Black soldiers participated in the war at great threat to their lives. The Confederate government threatened to summarily execute or sell into slavery any captured black Union soldiers--and did sometimes carry out those threats. Lincoln responded by threatening to retaliate against Confederate prisoners whenever black soldiers were killed or enslaved.
In July 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first black regiment raised in the North, led an assault against Fort Wagner, which guarded Charleston, South Carolina's harbor. Two of Frederick Douglass's sons were members of the regiment. Over forty percent of the regiment's members were killed or wounded in the unsuccessful attack, including Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a member of a prominent antislavery family, who was shot dead in the charge.
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