Archive for January, 2010

January 31-February 2, 1863

Emilio provided ([BBR] p.5) this description of Shaw:

Francis G. Shaw himself took the formal proffer to his son, then in Virginia. After due deliberation, Captain Shaw, on February 6, telegraphed his acceptance.

Robert Gould Shaw …was born Oct. 10, 1837, in Boston, was carefully educated at home and abroad in his earlier years, and admitted to Harvard College in August, 1856, but discontinued his course there in his third year. After a short business career, on April 19, 1861, he marched with his regiment, the Seventh New York National Guard, to the relief of Washington. He applied for and received a commission as second lieutenant in the Second Massachusetts Infantry; and after serving with his company and on the staff of Gen. George H. Gordon, he was promoted to a captaincy.

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January 30, 1863

Picture of Governor John Andrew

Governor Andrew decided to offer the colonelcy of the 54th to (then) Captain R.G. Shaw, and wrote to Shaw’s father to enlist his aid in convincing Shaw to accept the commision; this is followed by the Governor’s letter to Shaw himself:

BOSTON, Jan. 30, 1863.

FRANCIS G. SHAW, Esq., Staten Island, N. Y.


—As you may have seen by the newspapers, I am about to raise a colored regiment in Massachusetts. This I cannot but regard as perhaps the most important corps to be organized during the whole war, in view of what must be the composition of our new levies ; and therefore I am very anxious to organize it judiciously, in order that it may be a model for all future colored regiments. I am desirous to have for its officers — particularly for its field-officers — young men of military experience, of firm antislavery principles, ambitious, superior to a vulgar contempt for color, and having faith in the capacity of colored men for military service. Such officers must necessarily be gentlemen of the highest tone and honor; and I shall look for them in those circles of educated antislavery society which, next to the colored race itself, have the greatest interest in this experiment.

Reviewing the young men of the character I have described, now in the Massachusetts service, it occurs to me to offer the colonelcy to your son, Captain Shaw, of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, and the lieutenant-colonelcy to Captain Hallowell of the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry, the son of Mr. Morris L. Hallowell of Philadelphia. With my deep conviction of the importance of this undertaking, in view of the fact that it will be the first colored regiment to be raised in the free States, and that its success or its failure will go far to elevate or depress the estimation in which the character of the colored Americans will be held throughout the world, the command of such a regiment seems to me to be a high object of ambition for any officer. How much your son may have reflected upon such a subject I do not know, nor have I any information of his disposition for such a task except what I have derived from his general character and reputation; nor should I wish him to undertake it unless he could enter upon it with a full sense of its importance, with an earnest determination for its success, and with the assent and sympathy and support of the opinions of his immediate family. I therefore enclose you the letter in which I make him the offer of this commission; and I will be obliged to you if you will forward it to him, accompanying it with any expression to him of your own views, and if you will also write to me upon the subject.

My mind is drawn towards Captain Shaw by many considerations. I am sure he would attract the support, sympathy, and active co-operation of many among his immediate family relatives. The more ardent, faithful, and true Republicans and friends of liberty would recognize in him a scion from a tree whose fruit and leaves have always contributed to the strength and healing of our generation. So it is with Captain Hallowell. His father is a Quaker gentleman of Philadelphia, two of whose sons are officers in our army, and another is a merchant in Boston. Their house in Philadelphia is a hospital and home for Massachusetts officers; and the family are full of good works; and he was the adviser and confidant of our soldiery when sick or on duty in that city. I need not add that young Captain Hallowell is a gallant and fine fellow, true as steel to the cause of humanity, as well as to the flag of the country.

I wish to engage the field-officers, and then get their aid in selecting those of the line. I have offers from Oliver T. Beard of Brooklyn, N. Y., late Lieutenant-Colonel of the Forty-eighth New York Volunteers, who says he can already furnish six hundred men; and from others wishing to furnish men from New York and from Connecticut; but I do not wish to start the regiment under a stranger to Massachusetts. If in any way, by suggestion or otherwise, you can aid the purpose which is the burden of this letter, I shall receive your co-operation with the heartiest gratitude.  I do not wish the office to go begging; and if the offer is refused, 1 would prefer it being kept reasonably private.

Hoping to hear from you immediately on receiving this letter,

I am, with high regard,

Your obedient servant and friend,


( From [BBR,pp.3-5])


I am about to organize in Massachusetts a Colored Regiment as part of the volunteer quota of this State – the commissioned officers to be white men. I have today written your Father expressing to him my sense of the importance of this undertaking, and requesting him to forward to you this letter, in which I offer to you the commission of Colonel over it. The Lieutenant Colonelcy I have offerred to Captain Hallowell of the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment. It is important to the organization of this regiment that I should receive your reply to this offer at the earliest day consistent with your ability to arrive at a deliberate conclusion on the subject.

Respectfully and very truly yours,
John A. Andrew

(From [BCF], p.23)

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January 27-29, 1863


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January 26, 1863: Authorization of the 54th

(From Emilio [BBR,p 2]):
John A. Andrew, the war Governor of Massachusetts, very early advocated the enlistment of colored men to aid in suppressing the Rebellion. The General Government having at last adopted this policy, he visited Washington in January, 1863, and as the result of a conference with Secretary Stanton, received the following order, under which the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was organized:

Picture of Edwin McMasters Stanton

WASHINGTON CITY, Jan. 26, 1863.

Ordered : That Governor Andrew of Massachusetts is authorized, until further orders, to raise such number of volunteers, companies of artillery for duty in the forts of Massachusetts and elsewhere, and such corps of infantry for the volunteer military service as he may find convenient, such volunteers to be enlisted for three years, or until sooner discharged, and may include persons of African descent, organized into special corps. He will make the usual needful requisitions on the appropriate staff bureaus and officers, for the proper transportation, organization, supplies, subsistence, arms and equipments of such volunteers.


Secretary of War.

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January 25, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his fiance Annie and his sister Effie:

Stafford C. H. [BCF]
Jan. 25,1863

Dear Annie,

I found your letter of the 14th here, last night, when we arrived. Please do not think of not sending me a letter, because you fancy it stupid; for they always give me a great deal of pleasure. Since I have been at home, I have begun to think that the war may very possibly come to a more sudden end than I have hitherto supposed, unless there is a great change in the feelings of the people. What I saw and heard in public conveyances and hotels surprised me very much; and one would think that the men who have remained quietly at their firesides were the principal sufferers, to judge from their complaints. Morse and I left Washington yesterday morning, and came down to Aquia Landing by boat. There we took the train to Brooke’s Station, which is three miles from here, and walked the rest of the way. The roads are in a condition which no one who has not seen them could imagine, and as it was quite dark we floundered about in the mud, in a very uncertain manner. We finally came across an officer, who directed us to our camp, and we got safely in about 8 P.M.

The corps had a very hard march down here;—while it was so cloudy and threatening at Lenox, it was raining hard here, and every one was soaked through and through for two or three days. The artillery had to throw away their ammunition, and the commissaries the rations, in order to get their wagons through the mud. As it was, many waggons were abandoned, and many mules were so hopelessly stuck in the mud, that they had to be left to end their days there. They sunk so deep in some places that only their heads could be seen,—so I am told, at least; but the story seems rather a startling one. The rate of marching was two to three miles a day; and the last day the men were without a morsel of food. You can imagine the difficulties of a winter
campaign in Virginia. In Washington, I heard, and you probably know by this time, that Burnside’s move is entirely given up, the whole army having stuck in the mud.

Dear Annie, I have thought a great deal of you‚—indeed almost all the time since I left Lenox‚—and of my visit to you, especially the last part of it. O, dear! you don’t know how much I should like to see you again!

Good night; with much love, your


Stafford CourtHouse Va. [HL]
January 25 1863

Dear Effie,

Your letter from Milton of Jan. 18 induces me to address myself to you this morning. I wrote to Father & Mother from Washington & hope they received my letters.

Morse & I left that town yesterday morning & came by boat to Aquia Cr. Landing. We arrived there about 1 P.M. and waited for a train until about 4— having got some bean (pebble) soup on board a canal boat for dinner. The cars took us to Brooke’s Station about three miles from this camp, and from there we walked through the mud & darkness. After many inquiries & many unsatisfactory & often impertinent answers from individuals who had apparently been riled by having been asked similar questions from early dawn, we finally stumbled on C. Wheaton, Jr. the illustrious. The sight of him calmed our ire, which was fast rising at hearing a man advise another (as we turned our backs) to tell the first person who asked him a question “to go to hell.” Wheaton directed us on our way and we soon arrived within sight of our camp-fires.

We find that we escaped the most miserable march the regiment ever made. The storm on Wednesday & Thursday was very severe and put the roads in such a condition that rations & ammunition had to be thrown away, many (even empty) wagons abandoned and mules left to die in mud holes. It rained hard for two days & on one of them the men went for nearly 24 hours without food. As I wrote Father, the movement of Burnside’s Army has been entirely abandoned. They say the Rebels put out a large placard opposite Falmouth, saying: “Burnside stuck in the mud.” “Shan’t we come across & help you with your pontoons?” The letters were large enough to be easily read from our side. I hope you wrote or will write to Annie H. as you intended to, and that you will get well acquainted with her when she comes down to stay with Susie. Tell her to stand straight. No you needn’t say so from me. I don’t feel certain that she considers the matter entirely settled.

They think here that the political troubles at home are going to finish the war before long. If we are not going to fight it out, the sooner it ends, the better. If we do make a peace now, we shall have to go at it again one of these days, I am sure, unless slavery dies out in the mean time.

The Paymaster came up with us, and we arc going to receive four months’ pay.

Did you go to tea at Col. Lowell’s at last?

Give my love to Nellie. I am waiting to hear about the secret society.

Your loving brother


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January 23, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his mother:

Washington, D.C. [BCF]
Jan. 23,1863

Dear Mother,

We arrived here at, or about 8 o’clock this morning, and find we can’t get away until to-morrow morning. We were an hour and a half too early last evening, as the train left at 7 1/2 instead of 6. It was provoking to find we might have spent the time at the house. If we had come in the 11 P.M. train, it would have been early enough, as we must remain here to-day.

What do you think was offered me this morning? A place as Aide on General Heintzleman’s Staff, if I could get an order detailing me away from my Corps. I don’t know what I should do, if the order should make its appearance without any seeking; but I hate to take any steps to have myself detailed away from the regiment. I shouldn’t think it wrong to do so, but a great many of our officers would; and it is very disagreeable to have men say that you are enjoying a pleasant position, by making their duty heavier. It would be a very pleasant change, and it is a very nice staff. Leo Hunt is Heintzleman’s Assistant Adjutant-General; and Johnson, whom I knew very well in Boston, is one of his Aides. It was the latter who made the proposal. I shall do nothing about it myself.

There are no sleeping cars from New York to Philadelphia; but I was so used up for want of rest, that I slept almost all the way. At Philadelphia we got a bunk, and I didn’t wake up again until we arrived here.

If you have any talk with Annie, please find out whether she feels as I told you I thought she did, before you take anything for granted. This letter has been all about myself. Give my love to Father, Susie, and the girls, and tell George and Anna that I was very sorry not to see them and the babies again.

With much love to yourself,
Your affectionate Son

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January 11-22, 1863

Technorati claim token: WVZEZFHWU43B

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January 10, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his fiance Annie:

Fairfax Station, Va. [BCF]
Jan. 10,1863

Dear Annie,

Your letter of the 5th inst., enclosing the vignette, came last night. At first I thought the latter was not good at all, but now I begin to like it, and am very glad indeed to have it. I have noticed that very often you must get acquainted with a portrait before you like it.

I begin to think, Annie, that there will be enough fighting in the country to give us all plenty of occupation for the rest of our lives, even if they are not shortened by bullet or cannon-ball. If a peace is patched up with the South, I don’t believe it can be a permanent one, and if the war goes on for another eighteen months, other nations are likely to be drawn into it. I hope I may be mistaken, for, though I don’t think the soldiers are so much to be pitied as the fathers, mothers, wives, and sisters, who have to stay at home, there are few who are not heartily sick of the war. The anxiety some people must feel for their relatives in the army, is a great deal worse, I think, than anything we have to bear.

You asked me once if I knew why McClellan lay still after the battle of Antietam. We have never been able to discover why Lee was allowed to withdraw as he did. When we heard that he had gone, the day after the battle, we said it would ruin McClellan. After the Rebels got into Virginia, there were many good reasons given for not pursuing. We were not well supplied with ammunition (at least, I know that to have been the case in our Corps), our force was not so large as theirs, and our men were scattered by thousands from Frederick to Sharpsburg—our troops always get scattered after a fight, and the new ones are much worse than the old. If a hard march precedes the battle, of course that adds to the number of stragglers. It may be true that McClellan is not rapid enough in carrying out his plans, but I wish he were in Halleck’s place.

I have read Cairne’s book and Lecture. It is a pity they have not more such good and clear-headed men in England. I have just read “Gurowski’s Diary.” It is very amusing, if no more, and no doubt there is much truth in it. The book I swear by now, is “Napier’s Peninsular War.” I have not read anything that has given me so much pleasure for a long while.

Did I tell you we were all comfortably hutted now? The men are all in log-shanties with fireplaces — four men in a mess — and the officers occupy palatial residences, seven or eight feet square, usually two in each. We can defy the weather, and if we are “let alone” for a time, we shall pass a comparatively pleasant winter.

I want to go home, I cannot tell you how much, in February, but I do not see any chance of it now. Tell your mother not to trouble herself to answer my letter. I didn’t expect an answer, as I knew she didn’t write much.

Yours affectionately,

R. G. Shaw
p.S.— I wonder if you have received all my letters. Often I can only tell the date of yours by the postage-mark, for you give the day of the week merely.

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January 9, 1863


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January 8, 1863

Robert Gould Shaw had been serving in the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry for almost two years, and would become the commander of the newly forming 54th Massachusetts in several months:

Fairfax Station [BCF]
Jan. 8,1863

Dearest Mother,

On the outside of my last letter to you I mentioned having received yours enclosing one from Uncle Henry; we have had no letters for some time now; there is a hitch in the mail every little while.

The other day I wrote to George, and spoke of what you wrote me about McClellan, in a way which I thought afterwards might look rude on paper. I didn’t mean it so, and I wish you would tell him. It is astonishing how much the meaning of a sentence may be changed by the manner in which it is said, and consequently how a written sentence may be misunderstood.

We hear that Hooker will probably be made commander-in-chief before long. I believe he will be a failure too. Though he got us so much glory at Antietam, neither he nor his Corps were on the field after 8 1/2 A.M. We were under his command part of the time, or at least received orders from him, and they were thought to be pretty wild ones then. If we do change our commander again, and the new one doesn’t do any better than his predecessors, I should think a crisis in our affairs might be expected. I hope the battle in the West may turn out to be as important as is supposed.

We are all comfortably housed in log-huts, with brick fireplaces, and can laugh at the cold for the present. Harry and I are as cosey as possible in a house seven by six, with a tent for a roof. I feel almost as if I were at home, after the exposure and discomfort of the last three weeks. We may be ordered off at any moment though, so that we don’t indulge in any hopes of escaping the frosts of January.

We have been reading “Bleak House,” and I didn’t remember how many beautiful things there were in it. I am reading “Napier’s Peninsular War” to myself, and it is really a classic work; I never knew before, either, what a man Sir John Moore was, nor was so impressed with Napoleon’s military genius. It is a great book, and a great many things in it apply to the conduct of our war. Speaking of one of Napoleon’s letters to Joseph Bonaparte, he says: “Then followed an observation which may be studied with advantage by those authors who, unacquainted with the simplest rudiments of military science, censure the conduct of generals, and, from some obscure nook, are pleased to point out their errors to the world; authors who, profoundly ignorant of the numbers, situation, and resources of the opposing armies, pretend, nevertheless, to detail with great accuracy the right method of executing the most difficult and delicate operations of war.” The observation he refers to is: “But it is not permitted at the distance of three hundred leagues, without even a statement of the condition of the army, to direct what should be done.” In another place, he says: “A ruinous defeat, the work of chance, often closes the career of the boldest and most sagacious of generals; and to judge of a commander’s conduct by the event alone, is equally unjust and unphilosophical, a refuge for vanity and ignorance.”

Did Father get my letter asking him to forward my coat lined with red flannel? If you have given it away, no matter. I can get along perfectly well without it, and if not, can get another from Baltimore. We have had some very warm woollen jackets issued to us lately, which are almost as good as an overcoat. Out men are all as well housed as the officers, each house having a fireplace in it. Give my love to Susie, and tell her not to nourish the hope that I can get away in February. I don’t think there is any chance of it.

What a great year this is for the negroes and the country! I don’t appreciate it at all times. If we get the Mississippi, it will make a great difference, I should think, in the spreading of the President’s Proclamation. I read Mrs. Stowe’s “Reply” in the January “Atlantic,” and liked it very much.

With love to Father, always your most
Affectionate Son

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