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February 18, 1863

Letters from Shaw to his father and to his fiance:

Boston [BCF]
Feb. 18,1863

Dear Father,

Will you please inquire of Judge Emerson where his son Charles is to be found, and whether he would take a First Lieutenancy in the coloured regiment. I liked what I saw of him at college very much, and am very anxious to get hold of him. I am occupied all the time. Things look very encouraging.
Love to Mother.

Affectionately, your son,
Robert G. Shaw

February 18,1863 [BCF]

My Dear Annie,

Yours of Monday I received this morning. . ..

Last night I was at Milton Hill.Miss Sedgwick (Aunt Kitty) came over. She talked about you, and told me how much she loved your mother, and you and Clem. I thought him a very charming person. Cousin Sarah was very kind and sympathizing; she wants to see you very much, and you will have to come here some time. I have not seen Aunt Cora, as she was ill when I went there.

Do write to me often, Annie dear, for I need a word occasionally from those whom I love, to keep up my courage. Whatever you write about, your letters always make me feel well; and I have enough discouraging work before me to make me feel gloomy.

Always, with great love,

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February 16, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his fiance Annie and to his Father; description of initial recruiting from Emilio [BBR 9,10]; one of the recruiting ads.

Boston [BCF]

Feb. 16,1863, Monday

Dearest Annie,

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


Boston [BCF]
Feb. 16,1863

Dear Father,

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.

In haste,
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.

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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 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 25, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his fiance Annie and his sister Effie:

Stafford C. H. [BCF]
Jan. 25,1863

Dear Annie,

I found your letter of the 14th here, last night, when we arrived. Please do not think of not sending me a letter, because you fancy it stupid; for they always give me a great deal of pleasure. Since I have been at home, I have begun to think that the war may very possibly come to a more sudden end than I have hitherto supposed, unless there is a great change in the feelings of the people. What I saw and heard in public conveyances and hotels surprised me very much; and one would think that the men who have remained quietly at their firesides were the principal sufferers, to judge from their complaints. Morse and I left Washington yesterday morning, and came down to Aquia Landing by boat. There we took the train to Brooke’s Station, which is three miles from here, and walked the rest of the way. The roads are in a condition which no one who has not seen them could imagine, and as it was quite dark we floundered about in the mud, in a very uncertain manner. We finally came across an officer, who directed us to our camp, and we got safely in about 8 P.M.

The corps had a very hard march down here;—while it was so cloudy and threatening at Lenox, it was raining hard here, and every one was soaked through and through for two or three days. The artillery had to throw away their ammunition, and the commissaries the rations, in order to get their wagons through the mud. As it was, many waggons were abandoned, and many mules were so hopelessly stuck in the mud, that they had to be left to end their days there. They sunk so deep in some places that only their heads could be seen,—so I am told, at least; but the story seems rather a startling one. The rate of marching was two to three miles a day; and the last day the men were without a morsel of food. You can imagine the difficulties of a winter
campaign in Virginia. In Washington, I heard, and you probably know by this time, that Burnside’s move is entirely given up, the whole army having stuck in the mud.

Dear Annie, I have thought a great deal of you‚—indeed almost all the time since I left Lenox‚—and of my visit to you, especially the last part of it. O, dear! you don’t know how much I should like to see you again!

Good night; with much love, your


Stafford CourtHouse Va. [HL]
January 25 1863

Dear Effie,

Your letter from Milton of Jan. 18 induces me to address myself to you this morning. I wrote to Father & Mother from Washington & hope they received my letters.

Morse & I left that town yesterday morning & came by boat to Aquia Cr. Landing. We arrived there about 1 P.M. and waited for a train until about 4— having got some bean (pebble) soup on board a canal boat for dinner. The cars took us to Brooke’s Station about three miles from this camp, and from there we walked through the mud & darkness. After many inquiries & many unsatisfactory & often impertinent answers from individuals who had apparently been riled by having been asked similar questions from early dawn, we finally stumbled on C. Wheaton, Jr. the illustrious. The sight of him calmed our ire, which was fast rising at hearing a man advise another (as we turned our backs) to tell the first person who asked him a question “to go to hell.” Wheaton directed us on our way and we soon arrived within sight of our camp-fires.

We find that we escaped the most miserable march the regiment ever made. The storm on Wednesday & Thursday was very severe and put the roads in such a condition that rations & ammunition had to be thrown away, many (even empty) wagons abandoned and mules left to die in mud holes. It rained hard for two days & on one of them the men went for nearly 24 hours without food. As I wrote Father, the movement of Burnside’s Army has been entirely abandoned. They say the Rebels put out a large placard opposite Falmouth, saying: “Burnside stuck in the mud.” “Shan’t we come across & help you with your pontoons?” The letters were large enough to be easily read from our side. I hope you wrote or will write to Annie H. as you intended to, and that you will get well acquainted with her when she comes down to stay with Susie. Tell her to stand straight. No you needn’t say so from me. I don’t feel certain that she considers the matter entirely settled.

They think here that the political troubles at home are going to finish the war before long. If we are not going to fight it out, the sooner it ends, the better. If we do make a peace now, we shall have to go at it again one of these days, I am sure, unless slavery dies out in the mean time.

The Paymaster came up with us, and we arc going to receive four months’ pay.

Did you go to tea at Col. Lowell’s at last?

Give my love to Nellie. I am waiting to hear about the secret society.

Your loving brother


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January 23, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his mother:

Washington, D.C. [BCF]
Jan. 23,1863

Dear Mother,

We arrived here at, or about 8 o’clock this morning, and find we can’t get away until to-morrow morning. We were an hour and a half too early last evening, as the train left at 7 1/2 instead of 6. It was provoking to find we might have spent the time at the house. If we had come in the 11 P.M. train, it would have been early enough, as we must remain here to-day.

What do you think was offered me this morning? A place as Aide on General Heintzleman’s Staff, if I could get an order detailing me away from my Corps. I don’t know what I should do, if the order should make its appearance without any seeking; but I hate to take any steps to have myself detailed away from the regiment. I shouldn’t think it wrong to do so, but a great many of our officers would; and it is very disagreeable to have men say that you are enjoying a pleasant position, by making their duty heavier. It would be a very pleasant change, and it is a very nice staff. Leo Hunt is Heintzleman’s Assistant Adjutant-General; and Johnson, whom I knew very well in Boston, is one of his Aides. It was the latter who made the proposal. I shall do nothing about it myself.

There are no sleeping cars from New York to Philadelphia; but I was so used up for want of rest, that I slept almost all the way. At Philadelphia we got a bunk, and I didn’t wake up again until we arrived here.

If you have any talk with Annie, please find out whether she feels as I told you I thought she did, before you take anything for granted. This letter has been all about myself. Give my love to Father, Susie, and the girls, and tell George and Anna that I was very sorry not to see them and the babies again.

With much love to yourself,
Your affectionate Son

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January 10, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his fiance Annie:

Fairfax Station, Va. [BCF]
Jan. 10,1863

Dear Annie,

Your letter of the 5th inst., enclosing the vignette, came last night. At first I thought the latter was not good at all, but now I begin to like it, and am very glad indeed to have it. I have noticed that very often you must get acquainted with a portrait before you like it.

I begin to think, Annie, that there will be enough fighting in the country to give us all plenty of occupation for the rest of our lives, even if they are not shortened by bullet or cannon-ball. If a peace is patched up with the South, I don’t believe it can be a permanent one, and if the war goes on for another eighteen months, other nations are likely to be drawn into it. I hope I may be mistaken, for, though I don’t think the soldiers are so much to be pitied as the fathers, mothers, wives, and sisters, who have to stay at home, there are few who are not heartily sick of the war. The anxiety some people must feel for their relatives in the army, is a great deal worse, I think, than anything we have to bear.

You asked me once if I knew why McClellan lay still after the battle of Antietam. We have never been able to discover why Lee was allowed to withdraw as he did. When we heard that he had gone, the day after the battle, we said it would ruin McClellan. After the Rebels got into Virginia, there were many good reasons given for not pursuing. We were not well supplied with ammunition (at least, I know that to have been the case in our Corps), our force was not so large as theirs, and our men were scattered by thousands from Frederick to Sharpsburg—our troops always get scattered after a fight, and the new ones are much worse than the old. If a hard march precedes the battle, of course that adds to the number of stragglers. It may be true that McClellan is not rapid enough in carrying out his plans, but I wish he were in Halleck’s place.

I have read Cairne’s book and Lecture. It is a pity they have not more such good and clear-headed men in England. I have just read “Gurowski’s Diary.” It is very amusing, if no more, and no doubt there is much truth in it. The book I swear by now, is “Napier’s Peninsular War.” I have not read anything that has given me so much pleasure for a long while.

Did I tell you we were all comfortably hutted now? The men are all in log-shanties with fireplaces — four men in a mess — and the officers occupy palatial residences, seven or eight feet square, usually two in each. We can defy the weather, and if we are “let alone” for a time, we shall pass a comparatively pleasant winter.

I want to go home, I cannot tell you how much, in February, but I do not see any chance of it now. Tell your mother not to trouble herself to answer my letter. I didn’t expect an answer, as I knew she didn’t write much.

Yours affectionately,

R. G. Shaw
p.S.— I wonder if you have received all my letters. Often I can only tell the date of yours by the postage-mark, for you give the day of the week merely.

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January 8, 1863

Robert Gould Shaw had been serving in the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry for almost two years, and would become the commander of the newly forming 54th Massachusetts in several months:

Fairfax Station [BCF]
Jan. 8,1863

Dearest Mother,

On the outside of my last letter to you I mentioned having received yours enclosing one from Uncle Henry; we have had no letters for some time now; there is a hitch in the mail every little while.

The other day I wrote to George, and spoke of what you wrote me about McClellan, in a way which I thought afterwards might look rude on paper. I didn’t mean it so, and I wish you would tell him. It is astonishing how much the meaning of a sentence may be changed by the manner in which it is said, and consequently how a written sentence may be misunderstood.

We hear that Hooker will probably be made commander-in-chief before long. I believe he will be a failure too. Though he got us so much glory at Antietam, neither he nor his Corps were on the field after 8 1/2 A.M. We were under his command part of the time, or at least received orders from him, and they were thought to be pretty wild ones then. If we do change our commander again, and the new one doesn’t do any better than his predecessors, I should think a crisis in our affairs might be expected. I hope the battle in the West may turn out to be as important as is supposed.

We are all comfortably housed in log-huts, with brick fireplaces, and can laugh at the cold for the present. Harry and I are as cosey as possible in a house seven by six, with a tent for a roof. I feel almost as if I were at home, after the exposure and discomfort of the last three weeks. We may be ordered off at any moment though, so that we don’t indulge in any hopes of escaping the frosts of January.

We have been reading “Bleak House,” and I didn’t remember how many beautiful things there were in it. I am reading “Napier’s Peninsular War” to myself, and it is really a classic work; I never knew before, either, what a man Sir John Moore was, nor was so impressed with Napoleon’s military genius. It is a great book, and a great many things in it apply to the conduct of our war. Speaking of one of Napoleon’s letters to Joseph Bonaparte, he says: “Then followed an observation which may be studied with advantage by those authors who, unacquainted with the simplest rudiments of military science, censure the conduct of generals, and, from some obscure nook, are pleased to point out their errors to the world; authors who, profoundly ignorant of the numbers, situation, and resources of the opposing armies, pretend, nevertheless, to detail with great accuracy the right method of executing the most difficult and delicate operations of war.” The observation he refers to is: “But it is not permitted at the distance of three hundred leagues, without even a statement of the condition of the army, to direct what should be done.” In another place, he says: “A ruinous defeat, the work of chance, often closes the career of the boldest and most sagacious of generals; and to judge of a commander’s conduct by the event alone, is equally unjust and unphilosophical, a refuge for vanity and ignorance.”

Did Father get my letter asking him to forward my coat lined with red flannel? If you have given it away, no matter. I can get along perfectly well without it, and if not, can get another from Baltimore. We have had some very warm woollen jackets issued to us lately, which are almost as good as an overcoat. Out men are all as well housed as the officers, each house having a fireplace in it. Give my love to Susie, and tell her not to nourish the hope that I can get away in February. I don’t think there is any chance of it.

What a great year this is for the negroes and the country! I don’t appreciate it at all times. If we get the Mississippi, it will make a great difference, I should think, in the spreading of the President’s Proclamation. I read Mrs. Stowe’s “Reply” in the January “Atlantic,” and liked it very much.

With love to Father, always your most
Affectionate Son

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