While Concord Bridge Assistant Editor Anne O’Connor was visiting Antietam this month to do a little research, she paused in front of a cannon overlooking the battlefield for a photo for “Where is your Bridge.” Suitably, she had the edition with an article on George Washington Dugan, Concord’s only Black Civil War soldier, with her.
Dugan, a free man, landowner and taxpayer, enrolled in the famed 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment in 1863. The all-Black force was led by Robert Gould Shaw, a white man from a family of prominent abolitionists. The Concord man was “lost and never accounted for” following an assault on Fort Wagner, which guarded Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. The battle, with a 42% casualty rate of injured and dead, proved the mettle of Black soldiers.
Concord’s official acknowledgement of Dugan’s death in the Civil War took over a century. His name was not on the original Civil War monument. Concord historian Beth van Duser researched the soldier. His status was changed to “killed in action” and his name was added to the monument in 2023.
But why was the Battle of Antietam, fought in Sharpsburg, Maryland, a year before Dugan’s enrollment and death, important for this Black soldier’s story? In losing the battle, the Confederacy lost any possibility of support from European countries, according to National Park Service historians. Both England and France made offers of support if the Southern states won a battle. Antietam was their last chance.
After the northern victory in Antietam, and with Europe out of the picture, the reason for the war shifted. Instead of a fight to reunite the country, the U.S. forces were now fighting to emancipate Black people held in slavery.
President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation less than a week after the battle, opening the door for Black soldiers to officially enroll and fight. Dugan became one of 38,000 Black soldiers killed in action in the Union Army during the Civil War.
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