Posts Tagged   54th Massachusetts

February 8, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his fiance Annie and to his Father.  By now he has decided to accept Governor Andrew’s offer of command of the regiment.

Stafford C.H.,Va. [BCF]
Feb. 8,1863

Dear Annie,

You know by this time, perhaps, that I have changed my mind about the black regiment. After Father left, I began to think I had made a mistake in refusing Governor Andrew’s offer. Mother has telegraphed to me that you would not disapprove of it, and that makes me feel much more easy about having taken it. Going for another three years is not nearly so bad a thing for a colonel as a captain; as the former can much more easily get a furlough. Then, after I have undertaken this work, I shall feel that what I have to do is to prove that a negro can be made a good soldier, and, that being established, it will not be a point of honour with me to see the war through, unless I really occupied a position of importance in the army. Hundreds of men might leave the army, you know, without injuring the service in the slightest degree.

Last night I received your letter of last Sunday, February i st. You must be at Susie’s house now,—at least I judge so from Mother’s telegram. As I may not receive my order to leave here for some days, do promise to stay there until I get to New York. You do not know how I shall feel if I find you are gone. It is needless for me to overwhelm you with a quantity of arguments in favour of the negro troops; because you arc with Mother, the warmest advocate the cause can have. I am inclined to think that the undertaking will not meet with so much opposition as was at first supposed. All sensible men in the army, of all parties, after a little thought, say that it is the best thing that can be done; and surely those at home, who are not brave or patriotic enough to enlist, should not ridicule, or throw obstacles in the way of men who are going to fight for them. There is a great prejudice against it; but now that it has become a government matter, that will probably wear away. At any rate, I shan’t be frightened out of it by its unpopularity; and I hope you won’t care if it is made fun of.

Dear Annie, the first thing I thought of, in connection with it, was how you would feel, and I trust, now I have taken hold of it, I shall find you agree with me and all of our family, in thinking I was right. You know how many eminent men consider a negro army of the greatest importance to our country at this time. If it turns out to be so, how fully repaid the pioneers in the movement will be, for what they may have to go through! And at any rate I feel convinced I shall never regret having taken this step, as far as I myself am concerned; for while I was undecided I felt ashamed of myself, as if I were cowardly.

Good bye, dear Annie. I hope that when I arrive at Sue’s door you will not be very far off.

With a great deal of love, (more every day) your

Stafford Court-House, Va. [BCF]

Feb. 8,1863

Dear Father,

Yours from Willard’s, enclosing Mother’s and Effie’s, was received to-day.Please tell Nellie I received hers of 17th January last night. I telegraphed you yesterday that I couldn’t get away from here without an order or furlough. It will have to come from Hooker or the War Department, and the Governor will have to get it for me. He knows what is needful, though, for he procured the necessary papers when Harry and I went home. If I have to wait some time, don’t let Annie go away until I get to New York, will you?

Tell Mother I have not wavered at all, since my final decision. I feel that if we can get the men, all will go right.

With love to all,

Your affectionate son,

Robert G. Shaw

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February 7, 1863

The first person enrolled in the regiment was John Whittier Messer Appleton, who was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant today. He became Captain of Company A on April 14, 1863, and was promoted to Major on July 18, even though wounded in the assault on Ft. Wagner. Appleton began vigorously recruiting for the regiment — securing 25 men in the first 5 days — arranging for posters and placing the following ad which appeared in the Boston Journal on February 16:
                          To Colored Men.
Wanted.  Good men for the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers
of African descent, Col. Robert G. Shaw.  $100 bounty at expiration of term of
service.  Pay $13 per month, and State aid for families.  All necessary information
can be obtained at the office, corner Cambridge and North Russell Streets.
                             Lieut. J.W.M. Appleton,
                             Recruiting Officer.

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February 5-6, 1863

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February 4, 1863

A letter from  Shaw to his fiance Annie.  Here he tells her that he (initially) turned down Governor Andrew’s offer

Stafford Court-House, Va. [BCF]
Feb. 4,1863

My Dear Annie,

Your two letters, of the 25th and 29th of January, have reached me at last, and I was glad enough to get them. By this time you are on your way to New York, where you will find my last letter. I sent it to Father, thinking that you were going to Susie’s.

I did not read General Hitchcock’s testimony in McDowell’s case. Holt’s summing up of the testimony for and against Porter, seemed to me very poor, for a man of his ability; and if I could persuade myself that the court (composed as it was, of officers of honourable standing) could be dishonest, I should think there had been foul play. Several officers have been dismissed for uttering the like sentiments; so I think I had better keep my opinion to myself. I was much surprised to hear, the other day, from a regular officer in Porter’s Corps, that, though they considered the latter a fine officer, he was not personally liked. I have hitherto heard just the contrary. .

We are tolerably comfortable here now, as our log-huts arc going up again, and we have come across a sutler who furnishes the officers with means to keep a very good mess.

Father has just left here. He came down yesterday, and brought me an offer from Governor Andrew of the Colonelcy of his new black regiment. The Governor considers it a most important command; and I could not help feeling, from the tone of his letter, that he did me a great honour in offering it to me. My Father will tell you some of the reasons why I thought I ought not to accept it. If I had taken it, it would only have been from a sense of duty; for it would have been anything but an agreeable task. Please tell me, without reserve, what you think about it; for I am very anxious to know. I should have decided much sooner than I did, if I had known before. I am afraid Mother will think I am shirking my duty; but I had some good practical reasons for it, besides the desire to be at liberty to decide what to do when my three years have expired.

You asked me in one of your letters whether I was a Unitarian. Since I have been old enough to think for myself, I have considered I had better not try to decide about sects. I always like to go to church, and I like to hear a good sermon, whether it is preached in an Episcopal or a Methodist church. The only Sunday school I ever went to, was Episcopal, and I have been to the Unitarian church less than to any other. While I am on this subject, I must remind you of the Bible you are going to send me.

I like the name Robert much better than Bob, and shall be very glad to have you call me so. Father, Mother, and Effie always call me “Rob,” which slight change of a letter makes a great difference in the name.

There does not seem to be much enthusiasm for Hooker. The cry in the army is still for McClellan. I wonder whether he will ever get his old command again! I don’t think he is doing himself any good by having public receptions in Boston.

The hills about Lenox would be a very welcome sight to me, whether they were covered with snow, with grass, or with nothing at all; though just now, I had rather be in New York. I want to see you horribly (that is the only word I can think of for it), but I have to console myself by looking at the vignette. Did you manage to have some work done on the place before you left?

Our chaplain is an “Orthodox” clergyman, and is much superior to most in the army, I think, though he does get into very lazy habits. Camp life gives no incentive to activity or energy.

I have about a dozen acquaintances in the South. Most of them classmates of mine, with a few of whom I was on most intimate terms. Two of them were captured in North Carolina by another classmate, a captain in the Forty-fourth Massachusetts. He invited them to dinner, and after having had a jolly time together, they were paroled and sent home. We heard, from some prisoners taken at Antietam, that some of our friends were in a regiment that was opposed to ours in that battle. I don’t think I know any one in Richmond. Being officer of the day, to-day, and having several little affairs to attend to in consequence, I must close. So good-bye, dear Annie, with a great deal of love.

Your affectionate Rob

P.S.—Do you know of a woman in Lenox named McDonald? Whether she is very poor, or anything about het? Her son is in my company, and is always getting punished; but when the men’s families are poor we do not like to cut down their pay, which is the most effectual punishment.

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January 30, 1863

Picture of Governor John Andrew

Governor Andrew decided to offer the colonelcy of the 54th to (then) Captain R.G. Shaw, and wrote to Shaw’s father to enlist his aid in convincing Shaw to accept the commision; this is followed by the Governor’s letter to Shaw himself:

BOSTON, Jan. 30, 1863.

FRANCIS G. SHAW, Esq., Staten Island, N. Y.


—As you may have seen by the newspapers, I am about to raise a colored regiment in Massachusetts. This I cannot but regard as perhaps the most important corps to be organized during the whole war, in view of what must be the composition of our new levies ; and therefore I am very anxious to organize it judiciously, in order that it may be a model for all future colored regiments. I am desirous to have for its officers — particularly for its field-officers — young men of military experience, of firm antislavery principles, ambitious, superior to a vulgar contempt for color, and having faith in the capacity of colored men for military service. Such officers must necessarily be gentlemen of the highest tone and honor; and I shall look for them in those circles of educated antislavery society which, next to the colored race itself, have the greatest interest in this experiment.

Reviewing the young men of the character I have described, now in the Massachusetts service, it occurs to me to offer the colonelcy to your son, Captain Shaw, of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, and the lieutenant-colonelcy to Captain Hallowell of the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry, the son of Mr. Morris L. Hallowell of Philadelphia. With my deep conviction of the importance of this undertaking, in view of the fact that it will be the first colored regiment to be raised in the free States, and that its success or its failure will go far to elevate or depress the estimation in which the character of the colored Americans will be held throughout the world, the command of such a regiment seems to me to be a high object of ambition for any officer. How much your son may have reflected upon such a subject I do not know, nor have I any information of his disposition for such a task except what I have derived from his general character and reputation; nor should I wish him to undertake it unless he could enter upon it with a full sense of its importance, with an earnest determination for its success, and with the assent and sympathy and support of the opinions of his immediate family. I therefore enclose you the letter in which I make him the offer of this commission; and I will be obliged to you if you will forward it to him, accompanying it with any expression to him of your own views, and if you will also write to me upon the subject.

My mind is drawn towards Captain Shaw by many considerations. I am sure he would attract the support, sympathy, and active co-operation of many among his immediate family relatives. The more ardent, faithful, and true Republicans and friends of liberty would recognize in him a scion from a tree whose fruit and leaves have always contributed to the strength and healing of our generation. So it is with Captain Hallowell. His father is a Quaker gentleman of Philadelphia, two of whose sons are officers in our army, and another is a merchant in Boston. Their house in Philadelphia is a hospital and home for Massachusetts officers; and the family are full of good works; and he was the adviser and confidant of our soldiery when sick or on duty in that city. I need not add that young Captain Hallowell is a gallant and fine fellow, true as steel to the cause of humanity, as well as to the flag of the country.

I wish to engage the field-officers, and then get their aid in selecting those of the line. I have offers from Oliver T. Beard of Brooklyn, N. Y., late Lieutenant-Colonel of the Forty-eighth New York Volunteers, who says he can already furnish six hundred men; and from others wishing to furnish men from New York and from Connecticut; but I do not wish to start the regiment under a stranger to Massachusetts. If in any way, by suggestion or otherwise, you can aid the purpose which is the burden of this letter, I shall receive your co-operation with the heartiest gratitude.  I do not wish the office to go begging; and if the offer is refused, 1 would prefer it being kept reasonably private.

Hoping to hear from you immediately on receiving this letter,

I am, with high regard,

Your obedient servant and friend,


( From [BBR,pp.3-5])


I am about to organize in Massachusetts a Colored Regiment as part of the volunteer quota of this State – the commissioned officers to be white men. I have today written your Father expressing to him my sense of the importance of this undertaking, and requesting him to forward to you this letter, in which I offer to you the commission of Colonel over it. The Lieutenant Colonelcy I have offerred to Captain Hallowell of the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment. It is important to the organization of this regiment that I should receive your reply to this offer at the earliest day consistent with your ability to arrive at a deliberate conclusion on the subject.

Respectfully and very truly yours,
John A. Andrew

(From [BCF], p.23)

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January 26, 1863: Authorization of the 54th

(From Emilio [BBR,p 2]):
John A. Andrew, the war Governor of Massachusetts, very early advocated the enlistment of colored men to aid in suppressing the Rebellion. The General Government having at last adopted this policy, he visited Washington in January, 1863, and as the result of a conference with Secretary Stanton, received the following order, under which the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was organized:

Picture of Edwin McMasters Stanton

WASHINGTON CITY, Jan. 26, 1863.

Ordered : That Governor Andrew of Massachusetts is authorized, until further orders, to raise such number of volunteers, companies of artillery for duty in the forts of Massachusetts and elsewhere, and such corps of infantry for the volunteer military service as he may find convenient, such volunteers to be enlisted for three years, or until sooner discharged, and may include persons of African descent, organized into special corps. He will make the usual needful requisitions on the appropriate staff bureaus and officers, for the proper transportation, organization, supplies, subsistence, arms and equipments of such volunteers.


Secretary of War.

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