A letter from Charles Douglass to his father Frederick Douglass — Charles originally enlisted in the 54th, but transferred to the 55th Mass. as it was forming in May, and later in 1864, transferred to the 5th Massachusets Cavalry (colored), a dismounted unit; together with a long letter from Shaw to his wife:

Readville Camp Meigs
July 6th 1863

Dear Father

I have just returned to camp from Boston where I spent the fourth and fifth.  Yesterday, I went to Mr. Grimes Church and Dr. Rock read a letter that he had rec’d from his wife who is in Philadelphia [ ] and that the Rebels were sending the negroes south as fast as they advanced from our lines and that the colored people were rushing into Philadelphia and that yourself and Stephen Smith and other were doing all you could for them.  I was glad to hear that – only keep out of the hands of the rebels.

This morning as I was about to take the train for camp I saw some returned soldiers from Newbern[?] N.Y. and had just got the news that Meade had whipped the rebels and before me stood an Irishman.  I said that we had some sort of a Gen. now and that made the Irish mad and he stepped in front of me with his fist-doubled up in my face and said ain’t Mr. McLellan a good Gen. you black nigger. I don’t care if you have got the uniform on.  When he got done I was so mad that I sweat-freely and I threw my coat and went at him.  All the time there was a policeman on the opposite side watching our movements.  Just as I went at him (he was heavier than me) the policeman came and stopped me and asked what the matter was.  I told him and he marched the other fellow off and that made all the other Irish mad and I felt better.  Still I felt as though I could whip a dozen Irish. I did not care for them because I had my pistol and it was well loaded.  I’m all right for I got my mind made to shoot the first Irishman that strikes me.  They may talk but keep their paws to themselves.

We are expecting to leave here next week. The men will get their Bounty this week.  We have a full band and drum corp and a good healthy looking set of men.  I would like to see you before I go away.  The flag has not been presented yet.  If your write – direct it – to the care of

Martin Becker,

Comm. Sergeant

55 Reg. Mass Vol

I have written home twice but have received no answer from them.

Please write.

From your aff. son,




St. Helena’s Island [BCF]

July 6,1863

My Own Darling Wife,

As I wrote you last week, your long letter of June 5 th to 10th came at last, and to-day I got that of the 23d to 26th. I am so sorry you have been worrying yourself about Montgomery and my connection with him, and I hope that my later letters have put your mind at rest. . . .

When you get this, you will have been a good while without news from me, as the last mail was not allowed to go, on account of the military movements in this Department. I wrote to Father the other day that we were left here, and most of the other troops had gone to Folly Island,—at least we suppose that was their destination. There is no knowing how soon, or in what direction, we may get orders to move. It is my great desire to join the main army, and General Strong was so sorry to leave this regiment, that I think there may be a chance of his getting hold of us again.

… To-day I went on board the “Montauk,” a Monitor lying in the harbour. I met there an officer named Cushman, who took me all over the vessel, and explained everything. In port the cabins are tolerably well ventilated, though very dark; but at sea everything is closed, and in action also; so that the air in the men’s quarters becomes so foul that the lights can hardly be kept going. Forty per cent of their men are on the sick-list, and they have to send some of them home every day. Such a hideous place to live in I never saw. The officers of the navy have by no means as much confidence in the Monitors as the public at large, and say they can be of service only against other iron-clads, or wooden vessels, and brick-and-mortar work. Forts of other descriptions, such as field-works and sand-batteries, they think would get the better of them. It has been necessary to make a great many changes and improvements in them to render them fit for active service; and as this has been done by officers of the navy, they all seem very indignant that Ericsson should have all the credit. They say that, as he turned them over to the navy, they would have been useless. The officers also affirm that the Monitor class or iron-clads was invented by a New York man named Pimbey, four years before Ericsson’s was presented, and that the latter now pays him $30,000 for every Monitor he turns out. In short, they pitch into Ericsson energetically, and think he has appropriated other men’s work and inventions unsparingly. They showed us all the places where the “Montauk” was struck at Charleston, and explained how several of the vessels were disabled by one plate or bolt being forced out of place. The 11-inch gun can be fired once in 2.30 minutes, and the 15-inch not so often. This is very slow. Nevertheless, they are terrible engines, and wonderful in their strength.

I afterwards visited the “Atlanta,” or “Fingal,” the Rebel ram lately captured. She is very powerful, but roughly finished. She had four pieces; two 7-inch and two 61/2-inch rifles, marked “Tredegar Foundry.”4 They were roughly finished on the outside, but terrible-looking guns. This craft would have made great havoc in our blockading fleet, if she had got out, and it was by a piece of good fortune that we captured her. . . .

July 7th — Good morning. You will see in my letter to Mother what I said about your and her coming down here. Of course it depends entirely upon what we do. The last two weeks would have been delightful for you.

I have got you some of the moss, and send you as much as I can in a large envelope, — enough to hang over a small picture.

On Sunday, I rode six miles to the Episcopal church, but it was closed, the clergyman being ill, and I went to the Baptist. . . .

The gentleness and respect for civilized usages in this war have been wonderful, and for that reason Montgomery’s doings seem very horrible. I am not excusing them, but merely giving another side of the picture. He is not the only man who has done so. Foster destroyed three towns in North Carolina without reason, and Blufftown, in this Department, was burnt the other day by white troops. Montgomery’s previous reputation has been such that he attracts attention. Many people here blame him for having had one of his men shot without trial. According to Regulations, it was wrong; but the court-martial in this case would have been a technicality, for the man’s guilt was unquestionable, and before he could have been tried Montgomery’s regiment would have been dissolved. He had lost seventy men by desertion, in two days. Since the execution not one has gone, but thirty or forty have secretly returned in the night. Of course such a power cannot be allowed to a Colonel, as there would be murders without number under the name of execution; and I do not believe Montgomery has heard the last of it. Nevertheless, as to the right and wrong of the matter, he only violated a clause of the Regulations, and the result is extremely beneficial. I think that a Brigadier-General should have power to approve a sentence of death given by a court; but now it has to go to the Department commander.

Colonel Montgomery has told me some fearful stories of his life in Kansas. I will send you one, in order that you may know what a life he has led for ten years past. He had captured five men who had been committing depredations, — shooting men from behind, and taking their scalps. He intended to kill them, but they begged for life so hard, that he let them go, on condition they would not come into Kansas again. Instead of keeping their word, they began their old occupation again, and having captured some of his men, killed them, and took their scalps away with them. Some time after Montgomery took the same five again. This time there was no chance for them. Their courage forsook them entirely, so that they absolutely fell to the earth with fright, and begged and prayed for their lives, and said they should go to Hell, if he killed them.

When they were being taken out to be shot, seeing him somewhat moved by their entreaties, they clung to his knees and his garments, and it required the strength of three men to drag one of them away. As the first fire three were killed, and the other two only mortally wounded; these last kept on moaning, and begging in a weak voice to be allowed to live; but the sergeant in command of the squad of executioners drew his revolver, and blew their brains out!

Scenes like this were common occurences in Kansas at that time, and I wonder that Montgomery has not become a wild beast instead of a reasonable man. He commands the respect of all his superiors, and is undoubtedly a man gifted with some great qualities. You cannot talk with him long without discovering that he is in reality a tender-hearted man. This assertion would probably amuse most people, who only know him by reputation.

Don’t think I am humbugged by Montgomery. I am not often enthusiastic, and what I say of him is not of that kind. . . .

With all the love that I have,

Your attached Husband