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.
Posts Tagged Readville
Camp Meigs, Readville, Mass., [VT]
May 1, 1863.
There is quite a stir in the camp to-day. Mayday has adorned herself in sunshine and garlands of green. Hundreds are flocking here from Boston and its environs to witness the military evolutions of the 54th Reg. Mass. Vol., and never did they acquit themselves so admirably. They moved with the regularity and.precision of Regulars. The gay concourse of visitors of both classes of our citizens seemed stirred with admiration and pleasure at the rapid progress of this splendid regiment in this school of the soldier. I do not exaggerate when 1 say that there is no regiment superior, if equal to this in physique and aptitude of its men. I suppose, in the upwards of a thousand men now ready to be mustered into the service of the United States, there arc twelve men who will yield to the severest vigors of a campaign in the field. Out of upward of fourteen hundred men, these nine hundred or a thousand have been chosen; the rest have been rejected because they did not come up to the highest standard of mental and physical proficiency.
Governor Andrew visited our camp yesterday and reviewed the regiment, and with other distinguished citizens expressed great satisfaction at the condition of the men and the police of the camp. I noticed among the guests on this occasion our distinguished citizens Dr. J. B. Smith and Lewis Hayden Esq. I never saw a body of men who seem to be so perfectly at home in camp and have so many ways to divert and amuse themselves. Singing, dancing, foot-ball, cricket, wrestling and many innocent games with the parades and drills, dispel ennui and dull monotony and keep our camp in a perfect whirl of animating scenes..
There are a few essentials needed, however, to the comfort of these men, who have in the face of the most disheartening influences taken up arms in defence of their country and liberty. There are many of the essentials to the soldiers toilet which the government does not furnish to her troops: such as coarse towels, needles, pins and buttons, besides some items of reading matter, such as testaments (pocket), newspapers, tracts, etcetera. A great many of the friends furnish them at times with tobacco, pipes and some few dainties, but those things I have above enumerated are very essential, absolutely so. Will the fair friends at home withhold their regards from the noble 54th and refrain from giving them some few of these testimonials of their admiration and respect? The Social, Civil and Statistical Association of Philadelphia have made an appropriation to purchase some of these items. Fair readers of Philadelphia will you not form your Sewing Circles to make for these men whatever may be necessary? While that Governor Andrew has made this regiment one which will reflect honor to our race, and as it has become the representative of the men of color in the North, it becomes the indispensable duty of every one at home to cheer and encourage them with sympathy and esteem, and to give them a tangible earnest of a cheerful cooperation with and support to, in this good cause. Ladies it would be strong evidence of your patriotism, intelligence and noble heartedness, did you organize your Sewing Circles in every locality from whence your friends have come to unite their destinies with the 54th. We desire to have a goodly number of copies of the Anglo-African sent to the address of our chaplain, for this shall be the medium through which all of the affairs of the regiment of public interest, shall be made known. When any sickness, accident or anything else shall take place, the friends and relatives of those in it can know all, learn all, through the columns of the Anglo-African.
Another item of interest is that the regiment is now fully armed with new Springfield Rifles. They were only partly supplied with old Harpers Ferry Muskets. The men can be seen everywhere going through the manual of arms, in which they are already quite proficient. There are already two colored men who are commissioned and attached to this regiment: Dr. John V. De Grasse of Boston, and Rev. Wm. Jackson of New-Bedford, recently of Philadelphia and a Baptist by profession of faith. Dr. De Grasse is only to be temporarily connected, it is understood, with the regiment, to be detached for some other field of action,- and, it is expected that Dr. Bachus, the previous acting Hospital Steward, will be commissioned as assistant surgeon of the regiment. So the great pathway to honor and emolument is opening wide to colored men.
The health of the men is good, particularly so. There are in the hospital the week ending to-day, Clark, Wellesly, Harrison, Chas. Owens, Miller, Toote, Shorter, and Phillips, and these are all the cases of ordinary diseases and are nearly all convalescent.
G. E. S.
Mercury, April 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.
April 17 1863
About half a mile from here I have discovered a very nice house kept by a lady who takes boarders. So, if I find it best to return here immediately after our marriage, Annie will come & live there. Both she & I want you to come too, for I don’t want to go away without seeing something more of you than I have. I shall ask Clem to come too. Annie will come there, at any rate, after we leave Lenox—and if you refuse this invitation I shall begin to think you don’t want to see me. It is a very pretty place, and you can have a private table & parlour & everything else.
I saw Effie at Milton Hill last night. She looks a little tired, but otherwise well.
Your loving son,
Robert G. Shaw
April 17 1863
I received yours of the 14 inst. enclosing recommendation from citizens of Haverhill, for Wingate. I will hand it to the Governor today. The others he already has. The only notice he ever takes of such papers is to hand them to me. Every officer who has been appointed since I arrived, has been chosen by me, and I like to see them before I take them. Couldn’t Wingate come on here? There may be more vacancies than I expected, if Genl Foster doesn’t come out safe — and John White, whom I expected, can’t come. I showed Charles Lowell your letter in Effie’s presence & I think she read it herself.
Your loving son
I hope you will come to Boston before I go.
April 14 1863
Annie received your note this morning, and showed it to me. I am very glad, of course, that you feel perfectly satisfied about our marriage. She and I agree that it is much better to have it as quiet as possible. If it were to be a Show Wedding, I should wear my uniform, as you wish, but under the circumstances it would be very inconvenient, as I should have to change it before we went away. You don’t seem to appreciate how unpleasant it is to wear a uniform in public. If I were not on duty here, I shouldn’t wear one in Boston, ever.
Everything, as regards the regiment, is going on swimmingly, as usual. We have 630 men, and shall probably have over 700 before the week is out. I don’t remember whether I told you that Col. Wild has been ordered to raise, and take command of a brigade of coloured troops at Newbern. He is an excellent man. He lost his arm at Antietam and, I am afraid, may not be able to remain in active service, though he is determined to try it.
We have decided to have the wedding on Saturday 2d of May—and I think, by that time, there will be no objection to my taking a week’s vacation. Edward Hallowell, who has just returned from Philadelphia, says he heard Susie was at Uncle Robert’s. Is it so? I suppose Robert M. will be home before long. Mrs. Haggerty and Clem arc here, and the change of air is doing them a great deal of good. I am getting very fond of them. When we come back from Lenox, I hope Uncle Henry Grew, will invite Annie to stay at his house a little while, as it is close to my camp.
Ever your loving son,
Robert G. Shaw
P.S. Tell Father I bought a good horse today for $300. The reason I have drawn so much money is because I have had to pay several times for the regt.
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.
April 7 1863
I didn’t mean to worry you by what I said of our being sent away suddenly. I really thought you knew the officers of coloured regiments were supposed to be in rather a ticklish situation, if caught by the Rebels—and it was not any feeling of annoyance at your letter which made me speak of it.
The Governor has permission to organize a brigade at Newbern, and wants to start our four companies off immediately. So that I am just now in the midst of much correspondence on the subject. If they do Edward Hallowell will be in command of them. I hope that they will be left though, unless there is some great benefit to be gained by sending them away, as I want to march & arrive at our destination, with a full & well organized regiment. At Newbern they would serve as a nucleus for the Brigade, which might then be started a little sooner.
Love to Susie. In haste
Your loving son
Col. Wild of the 35 Mass. will probably command the Brigade, though I want Barlow very much.
Your letter of the 31 March reached me yesterday. I have already seen Mr. Guerrier several times. I liked him very well, but didn’t think him one of the best on our list of applicants. Now, we are absolutely full, but I may have a 2d Lieut.’s vacancy, before we start. There are other men from my own regiment though, whom I want to take very much, and whom I am sure of, as regards qualifications.
I wish I could serve Mr. Ricketson, but see very little chance of it, now. I am sorry that your only recommendation should not have met with more success. I didn’t think Mr. Phillips particularly well qualified to give an opinion as to the merits of an officer. A great many men have come with such recommendations & with papers from the Common Councilmen of their towns, but I never pay any attention to such, & call for recommendations from their superior officers, if they have been in service.
The other day I called on Mr. Josiah Quincy Seniorissimo, and had a very interesting visit. He told me to say to you, that he often heard of you in Boston, but hadn’t seen you lately and that if you didn’t go to see him the next time you came, he should drop you from his books. His memory is evidently failing him, and he talked principally of events which happened in the last century, which of course I was delighted to hear about. He had an engraving of Uncle Sam hanging at the head of his bed, and referred to him continually during my visit. He seemed to recollect him with a sort of veneration. He said “I shook hands with him last, on the wharf, when he sailed for China, in 17 hundred & something.” What a beautiful head & face Mr Quincy has! I sat & looked at him in perfect wonder, as I thought of the men he had known & the events he had an active part in.
They showed me some of the most interesting relics I ever saw. Some of Washington’s hair, letters, gloves & documents & letters from hosts of celebrated men & women. They have a metal plate like this [drawing included here] which Washington wore, with the arms of Virginia engraved on it & with the ribbon with which he hung it round his neck.
Give my best love to dear Anna. God bless you both, and may you get happily through this month.
I see Annie every evening almost, and feel more & more satisfied every day, as I learn to know her better. Effie & Charley are well & enjoying each other.
Goodbye dear George & believe me,
Always your loving brother
April 2 1863
Jackson has been examined & passed by the Surgeon. Yours of 31st ulto. received. I hardly think that a man of 46 would pass. Still if he were perfectly sound in every other respect he might. In my opinion Dr. Stone is not too strict in his examinations. In fact I have continually urged him to be particular—and the committee here have complained of it very much, because the expense of sending men home is so great. The consequence is that we have an empty hospital, while that of the cavalry opposite, is full — though they have only 60 or 70 men in camp. To accept a man who is doubtful, is, in my opinion, cheating the Government, wronging the man, & harming the regiment. The standard of most surgeons is very low, because it has been so difficult lately to fill the town quotas — and in consequence our regiments dwindle away very fast, and the Govt hospitals are full of men who never did a day’s duty. In the 2d, I have seen several recruits die from mere fatigue & exposure. Stone has gone to Buffalo to examine a large squad, & set the Surgeon there on the right track. He will afterwards probably go to Philadelphia. We have another man who comes out from Boston every day.
Edward Hallowell will undoubtedly be major. The Govr promised me as much day before yesterday. I myself shall be mustered in a major this week in order to leave a vacancy in the 2d. My name ought to be Sam for a little while. The Governor has written to the Secretary of War, asking to have my regt sent to Newbern, to form the nucleus of a brigade — also recommending Barlow, very strongly, for the command. The latter wants it, and I have done all I could to get him for a commander. Charley Lowell too has been writing & talking to a great many people, for the same object. I think if the thing works we can do a good work in that way.
Give my love to Mother & Susie.
Your loving son
p.s. We have accepted men over age, but they were physically perfect. Col. Frank Lee says a brigade of coloured men could be easily raised in North Carolina. The country there is more easy to operate in, than South Carolina.
[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