James A. Kelly, 54th Massachusetts Infantry, Soldier's Memorial
Partially printed soldier's memorial, 17.75 x 25.5 in. (sight) identified to James A. Kelly of Co. E, 54th Massachusetts Infantry, with a manuscript outline of his Civil War service record, including the battles in which he was engaged and his date of honorable discharge. The memorial was presented by Kelly to his six children on March 20, 1897. Matted and framed, 27 x 35 in. Accompanied by 5.5 x 7.5 in. albumen photograph, which appears to be a period enlargement, of two young, unidentified African American privates. The consignor acquired this portrait with the memorial, but we cannot confirm that Kelly is one of the young soldiers in the photograph.
James A. Kelly, referenced as "Kelley" in HDS, was a 23-year-old barber in St. Joseph, MI, when he enlisted as a private in March 1863. On April 23, 1863 he mustered into Co. E, Massachusetts 54th Infantry. Pvt. Kelly saw action at James Island, SC, the assault and siege of Fort Wagner, Olustee, FL, Boyhan Mills, SC, Morris Island, SC, Honey Hill, SC, and Charleston, SC. He was mustered Out on August 20, 1865 at Mount Pleasant, SC.
Under the command of Robert Gould Shaw, the famed African American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, was mustered into service on May 13, 1863 and was sent to the South Carolina coast near Charleston. After leading his regiment in smaller actions on James Island, at Legaresville on July 13 and Secessionville on July 16, Shaw moved the regiment to Morris Island. On July 18, 1863 he led the 54th in conjunction with two brigades of white troops in an ill-fated assault on Confederate Battery Wagner.
In the unsuccessful charge Shaw’s black troops proved themselves to be fully capable of standing up to enemy fire but lost about one quarter of their men, including the gallant Shaw. The rebels in Battery Wagner were so outraged by Shaw’s armed blacks that they purposely decided to insult the young colonel by burying him in a common grave with his enlisted men. Pvt. Kelly did not suffer the same fate and went on to live a long life after the war.
Memorial has undergone some water damage, with some stains along the perimeter, as well as some visible loss along top right edge of print. Few small tears along the perimeter of print. Not examined outside of frame.