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Thunder at the Gates

Cover of Thunder at the Gates

Thunder at the Gates

The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America

Soon after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, abolitionists began to call for the creation of black regiments. At first, the South and most of the North responded with outrage—southerners promised to execute any black soldiers captured in battle, while many northerners claimed that blacks lacked the necessary courage. Meanwhile, Massachusetts, long the center of abolitionist fervor, launched one of the greatest experiments in American history.

In Thunder at the Gates, Douglas Egerton chronicles the formation and battlefield triumphs of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry and the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry—regiments led by whites but composed of black men born free or into slavery. He argues that the most important battles of all were won on the field of public opinion, for in fighting with distinction the regiments realized the long-derided idea of full and equal citizenship for blacks.

A stirring evocation of this transformative episode, Thunder at the Gates offers a riveting new perspective on the Civil War and its legacy.

Soon after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, abolitionists began to call for the creation of black regiments. At first, the South and most of the North responded with outrage—southerners promised to execute any black soldiers captured in battle, while many northerners claimed that blacks lacked the necessary courage. Meanwhile, Massachusetts, long the center of abolitionist fervor, launched one of the greatest experiments in American history.

In Thunder at the Gates, Douglas Egerton chronicles the formation and battlefield triumphs of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry and the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry—regiments led by whites but composed of black men born free or into slavery. He argues that the most important battles of all were won on the field of public opinion, for in fighting with distinction the regiments realized the long-derided idea of full and equal citizenship for blacks.

A stirring evocation of this transformative episode, Thunder at the Gates offers a riveting new perspective on the Civil War and its legacy.

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About the Author-
  • Douglas Egerton is the Merrill Family Visiting Professor in History at Cornell University and a professor of history at Le Moyne College. The award-winning author of seven previous books, he lives in Fayetteville, New York.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 12, 2016
    In this solid addition to the Civil War literature, Egerton (The Wars of Reconstruction), professor of history at Le Moyne College, revisits the story of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Division, one of the state’s three African-American regiments, and expands on it in important ways. He pushes the standard narrative of the 54th beyond the 1863 battle at Fort Wagner to the bloody fight at Olustee, Fla., and into the postwar period. Providing a fuller picture of black men’s involvement in the war, Egerton weaves in the activities of the two other Massachusetts black regiments, the 55th Volunteer Infantry Division and the Fifth Cavalry. He emphasizes the ways race affected the men’s military experiences, looking as much at individual black soldiers as white officers. The first part of the book sets up the assault on Fort Wagner, providing a smooth account of the creation of the 54th and the recruitment of Robert Gould Shaw, its best-known white officer. The second part provides additional documentation of pervasive racism. Despite their demonstrated bravery at Fort Wagner, black troops endured
    disproportionate assignment to “fatigue duty,” pay disparity, and unequal treatment under military law. Egerton’s fine work pays respect to the black soldiers who fought and died for black liberation. Illus. Agent: Daniel Greenberg, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary.

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Thunder at the Gates
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The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America
Douglas R Egerton
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