours, and fought the good fight like few ever have. There was no money in it for them, no land, no spoils. They were fighting for the right to live, and there is no more noble cause that blood has been spilt over. It is hard for me to even picture what they went through in their lives, being slaves in the South, and being hated still in the North, yet having the guts to face all of this down, and continue on.

Sometimes, History gives us hope. This world is full of dark and brutal things, and it makes me wonder whether there is hope for mankind at all, or if we are destined to destroy each other in some great war where we lose sight of what is really important. But, once in a while, good truly triumphs over evil. Once in a while, we, as people, are willing to stand up and fight. There are some men, some great men, who are willing to give all they have, including their own lives, for something that is greater, for something that may change the scope of the human existence for a thousand years to come, and they will do it without blinking an eye. When history calls upon them, they did not shirk to rear, or run with bleak fearful eyes. They roie up, strong both of back and of mind, and stand up for what they know is right, and answer History's call to arms.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

When the 54th Massachusetts reacted like it did in this battle in front of Fort Wagner, they shattered those chains they’d been dragging for so long. Though they were eventually thrown from the fort, they had done what they'd come to do. It mattered little how many bodies littered the beach, or how many had died in this, the greatest fight of their lives. What mattered was the impact that they had left, and the crater on world's landscape that these "noble 600" had left.
Behind them were trails of tears, trails of blood, and the shattered memories of the families they had left in bondage so long ago. It was a long journey, and it was far more difficult than any of us spoiled 21st century people could ever imagine. But they went forward anyway. They proved that they would never be slaves again, that they would die standing up before they lived kneeling down.
Like I said...History gives us hope.

Their innocence. Their heritage. Their lives. Nothing would be spared in the fight for their freedom.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of your better posts. Lots of passion and very descriptive. Great Movie too!!!