Archive for February, 2010

February 16, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his fiance Annie and to his Father; description of initial recruiting from Emilio [BBR 9,10]; one of the recruiting ads.

Boston [BCF]

Feb. 16,1863, Monday

Dearest Annie,

I arrived here yesterday morning, after a very uncomfortable night in the sleeping-car. I have been at work all day, looking over papers with Hallowell, and talking with Governor Andrew. We have decided to go into camp at Readville, and not at Worcester. It is near enough to Boston to make the transportation of supplies an easy matter, and we see no reason to apprehend any trouble from the white soldiers stationed there. Now that it is decided that coloured troops shall be raised, people seem to look upon it as a matter of course, and I have seen no one who has not expressed the kindest wishes for the success of the project. Governor Andrew’s ideas please me extremely, for he takes the most common-sense view of the thing. He seems inclined to have me do just what I please.

With much affection, your


Boston [BCF]
Feb. 16,1863

Dear Father,

I arrived here yesterday morning. Things arc going along very well, and I think there is no doubt of our ultimate success. I took a long drive with the Governor, and liked him very much. His views about the regiment are just what I should wish. We have decided to go into camp at Readville; as we think it best to plunge in without regard to outsiders. We shall have to do it some time, and it is best to begin immediately; I do not apprehend any trouble out there. We have a great deal of work before us, but every one seems anxious to give us a helping hand, and applications for commissions come in, in shoals. The more money we can get, the better; the transportation of men from other States will cost a great deal.
I will write to Mother soon.

In haste,
Your affectionate Son

In five days [after the Boston Journal ad] twenty-five men were secured; and Lieutenant Appleton’s work was vigorously prosecuted, with measurable success. It was not always an agreeable task, for the rougher element was troublesome and insulting. About fifty or sixty men were recruited at this office, which was closed about the last of March. Lieutenant Appleton then reported to the camp established and took command of Company A, made up of his recruits and others afterward obtained.

Early in February quite a number of colored men were recruited in Philadelphia, by Lieut. E. N. Hallowell, James M. Walton, who was subsequently commissioned in the Fifty-fourth, and Robert R. Corson, the Massachusetts State Agent. Recruiting there was attended with much annoyance. The gathering-place had to be kept secret, and the men sent to Massachusetts in small parties to avoid molestation or excitement. Mr. Corson was obliged to purchase railroad tickets himself, and get the recruits one at a time on the cars or under cover of darkness. The men sent and brought from Philadelphia went to form the major part of Company B.

New Bedford was also chosen as a fertile field. James W. Grace, a young business man of that place, was selected as recruiting officer, and commissioned February 10. He opened headquarters on Williams Street, near the post-office, and put out the United States flag across the street.Colored ministers of the city were informed of his plans; and Lieutenant Grace visited their churches to interest the people in his work. He arranged for William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, and other noted men to address meetings. Cornelius Rowland, C. B. H. Fessenden, and James B. Congdon materially assisted and were good friends of the movement. While recruiting, Lieutenant Grace was often insulted by such remarks as, “There goes the captain of the Negro Company! He thinks the negroes will fight! They will turn and run at the first sight of the enemy! ” His little son was scoffed at in school because his father was raising a negro company to fight the white men.

At camp the New Bedford men, — some seventy-five in number,—with others from that place and elsewhere, became Company C, the representative Massachusetts company.

Watson W. Bridgee …[his] headquarters were at Springfield, and he worked in Western Massachusettts and Connecticut. When ordered to camp, about April 1, he had recruited some seventy men.

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February 15, 1863

Captain Shaw arrived in Boston on February 15, and at once assumed the duties of his position. Captain Hallowell was already there, daily engaged in the executive business of the new organization; and about the middle of February, his brother, Edward N. Hallowell, who had served as a lieutenant in the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry, also reported for duty, and was made major of the Fifty-fourth before its departure for the field.

Line-officers were commissioned from persons nominated by commanders of regiments in the field, by tried friends of the movement, the field officers, and those Governor Andrew personally desired to appoint. This freedom of selection, — unhampered by claims arising from recruits furnished or preferences of the enlisted men, so powerful in officering white regiments, — secured for this organization a corps of officers who brought exceptional character, experience, and ardor to their allotted work. Of the twenty-nine who took the field, fourteen were veteran soldiers from three-years regiments, nine from nine-months regiments, and one from the militia; six had previously been commissioned. They included representatives of well-known families; several were Harvard men; and some, descendants of officers of the Revolution and the War of 1812. Their average age was about twenty-three years.

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February 9-14, 1863

James Henry Gooding enrolled in the regiment on 14 February in New Bedford. His war correspondence to the New Bedford Mercury begins on March 3, 1863. A total of 24 men enrolled in the regiment from the 9th to the 14th.

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February 8, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his fiance Annie and to his Father.  By now he has decided to accept Governor Andrew’s offer of command of the regiment.

Stafford C.H.,Va. [BCF]
Feb. 8,1863

Dear Annie,

You know by this time, perhaps, that I have changed my mind about the black regiment. After Father left, I began to think I had made a mistake in refusing Governor Andrew’s offer. Mother has telegraphed to me that you would not disapprove of it, and that makes me feel much more easy about having taken it. Going for another three years is not nearly so bad a thing for a colonel as a captain; as the former can much more easily get a furlough. Then, after I have undertaken this work, I shall feel that what I have to do is to prove that a negro can be made a good soldier, and, that being established, it will not be a point of honour with me to see the war through, unless I really occupied a position of importance in the army. Hundreds of men might leave the army, you know, without injuring the service in the slightest degree.

Last night I received your letter of last Sunday, February i st. You must be at Susie’s house now,—at least I judge so from Mother’s telegram. As I may not receive my order to leave here for some days, do promise to stay there until I get to New York. You do not know how I shall feel if I find you are gone. It is needless for me to overwhelm you with a quantity of arguments in favour of the negro troops; because you arc with Mother, the warmest advocate the cause can have. I am inclined to think that the undertaking will not meet with so much opposition as was at first supposed. All sensible men in the army, of all parties, after a little thought, say that it is the best thing that can be done; and surely those at home, who are not brave or patriotic enough to enlist, should not ridicule, or throw obstacles in the way of men who are going to fight for them. There is a great prejudice against it; but now that it has become a government matter, that will probably wear away. At any rate, I shan’t be frightened out of it by its unpopularity; and I hope you won’t care if it is made fun of.

Dear Annie, the first thing I thought of, in connection with it, was how you would feel, and I trust, now I have taken hold of it, I shall find you agree with me and all of our family, in thinking I was right. You know how many eminent men consider a negro army of the greatest importance to our country at this time. If it turns out to be so, how fully repaid the pioneers in the movement will be, for what they may have to go through! And at any rate I feel convinced I shall never regret having taken this step, as far as I myself am concerned; for while I was undecided I felt ashamed of myself, as if I were cowardly.

Good bye, dear Annie. I hope that when I arrive at Sue’s door you will not be very far off.

With a great deal of love, (more every day) your

Stafford Court-House, Va. [BCF]

Feb. 8,1863

Dear Father,

Yours from Willard’s, enclosing Mother’s and Effie’s, was received to-day.Please tell Nellie I received hers of 17th January last night. I telegraphed you yesterday that I couldn’t get away from here without an order or furlough. It will have to come from Hooker or the War Department, and the Governor will have to get it for me. He knows what is needful, though, for he procured the necessary papers when Harry and I went home. If I have to wait some time, don’t let Annie go away until I get to New York, will you?

Tell Mother I have not wavered at all, since my final decision. I feel that if we can get the men, all will go right.

With love to all,

Your affectionate son,

Robert G. Shaw

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February 7, 1863

The first person enrolled in the regiment was John Whittier Messer Appleton, who was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant today. He became Captain of Company A on April 14, 1863, and was promoted to Major on July 18, even though wounded in the assault on Ft. Wagner. Appleton began vigorously recruiting for the regiment — securing 25 men in the first 5 days — arranging for posters and placing the following ad which appeared in the Boston Journal on February 16:
                          To Colored Men.
Wanted.  Good men for the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers
of African descent, Col. Robert G. Shaw.  $100 bounty at expiration of term of
service.  Pay $13 per month, and State aid for families.  All necessary information
can be obtained at the office, corner Cambridge and North Russell Streets.
                             Lieut. J.W.M. Appleton,
                             Recruiting Officer.

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February 5-6, 1863

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February 4, 1863

A letter from  Shaw to his fiance Annie.  Here he tells her that he (initially) turned down Governor Andrew’s offer

Stafford Court-House, Va. [BCF]
Feb. 4,1863

My Dear Annie,

Your two letters, of the 25th and 29th of January, have reached me at last, and I was glad enough to get them. By this time you are on your way to New York, where you will find my last letter. I sent it to Father, thinking that you were going to Susie’s.

I did not read General Hitchcock’s testimony in McDowell’s case. Holt’s summing up of the testimony for and against Porter, seemed to me very poor, for a man of his ability; and if I could persuade myself that the court (composed as it was, of officers of honourable standing) could be dishonest, I should think there had been foul play. Several officers have been dismissed for uttering the like sentiments; so I think I had better keep my opinion to myself. I was much surprised to hear, the other day, from a regular officer in Porter’s Corps, that, though they considered the latter a fine officer, he was not personally liked. I have hitherto heard just the contrary. .

We are tolerably comfortable here now, as our log-huts arc going up again, and we have come across a sutler who furnishes the officers with means to keep a very good mess.

Father has just left here. He came down yesterday, and brought me an offer from Governor Andrew of the Colonelcy of his new black regiment. The Governor considers it a most important command; and I could not help feeling, from the tone of his letter, that he did me a great honour in offering it to me. My Father will tell you some of the reasons why I thought I ought not to accept it. If I had taken it, it would only have been from a sense of duty; for it would have been anything but an agreeable task. Please tell me, without reserve, what you think about it; for I am very anxious to know. I should have decided much sooner than I did, if I had known before. I am afraid Mother will think I am shirking my duty; but I had some good practical reasons for it, besides the desire to be at liberty to decide what to do when my three years have expired.

You asked me in one of your letters whether I was a Unitarian. Since I have been old enough to think for myself, I have considered I had better not try to decide about sects. I always like to go to church, and I like to hear a good sermon, whether it is preached in an Episcopal or a Methodist church. The only Sunday school I ever went to, was Episcopal, and I have been to the Unitarian church less than to any other. While I am on this subject, I must remind you of the Bible you are going to send me.

I like the name Robert much better than Bob, and shall be very glad to have you call me so. Father, Mother, and Effie always call me “Rob,” which slight change of a letter makes a great difference in the name.

There does not seem to be much enthusiasm for Hooker. The cry in the army is still for McClellan. I wonder whether he will ever get his old command again! I don’t think he is doing himself any good by having public receptions in Boston.

The hills about Lenox would be a very welcome sight to me, whether they were covered with snow, with grass, or with nothing at all; though just now, I had rather be in New York. I want to see you horribly (that is the only word I can think of for it), but I have to console myself by looking at the vignette. Did you manage to have some work done on the place before you left?

Our chaplain is an “Orthodox” clergyman, and is much superior to most in the army, I think, though he does get into very lazy habits. Camp life gives no incentive to activity or energy.

I have about a dozen acquaintances in the South. Most of them classmates of mine, with a few of whom I was on most intimate terms. Two of them were captured in North Carolina by another classmate, a captain in the Forty-fourth Massachusetts. He invited them to dinner, and after having had a jolly time together, they were paroled and sent home. We heard, from some prisoners taken at Antietam, that some of our friends were in a regiment that was opposed to ours in that battle. I don’t think I know any one in Richmond. Being officer of the day, to-day, and having several little affairs to attend to in consequence, I must close. So good-bye, dear Annie, with a great deal of love.

Your affectionate Rob

P.S.—Do you know of a woman in Lenox named McDonald? Whether she is very poor, or anything about het? Her son is in my company, and is always getting punished; but when the men’s families are poor we do not like to cut down their pay, which is the most effectual punishment.

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February 3, 1863


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