Archive for July, 2010

July 5, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his mother, begun on the 3rd, extended on the 4th, and completed on the 6th:

July 3,1863[BCF]

Dearest Mother,

You will have been sometime without letters from me, when you receive this, as the “Arago” was not allowed to take a mail last week, I understand, because of the late movement on Charleston. Last night, I went over to tea at a plantation 4 or 5 miles from here where some of the teachers, four ladies and the same number of gentlemen live. The interesting member of the family is Miss Lottie Forten, from Philadelphia, a niece of Mr. Purvis, and a quadroon. She is quite pretty, remarkably well educated, and a very interesting woman. She is decidedly the belle here, and the officers, both of the army & navy, seem to think her society far preferable to that of the other ladies.

After tea we went to what the negroes call a praise-meeting, which was very interesting. The praying was done by an old blind fellow, who made believe, all the time, that he was reading out of a book. He was also the leader in the singing, and seemed to throw his whole soul into it. After the meeting they had a shout, which is a most extraordinary performance. They all walk & shuffle round in a ring, singing & chanting, while 3 or 4 stand in a corner and clap their hands to mark the time. At certain parts of the chorus, they all give a duck, the effect of which is very peculiar. The shuffling is what they call shouting. They some times keep it up all night, and only church members are allowed to join in it.

Their singing, when there are a great many voices, is fine, but otherwise I don’t like it at all. The women’s voices are so shrill, that I can’t listen to them with comfort.

I met Mr. Arthur Turner, a brother of Ned Turner’s, over there, and today he came to see me. He has been teaching here some time. The licentiousness among the negroes is very great, but they say that the improvement in that respect, is very encouraging. They feel no shame about it at all, and hardly understand that it is wrong. As a general thing the men seem to me to have better faces than the women.

July 4

Today there has been a great meeting for the coloured people, at the Baptist Church 6 or 7 miles from camp. I rode down there, and heard a speech from a coloured preacher of Baltimore, named Lynch, & another from Mr. [one word crossed out and illegible] which latter was very bad. It may have seemed so to me, because [two words illegible] very much. (This is private).

Mr. Lynch was very eloquent. Can you imagine anything more wonderful than a coloured-Abolitionist meeting on a South Carolina plantation? Here were collected all the freed slaves on this Island listening to the most ultra abolition speeches, that could be made; while two years ago, their masters were still here, the lords of the soil & of them. Now they all own a little themselves, go to school, to church, and work for wages. It is the most extraordinary change. Such things oblige a man to believe that God isn’t very far off.

A little black boy read the Declaration of Independence, and then, they all sang some of their hymns. The effect was grand. I would have given anything to have had you there. I thought of you all the time. The day was beautiful and the crowd was collected in the churchyard under some magnificent old oaks, covered with the long, hanging, grey moss, which grows on the trees here. The gay dresses & turbans of the women made the sight very brilliant.

Miss Forten promised to write me out the words of some of the hymns they sang, which I will send to you.

July 6

Yesterday I went to church at the same place, where the meeting was held on the 4th. The preaching was very bad, being full of “hell & damnation” but administered in such a dull way, that sleep soon overcame most of the Congregation & we counted fifty darkeys fast in arms of Murphy. After the sermon the preacher said “Those who wish to be married can come forward.” Some one then punched a stout young fellow, in white gloves, near me, and as soon as he could be roused, and made to understand that the hour was come, he walked up to the altar. A young woman, still stouter, & broader shouldered, than the bride groom, advanced from the women’s side of the church, accompanied by a friend, and they both stood by his side — so that it looked as if he were being married to both of them. However they got through it all right, as he evidently knew which was which, and they both said “Yes sir” in answer to all the preacher asked them. They were both coal black. I couldn’t find out if the bride had been snoring, during the sermon, as well as the groom. At the church they sing our hymns, and make a sad mess of them, but they do justice to their own at their praise meetings.

9 P.M.

We have just had Miss Forten & two other ladies to tea, and entertained them afterwards with some singing from the men. It made us all think of those latter evenings at Readville, which were so pleasant. If there were any certainty of our being permanently here you & Annie (if Father or some other protector would accompany you) could come down & spend a month without the least difficulty. You would enjoy it immensely. There is enough here to interest you for months.

As you may suppose, I was bitterly disappointed at being left behind, but nothing has been done at Charleston yet, and we may still have a chance.

Today I went on board the Monitor “Montauk” & the Rebel ram “Fingal.” The latter is very strong and very powerfully armed—but the work is rough, and looks as if they wanted money & workmen to finish it properly.

We don’t know with any certainty, what is going on in the North, but can’t believe Lee will get far into Pennsylvania. I suppose it is not sure that he will not get Washington this time. My feeling towards the Government is one of pity — as if they were a poor weak creature goaded & tormented on every side, not knowing which way to turn.

No matter if the Rebels get to New York, I shall never lose my faith in our ultimate success. We are not yet ready for peace — and want a good deal of purging still. I got a letter from Annie this afternoon, but no others. What lively times they have been having at Portland. I wrote to General Strong this afternoon, & expressed my wish to be in his Brigade. Though I like Montgomery, I want to get my men alongside of white troops, and into a good fight if there is to be one. The General sent me word, before he went away, that he was very much disappointed at being ordered to leave us so I thought it well to put it into his head, to try to get us back.

Working independently, the coloured troops come only under the eyes of their own officers and to have their worth properly acknowledged, they should be with other troops in action. It is an incentive to them too to do their best. There is some rumour tonight of our being ordered to James Island, and put under Genl Terry’s command. I should be satisfied with that.

I shall write to Effie & Susie tomorrow if nothing happens to prevent it. Please tell them, so, if they don’t hear from me, for we may have to leave this, at any moment. Indeed I have been expecting it, every day.

Goodnight darling Mother. Give my love to Father & the girls. I hope you are all well. I had a note from Cousin John today enclosing an ivy leaf from the wall at Hugomount, Waterloo.”

If the Rebels get near New York, do go to Massachusetts. I shall be so anxious, if you don’t. Lenox would be a safe place.

Your ever loving son

Will you send this to Annie?

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July 4, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his father:

St. Helena I.[BCF]

July 4,1863

Dear Father,

All the troops, excepting the coloured Regiments, are ordered to Folly Island. There will be a grand attack on Charleston, I suppose. I feel very much disappointed at being left behind, especially after Montgomery was promised by Genl Gilmore that we should have our share in it. I write you this lest you should see mention of the movement in the papers, & think we were in it.

I have not time to write to Annie, as the mail goes directly. Please send her this, or write to her.

Your loving Son

P.s. I sent you a box with some clothes & my old sword. Enclosed is receipt.

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July 3, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his friend and former fellow office from the 2nd Massachusetts, Charles Fessneden Morse. On this day, Morse was fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg with the 2nd Massachusetts. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on the day following. Today was the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

St. Helena’s Island, S. C. [BCF]

July 3,1863

My dear Charley,

Before I proceed to any other subject, let me ask you, if I ever sent you the $5.00 which you paid Brangle for me, & if you know of any other debts of mine in the Second. I don’t remember when I last wrote to you, but think it was just after I took dinner at your Father’s.

Since then I have seen your letters to your Brother describing the Chancellorsville fights, which I read with a great deal of interest.  Harry and I couldn’t help feeling blue, when we heard the 2d was at work again, and we away from our old posts. I was very glad to hear that you liked Slocum so much, & had such confidence in him. It will, no doubt, be one of the Division or Corps Generals who will be the great man of the war.

I wish I knew where you were now; we have had no late news from the North, and what we have had, has served mostly to confuse my mind very decidedly, as to the whereabouts of the two armies.

So the 1st Mass. Cavalry has had a regular shindy at last. I was glad to hear that Henry Hig’s wounds were not dangerous.  What a bloody-looking boy he must be, with a scar across his face.

Remember me to Curtis, if you see or write to him.

You may have heard that the passage of the 54th Mass through Boston was a great success. I never saw such a heavy turn-out there before. We came down to Hilton Head in a very nice Steamer, though a slow one, for we were six days en route.

We landed at Beaufort, and went into camp there. Hearing that Col. Montgomery the Kansas man, was going farther South, I asked permission to join him. So we remained only two days at Beaufort, and then sailed for St. Simon’s Island, on the coast of Georgia. The day after we arrived there, Montgomery started us off, up the Altamaha River, and after capturing a little schooner full of cotton & burning the town of Darien, we returned to the Island, having been absent two days.

The destruction of Darien disgusted me very much, and as soon as Montgomery told me he was going to burn it, I said I didn’t want to have anything to do with [it] and he was glad to take the responsibility. It was done by Genl Huntet’s order, however. We remained at St. Simon’s for about ten days after this.

I had a large plantation to myself & lived very comfortably in the former owner’s house—the regt being encamped in an adjacent field.

The island is very beautiful, and [is] traversed in all directions by excellent roads. We had splendid rides every day & explored the place from one end to the other. It has been uninhabited for so long, that it is completely full of birds of all kinds, and on the neighbouring Islands, there is good deer-shooting. There were a great many fine plantations & country seats there, and the people must have had a very jolly time. We found the records of a Yacht Race Club — and other signs of fun. Fanny Kemble’s husband, Pierce Butler, has a very large place, six or seven miles long, there, and another near Darien. We left St. Simon’s on the 25th & ret’d here by order of General Gillmore.

Montgomery is a strange sort of man. At first sight one would think him a parson or a school-master. He is a very quiet gentlemanlike sort of person — very careful to speak grammatically & not in the least like a Western man. He is religious, & never drinks, smokes, chews or swears. He shoots his men with perfect looseness, for a slight disobedience of orders, but is very kind & indulgent to those who behave themselves properly. The other night on board the steamer, he shot at and wounded a man for talking after taps, when he had twice ordered him to be quiet. He told me that he had intended to kill him & throw him overboard, & was much astonished at having missed his aim.

Last Sunday he caught a deserter — and had him executed without trial by Court Martial, or referring the case to any one (Strange to say the General has not taken any notice of it). Montgomery says he doesn’t like the red-tape way of doing things.

He is a very attractive man, and it is very interesting to sit & hear him relate his experiences.

Everything here indicates that there is to be another attack on Charleston. I trust we shall have a share in it — and indeed, we have been given to understand, that we should go with the army, wherever it went.

I want to hear from you, very much, Charley. Tell me as much as you can of your movements since you left Stafford C. H. this last time — and how the old regt is. I have been expecting to hear of your promotion. Good-bye, my dear fellow, for the present. I often long to be with you fellows. When you & Harry & I bunked together, from Sharpsburg to Fairfax, we hardly expected to be so far separated as we are now. I wonder where the deuce you are.

Give my love to Tom R, Jim Francis, Brown, the Foxes & Mudge.

Always your affectionate friend,

Robert G. Shaw

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July 2, 1863

Emilio describes the beginning of the pay controversy and quotes Shaw’s letter to Gov. Andrew on the subject ( [BBR] pp.47-48). Notably, today was the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

While at this camp the condition of the regiment was excellent, and the men in high spirits, eager for service. Drills went on incessantly. A musician of the Forty-eighth New York was instructing the band. On the 30th, the Fifty-fourth was mustered for pay. It was then first rumored that the terms of enlistment would not be adhered to by the Government. The situation is best evidenced by the following letter of Colonel Shaw: — [see below]

ST. HELENA ISLAND, S. C, July 2,1863.



— Since I last wrote you, the Fifty-fourth has left St. Simon’s Island and returned to St. Helena near Hilton Head. We are now encamped in a healthy place, close to the harbor, where we get the sea breeze. You have probably seen the order from Washington which cuts down the pay of colored troops from $13 to $10. Of course if this affects Massachusetts regiments, it will be a great piece of injustice to them, as they were enlisted on the express understanding that they were to be on precisely the same footing as all other Massachusetts troops. In my opinion they should be mustered out of the service or receive the full pay which was promised them. The paymaster here is inclined to class us with the contraband regiments, and pay the men only $10. If he does not change his mind, I shall refuse to have the regiment paid until I hear from you on the subject. And at any rate I trust you will take the matter in hand, for every pay-day we shall have the same trouble unless there is a special order to prevent it.

Another change that has been spoken of was the arming of negro troops with pikes instead of firearms. Whoever proposed it must have been looking for a means of annihilating negro troops altogether, I should think — or have never been under a heavy musketry fire, nor observed its effects. The project is now abandoned, I believe.

My men are well and in good spirits. We have only five in hospital. We are encamped near the Second South Carolina near General Strong’s brigade, and are under his immediate command. He seems anxious to do all he can for us, and if there is a fight in the Department will no doubt give the black troops a chance to show what stuff they are made of.

With many wishes for your good health and happiness, I remain,

Very sincerely and respectfully yours,


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July 1, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his father and to his wife’s sister Clem. Notably: The Battle of Gettysburg began today.

St. Helena Island S.C.[BCF]

July 1, 1863

Dear Father,

In my last to Mother, I mentioned receipt of all your letters, and yesterday, your other two of the 22d ulto. came to hand, having gone first to Beaufort. The two boxes which, I heard, were at Hilton Head, did come in the “Arago” but are still enroute, on board of some brig. A box of Uncle George’s containing a beautiful English sword came all right.

Do you ever write to Dr. Bowditch? If so, I wish, you would mention to him that Lieutenant Reid (whom he recommended) is an excellent officer.

Do you know [four words crossed out and illegible] very well? He doesn’t strike me as being a very straightforward man.

You may have perhaps heard that the coloured troops are to receive $10 instead [of] $13 per mo. It is not yet decided that this regt comes under the order. If it does I shall refuse to allow them to be paid until I hear from Gov. Andrew. The regt ought, in that case, to be mustered out of service, as they were enlisted on the understanding that they were to be on the same footing as other Mass. Vols.

Another plan is to arm the negroes with pikes. I shall escape that, but Montgomery & Higginson, I am afraid, will have to come to it, unless the plan is given up. Of course, it will be the ruin of all spirit & courage in their men. Everyone who has been in any of our battles should know that Pikes against Minie balls is not fair play—especially in the hands of negroes whose great pride lies in being a soldier like white men. One of Col. Montgomery’s remarks is that it is folly to suppose that a race, which has been in bondage for 200 years can be as brave as freemen, and that all our energies must be devoted to making the most of them.

You will see from my letter to Mother that there is a good deal of exaggeration in the stories of Montgomery’s experience in Kansas. At any rate he says so himself.

Whom did you give those last letters (22 June) to? They had no post-mark & were sent to Beaufort.

Love to all,

Your most loving son

St. Helena’s Island, S.C. [BCF]

July 1,1863

My dear Clem.,

Yours of the 23 d reached me day before yesterday, and I read it with a great deal of pleasure. I anticipated your and Annie’s indignation at the vandal policy of Hunter. (Please always remember that Hunter began it). . . .

General Gillmore and General Strong (the latter our immediate commander) are both excellent men, I should think. The former I have not seen, but judge from what I hear.

There is a late-order from Washington, cutting down the pay of coloured troops from $13 to $10 per month. They have not yet decided here whether we come under the order or not. If we do, I shall refuse to have the regiment paid off, until I hear from Governor Andrew.

Another bit of insanity is a proposition to arm the negroes with pikes instead of muskets. They might as well go back eighteen centuries as three, and give us bows and arrows. General Strong says the regiment shall retain their rifles; but Montgomery and Higginson are in a great stew about it; and, indeed, such an act would take all the spirit and pluck out of their men, and show them that the government didn’t consider them fit to be trusted with fire-arms; they would be ridiculed by the white soldiers, and made to feel their inferiority in every respect. The folly of some of our leaders is wonder-full! I can’t imagine who started the idea. I hope the gentleman has a book of drill for the pike all ready.

There is some movement on foot in this Department. We do not know exactly what will be done yet. I don’t believe Charleston will be taken without some hard knocks.

Give my best love and a kiss to the mamma from me. I imagine you will all soon be at Lenox again, among the cool mountains. I always think of Lenox as in a haze, for during my visits there I was in a haze myself.

Always, dear Clem., most affectionately,

your Brother

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