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 James Gooding
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.
Mercury, May 18, 1863 [OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, May 16
—As we fondly expected last week, the 54th is now full, and as “Artemas” expresses it, “it slopt over,” so the spilt ones are now the germ of another regiment, the 55th. The Journal of Commerce, some weeks since, derided the idea of raising a colored regiment in the whole of the loyal States, but it was as near right that time as when it predicted McClellan would have to be recalled to save the nation from anarchy and ruin. These old fogy sheets seem to think if they modify their opinions to the humane and progressive spirit of the times, they lay themselves open to the charge of inconsistency; they lose sight of the fact that to be thoroughly consistent with their position as journalists, they should support what is right, regardless of party ties or Southern patronage. One who has any idea of the manner of mercantile transactions conducted in “Gotham,”might suspect the mercantile mouth-piece was largely interested in the rise and fall of sugar, cotton, turpentine and other tropical commodities.
The battalion of cavalry left last Tuesday for Washington; that battalion was the first ever escorted by a black regiment, and I can assure you they seemed not ashamed of their escort. Gov. Andrew was down to see them off, and it was by his request that the 54th was detailed to give them a parting salute. Who says the world does not move? Col. Maggi was at camp last Tuesday afternoon; he happened to be present during the battalion drill; he said the men drilled splendidly. I think he must be a competent judge. The papers say we are to leave here the 20th, but where we are going they seem to know no more than we do. We have got a band, or at least the instruments; there are fifteen men taken from the regiment to form a band; Professor Bond is the instructor; by the frequency of practice he is maintaining, he appears to be determined to make them equal to any band he has formed or taught during the war. W[h]arton A. Williams, one of our New Bedford boys, is to be Band Sergeant.
There is no more news of importance, so I will content myself till we march. The readers of the Mercury will be fully posted of our progress to our destination.
J. H. G.
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.
Mercury, May 6, 1863 [OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, May 4
—The past week has been one of encouragement and interest to the 54th; our muster is now 868 men, and this week I hope to chronicle the pleasing intelligence, “the 54th is full.” We have sufficient reason to warrant us in saying that such will be the case. Fast Day was observed here by a respite from drilling in the forenoon, and a grand review in the afternoon. Indeed it looked like anything but a day of humiliation and prayer—it seemed more like a grand gala day, if judged by the number of visitors on the ground. The crowd was so great that the officers would allow no carriages within the fines. It would be safe to say that all Belknap street was here en masse. It was indeed a pleasant scene to see the “boys” who had friends to see them, demolishing the good things brought them with such a keen relish; you may be sure they thought not of fasting. In the afternoon Gov. Andrew and Secretary Chase visited the camp, which was the occasion of the review mentioned above. As the Governor entered the lines, attended by Brig. Gen. Pierce and staff, there arose a loud and enthusiastic cheer, long to be remembered. If there had been one present who asserts that black men are without military spirit, the spectacle in Camp Meigs last Thursday would have convinced him of his error.
Yesterday the men received their new arms. We are supplied with the Enfield rifle, made in 1853, so you may suppose they intend us to make good use of them; and I doubt not if the opportunity presents itself, they will be made good use of. There was quite a number of visitors here yesterday, including Gov. Berry, of New Hampshire.
We have a new style of cooking department here, to be experimented upon. It is a large wagon, covered similar to an omnibus, with a stove and all the appurtenances of a well ordered kitchen. It is intended to move on the march. It will be a very handy affair, if adopted. So the 54th will be supplied with all the modern improvements.
Last Thursday I could not but put the question to myself, when I saw so many strong, able-bodied looking young men, why are you not here? why come as spectators when there is ample chance for you to become actors? I felt a mingled feeling of joy and sorrow — joy, because I felt the men who stood as actors in the scene were superior, in the eyes of all patriotic men, to those who came to see the show; sorrow, because these men had the effrontery to come here and look patronizingly upon those who are on the eve of going to secure them a home hereafter. I must confess, it is enough to discourage real well wishers of the cause, to know that the “hub of the Universe” contributed only the small number of 80 men to a whole regiment. It is a fact though, and the only way to make it otherwise, is to send at least 100 more men here, whose interests are identified with the State. The regiment will be full; but it would be more credit to the State if it were filled by her own colored citizens. When the war is over, and those who are spared to return shall march through the grand thoroughfares of our principal cities, ragged, lame, shoeless, and a banner tattered and torn by hostile balls, they then will learn who holds the highest place in the affections of a grateful people. What better reward is possible to conceive than the blessings of those we left behind in sorrow and tears; time, that great solver of events, will teach them this; if they suffer now, they would suffer more in the future, if we do not try now to avert it. It is rumored we are to receive a flag today, but I cannot place any reliance in it. We have heard so many different rumors, about different subjects, that we are rather slow to believe anything we don’t see. (Money especially.)
J. H. G.
Mercury, April 27, 1863 [OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, April 25
—The past week’s report of the 54th is encouraging, if not stirring. The number of recruits for the past week is 66 making a total of 740 men. Indeed, to see the men on dress parade, one would think there was a full regiment, when there is not more than 630, the balance being required for guard or fatigue duties. The most of the companies are now quite proficient in the manual of arms, and perform the evolutions with as much precision as a great many older troops. Soldiers and officers from other camps say they never thought it possible for men to learn in so short a time as much as these men have. The camp was visited by several members of the Legislature the past week, who expressed themselves highly pleased with the efficiency, discipline and cleanliness of the men; and one gentleman paid us a compliment by saying our barracks looked neater than those on the other side of the railroad. But the praise for that is due to Col. Shaw, whose quick eye detects anything in a moment out of keeping with order or military discipline. It is the best way to begin, saving a deal of trouble in the end; without order, the best men on earth would be worthless for military purposes.
Rev. Mr. Jackson is still with us, laboring for the soles, if the uppers are neglected — because there are men in this regiment who forget that there are other combs besides Combe on the understanding. Now Messrs. Editors, we want some more New Bedford men; if they don’t make up their minds very soon, the gate will be shut; every week the number wanted becomes less, and will our New Bedford men see those from other States earning their right to manhood? Where are all the loud orators, whose patriotic appeals said go to the war, we are with you? Come out, ye brave men, we want to see ye. And where, oh! where are the leaders of men? Why don’t they send one representative to the war? so they can say, “We filled our quota.” Don’t let the Journal of Commerce, and other powerful organs, have a chance to tell the truth about you, when they say “The colored man don’t know what’s good for him.” Rise up from your lethargy, and prove by your works that they know not what they say, or else — go and bag your heads.
J. H. G.
Mercury, April 21, 1863 [OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, April 18
—The past week has been marked by nothing extraordinary with us here, excepting a share of fine weather, which must be considered out of the “common order of things” compared with the mud and mire experienced all spring. The total number of men in camp is now 674, making an increase of 60 men for the week; but they do not come fast enough for the boys who are here. We want to get the regiment full, and show that we are men. Certainly there are some here who would be as well suited if they were away, and the majority of the men would be very glad if they were drummed out. They differ none though, in that respect, from other regiments. So long as patriotism was made a purchaseable article there were plenty of men to fill the ranks, but now, when it is not a “paying concern” nobody cares much about going. But our people must consider that their position is a very delicate one; the least false step, at a moment like the present, may tell a dismal tale at some future day. Let them consider that a chance to obtain what they have “spouted” for in “convention assembled” now presents itself by works, not by words! And let them remember that the Greeks lost their liberties by “too much talk”; thinking that talking would accomplish more than fighting; but they saw their mistake when it was too late. Let our people beware. Their fate will be worse than that of the Greeks, if they do not put forth an effort now to save themselves.
As one of the race, I beseech you not to trust to a fancied security, laying comfort to your minds, that our condition will be bettered, because slavery must die. It depends on the free black men of the North, whether it will die or not — those who are in bonds must have some one to open the door; when the slave sees the white soldier approach, he dares not trust him and why? because he has heard that some have treated him worse than their owners in rebellion. But if the slave sees a black soldier, he knows he has got a friend; and through friendship, he that was once a slave can be made a soldier, to fight for his own liberty. But allow that slavery will die without the aid of our race to kill it — language cannot depict the indignity, the scorn, and perhaps violence, that will be heaped upon us; unthought of laws will be enacted, and put in force, to banish us from the land of our birth; and European governments, who now dare not recognize the Southern Confederacy, will call the ostracism a just measure. Now is the time to act — emulate the men of Pennsylvania, who have left their homes in numbers to shame the colored men of the “Old Bay State,” the “Cradle of Liberty.” This regiment should be filled now, with what is wanted to fill it, 326 more men, from Massachusetts; and if our people will only take hold of the matter in earnest it can be done. Let the young women drive all those young loungers off to the war, and if they won’t go, say “I’m no more gal of thine.” There are a plenty of young men in Boston, New Bedford, and other smaller places in the State to fill this regiment up in a very short time. We want them to feel as though they must go, not go purposely for a bounty, but go for honor, duty and liberty.
We were beautifully sold last Wednesday. It was rumored about the Camp that Governor Andrew was to visit the Camp; so the boys all thought of course they must have everything in apple-pie order; we had the barracks all cleaned and hung with holly, and everything looked splendidly. But it turned out that some of the companies wanted to prove which was the smartest.
J. H. G.
Mercury, April 13, 1863[OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, April 11
—Since my last weekly epistle, we have received 315 recruits, making the total number 614, and more expected daily. The ground about the barracks has dried enough now to make walking quite a pleasure. Our company have been presented with a couple of foot-balls by Lieut. Grace, and they are a source of amusement and recreation to the whole regiment. The regiment attracts considerable attention, if judged by the number of visitors we have, including a goodly portion of ladies.
Rev. Wm. Jackson desires to say through the MERCURY, in order to clear up some false impressions which have obtained, through the Pastor of the A. M. E. Church, that he did NOT apply, either in person or by letter to the governor, for the chaplaincy of the 54th; that the appointment was made at the suggestion of some friends of his in Boston; furthermore, it was unnecessary for the Pastor of the “Bethel Church” to publish his resignation when he never held any position to resign. Mr. Jackson has in his possession a letter from Secretary Hayden, which will substantiate the above statement. I think myself, Mr. Jackson has been the victim of prejudice—all we want for him is fair play.13
The camp was visited yesterday by Surgeon General Dale,14 who expressed himself well satisfied with [the] physical appearance of the men. Surgeon Stone, acting in this regiment, had all the men vaccinated yesterday, as a preventive against small pox.15 There is not much sickness in camp, considering the number of men present, there being but three men unable to walk out of doors. The men are growing fat, rugged, but not saucy.
Tell the ladies that our boys think there are no women anywhere so good as the New Bedford ladies; and one, who belongs to our company but not to New Bedford, said, “I guess them New Bedford wimmin must be mighty good lookin’” “Why so?” says one. “Cause they are allers sendin’ us somethin’.” After that speech the boys gave three cheers for the ladies of the Relief Society, expressive of thanks for sewing purses containing needles, thread, buttons, yarn, a thimble and paper of pins, one for each man.
J. H. G.
[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
[Mercury, March 31, 1863]
Camp Meigs, Readville, March 30
—As the week begins anew, I have condensed my notes of the past week to lay them before the readers of the Mercury. In my last I stated the number of men in camp to be 368; today the number is 439, an increase of 71 men in one week, one more company having been organized, making five companies. During the past week things have assumed a more military shape than ever before, owing to the fine state of the weather, permitting out-door drilling. Since the men have been in camp the drilling has been conducted in empty barracks, until the past week. It is quite enlivening to see squads of men in the open field, a little distance from the barracks, going through their evolutions; especially when they acquit themselves so creditably as the officers say they do.
And here I may remark that every officer in camp appears to take an interest in the speedy and correct discipline of the men; neither are they lacking in regard for the religious welfare of the men, receiving the proffers of religious men willingly, who desire to make any remarks beneficial to the men. Rev. Wm. Jackson is here, and is to act as chaplain pro tem. Mr. Rickers, City Missionary, from Boston, preached yesterday forenoon, and Rev. Mr. Jackson in the afternoon.
I see a rumor in the Boston Herald that the conscription act will be put in force by taking the Northern colored people first. If it be true, the young, able bodied colored men of New Bedford would do well to come up here to Readville, “out of the cold.” The New York World thinks Gov. Andrew is exasperated because the colored people won’t enlist. There may be more truth than sarcasm in the hint.
The Editors of the MERCURY will please accept the thanks of Company C, for a bundle of magazines, and serials. Also, some unknown friends, for towels, looking glasses, blacking and brushes, and three barrels of apples. These acts of kindness make us all feel that we are not forgotten by the good people of New Bedford. If those we left behind fare in proportion as well as we do, we are content.
J. H. G.
Caraway should not have received a pass. He was away on leave, and should have paid his own expenses. We have had four companies mustered in to-day. There is another one half full, and sixty men on their way from Buffalo. In a month I think we shall be full.
Thank you for your answer to my question about our being married. There is no reason why it should interfere with my duties as an officer.
I hope all the coloured people will be as sensible as Downing; I didn’t know he had been here. The mustering-officer, who was here to-day, is a Virginian, and has always thought it was a great joke to try to make soldiers of “niggers”; but he told me to-day, that he had never mustered in so fine a set of men, though about twenty thousand had passed through his hands since September last. The sceptics need only come out here now, to be converted.
I hope to find a letter from Mother when I go in town to-morrow afternoon. Give my love to her. Annie has not been well since she came here. In one way it has been very fortunate, for we have had several quiet evenings together. I don’t know what her Mother will say to our plan of being married before I go, but I hope she will come into it.
Your loving son,
Robert G. Shaw