Photo credits: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site
Lewis Henry Douglass (1840-1908), Frederick and Anna Douglass’ oldest son, joined the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry on March 25, 1863.
Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the regiment’s commander, promoted him to sergeant major, the top position an African American was permitted to have at the time. At the battles of James Island, Olustee, and Fort Wagner, he saw combat.
The 54th Massachusetts’ heroism went a great way toward establishing the mettle of black troops in the North to their fellow white soldiers and townspeople.
Due to a medical impairment, he was released from the service in 1864. Later, he was instrumental in the founding and publication of The New National Era, a weekly paper focused on Washington’s African-American population.
He also served on the Legislative Council of the District of Columbia and as Assistant Marshall of the District of Columbia.