John R. Wyncoop, 54th Massachusetts Regiment, The "Glory" Brigade.
John R. Wyncoop,
54th Massachusetts Regiment,
The "Glory" Brigade.

The Assault on Ft. Wagner July 18th, 1863.
The Assault on Ft. Wagner, S.C., July 18th, 1863.

John R. Wyncoop,
54th Massachusetts Regiment,
The "Glory" Brigade.

    The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts was organized in March, 1863 at Camp Meigs, Readville, Massachusetts by Robert Gould Shaw, twenty-six year old member of a prominent Boston abolitionist family. Shaw had earlier served in the Seventh New York National Guard and the Second Massachusetts Infantry, and was appointed colonel of the Fifty-fourth in February 1863 by Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew.

    As one of the first black units organized in the northern states, the Fifty-fourth was the object of great interest and curiosity, and its performance would be considered an important indication of the possibilities surrounding the use of blacks in combat. The regiment was composed primarily of free blacks from throughout the north, particularly Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Amongst its recruits were Lewis N. Douglass and Charles Douglass, sons of the famous ex-slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.

    After a period of recruiting and training, the unit proceeded to the Department of the South, arriving at Hilton Head, South Carolina, on June 3, 1863. Soon after it saw its first action at James Island. The regiment earned its greatest fame on July 18, 1863, when it led the unsuccessful and controversial assault on the Confederate positions at Battery Wagner. In this desperate attack, the Fifty-fourth was placed in the vanguard and 281 men of the regiment became casualties (54 were killed or fatally wounded and another 48 were never accounted for). Shaw, the regiment's young colonel, died on the crest of the enemy parapet, shouting, "Forward, Fifty-fourth!"

    It was also on the parapet of the battery that Sgt. William H. Carney, Company C, risked his life in an action for which he received the Medal of Honor. His citation reads in part: "When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.

    That heroic charge, coupled with Shaw's death, made the regiment a household name throughout the north, and helped spur black recruiting. For the remainder of 1863 the unit participated in siege operations around Charleston, before boarding transports for Florida early in February 1864. The regiment numbered 510 officers and men at the opening of the Florida Campaign, and its new commander was Edward N. Hallowell, a twenty-seven year old merchant from Medford, Massachusetts. Anxious to avenge the Battery Wagner repulse, the Fifty-fourth was the best black regiment available to General Seymour, the Union commander. However, only about 500 members of the regiment were present at Olustee, the others having been detailed for other duty.

    Along with the 35th United States Colored Troops, the Fifty-fourth entered the fighting late in the day at Olustee, and helped save the Union army from complete disaster. The Fifty-fourth marched into battle yelling, "Three cheers for Massachusetts and seven dollars a month." The latter referred to the difference in pay between white and colored Union infantry, long a sore point with colored troops. Congress had just passed a bill correcting this and giving colored troops equal pay. However, word of the bill would not reach these troops until after the battle of Olustee. The regiment lost eighty-six men in the battle, the lowest number of the three black regiments present.

    The 54th, as well as the 35th United States Colored Troops, served as the rearguard for the Union Army and possibly prevented its destruction.

    After Olustee, the Fifty-fourth was not sent to participate in the bloody Virginia campaigns of 1864-1865. Instead it remained in the Department of the South, fighting in a number of actions, including the battles of of Honey Hill and Boykin's Mill before Charleston and Savannah.

    It was mustered out in August, 1865.

    More than a century after the war the Fifty-fourth remains the most famous black regiment of the war, due largely to the popularity of the movie "Glory", which recounts the story of the regiment prior to and including the attack on Battery Wagner.

John R. Wyncoop:

    John mustered in on December 1st, 1863, after the assault on Fort Wagner, and missed the "Glory" days. He did participate, and lost his life in their next most important engagement, the Battle of Olustee, near present day Jacksonville, Florida. Below you will find his regiment, rank, hometown, etc. and several eye-witness reports of the battle in which he died.

Regiment: 54th
Company: D
Page Number: 680
First Name: John
Middle Initial: R.
Last Name: Wyncoop
Residence: Poughkeepsie, NY
Age: 23
Occupation: hostler
Enlistment Date: 12/01/63 [1]

First Name:Last Name:Side:Unit:Rank In:Rank Out:Company:AKA Name:
John R.WyncoopUnion54 Mass. Inf. (Col'd)PrivatePrivateD

NARA Film#: M589 roll 98 [

54th Massachusetts Co. D

Surname:Given:Company:Rank In:Rank Out:AKA:
WyncoopJohn R.DPVTPVT

The 54th Massachusetts at the Battle of Olustee, February 20, 1864.
The 54th Massachusetts at the Battle of Olustee, February 20, 1864.
Battle of Olustee, Florida, February 20, 1864.

    Excerpts from the Boston Herald; March 2, 1864; pg. 4, col. 1.

Camp Finnegan, Near Baldwin,
Fla., Feb. 24, 1864.


    You have doubtless, ere this, had some news of a severe engagement in Florida on the 20th, and probably of an exaggerated character, arriving as it necessarily did through rebel channels. Gen. Gillmore directs the correspondents to send no dispatches by the Fulton, and if any go, the direct disobedience of a very proper order issued by a General of whom no correspondent can justly complain, is sufficient to throw discredit on whatever statements they contain. Your correspondent remains at the extreme front till this morning, in company with Mr. Oscar G. Sawyer, Special Correspondent of the New York Herald, and our news is consequently two days later than that of any other correspondent. We have availed ourselves of every opportunity to revise and extend our reports, and particularly to obtain a correct list of casualties.

    The results of our observations and investigations is that our forces have been very badly used, but have not been defeated, or suffered in their morale, or had anything to dishearten them.



    Gen. Seymour now ordered the 54th Massachusetts in on the left, to replace the 8th U.S., and Barton's brigade, consisting of his regiment, (the 47th N.Y.,) the 48th N.Y., and the 115th N.Y., to advance on the right. The 1st N.C. (colored), was placed on the extreme right, and Henry's brigade of cavalry protected both flanks.


    All these troops went into the fight in fine style. The 54th Massachusetts sustained the reputation they earned at Fort Wagner, and won the commendation of all who saw their splendid behavior. They fought like tigers, and so did Barton's brigade, and so did the 1st North Carolina, and so, never shrinking, never cringing, even, did the artillerists, in spite of the fearful havoc which was made in their ranks. Once a rebel double column closed en masse was deploying to form in line of battle for an attack on Elder's battery, in which the sharpshooters were making much havoc and which was temporarily unprotected, Elder brought his guns to bear on them diagonally, and mowed them down in heaps. They rallied several times, and then they ran like sheep, and this from a small battery, surrounded with dead and dying, in an almost unprotected position.
    It was sad to witness such terrific havoc even among our enemies. But the repulses were not all of the enemy. Sometimes they would drive us slowly back, then we would make them retreat to their works, but we could not take them. - The rebels fought splendidly, but not better than our own troops, after the first repulse. Their battle cry "Hi-hil" was responded to with defiant shouts.


    But our ammunition began to run short after a fours' hour combat,- the men were wearied with their seventeen miles' march, and their afternoon of hot fighting under the warm sun. So at 7 o'clock they began to fall back, from pure exhaustion and lack of sufficient ammunition. They retreated a short distance and there formed another line, but the enemy did not follow us at all. Capt. Hamilton was wounded early in the fight, and so many of his men killed that two of his pieces had to be left from sheer inability to take them off.

    Langdon lost three guns from the same cause. The enemy would not let us recover them, nor could they get possession of them themselves, up to the time when we finally withdrew. After holding this line about half an hour it was deemed advisable to retreat back to the mill beyond Sanderson. The retreat was in just as good order as the advance, and in successive lines, the mounted infantry and cavalry covering the retreat in splendid shape.


    The 40th Mass. Mounted Infantry and the Independent Battalion of Mass. Cavalry did splendidly all through the fight, and covered the retreat in fine shape.

    Col. Henry, who had command of this force, was at first reported killed, and the announcement of his death cast a gloom over the whole Department, for no officer in it is more beloved, and his popularity is deserved. Born in the army, educated in the army at West Point, identified with the army all his life, and without a blot or a blur on his record, the 40th have great reason to be proud of him, and they are proud of him and he is proud of them. Major Stevens and his command also deserve and received a great deal of credit. They have been complimented on all sides, and it is fortunate that our cavalry on this occasion was composed of such splendid material. It is the remark of Gen. Seymour and all officers I have heard express an opinion, based on the best knowledge, that all the Massachusetts troops behaved splendidly.- The 7th Conn. did nobly, as they always have done. Barton's Brigade had a very dangerous and delicate duty to perform and they did it well. It seemed a cruel thing to place men under a direct and destructive fire from a covered foe only one hundred yards off, and retain them there, but it was a necessity, and they understood it, for had our right wing been turned, we should have been cut to pieces and the remnant of our forces gobbled up. The First North Carolina fought with great pluck and stubbornness, and at one time attacked a charging force of the enemy and drove them clear into their works. All the troops, in fact, have received great commendations, except the 7th N.H. and 8th U.S., and their conduct is explained satisfactorily, I believe, above. The latter had their Colonel killed, early in the fight. Officers of Gen. Seymour's staff, and one (at least) of Gen. Gillmore's, with whom I have conversed on the subject, are very loud in their praises of Col. Abbott, of the 7th Regiment, who showed great pluck, energy and coolness.


    The following Confederate forces were opposed to us, and possibly others of which we did not learn: - 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th Florida Infantry; 1st and 2nd Florida Cavalry; Clinch's Cavalry; 1st Battalion of Florida Artillery (Gamble's); 64th, 6th, 32nd and 19th Georgia Infantry; 4th Battalion of Georgia Cavalry; 1st Georgia Regular Infantry; 1st Regiment of Confederate Infantry, (regular army); and another battalion of Regular Artillery. We captured a few prisoners, and one deserter has come in, all of whom report the enemy badly used, with an immense number of casualties. That they were considerably used up is evident from the fact that they made no attempt to follow us up on our retreat, when, determined attack might have resulted in a total rout.


    The troops were held exceedingly well in hand, and perfect control of them was generally maintained. General Seymour, always brave, cool, quick in his perceptions and in forming his judgement, stands higher than ever with his troops. Through the fight he was in its midst, never excited while his officers and men were falling. That he got out of a very bad scrape exceedingly well, is admitted by everyone. Gen. Seymour never shirks responsibility, and I believe that he does not divide them in this case at all. At any rate General Gillmore is not responsible for the disaster, I understand that he disapproved of the advance, and I know that when he learned it was contemplated, he sent his Chief of Staff down with instructions forbidding it, but he arrived the evening of the battle.

    That Gen. Seymour did what he considered his duty, no one who knows him and appreciates him will question, or that he is an officer of great ability. Whether this move was a fault or misfortune, it is not my province to decide, but I know all intelligent and patriotic people will sympathize with him in either case, in whatever light the affair is viewed Gen. Gillmore's superior ability is more than ever apparent. I judged that this reverse will soon be redeemed, for I know we have the Generals and the troops to do it if there is the least opening. One thing is clearing shown - that the Florida Loyalist will not be in the least serviceable till the rebel troops are whipped completely out of the State and then they will come out openly and anqualinedly Union all over the State.



Co. D. Killed - Wm. Thomas. Wounded- 1st Sergt. Albert D. Thompson, slightly in wrist; Privates, Peter Hopkins, severely in face; Wm. Nesbit, do.; Ira Hawkins, slightly in foot; Oliver Hazzard, slightly in leg; James Warrich, slightly in leg.

Missing - Privates T. Delaney and Wyncoop. Total - 1 killed, 6 wounded and two missing. [4]

Initial Report from Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour.
Commanding Officer, U.S. Forces, District of Florida.
on the engagement at Olustee, Florida


SANDERSON, February 20, 1864.

General TURNER:

    Have met the enemy at Olustee and now falling back. Many wounded. Think I may be compelled to go to Baldwin, but shall go to Barber's immediately. Fribley, killed; Sammon, Hamilton, Myrick, wounded; seven guns lost. A devilish hard rub.



    Copied from The Official Records of the War of Rebellion. [5]

Report of Col. Edward N. Hallowell
54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry,
on the engagement at Olustee, Florida

     Jacksonville, Fla., March 1, 1864.

    LIEUTENANT: At 8.30 o'clock on the morning of February 20, 1864, the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers left Barber's with its colonel, lieutenant-colonel, 13 line officers, and about 480 enlisted men, the rest of the regiment having been detailed for other duty. It marched in charge of wagon train to Olustee, at which place the train was stopped and the regiment moved forward at the double-quick about 2 miles, where it was formed in line between the railroad and dirt road, under a sharp fire from the enemy. In this formation it advanced some 200 yards through a swamp, driving the enemy from some guns, and checking the advance of a column of the enemy's infantry. After firing about 20,000 cartridges, the melt of the regiment were ordered to retreat by Col. James Montgomery, commanding brigade. A new line was formed on the right of the dirt road, where the regiment staid till after dark, when it was ordered, through Colonel Barton, to march back to Barber's, where it arrived one hour after midnight.

    Their loss in officers was 3 wounded--Capt. R. H. L. Jewett, First Lieut. H. W. Littlefield, and First Lieut. E.G. Tomlinson--in enlisted men, killed, 13; wounded, 63; missing, 8; total, 87.

    The State color three times fell and each time was caught up by another corporal. Sergt. Stephen A. Swails, acting sergeant-major, deserves special praise for his coolness, bravery, and efficiency during the action; he received a severe but not mortal wound in the head.

    I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Colonel Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers.

Lieut. R. M. HALL,
    Acting Assistant Adjutant-General. [


    1. Massachusetts Adjutant Generalís Office, Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War, 8 vols. (Norwood, Mass: Norwood Press), vol. 4: 658-714.

    From: [Back]

    2. The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, an online database created by the National Parks System, is now back online and may be accessed by clicking on this link. [Back]

    3. [Back]

    4. [Back]

    5. [Back]

    6. [Back]

Notes and Acknowledgement:

    I wish I knew more about John than this, but it's all I've been able to find on him. If anyone has access to the 1850 census for Poughkeepsie, New York and wants to do a little digging, I'd appreciate hearing about the results of your search. We can all benefit from more complete information, which I would be happy to include on this webpage in some future update. If you'd like to contribute, I can be reached at

    For those of you who wish to learn more about the Battle of Olustee I recommend the following terrific websites:

The Battle of Olustee, (Ocean Pond.)

    I would particularly like to thank my great friend, (and cousin), Deb Boden,, for first bringing John R. Wyncoop to my attention back at the turn of this century. Deb, I know I've been a little slow lately, but if I keep at it I'll get to these things eventually. I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate all of the support and interest you've shown over the years. It means a lot to me.

    All my best,


Created March 10, 2002; Revised September 21, 2002
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