Archive for February, 2010

February 27-28, 1863

Seventeen men joined the regiment on the 27th and 28th of February, 1863.
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February 25, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his sister and to his father:

Readville [BCF]
Feb. 25,1863

Dear Effie,

I got your Sunday’s letter last night. I have not seen Colonel Lowell since, but will deliver your message at first opportunity. We have forty Darks out here now, and expect some more from New York and New Bedford in a day or two. When I hear from Providence, Fortress Monroe, and Canada, I shall be able to tell how rapidly the regiment will be likely to fill up. I am not staying out here yet, but shall probably take up my quarters here, in ten days or a fortnight.

Loulie has shown me several of Nellie’s letters. What good ones she writes. I am sorry you don’t see anything of Annie. I shall try to go on to New York on the 6th of March, and spend Saturday and Sunday at Susie’s. I spent last Sunday at Milton Hill with Henry Higginson and Charles Lowell. Monday evening, there was a small party at Clover Hooper’s, where I had a very pleasant time indeed, with Miss Ida, Miss Heath, &c. To-morrow evening, I am going to see old Mr. Quincy; he sent me word he should like to see me; the next evening, to the Sedgwicks in Cambridge. I have been somewhere almost every night.

Love to all.
Your loving Brother

Readville [BCF]
Feb. 25 1863

Dear Father,

I forgot to mention yesterday that a man is entitled to $2.00 per head for sound recruits sent to camp.  We have got our barracks all in order here, and can accommodate all the men that come now. I hope you will be able to send us some, before many days.

We have 40 here already and they look remarkably well in their uniforms. They are not of the best class of nigs—and if it weren’t for the want of state aid we should be able to get a much better set from the othet states. If you have any difficulty about making the arrangements I spoke of in my yesterday’s note, I wish you would let me know. Perhaps you can find a better man than Givens to do the work, and I think it would be well to get some white man who would interest himself in superintending the recruiting & take it off your hands. Doesn’t Mr. Gay know some one who would like a commission in the Regt & would be a good man to look after matters in N.Y.

Your loving son
R.G. S.

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February 24, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his friend Charles Fessenden Morse, and to his father:

Boston [BCF]
February 24,1863

My dear Charley,

I thought I would write to you again this morning to tell you what Lowell says of the battle of Antietam. Hooker’s & Mansfield’s attack on the right was intended only for a feint—and Burnside’s was to have been the true attack — which would have cut off their retreat to the Fords & driven them into the river or obliged them to make a flank march by the Hagerstown road in the face of Hooker’s & Mansfield’s Corps. Hooker got so sharply engaged that Sumner had to be sent to his support, instead of being held for a grand attack on the centre — and Burnside, as you know, did not do his work. This gives me a different idea of the battle from what I had before, and explains its plan.

Perhaps you already knew these facts. I was at a small party last night, where I saw Henry Hig. He goes away today and is very melancholy at the idea. Charley Horton is still on the town — but goes in a few days. I saw him yesterday on his way to a reception at Mrs. H. G. Otis’, with sash & belt & head well over to the right.

We have got 30 men out at Readeville—all washed & uniformed. They feel as big as all creation — and really look very well. We expect a good many from New York & Philadelphia, and shall know soon how many we can expect from Canada & Fortress Monroe. The thing is getting along very nicely.

With [love] to the fellows.
Your affectionate friend,

Robert G. Shaw

Boston [BCF]
Feb. 24,1863

Dear Father,

The regimental committee here have engaged a coloured man, named W. Wells Brown, to go to New York and help along the enlistments there. He will call at your office immediately after his arrival. Mr. Hallowell thinks that he and Givens had better enroll as many men as they can, and that you had better buy tickets in New York for their transportation. The only bounty they will receive is $100 from the United States at the expiration of their time of service. The pay is $13 per month, the same our white soldiers receive. You can probably make an arrangement with the Stonington Line to pay the men’s passage to Readville, and let them out there. Mr. Hallowell wants you to pay everything, and send the accounts to him for reimbursement. Can’t you engage some surgeon to examine them before they start, so that we need not be under the necessity of sending any back? Telegraph to Mr. Hallowell, 98 Federal Street, when a squad is shipped, the time of their departure, and their number. I suppose it had better be done as quietly as possible. Our agents start for Canada to-morrow. The want of State aid for the men’s families will be a great drawback to their enlistment in other States. Only Massachusetts men can get it. Mr. Hallowell will answer your letter to him. I have not received the one you mention having written to me.

Love to Mother and the girls.
Your affectionate son,

Robert G. Shaw

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February 23, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his fiance:

Boston [BCF]
Feb. 23, (Monday) 1863

Dearest Annie,

We have opened the camp at Readville, got the barracks in good order, and sent twenty-seven men out there. I have a good quartermaster, who has got all the necessary stores out there, and seems to be attending to his business in the most satisfactory manner. Captain Edward Hallowell, a brother of the Lieutenant-Colonel, is in command of the camp. Day before yesterday he had the men all washed and uniformed, which pleased them amazingly. They are being drilled as much as is possible in-doors, for it is too cold out there to keep them in the open air for any length of time. These twenty-seven men are all from Philadelphia and Boston.

From other recruiting-offices we hear very good accounts, and the men seem to be enlisting quite fast. Governor Sprague has authorized a recruiting-office to be opened in Providence for this regiment. We have an officer at Fortress Monroe, but he has to be very secret about his work; and to-day three men are going on a campaign into Canada. By these different means we expect, or rather hope, to fill our ranks pretty rapidly. We are getting men from Pennsylvania, NewYork, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. So far, they are not of the best class, because the good ones are loath to leave their families, while there is a hope of getting a bounty later. Now, they receive only the $100 from the Federal government at the expiration of their term of enlistment.

Hallowell and I get along together in the pleasantest way. I like Governor Andrew more and more every day. As Charles Lowell says: “It was worth while to come home, if it were only to get acquainted with him.” … All my mornings are spent in the State-House; and as in-door, furnace-heated work does not agree with me, I shall get out to Readville as soon as possible.

Good bye for the present, my darling.

Always your loving Rob

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February 22, 1863

Emilio [BBR] quotes from a speech of Frederick Douglass which was published in Douglass’s monthly The North Star:

… We can get at the throat of treason and slavery through the State of Massachusetts. She was first in the War of Independence ; first to break the chains of her slaves ; first to make the black man equal before the law ; first to admit colored children to her common schools. She was first to answer with her blood the alarm-cry of the nation when its capital was menaced by thehe Rebels. You know her patriotic Governor, and you know Charles Sumner. I need add no more. Massachusetts now welcomes you as her soldiers. . . .

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February 21, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his friend Charles Fessenden Morse:

Boston [BCF]

February 21,1863

My dear Charley,

Your letter with enclosures reached me yesterday. I am much obliged to you for attending to those matters. Do I owe you anything? Please let me know as soon as possible. I think Johnson’s bill was a little more than I supposed. Perhaps you know by this time, that my engagement is out. I had a nice time for four days in New York as Miss H. was staying at my sister’s. Harry Russell looks more cheerful & happy than I ever saw him—and Miss Forbes likewise. They are about as devoted a couple as I ever saw. The darky concern is getting along very well. We are going into camp at Readeville. Sent 25 men out this morning & hope soon to have things entrain. The State House people give us every assistance in their power. The Somerset Club crowd are down on us, but nevertheless I had an invitation to go there whenever I wished. I hear there was a little row about it at first.

Please ask Coughlin, when he goes to Washington to get a package from Adams for me, and send it to 44 Beacon St., Boston. It is something which I should be very sorry to lose.

Henry Higginson has been here for a week. Give my love to Greely & if you see B. Adams tell him that I received his letter and that it gave me a great deal of pleasure. I suppose Brown & Fox are back by this time. Give my love to Tom Robeson & Grafton. Charley Horton & I dine with Bangs today en famille.

Good-bye my dear Charley. I hope you will enjoy your Provost Martial duties.

Affectionately Yours,

Robert G. Shaw

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February 20, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his mother and to a cousin:

Boston [BCF]
Feby 20 1863

Dear Mother,

You have probably been looking for a letter from me for some days, but I have had so much to do that I couldn’t write. My interviews with the Govr have been very satisfactory — and we are getting along better than I expected we should. Cousin John helps us along a great deal with his advice — he has thought of several men for officers who I think will be the best we shall get. After discussing their characters, he will say “now, does any one know whether he’s enough nigger to him?” or “are his heels long eno’ for this work?”‘ He is very funny.

Evening. Your letter enclosing Mrs. Schuyler’s & Mr. Ward’s notes came this afternoon. Please thank them both when you see them. There was a meeting of the committee for the Col’d regt today and money was appropriated to aid enlistments in various places. We have got the camp going and shall send some men out tomorrow. At the meeting Richard Hallowell said it would please the coloured population to have some influential darkey on the committee‚—and Cousin John told him he would like to take in a nigger and turn him (H.) out, which naturally caused some merriment. I didn’t see the Governor’s mouth twitch, and I like him more every day. He is not only a liberal minded philanthropist, but a man of real practical good-sense, I think — and as kind-hearted as he can be. Some of the influential coloured men I have met please me very much. They are really so gentlemanlike & dignified. Please tell Father that I have been requested by the committee to ask him to find some responsible & respectable coloured men, who can help enlistments in New York & Brooklyn. As soon as he will notify me of his having met some such person or persons I will send him some tickets for their transportation to Massachusetts. They should be ascertained to be physically sound before being sent — and there should be no noise made about it, as N.Y authorities might object to our taking them from there. No recruiting office should be opened.

I shall write to you as often as ever dearest Mother, as I don’t intend to abandon you entirely for Annie, as you seem to think. Just now while I am so much engaged, my letters may be a little less frequent.

Ever your loving son,
Robert G. Shaw

Said nothing to C.S. The passage of the conscription act makes the raising of coloured troops less important, I think. I have received many notes of congratulation both on my engagement & my having taken the Regt. I have just been reading all the letters rec’d by Jim Savage’s family concerning him, and my head is full of those Cedar Mt. & Rappahannock days. Sad ones they were.

I spent last evening with Aunt Susan and family. It was very sad; they talked of Theodore a great deal, and seemed to find great comfort in it. They all bear the loss like true Christians; and when I think what a terrible blow it is to them, I cannot admire them sufficiently. The girls seemed lovely in their gentleness, and sweet way of speaking of Theodore. Uncle John is cheerful too; probably from feeling how much Aunt Susan has need of all the consolation he can give her. It is an immense comfort to them to talk of and remember Theodore’s beautiful and pure character. I shall go there again soon. They thought I had done a great thing in taking the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts. About this, I have had only good words from friends and foes of the project. As you say, the result is sure to be good when a man takes a firm stand for what he thinks is the right. Annie Agassiz, the Professor, and all the family, as well as many others, made the most complimentary remarks. I have spoken so much of this, not from egotism, but because the kindness of every one I have met, has made a great impression upon me. Tell Father, Homans has a
Second Lieutenancy in my regiment.

Your loving son

Boston [BCF]
February 20,1863

Dear Mimi,

You will be astonished to hear, I suppose, (unless some one has mentioned it already) that I am engaged to Miss Annie Haggerty. Perhaps you remember that two years ago I told you she would be my “young woman” some time. Harry and I keep along pretty well together, don’t we? And we are both so unfortunate, as to have the prospect of being dragged off again to the tented field, when we want most horribly to stay at home. We are at home now together, he as Lieut. Col. of the 2d Mass. Cavalry, and I as a Nigger Col., for Gov. Andrew has given me the command of his black regiment. The conscription bill has passed so I advise Theodore not to come home, lest he be drafted. Tell him I will give him a position as chaplain if he would like to go into a good nigger concern.

I hope, dear Mimi, you and he and the baby are well, and are having a pleasant time. It seems as if we were to have continual war in this country. I pray God it may not be so, for there has been enough blood shed to atone for a great many sins.

Since I have been at home the misery and unhappiness caused by this war have struck me more forcibly than ever — for in active service one gets accustomed to think very lightly of such things. Last evening I went to see the Parkmans, and the way in which they bear Theodore’s loss is beautiful. You know how devoted they all were to him, and what a terrible blow his death must have been‚ — îand there are thousands of such cases on both sides.

Give my love to Theodore. I hope we shall see you safe at home before long‚ — before Harry and I go off again. All are well here.

Always your affectionate Cousin,
Robert G. Shaw

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February 19, 1863

An entry from Emilio [BBR] describing the early recruiting efforts:

Much the larger number of recruits were obtained through the organization and by the means which will now be described. About February 15, Governor Andrew appointed a committee to superintend the raising of recruits for the colored regiment, consisting of George L. Stearns, Amos A. Lawrence, John M. Forbes, William I. Bowditch, Le Baron Russell, and Richard P. Hallowell, of Boston; Mayor Howland and James B. Congdon, of New Bedford; Willard P. Phillips, of Salem; and Francis G. Shaw, of New York. Subsequently the membership was increased to one hundred, and it became known as the “Black Committee.” It was mainly instrumental in procuring the men of the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry, the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry, besides 3,967 other colored men credited to the State. All the gentlemen named were persons of prominence. Most of them had been for years in the van of those advanced thinkers and workers who had striven to help and free the slave wherever found. The first work of this committee was to collect money; and in a very short time five thousand dollars was received, Gerrit Smith, of New York, sending his check for five hundred dollars. Altogether nearly one hundred thousand dollars was collected, which passed through the hands of Richard P. Hallowell, the treasurer, who was a brother of the Hallowells commissioned in the Fifty-fourth. A call for recruits was published in a hundred journals from east to west. Friends whose views were known were communicated with, and their aid solicited; but the response was not for a time encouraging

With the need came the man. Excepting Governor Andrew, the highest praise for recruiting the Fifty-fourth belongs to George L. Stearns, who had been closely identified with the struggle in Kansas and John Brown’s projects. He was appointed agent for the committee, and about February 23 went west on his mission. Mr. Stearns stopped at Rochester, N. Y., to ask the aid of Fred Douglass, receiving hearty co-operation, and enrolling a son of Douglass as his first recruit. His headquarters were made at Buffalo, and a line of recruiting posts from Boston to St. Louis established.

Soon such success was met with in the work that after filling the Fifty-fourth the number of recruits was sufficient to warrant forming a sister regiment.

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February 18, 1863

Letters from Shaw to his father and to his fiance:

Boston [BCF]
Feb. 18,1863

Dear Father,

Will you please inquire of Judge Emerson where his son Charles is to be found, and whether he would take a First Lieutenancy in the coloured regiment. I liked what I saw of him at college very much, and am very anxious to get hold of him. I am occupied all the time. Things look very encouraging.
Love to Mother.

Affectionately, your son,
Robert G. Shaw

February 18,1863 [BCF]

My Dear Annie,

Yours of Monday I received this morning. . ..

Last night I was at Milton Hill.Miss Sedgwick (Aunt Kitty) came over. She talked about you, and told me how much she loved your mother, and you and Clem. I thought him a very charming person. Cousin Sarah was very kind and sympathizing; she wants to see you very much, and you will have to come here some time. I have not seen Aunt Cora, as she was ill when I went there.

Do write to me often, Annie dear, for I need a word occasionally from those whom I love, to keep up my courage. Whatever you write about, your letters always make me feel well; and I have enough discouraging work before me to make me feel gloomy.

Always, with great love,

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February 17, 1863

Picture of William H. Carney

Notably, on this day William H. Carney joined the regiment.  He would become the first African-American to receive the country’s Medal of Honor, in recognition of his valor during the assault on Fort Wagner.

Emilio observed that there were strong disincentives directed against both the soldiers and officers of the regiment [BBR,6-7]:

At the time a strong prejudice existed against arming the blacks and those who dared to command them. The sentiment of the country and of the army was opposed to the measure. It was asserted that they would not fight, that their employment would prolong the war, and that white troops would refuse to serve with them. Besides the moral courage required to accept commissions in the Fifty-fourth at the time it was organizing, physical courage was also necessary, for the Confederate Congress, on May 1, 1863, passed an act, a portion of which read as follows: —

” SECTION IV. That every white person being a commissioned officer, or acting as such, who, during the present war, shall command negroes or mulattoes in arms against the Confederate States, or who shall arm, train, organize, or prepare negroes or mulattoes for military service against the Confederate States, or who shall voluntarily aid negroes or mulattoes in any military enterprise, attack, or conflict in such service, shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection, and shall, if captured, be put to death or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the Court.”

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