Archive for March, 2010

March 21, 1863

A recruiting speech by Frederick Douglass, and a letter from Shaw to his father:

Picture of Frederick Douglass

A speech first given by Frederick Douglass in Rochester, NY on March 2, 1863, and later published in Douglass’s Monthly on March 21, 1863. Douglass recruited over 100 men for the regiment, including two of his sons, Lewis and Charles. In late March, he travelled with his sons and 50 other recruits to Readville to enlist them.

Men of Color, To Arms!

When first the rebel cannon shattered the walls of Sumter and drove away its starving garrison, I predicted that the war then and there inaugurated would not be fought out entirely by white men. Every month’s experience during these dreary years has confirmed that opinion. A war undertaken and brazenly carried on for the perpetual enslavement of colored men, calls logically and loudly for colored men to help suppress it. Only a moderate share of sagacity was needed to see that the arm of the slave was the best defense against the arm of the slaveholder. Hence with every reverse to the national arms, with every exulting shout of victory raised by the slaveholding rebels, I have implored the imperiled nation to unchain against her foes, her powerful black hand. Slowly and reluctantly that appeal is beginning to be heeded. Stop not now to complain that it was not heeded sooner. It may or it may not have been best that it should not. This is not the time to discuss that question. Leave it to the future. When the war is over, the country is saved, peace is established, and the black man’s rights are secured, as they will be, history with an impartial hand will dispose of that and sundry other questions. Action! Action! not criticism, is the plain duty of this hour. Words are now useful only as they stimulate to blows. The office of speech now is only to point out when, where, and how to strike to the best advantage. There is no time to delay. The tide is at its flood that leads on to fortune. From East to West, from North to South, the sky is written all over, “Now or never.” Liberty won by white men would lose half its luster. “Who would be free themselves must strike the blow.” “Better even die free, than to live slaves.” This is the sentiment of every brave colored man amongst us. There are weak and cowardly men in all nations. We have them amongst us. They tell you this is the “white man’s war”; and you will be “no better off after than before the war”; that the getting of you into the army is to “sacrifice you on the first opportunity.” Believe them not; cowards themselves, they do not wish to have their cowardice shamed by your brave example. Leave them to their timidity, or to whatever motive may hold them back. I have not thought lightly of the words I am now addressing you. The counsel I give comes of close observation of the great struggle now in progress, and of the deep conviction that this is your hour and mine. In good earnest then, and after the best deliberation, I now for the first time during this war feel at liberty to call and counsel you to arms. By every consideration which binds you to your enslaved fellow—countrymen, and the peace and welfare of your country; by every aspiration which you cherish for the freedom and equality of yourselves and your children; by all the ties of blood and identity which make us one with the brave black men now fighting our battles in Louisiana and in South Caroline, I urge you to fly to arms, and smite with death the power that would bury the government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave. I wish I could tell you that the Sate of New York calls you to this high honor. For the moment her constituted authorities are silent on the subject. They will speak by and by, and doubtless on the right side; but we are not compelled to wait for her. We can get at the throat of treason and slavery through the State of Massachusetts. She was the 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, and she was first to answer with her blood the alarm cry of the nation, when its capital was menaced by rebels. You know her patriotic governor, and you know Charles Sumner. I need not add more.

Massachusetts now welcomes you to arms as soldiers. She has but a small colored population from which to recruit. She has full leave of the general government to send one regiment to the war, and she has undertaken to do it. Go quickly and help fill up the first colored regiment from the North. I am authorized to assure you that you will receive the same wages, the same rations, and the same equipments, the same protection, the same treatment, and the same bounty, secured to the white soldiers. You will be led by able and skillful officers, men who will take especial pride in your efficiency and success. They will be quick to accord to you all the honor you shall merit by your valor, and see that your rights and feelings are respected by other soldiers. I have assured myself on these points, and can speak with authority. More than twenty years of unswerving devotion to our common cause may give me some humble claim to be trusted at this momentous crisis. I will not argue. To do so implies hesitation and doubt, and you do not hesitate. You do not doubt. The day dawns; the morning star is bright upon the horizon! The iron gate of our prison stands half open. One gallant rush from the North will fling it wide open, while four millions of our brothers and sisters shall march out into liberty. The chance is now given you to end in a day the bondage of centuries, and to rise in one bound from social degradation to the place of common equality with all other varieties of men. Remember Denmark Vesey of Charleston; remember Nathaniel Turner of Southampton; remember Shields Green and Copeland, who followed noble John Brown, and fell as glorious martyrs for the cause of the slave. Remember that in a contest with oppression, the Almighty has no attribute which can take sides with oppressors. The case is before you. This is our golden opportunity. Let us accept it, and forever wipe out the dark reproaches unsparingly hurled against us by our enemies. Let us win for ourselves the gratitude of our country, and the best blessings of our posterity through all time. The nucleus of this first regiment is now in camp at Readville, a short distance from Boston. I will under take to forward to Boston all persons adjudged fit to be mustered into the regiment, who shall apply to me at any time within the next two weeks.

Readville [BCF]
March 21, 1863

Dear Father,

Yours of the 18th Inst is received. I don’t think there is any chance for Mr. Wingate in my regiment. We have filled the list of Officers already. There will probably be some vacancies before we leave, but I don’t want to take any one whom I don’t know myself, and the Governor is averse to any but Massachusetts men, as there are a great many applications from his regiments.

Please tell Mother I received her note and will take her advice about Aunt Mary’s house. Charley and Effie arrived safely night before last. The latter found some beautiful bouquets awaiting her, and yesterday received a swarm of visitors.

We have received a large number of men lately from New York State & Pennsylvania. Mr. Stearns’ recruits are beginning to come in too. We are picking them carefully & shall have a very sound set. I expect to have, at least 450 in camp before the middle of next week. Don’t you think Brown had better give up his office in New York? We get finer men from the country, and there is no doubt of our filling up pretty rapidly.

Annie isn’t coming until next Wednesday and I am afraid she will put off her visit even longer than that, from what she writes me of her mother’s health. I suppose you are at the Island again by this time. Give my best love to George & Anna. I hope they are both well.

The snow here is still deep, and is making a good layer of mud for us. We can’t drill out of doors which is a great disadvantage as the barracks are crowded.

Give my love to Mother. I hope Nellie is having a pleasant time in Philadelphia. I suppose it is pretty gay there.

Your loving son

Robert G. Shaw

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March 20, 1863

One man enrolled in the regiment today.[BBR]
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March 19, 1863


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March 18, 1863

George E. Stephens enlisted in Company B on April 30, 1863, and wrote regular letters as a war correspondent to the New York Weekly Anglo-African. This letter — a response to a book review —  was written the month before he enlisted.

March 18,1863.

Mr. Editor

—I was not a little surprised at your Boston correspondent’s, G. L. R/s, severe criticism on Wm. Wells Brown’s new book [online here]. I think he overlooks entirely the purpose for which the work seems to have been written:—a text book, a book for the times, an argument for the race which cannot be refuted. It should be circulated all over the country, to aid in the great and good work of dispelling the sin-begotten, infatuated notion—negro inferiority. The animus of G. L. R.’s criticism lies in this, that there are so many men of genius and distinction “left out,” such as Stephen Smith, Joseph Turpin, and a few others, or perhaps G. L. R. has his own crow to pick with this book. This principal objection to the “Black Man,” that everybody was not recorded within its pages, has cumulated in a most intense feeling. I have just seen a letter from a well-known colored gentleman who says, “there is a prejudice against the work here, created by those who are ‘left out,’ and what have those left out ever done to give them a place in this or any other book?” This shows the little appreciation that colored men are capable of placing upon the writings of their own race. Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Mr. Brown’s book is the best argument ever put forth in defence of the negro.” It is a marvel that Mr. Brown has achieved so much with such scanty means.

Slavery and caste has so stultified our progressive tendencies, and the “demands of society” upon us for scientific or literary attainments have been so limited that we have been compelled for the sake of daily bread to devote ourselves to plebeian avocations, and if perchance distinction were achieved, it must be traced to fortuitous circumstances with scarce a hope of honor or emolument, and without the stimulus of manly competition in the arena of letters. Is it a dishonor to the race that there are few great men amongst us? No! But it is an honor to the race that Mr. Brown has “with his limited material given to the American people a work, which tells them that we possess the foundation material, on which we are about to build a superstructure of pure Christian civilization. Your Boston correspondent predicts that some person in the future will hand down to posterity his fame by doing or undoing what Mr. Brown has done in his work. This coming biographer could be famed for nothing, but his folly. The deeds and achievements for which the negro is destined, will wrap the terrible and humiliating history of the past two hundred years, in a brilliant wreath of martial and intellectual glory.

But Mr. Brown’s book does not claim to be a biography, but a sketch book of our most distinguished characters, and he transcended no  prerogative, when he presented a strong array of characters. But our critic will not be comforted. He in almost the one and same breath complains that Mr. Brown gives too many names—too much pork for a shilling, and denounces the book, because he left out such remarkable geniuses as Stephen Smith, Joseph Turpin & Co. As a text book it is invaluable, and it has been pronounced by intelligent men, white and colored, to be the best argument in favor of the black man’s ability yet published. Did G. L. R. read the sketch of Miss C. L. Forten with those gems of prose and poetic offshoots of her pen?’ a sketch which of itself is worth the price of the book. Did he forget to peruse the sketch of Benjamin Banneker, a literary effort which, I think, has done our great mathematician better justice than any other sketch? The intrinsic value of the work lies in the fact that he has brought out so many new characters. Frederick Douglass, Toussaint L’Ouverture, Nat Turner, and such men have been so frequently written about, that their names have become household words. But the young artists, Wm. H. Simpson, Edwin M. Bannister, with all their genius were never known to the public, till the “Black Man” made its appearance. Prof. Wilson and Alex. Crummell are fortunate in having Mr. Brown as their exponent. This work contains the first sketch ever published of Crispus Attucks though his name and deeds have often been in print. Mr. Brown exhibits the genius of nearly every one of his characters, either by quoting some of their writing or speeches, and this forms an interesting feature in the many beauties of his most important work.

G. E. Stephens

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March 17, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, one to his mother and one to his fiance.

Readville [BCF]

March 17,1863

Dearest Mother,

Your note of Sunday reached me to-day. I am sorry it was a mistake about your visit to Boston, though I was astonished at there being any thought of your leaving Anna just now.

I had a pleasant time at Lenox. Annie and I went to see Mrs. Charles and Willie Sedgwick. The day before the battle of Antietam her husband spent with us, and I had a great deal to tell them about him. His little girl wanted to hear all about her father. His mother is one of the most patriotic women I have seen, and seemed to feel proud that her son had died for his country.

The regiment continues to flourish. Men come in every day. Mr. Stearns, who is at home for a few days from Canada, says we can get more men than we want from there. The Governor thinks of getting authority to raise some more coloured regiments. If he does, I hope Frank Barlow can get the command. He is just the man for it, and I should like to be under him. Yesterday we had several officers out to take a look at the men; they all went away very much pleased. Some were very sceptical about it before, but say, now, that they shall have no more doubts of negroes making good soldiers. The Massachusetts Legislature has passed a bill appropriating $75,000 for each new regiment, ours included. The men will receive $50 bounty, and the rest will be used for recruiting purposes.

Love to Father and Susie,

Your loving son,


Readville [BCF]
March 17,1863

My Dear Annie,
Your note of Monday reached me to-day. If I hadn’t written you such a very contemptible one yesterday, I should have thought yours was altogether too short.
To-night we received quite a large squad of men from Pittsfield. They seem to be very patriotic up there. We are beginning to get our men from Western New York and Canada now. Our recruiting agent up there says he can get enough to make two or three regiments, if the Governor is authorized to raise them; at any rate, we can fill ours up.

Effie will be here to-morrow, and I wish, dear Annie, you were coming too. However, a week is not a very long time. If you put off coming I shall begin to feel very melancholy. . ..

The other day I dined at H. Mason’s with seventeen officers, four of whom had to have their food cut up for them,being badly wounded in the arm, and several others had wounds in other parts. We had a very interesting time in talking over events of rhe past year. I have got the pup which Captain Scott brought me from Virginia, out here, and if he grows up to be a nice dog, I will leave him with you when I go off Yesterday I bought a full-bred English terrier, which is a beauty. . . .

There is a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, white-skinned, black preacher out here, who has great influence among the blacks. He wants to go as chaplain, and I think I shall take him; he looks so much like a white man, that I don’t believe there would be much prejudice against it. I think I should care very little for public opinion, if it did no harm to the regiment. It would be out of the question to have any black, field or line, officers at present, because of public
sentiment. It ruined the efficiency of the Louisiana coloured regiments. . . .

Good night, dearest Annie.
your affectionate Rob

Our men are to have $50 bounty from the State, according to a bill which has just passed the Legislature.

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March 16, 1863

Fourteen men joined the regiment today.[BBR]
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March 15, 1863

This is the third letter from Gooding to the Mercury

[Mercury, March 18, 1863][OAF]

Camp Meigs, Readville, March 15

Messrs. Editors:‚

—Presuming a few lines from this locality would prove interesting to some of your many readers, I have taken upon myself the task of penning them. Among the men in this camp the New Bedford men stand A No. 1, in military bearing, cleanliness and morality; not because I happen to belong to the New Bedford company do I assert this, for if the other companies proved to be better ordered than ours, I should be proud to confirm it. All the men appear to regard Capt. Grace with (I might say) veneration; for he presents that uncommon combination of a man strict in military discipline, but always tempered with kindness; a man who will go to the utmost length of his military power to assist or benefit an inferior. A better man, in my judgment, could not have been placed in command of a company of colored men; for he seems to have studied the peculiar modes of thought, action and disposition of the colored men so well, that there is the most cheerful obedience rendered to the most imperative command. These opinions are not hastily formed, but are arrived at by a close and careful observation of things as they are.

We have prayers every morning and evening, most of the men taking part in them; and I need not add that there is a great degree of fervor exhibited vide Bethel Church, Kempton street. As for myself I find it somewhat dull when I am not on duty, as I have nothing to read, although it is a source of amusement to watch some of the odd capers or listen to some of the equally ludicrous speeches, so peculiar to some of our class of people. They are all anxious to perfect themselves in drill that they may the sooner meet the Rebs, and they all feel determined to fight; they all say that is their wish, and I cannot doubt it, for there seems to be a sort of preternatural earnestness about their expressions which no one can mistake. They do not, some of them, yet exactly comprehend the future benefits of enlisting, but they have an impulse equally as great, so far as they are capable of understanding it, and that is revenge. Hoping the Relief Committee have paid the money to the families of those who are here in camp, for I know some who needed it very much, I will close.

J. H. G.

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March 14, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his fiance:

March 14,1863

My Dear Annie,

Your yesterday’s letters reached me this morning, and gave me more pleasure than I can tell you.

I find that Mother is not coming to Boston in a fortnight; so please don’t change your mind, but come on the 21st. I will go up and meet you at Springfield. Aunt Mary wanted you to come here, even if Mother and Effie were here too. When the snow is gone, we can have some nice rides together. . . .

I went out to Readville yesterday morning, and have just come in. Everything out there is going on prosperously. The officers and men are very satisfactory. When Clem, comes, she mustn’t compare my men with French soldiers, but with American volunteers. From what I have seen of them, they will be more soldierly than the latter, because it is so easy to control and discipline them. The company from New Bedford are a very fine body of men, and out of forty, only two cannot read and write. Their barracks are in better order, and more cleanly, than the quarters of any volunteer regiment I have seen in this country. . . .

Excuse a short note, dear Annie, and, with love, believe me,

Always yours,


p.s.—… Last night I went to call on Lucy Codman. Do you know her? She is a cousin of ours, whom Mother had the care of for a good while, when Lucy was a little girl. She is a very lovely person, and we are all very much attached to her.

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March 13, 1863

Two men joined the regiment today.
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March 12, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his friend Charles Fessenden Morse:

Boston [BCF]
March 12,1863

My dear Charley,

I received your note enclosing Brangle’s bill & send you now (8) Eight dolls.

We are getting on swimmingly, having near 250 men in camp. My Officers too are pretty good, some of them excellent.

I came down from Lenox last night, where I have been having rather a comfortable time for a few days. On the train I met Sergt. Griswold, looking a little peaked still, but intending to rejoin the regt soon.I think of you very often and I wish we could be together again. Perhaps some day it may be our luck to fall in with each other somewhere. I find my feeling for old class-mates is weak compared with friendships formed in the 2d—like yours & mine. I have not seen Harry for a week — as I have been away 4 days.

I read Hooker’s order with exultation when I found the name of our sturdy old regt among the favoured ones. The order will do more, I should think, towards creating a spirit of emulation in the army than any that has been issued since we entered the service. Indeed no other General ever attempted anything of the sort.

My third sister (Effie) is engaged to Charley Lowell. It is a very satisfactory affair for us all & especially for me — as I like him very much, and she and I have always been together, more than any other two of the family. I telegraphed to John Fox today, to know whether they had been notified of the extension of my leave‚ — as I am in continual dread of seeing my name among the Absent without Authority.

There seem to be shoals of men from the 2d in Boston. I suppose in a month or six weeks from this you will all be at work again. It is the luckiest thing in the wotld that Slocum has taken a fancy to our regiment.

I have not seen any of your family since I wrote last. Hoping to hear from you soon, and regularly, I am always

Your sincerely attached friend,
Robert G. Shaw

If you hear of anything going wrong regarding my leave, I wish you would
let me know — as soon as possible.

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