Mercury, May 26, 1863 [OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, May 24, 1863
—My last letter I had supposed would be the last to be written from this camp, but so much for “newspaper yarns,” we are still here. This week has been in the estimation of the men, the greatest in the history of regiments, the presentation of colors, an excursion, and last, but not least, the payment of the State bounty. We had almost despaired of ever getting the last mentioned excitement, but it has come, and many a wife and widowed mother will have for a little while, at least something to purchase bread; on the whole, I think, there has more money been sent home to relatives of men in this regiment than any other which has been paid their bounty. But of course among a thousand men, there must be a large amount of money wasted; the sutler, patent jewelry venders, watch pedlars and many other kinds of pedlars are reaping a rich harvest. Why, it is enough to make a “feller” love “human natur” to see how very obliging the said pedlars are; they will even condescend to sell a pair of boots worth $4 for the moderate sum of $8, and other traders ask a proportionate sum. Gen. Pierce put a veto on them though, after he found out how the cat was jumping; he told one man he should sell nothing to the men unless he received an order from himself and agree[d] to conform to a reasonable price, the General to determine the price. The men will appreciate his kindness after their greenbacks are gone.
We have received marching orders; the order was read at dress parade last Thursday, so next Sunday I think we shall be on our way to Dixie. We have crowds of visitors daily, drawn, no doubt, by the great reputation the regiment is gaining for proficiency in drill. The band is a success. It is only ten days since they first commenced practice, but they have played on dress parade three times. It seems that most every man in the regiment vies with each other in excellence in whatever they undertake. It is, I think, one of the best guarantees that the 54th will be a credit to old Massachusetts wherever it goes. The citizens of this Commonwealth need not be ashamed of the 54th now; and if the regiment will be allowed a chance, I feel confident the Colored Volunteers will add glory to her already bright name. There is not a man in the regiment who does not appreciate the difficulties, the dangers, and maybe ignoble death that awaits him, if captured by the foe, and they will die upon the field rather than be hanged like a dog; and when a thousand men are fighting for a very existence, who dare say them men won’t fight determinedly? The greatest difficulty will be to stop them.
J. H. G.
Posts Tagged 54th Massachusetts
Mercury, May 20, 1863
Camp Meigs, Readville, May 18 [OAF]
—Today the long talked of presentation of flags came off. At 11 o’clock the column was formed, ready to receive His Excellency the Governor. Between four and five hundred people were on the ground before the hour fixed for the parade; when the 11 A.M. train stopped, there was a motley mass of people emerging from the cars, among which were the ladies of Boston, who were the makers of the colors, and the donors. Arrived upon the ground, it was a long time before sufficient space could be made to carry out the formalities; the colonel was obliged to order the commanders of two companies to march their commands to the front to make room for forming the square. After all the preliminaries were settled, Rev. Mr. Grimes, of Boston, offered a very impressive prayer.30 The Governor and staff, Gen. Pierce and staff, with the whole regiment, during the prayer remained uncovered. The Governor then stepped forward and in substance spoke as follows:Mr. Commander—Although the presentation of a stand of colors to a noble body of men is no new scene in this Commonwealth, this occasion is a novel and peculiar one—there is an importance attached to this occasion which never existed with any similar event. Today we recognize the right of every man in this Commonwealth to be a MAN and a citizen. We see before us a band of as noble men as ever came together for a great and glorious cause; they go not for themselves alone, but they go to vindicate a foul aspersion that they were not men; and I rejoice to see men from other states who have cast their lot in with ours—we welcome them as citizens of the Old Bay State. We not only see the germs of the elevation of a downtrodden and despised race, but a great and glorious future spread out before us, when the principles of right and justice shall govern our beloved country. You, Mr. Commander, have reason to be proud that you have the privilege of being the pioneer in this great and glorious cause, as the Chief of the Fifty Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers. And my earnest prayer is that you will ever have in view a lively interest in its efficiency and glory in the field, as you have thus far shown in its organization. I now have the honor, in behalf of the colored ladies of Boston, to present to you, sir, for the 54th regiment of Mass. volunteers, the American Flag; and before it shall ever be surrendered to the foes may its white stripes be spattered with the red blood of their brethren who bear it in the field. I now have the honor of presenting the 54th, through you, sir, in behalf of the Commonwealth, the arms of the State of Massachusetts; and I say today, from the beginning of this rebellion to the present day, that banner has never been surrendered to the foe; fifty-three regiments have marched from the old Bay State, but we have yet to learn that they ever surrendered that noble banner. Hold on to the staff, if every thread is blown away, your glory will be the same. Here is a banner, bearing for its emblem the Goddess of Liberty; take this, sir, in behalf of the colored ladies of Boston and the Commonwealth, for the 54th regiment Mass. volunteers. May you and your men prove that this emblem was never carried by worthier hands. And here I have the solemn pleasure of presenting you, sir, in behalf of the near and dear relatives of one of Massachusetts noble soldier boys, who gave his life for his country’s cause, Lieut. Putnam, the emblem which it bears, the symbol of the Christian, a Cross. While in the battle’s rage, you cast your eyes on this Christian banner, remember, sir, the example of the gallant man who took it for his guide. Though you fall in your country’s defence, with a just and sincere appreciation of the teachings inculcated by that banner, your spirit will soar to that home in store for those who faithfully do their duty here to Humanity, their Country and their God! And now let me thank you, sir, Mr. Commander, and your assistant officers, for the faithful discharge of the trust reposed in you all. I declare to you today, that the 54th regiment of volunteers will ever be to me a source of solicitude; it is an undertaking, which if it fails, I fail with it; not only myself in my official capacity, but thousands in the old Bay State will watch its progress with earnest, heartfelt interest; if on the field, this noble Corps shall prove as valiant as it is proficient in discipline and drill, the fondest well wisher of this cause will be amply rewarded.
You Mr. Commander, have an important trust confided to you; your own honor as a man, and commander, the sound and wholesome discipline of a class unused to military life, that they as well as yourself, may add lustre to the glory of your native State. Your country’s honor, and the safety of these men, depend upon you; a nobler corps ne’er tread the soil of Massachusetts, and I am proud tosay, much is due you for the military spirit they exhibit to-day; again [illegible] the flag.
Colonel Shaw responded in a [illegible] as follows:It will be my earnest endeavors to faithfully perform all that is possible for the honor and glory of the 54th regiment volunteers; I consider it an honor to lead men, although many of them not citizens of Massachusetts, who exhibit such unmistakable evidences of patriotism; and I will take this occasion to express my sincere thanks to the officers, and men, for their untiring efforts to assist me in maintaining order, and a faithful discharge of every duty.
Mr. I.D. Hall and Mr. John Goings will please accept the thanks of Company C, for a present of tobacco, two twenty-five pound boxes; we can assure them it is very acceptable, as many of us have not had any tobacco for some time.
J. H. G.
I am so sorry you were not here to-day. The presentation went off finely. The Governor made a beautiful speech. My response was small potatoes. The day has been beautiful; and on the whole it was a success. After the ceremony, we had a Battalion drill, and then refreshments for guests at my head-quarters. The Governor handed me a telegram from the Secretary of War, saying, “The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts will report to General Hunter; make requisitions for transportation, so that they may go at once.”
As soon as the transports are ready, we shall be off; that may not be for a week, though. I shall find out to-morrow, if possible, and telegraph Father; if I don’t see you and Father before I go, I shall be terribly disappointed. Effie and Nellie are at Milton Hill to tea this evening. Cabot Russel and Wilkie James hired a large “carryall,” and drove them over. They thought the carryall more in accordance with your ideas of propriety, than separate buggies. You will wonder, no doubt, at our being taken from General Wilde. General Hunter wanted us, and I told the Governor I thought the men would have a better chance for work than with Foster. The latter, as likely as not, would make us do all the digging of the department.
Always, dearest Mother,
Your loving Son
Friends [of the regiment] had procured flags, and it was determined to make the occasion of their presentation, on May 18, a memorable one. The day was fine and cloudless. Very early, friends of the command began to arrive in private carriages, and by the extra trains run to Readville. Many prominent persons were present, including Surgeon-General Dale, Hon. Thomas Russell, Professor Agassiz, Prof. William B. Rogers, Hon. Josiah Quincy, George S. Hale, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Samuel May, Rev. Dr. Neale, Frederick Douglass, and many others. The parade was thronged with white and colored people of both sexes, to the number of over a thousand.
Line was formed at eleven o’clock, and the regiment was broken into square by Colonel Shaw. Governor Andrew, with his military staff in full uniform, took position inside the square. Brilliant in color and of the finest texture, fluttering in the fresh breeze blowing, the flags destined for the regiment were ready for presentation. They were four in number, — a national flag, a State color, an emblematic banner of white silk with the figure of the Goddess of Liberty, and the motto, ” Liberty, Loyalty, and Unity,” and another with a cross upon a blue field, and the motto, In Hoc Signo Vinces. By invitation, the Rev. Mr. Grimes offered an appropriate prayer. Governor Andrew then stepped forward; and the flow of eloquent words delivered with the earnestness which characterized him, heightened by the occasion, will never be forgotten by those that heard his voice. Standing in plain attire, and facing Colonel Shaw, he spoke as follows: —COLONEL SHAW : As the official representative of the Commonwealth, and by favor of various ladies and gentlemen, citizens of the Commonwealth, and friends of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, I have the honor and the satisfaction of being permitted to join you this morning for the purpose of presenting to your regiment the national flag, the State colors of Massachusetts, and the emblematic banners which the cordial, generous, and patriotic friendship of its patrons has seen fit to present to you. Two years of experience in all the trials and vicissitudes of war, attended with the repeated exhibition of Massachusetts regiments marching from home to the scenes of strife, have left little to be said or suggested which could give the interest of novelty to an occasion like this. But, Mr. Commander, one circumstance pertaining to the composition of the Fifty-fourth Regiment, exceptional in its character, when compared with anything we have seen before, gives to this hour an interest and importance, solemn and yet grand, because the occasion marks an era in the history of the war, of the Commonwealth, of the country, and of humanity. I need not dwell upon the fact that the enlisted men constituting the rank and file of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment are drawn from a race not hitherto connected with the fortunes of the war; and yet I cannot forbear to allude to the circumstance for a brief moment, since it is uppermost in your thoughts, and since this regiment, which for many months has been the desire of my own heart, is present now before this vast assembly of friendly citizens of Massachusetts, prepared to vindicate by its future, — as it has already begun to do by its brief history of camp life here, — to vindicate in its own person, and in the presence, I trust, of all who belong to it, the character, the manly character, the zeal, the manly zeal, of the colored citizens of Massachusetts, and of those other States which have cast their lot with ours. I owe to you, Mr. Commander, and to the officers who, associated with you, have assisted in the formation of this noble corps, composed of men selected from among their fellows for fine qualities of manhood, — I owe to you, sir, and to those of your associates who united with me in the original organization of this body, the heartiest and most emphatic expression of my cordial thanks. I shall follow you, Mr. Commander, your officers, and your men, with a friendly and personal solicitude, to say nothing of official care, which can hardly be said of any other corps which has marched from Massachusetts. My own personal honor, if I have any, is identified with yours. I stand or fall, as a man and a magistrate, with the rise or fall in the history of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment. I pledge not only in behalf of myself, but of all those whom I have the honor to represent to-day, the utmost generosity, the utmost kindness, the utmost devotion of hearty love, not only for the cause, but for you that represent it. We will follow your fortunes in the camp and in the field with the anxious eyes of brethren, and the proud hearts of citizens. To those men of Massachusetts and of surrounding States who have now made themselves citizens of Massachusetts, I have no word to utter fit to express the emotions of my heart. These men, sir, have now, in the Providence of God, given to them an opportunity which, while it is personal to themselves, is still an opportunity for a whole race of men. With arms possessed of might to strike a blow, they have found breathed into their hearts an inspiration of devoted patriotism and regard for their brethren of their own color, which has inspired them with a purpose to nerve that arm, that it may strike a blow which, while it shall help to raise aloft their country’s flag — their country’s flag, now, as well as ours—by striking down the foes which oppose it, strikes also the last shackle which binds the limbs of the bondmen in the Rebel States.I know not, Mr. Commander, when, in all human history, to any given thousand men in arms there has been committed a work at once so proud, so precious, so full of hope and glory as the work committed to you. And may the infinite mercy of Almighty God attend you every hour of every day through all the experiences and vicissitudes of that dangerous life in which you have embarked; may the God of our fathers cover your heads in the day of battle ; may He shield you with the arms of everlasting power ; may He hold you always— most of all, first of all, and last of all — up to the highest and holiest conception of duty, so that if, on the field of stricken fight, your souls shall be delivered from the thraldom of the flesh, your spirits shall go home to God, bearing aloft the exulting thought of duty well performed, of glory and reward won, even at the hands of the angels who shall watch over you from above !
Mr. Commander, you, sir, and most of your officers, have been carefully selected from among the most intelligent and experienced officers who have already performed illustrious service upon the field during the two years of our national conflict. I need not say, sir, with how much confidence and with how much pride we contemplate the leadership which this regiment will receive at your hands. In yourself, sir, your staff and line officers, we are enabled to declare a confidence which knows no hesitation and no doubt. Whatever fortune may betide you, we know from the past that all will be done for the honor of the cause, for the protection of the flag, for the defence of the right, for the glory of your country, and for the safety and the honor of these men whom we commit to you, that shall he either in the human heart, or brain, or arm.
And now, Mr. Commander, it is my most agreeable duty and high honor to hand to you, as the representative of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, the American flag, “the star-spangled banner” of the Republic. Wherever its folds shall be unfurled, it will mark the path of glory. Let its stars be the inspiration of yourself, your officers, and your men. As the gift of the young ladies of the city of Boston to their brethren in arms, they will cherish it as the lover cherishes the recollection and fondness of his mistress; and the white stripes of its field will be red with their blood before it shall be surrendered to the foe.
I have also the honor, Mr. Commander, to present to you the State colors of Massachusetts, — the State colors of the old Bay State, borne already by fifty-three regiments of Massachusetts soldiers, white men thus far, now to be borne by the Fifty-fourth Regiment of soldiers, not less of Massachusetts than the others. Whatever may be said, Mr. Commander, of any other flag which has ever kissed the sunlight or been borne on any field, I have the pride and honor to be able to declare before you, your regiment, and these witnesses, that from the beginning till now, the State colors of Massachusetts have never been surrendered to any foe. The Fifty-fourth now holds in possession this sacred charge, in the performance of their duties as citizen soldiers. You will never part with that flag so long as a splinter of the staff or a thread of its web remains within your grasp. The State colors are presented to the Fifty-fourth by the Relief Society, composed of colored ladies of Boston.
And now let me commit to you this splendid emblematic banner. It is prepared for your acceptance by a large and patriotic committee, representing many others besides themselves, — ladies and gentlemen of Boston, to whose hearty sympathy and powerful cooperation and aid much of the success which has hitherto attended the organization of this regiment is due. The Goddess of Liberty erect in beautiful guise and form; Liberty, Loyalty, and Unity, — are the emblems it bears. The Goddess of Liberty shall be the lady-love, whose fair presence shall inspire your hearts; Liberty, Loyalty, Unity, the watchwords in the fight.
And now, Mr. Commander, the sacred, holy Cross, representing passion, the highest heroism, I scarcely dare trust myself to present to you. It is the emblem of Christianity. I have parted with the emblems of the State, of the nation, — heroic, patriotic emblems they are, dear, inexpressibly dear to all our hearts; but now In hoc signo vinces, — the Cross which represents the passion of our Lord, I now dare to pass into your soldier hands; for we are fighting now a battle, not merely for country, not merely for humanity, not only for civilization, but for the religion of our Lord itself. When this cause shall ultimately fail, if ever failure at the last shall be possible, it will only fail when the last patriot, the last philanthropist, and the last Christian shall have tasted death, and left no descendants behind them upon the soil of Massachusetts. This flag, Mr. Commander, has connected with its history the most touching and sacred memories. It comes to your regiment from the mother, sister, friends, family relatives, of one of the dearest and noblest boys of Massachusetts. I need not utter the name of Lieutenant Putnam in order to excite in every heart the tenderest emotions of fond regard, or the strongest feeling of patriotic fire. May you, sir, and these, follow not only on the field of battle, but in all the walks and ways of life, in camp and hereafter, when, on returning peace, you shall resume the more quiet and peaceful duties of citizens,— may you but follow the splendid example, the sweet devotion, mingled with manly, heroic character, of which the life and death of Lieutenant Putnam was one example ! How many more there are we know not, —the record is not yet complete ; but oh, how many there are of these Massachusetts sons, who, like him, have tasted death for this immortal cause! Inspired by such examples, fired by the heat and light of love and faith which illumined and warmed these heroic and noble hearts, may you, sir, and these march on to glory, to victory, and to every honor! This flag I present to you, Mr. Commander, and your regiment. In hoc signo vinces.
At the conclusion of the Governor’s remarks, when the applause had subsided, Colonel Shaw responded as follows: —YOUR EXCELLENCY : We accept these flags with feelings of deep gratitude. They will remind us not only of the cause we are fighting for, and of our country, but of the friends we have left behind us, who have thus far taken so much interest in this regiment, and whom we know will follow us in our career. Though the greater number of men in this regiment are not Massachusetts men, I know there is not one who will not be proud to fight and serve under our flag. May we have an opportunity to show that you have not made a mistake in intrusting the honor of the State to a colored regiment, — the first State that has sent one to the war.
I am very glad to have this opportunity to thank the officers and men of the regiment for their untiring fidelity and devotion to their work from the very beginning. They have shown that sense of the importance of the undertaking without which we should hardly have attained our end.
After the command was reviewed by the Governor, the battalion was dismissed, and officers and men devoted themselves to the entertainment of their guests.
I received your note, acknowledging my last from Lenox, this morning. Annie and I got to Boston, Saturday evening; coming the last part of the way with Mrs. Haggerty and Clem., having met them at Springfield. I found the regiment looking remarkably well; there are already one hundred men for the Fifty-fifth. Both the Hallowells refused the Colonelcy of it; but the Governor says Norwood must stay and help organize it, whether he wishes to or not; so he will be detailed by the War Department. I hope Mother and you will come on very soon. We shall get away next week without a doubt, if nothing unexpected turns up. General Wilde goes to New York Wednesday, and sails for Newbern on Friday.
We are settled at Mrs. Crehore’s, and ready to receive you whenever you can come. By this time, there must be some news from the coming baby.
Love to Mother and Nellie. I received Mother’s note at Lenox.
Your loving Son
Mercury, May 11, 1863 Gooding
Camp Meigs, Readville, May 9
—The past week has been one of progress with the 54th: 68 more men will make it a full regiment, if all the men are retained, which I think is rather doubtful, as there is about a dozen or more who, by the trying effects of camp life, are not physically able to be retained as good able soldiers. So far as physical ability is concerned and qualities of endurance as a regiment, the 54th will compare favorably with any ever raised in the State; indeed had every man been received who has applied, the regiment would have been filled at least three weeks since. Those having the raising of the regiment in charge are entitled to praise in not enlisting all sorts of men, regardless of their fitness to bear the hardships of military life, a striking contrast to the manner in which some of our regiments were raised. If they could only get 1000 men, they never thought of the fact that good sound men, although recruited slowly, would be better for themselves in the end. A number of regiments in the field, thinned out by sickness more than battle, had to be consolidated, so that the high “comish” in some cases will have to follow the unheroic paths of commerce or law once more. Surgeon General Dale paid an official visit to the camp last Monday and reviewed the battalion. He appears to seem satisfied that the boys will do.
That flag presentation didn’t come off, and it is very probable it won’t, or else it is such a big one it takes a long time to make it. Well, I suppose it is, and it will be bigger before we see it. By the papers we see Richmond is not taken yet; it would be a little strange if the 54th were destined to tear down Jeff. Davis’ nest. I think our boys would like such a job as that; they might not do it so scientifically as some, but they would never know when they were whipped, and that is the feeling which should pervade every man in the Union armies. Let every man feel that he has got a personal or family interest in this war, as the leaders of the South have, and with the immense armies, means and fleets the government have got, the rebellion would be speedily crushed. The American people, as a nation, knew not what they were fighting for till recently, and many have different opinions now as to the ends and results of the contest. But there is but two results possible, one is slavery and poverty and the other is liberty and prosperity. The latter can be preserved by oneness and singleness of purpose in regard to this contest, or the former will be sure, if love of place, prejudice and partisanship blind them so that they cannot see their way. Let every man of color consider that he has an interest in this war as well as the white man, and it will be well with them.
J. H. G.
Camp Meigs, Readville, Mass., [VT]
May 1, 1863.
There is quite a stir in the camp to-day. Mayday has adorned herself in sunshine and garlands of green. Hundreds are flocking here from Boston and its environs to witness the military evolutions of the 54th Reg. Mass. Vol., and never did they acquit themselves so admirably. They moved with the regularity and.precision of Regulars. The gay concourse of visitors of both classes of our citizens seemed stirred with admiration and pleasure at the rapid progress of this splendid regiment in this school of the soldier. I do not exaggerate when 1 say that there is no regiment superior, if equal to this in physique and aptitude of its men. I suppose, in the upwards of a thousand men now ready to be mustered into the service of the United States, there arc twelve men who will yield to the severest vigors of a campaign in the field. Out of upward of fourteen hundred men, these nine hundred or a thousand have been chosen; the rest have been rejected because they did not come up to the highest standard of mental and physical proficiency.
Governor Andrew visited our camp yesterday and reviewed the regiment, and with other distinguished citizens expressed great satisfaction at the condition of the men and the police of the camp. I noticed among the guests on this occasion our distinguished citizens Dr. J. B. Smith and Lewis Hayden Esq. I never saw a body of men who seem to be so perfectly at home in camp and have so many ways to divert and amuse themselves. Singing, dancing, foot-ball, cricket, wrestling and many innocent games with the parades and drills, dispel ennui and dull monotony and keep our camp in a perfect whirl of animating scenes..
There are a few essentials needed, however, to the comfort of these men, who have in the face of the most disheartening influences taken up arms in defence of their country and liberty. There are many of the essentials to the soldiers toilet which the government does not furnish to her troops: such as coarse towels, needles, pins and buttons, besides some items of reading matter, such as testaments (pocket), newspapers, tracts, etcetera. A great many of the friends furnish them at times with tobacco, pipes and some few dainties, but those things I have above enumerated are very essential, absolutely so. Will the fair friends at home withhold their regards from the noble 54th and refrain from giving them some few of these testimonials of their admiration and respect? The Social, Civil and Statistical Association of Philadelphia have made an appropriation to purchase some of these items. Fair readers of Philadelphia will you not form your Sewing Circles to make for these men whatever may be necessary? While that Governor Andrew has made this regiment one which will reflect honor to our race, and as it has become the representative of the men of color in the North, it becomes the indispensable duty of every one at home to cheer and encourage them with sympathy and esteem, and to give them a tangible earnest of a cheerful cooperation with and support to, in this good cause. Ladies it would be strong evidence of your patriotism, intelligence and noble heartedness, did you organize your Sewing Circles in every locality from whence your friends have come to unite their destinies with the 54th. We desire to have a goodly number of copies of the Anglo-African sent to the address of our chaplain, for this shall be the medium through which all of the affairs of the regiment of public interest, shall be made known. When any sickness, accident or anything else shall take place, the friends and relatives of those in it can know all, learn all, through the columns of the Anglo-African.
Another item of interest is that the regiment is now fully armed with new Springfield Rifles. They were only partly supplied with old Harpers Ferry Muskets. The men can be seen everywhere going through the manual of arms, in which they are already quite proficient. There are already two colored men who are commissioned and attached to this regiment: Dr. John V. De Grasse of Boston, and Rev. Wm. Jackson of New-Bedford, recently of Philadelphia and a Baptist by profession of faith. Dr. De Grasse is only to be temporarily connected, it is understood, with the regiment, to be detached for some other field of action,- and, it is expected that Dr. Bachus, the previous acting Hospital Steward, will be commissioned as assistant surgeon of the regiment. So the great pathway to honor and emolument is opening wide to colored men.
The health of the men is good, particularly so. There are in the hospital the week ending to-day, Clark, Wellesly, Harrison, Chas. Owens, Miller, Toote, Shorter, and Phillips, and these are all the cases of ordinary diseases and are nearly all convalescent.
G. E. S.
[Mercury, April 6, 1863][OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, April 3
—The 54th progresses daily. This week past the men who have been in camp the longest time have been practicing in the manual of arms. It really makes one’s heart pulsate with pride as he looks upon those stout and brawny men, fully equipped with Uncle Sam’s accoutrements upon them, to feel that these noble men are practically refuting the base assertions reiterated by copperheads and traitors that the black race are incapable of patriotism, valor or ambition. Officers of distinction, whose judgements are not warped by prejudice, pronounce this regiment to be the nucleus of an army equaling in discipline and material the Imperial Hosts of Europe. I, for one, hope their liberal assumptions will in the end prove true—and it is merely a question of time to make it so. Our first dress parade took place this afternoon, and those who know say the men behaved admirably, for so short a period in drilling.
Last Monday all the organized companies on the ground were mustered in the State service; after this was consummated, some of the “boys” in Co. B became a little clamorous for their “bounty”; in fact, it seemed as though they were inclined to be “muzzy,” but a slight intimation from the Colonel about the “guard house,” wearing patent bracelets, and sundry other terrors in store for pugnacious gentlemen, under Uncle Sam’s tuition, tended to quiet them wonderfully. They appear to have forgotten all about their grievances, in the emulation of the other companies in drilling — which I think is very good. The sanitary condition of the men is very good, considering the location of the camp, it being situated in a valley, and consequently very damp. During the wet weather we had last month, colds and coughs were very prevalent among the men; but now those complaints are most wholly ended, owing no doubt to the improvement in the weather, and becoming accustomed to the locality.
Rev. Wm. Jackson has been laboring very faithfully the past week among us, but the fruits of his labor are yet to be tested. I hope they will prove successful, and I have no doubt in some instances they will. The number of men in camp is 459; there is a barrack being fitted up now, which is, I presume, for the reception of expected recruits. Tell the young men in New Bedford there is an ample chance for them to get in the 54th yet; not to hang back because there is no recruiting office open in the city; but come “right up to the scratch”; don’t let the boys who are here get all the honor, but come, and we will share it with them.
J. H. G.
April 4th. This morning we have an addition of 40 men. They came into camp with colors flying, and were received with three hearty cheers. This makes our number 499 men, a half regiment lacking a few men.
J. H. G.
I received yours of 1st to-day. As regards our being married, Mr. and Mrs. Haggerty seem as much opposed to it as Mother. The reason I should like to have it, is the very one that Mother gives for opposing it; namely, that I am going away. I can’t help feeling that, if we are not married before I go, I shall feel very much dissatisfied and discontented. For the sake of Annie’s and my own peace of mind, I want it.
Your loving son,
Robert G. Shaw
March 25 1863
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
Much the larger number of recruits were obtained through the organization and by the means which will now be described. About February 15, Governor Andrew appointed a committee to superintend the raising of recruits for the colored regiment, consisting of George L. Stearns, Amos A. Lawrence, John M. Forbes, William I. Bowditch, Le Baron Russell, and Richard P. Hallowell, of Boston; Mayor Howland and James B. Congdon, of New Bedford; Willard P. Phillips, of Salem; and Francis G. Shaw, of New York. Subsequently the membership was increased to one hundred, and it became known as the “Black Committee.” It was mainly instrumental in procuring the men of the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry, the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry, besides 3,967 other colored men credited to the State. All the gentlemen named were persons of prominence. Most of them had been for years in the van of those advanced thinkers and workers who had striven to help and free the slave wherever found. The first work of this committee was to collect money; and in a very short time five thousand dollars was received, Gerrit Smith, of New York, sending his check for five hundred dollars. Altogether nearly one hundred thousand dollars was collected, which passed through the hands of Richard P. Hallowell, the treasurer, who was a brother of the Hallowells commissioned in the Fifty-fourth. A call for recruits was published in a hundred journals from east to west. Friends whose views were known were communicated with, and their aid solicited; but the response was not for a time encouraging
With the need came the man. Excepting Governor Andrew, the highest praise for recruiting the Fifty-fourth belongs to George L. Stearns, who had been closely identified with the struggle in Kansas and John Brown’s projects. He was appointed agent for the committee, and about February 23 went west on his mission. Mr. Stearns stopped at Rochester, N. Y., to ask the aid of Fred Douglass, receiving hearty co-operation, and enrolling a son of Douglass as his first recruit. His headquarters were made at Buffalo, and a line of recruiting posts from Boston to St. Louis established.
Soon such success was met with in the work that after filling the Fifty-fourth the number of recruits was sufficient to warrant forming a sister regiment.
Notably, on this day William H. Carney joined the regiment. He would become the first African-American to receive the country’s Medal of Honor, in recognition of his valor during the assault on Fort Wagner.
At the time a strong prejudice existed against arming the blacks and those who dared to command them. The sentiment of the country and of the army was opposed to the measure. It was asserted that they would not fight, that their employment would prolong the war, and that white troops would refuse to serve with them. Besides the moral courage required to accept commissions in the Fifty-fourth at the time it was organizing, physical courage was also necessary, for the Confederate Congress, on May 1, 1863, passed an act, a portion of which read as follows: —
” SECTION IV. That every white person being a commissioned officer, or acting as such, who, during the present war, shall command negroes or mulattoes in arms against the Confederate States, or who shall arm, train, organize, or prepare negroes or mulattoes for military service against the Confederate States, or who shall voluntarily aid negroes or mulattoes in any military enterprise, attack, or conflict in such service, shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection, and shall, if captured, be put to death or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the Court.”
Feb. 16,1863, Monday
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
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.
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.