Archive for March, 2010

March 31, 1863

Picture of Robert Gould Shaw

Robert Gould Shaw officially joined the regiment today, as a Major. He was promoted to Colonel of the regiment on April 17, 1863.


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March 30, 1863

Picture of Luis F. Emilio

Luis F. Emilio joined Company E of the regiment today as a second lieutenant. He became Captain of Company E on May 23, 1863.
Gooding ’s fifth letter to the Mercury, and a letter from Shaw to his father:

[Mercury, March 31, 1863]
Camp Meigs, Readville, March 30

Messrs. Editors:‚

—As the week begins anew, I have condensed my notes of the past week to lay them before the readers of the Mercury. In my last I stated the number of men in camp to be 368; today the number is 439, an increase of 71 men in one week, one more company having been organized, making five companies. During the past week things have assumed a more military shape than ever before, owing to the fine state of the weather, permitting out-door drilling. Since the men have been in camp the drilling has been conducted in empty barracks, until the past week. It is quite enlivening to see squads of men in the open field, a little distance from the barracks, going through their evolutions; especially when they acquit themselves so creditably as the officers say they do.

And here I may remark that every officer in camp appears to take an interest in the speedy and correct discipline of the men; neither are they lacking in regard for the religious welfare of the men, receiving the proffers of religious men willingly, who desire to make any remarks beneficial to the men. Rev. Wm. Jackson is here, and is to act as chaplain pro tem. Mr. Rickers, City Missionary, from Boston, preached yesterday forenoon, and Rev. Mr. Jackson in the afternoon.

I see a rumor in the Boston Herald that the conscription act will be put in force by taking the Northern colored people first. If it be true, the young, able bodied colored men of New Bedford would do well to come up here to Readville, “out of the cold.” The New York World thinks Gov. Andrew is exasperated because the colored people won’t enlist. There may be more truth than sarcasm in the hint.

The Editors of the MERCURY will please accept the thanks of Company C, for a bundle of magazines, and serials. Also, some unknown friends, for towels, looking glasses, blacking and brushes, and three barrels of apples. These acts of kindness make us all feel that we are not forgotten by the good people of New Bedford. If those we left behind fare in proportion as well as we do, we are content.

J. H. G.

Readville [BCF]
March 30,1863

Dear Father,

Caraway should not have received a pass. He was away on leave, and should have paid his own expenses. We have had four companies mustered in to-day. There is another one half full, and sixty men on their way from Buffalo. In a month I think we shall be full.

Thank you for your answer to my question about our being married. There is no reason why it should interfere with my duties as an officer.

I hope all the coloured people will be as sensible as Downing; I didn’t know he had been here. The mustering-officer, who was here to-day, is a Virginian, and has always thought it was a great joke to try to make soldiers of “niggers”; but he told me to-day, that he had never mustered in so fine a set of men, though about twenty thousand had passed through his hands since September last. The sceptics need only come out here now, to be converted.

I hope to find a letter from Mother when I go in town to-morrow afternoon. Give my love to her. Annie has not been well since she came here. In one way it has been very fortunate, for we have had several quiet evenings together. I don’t know what her Mother will say to our plan of being married before I go, but I hope she will come into it.

Your loving son,

Robert G. Shaw

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March 29, 1863

Forty-one men joined the regiment today. [BBR]

This picture shows the camp at Readville during the spring of 1863 while the 54th was training there. On the left is an unknown private, on the right is Surgeon Lincoln Ripley Stone, and in the center is First Lieutenant Garth Wilkinson (Wilky) James, younger brother of William and Henry James.

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March 28, 1863

Eight men joined the regiment today. [BBR]
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March 27, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his mother:

Readville [BCF]
March 27,1863

Dear Mother,

Annie and I got to Boston last evening. Will you please tell me exactly what you think of our being married before I go away? I want to have your opinion about it, and Father’s too. Please ask him to write me what he thinks of it; and make a point of it yourself, will you?

We received thirty men yesterday and to-day. The snow has almost disappeared, and the camp is fast getting dry. I am sorry I wrote you what I did about punishments in my regiment, and it may have seemed to you more important than it really is; what made me speak of it was a letter from the Surgeon-General of the State, asking what punishments were inflicted, and I thought some one had been complaining; but I can’t find that such is the fact, though.

Your loving Son

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March 26, 1863

Four men joined the regiment today. [BBR]
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March 25, 1863

Picture of Lewis Douglass

Lewis Henry Douglass, the oldest son of Frederick Douglass, joined Company F of the regiment on this day. He became Sergeant-Major of the regiment on April 23, 1863.
A letter from Shaw to his mother:

Readville [BCF]
March 25 1863

Dear Mother,

I have received two notes from you, one about our course of conduct at Aunt Mary’s, and the other about shirts. I agree with you entirely about what you said in the first, and shall do as you suggest. I burned the note, as you requested, and will not say anything to Aunt Mary about it. I have bought the shirts but will pay the bill myself, as I shall be happy to make Howard a present of the others.

If the success of the 54 Mass. gives you so much pleasure, I shall have no difficulty in giving you good news of it, whenever I write. Everything goes on prosperously. The intelligence of the men is a great surprise, to me. They learn all the details of guard duty and Camp service, infinitely more readily than the Irish I have had under my command. There is not the least doubt, that we shall leave the state, with as good a regiment, as any that has marched. One trouble, which I anticipated, has begun-viz: complaints from outsiders of undue severity. But I shall continue to do, what I know is right in that particular, and you may be perfectly certain, that any reports of cruelty, are entirely untrue. I have treated them much more mildly, than we did the men of the 2d.

Tell Father I received his note, and would like very much to have him send me the horse he speaks of, if he is satisfied with him. I want as handsome a horse as I can get & need it as soon as possible.

I am going up to Lenox tonight, to come down with Annie tomorrow. I found I should have to be away just as long, if I only went to Springfield.

Love George, Anna & Susie.

Your loving son

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March 24, 1863

This is Gooding’s fourth letter to the New Bedford Mercury:

[Mercury, March 24, 1863][OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, March 21
Messrs. Editors:–

The glorious 54th (that is to be) is getting on nicely, there being now in camp 368 men, two companies, A and B, being full, and C and D wanting a few more men to fill them up, which can easily be done in a very few days. We have five men in our company who are enlisted, but expect them to be discharged, on account of physical disability; indeed, if every man had been received who applied, I think it would very near have filled five companies.

The men appear to be all very well satisfied, except a few in Cos. A and B, who are of a class to be satisfied with nothing. Two of them attempted to skedaddle last Friday night, but were brought to by feeling a bayonet in the rear, as Co. C had sentinels posted at the time. They say their grounds for trying to desert are that they have received no bounty, as was represented they should as soon as they had enlisted and been sworn in. I think the men who are about the country recruiting should not misrepresent the conditions, but leave it more to the judgment and patriotism of men to enlist, simply providing conveyance to the camp, as, I think, they are authorized to do. As regards the men who came from New Bedford in this company, they do not seem to think so much about any bounty, but, by the vote of the City Council, a sum of money was appropriated for the relief of the families of colored citizens enlisted in the 54th regiment, and some of the men fear their families are suffering now for the want of their customary support.

You, Messrs. Editors, may be well aware that colored men generally, as a class, have nothing to depend upon but their daily labor; so, consequently, when they leave their labors and take up arms in defence of their country, their homes are left destitute of those little necessities which their families must enjoy as well as those of white men; and as the city has passed a resolution to pay them a sum, they would rather their families received it than become objects of public charity. We are all determined to act like men, and fight, money or not; but we think duty to our families will be a sufficient excuse for adverting to the subject.

John H. Atkinson, of New Bedford, is in the hospital, very sick. I could not ascertain exactly what his complaint is, but think it is the effect of cold. With that exception the health of the men is very good.

We have a very pleasant time in our barracks every evening, having music, singing, and sometimes dancing. We have two musicians who regale us with very fine music—a great deal better than a ‘feller’ pays to hear sometimes.

The ladies of the Relief Society will please accept the thanks of Co. C. for those shirts, socks and handkerchiefs, which should have been expressed in the last letter. God bless the ladies.

J. H. G.

PS. Wm. T. Boyd, of Pa., died this day (23d). He was in the hospital but two days. He was a member of Co. B.
J. H. G.

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March 23, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his friend Charles Fessenden Morse, and a letter from Governor John A. Andrew:

Readeville [BCF]
March 23,1863

My dear Charley,

I received yours of the 19th today, and was very glad to hear your account of the review of 12th Corps, by Hooker. I have been expecting it for some time, as you said in yout last, that it was going to take place. I can imagine your feelings very easily, when the old regiment was complimented by the General, for I felt just so when Pope reviewed us at Little Washington, and I was on Gordon’s Staff. It sent a thrill through me to see their steady marching & well closed ranks. It is very encouraging to hear your favourable account of Hooker. It really seems as if he must do something this Spring. The army will start, at any rate, in better condition and spirits than ever before. Oh, how I wish I were going to be with you! I should like to make one successful & brilliant campaign with the 2d and the Army of the Potomac.

I don’t think the conscription will stop the raising of negro regiments, for every one seems to go in for having them drafted too. And then they are destined for a peculiar service, I think, that of drawing off the blacks from the plantations, and making the Proclamation of Emancipation a reality. People lately from England say the change of feeling there, is a wonder — and they attribute it almost entirely to the Proclamation.

I have been meaning to write to you, for the last week, especially to urge you, if you are offered a position on Slocum’s, or any other good man’s Staff not to refuse it out of feeling for the regiment. You must reflect that this war may last a long time, and that you owe it to yourself and to your friends & relatives to get the best rank and position you honourably can. If you get on a good Staff, you will be sure to rise, and if a military man doesn’t continually look for promotion, what interest can he have in his profession?

We have 350 men in camp today and expect to get 100 or more during the week. I think we shall be full in a month—unless something occurs to stop the recruiting. That is not likely though, as $50 bounty has just been offered, while hitherto we have had none.

Let me hear from you regularly, my dear Charley, as I depend upon it. Tom Robeson & Grafton are here, but I have not seen them yet.  Miss Haggerty is coming to Boston to stay with one of my Aunts, so that my prospects for the next few weeks is pleasant.

Your sincere friend,

Robert G. Shaw

p.s. I saw Miss Nellie Low today & had a walk & a talk with her. She asked after you with much interest.

Emilio discussed the Confederate outlaw proclamation and reactions to it ([BBR, p.16-17],

In the proclamation of outlawry issued by Jefferson Davis, Dec. 23, 1862, against Major-General Butler, was the following clause: —

“Third. That all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong, to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.”

The act passed by the Confederate Congress previously referred to contained a section which extended the same penalty to negroes or mulattoes captured, or who gave aid or comfort to the enemies of the Confederacy. Those who enlisted in the Fifty-fourth did so under these acts of outlawry bearing the penalties provided. Aware of these facts, confident in the protection the Government would and should afford, but desirous of having official assurances, George T. Downing wrote regarding the status of the Fifty-fourth men, and received the following reply:—

Black abolitionist George T. Downing wrote to Gov. Andrew concerning the status of recruits to the 54th Regiement. This is Gov. Andrew’s reply:


BOSTON, March 23, 1863.


DEAR SIR, —In reply to your inquiries made as to the position of colored men who may be enlisted into the volunteer service of the United States, I would say that their position in respect to pay, equipments, bounty, or any aid or protection when so mustered ia that of any and all other volunteers. I desire further to state to you that when I was in Washington on one occasion, in an interview with Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War, he stated in the most emphatic manner that he would never consent that free colored men should be accepted into the service to serve as soldiers in the South, until he should be assured that the Government of the United States was prepared to guarantee and defend to the last dollar and the last man, to these men, all the rights, privileges, and immunities that are given by the laws of civilized warfare to other soldiers. Their present acceptance and muster-in as soldiers pledges the honor of the nation in the same degree and to the same rights with all. They will be soldiers of the Union, nothing less and nothing different. I believe they will earn for themselves an honorable fame, vindicating their race and redressing their future from the aspersions of the past.

I am, yours truly,


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March 22, 1863

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