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.