Annie and I got to Boston last evening. Will you please tell me exactly what you think of our being married before I go away? I want to have your opinion about it, and Father’s too. Please ask him to write me what he thinks of it; and make a point of it yourself, will you?
We received thirty men yesterday and to-day. The snow has almost disappeared, and the camp is fast getting dry. I am sorry I wrote you what I did about punishments in my regiment, and it may have seemed to you more important than it really is; what made me speak of it was a letter from the Surgeon-General of the State, asking what punishments were inflicted, and I thought some one had been complaining; but I can’t find that such is the fact, though.
Your loving Son
Posts Tagged Readville
[Mercury, March 24, 1863][OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, March 21
The glorious 54th (that is to be) is getting on nicely, there being now in camp 368 men, two companies, A and B, being full, and C and D wanting a few more men to fill them up, which can easily be done in a very few days. We have five men in our company who are enlisted, but expect them to be discharged, on account of physical disability; indeed, if every man had been received who applied, I think it would very near have filled five companies.
The men appear to be all very well satisfied, except a few in Cos. A and B, who are of a class to be satisfied with nothing. Two of them attempted to skedaddle last Friday night, but were brought to by feeling a bayonet in the rear, as Co. C had sentinels posted at the time. They say their grounds for trying to desert are that they have received no bounty, as was represented they should as soon as they had enlisted and been sworn in. I think the men who are about the country recruiting should not misrepresent the conditions, but leave it more to the judgment and patriotism of men to enlist, simply providing conveyance to the camp, as, I think, they are authorized to do. As regards the men who came from New Bedford in this company, they do not seem to think so much about any bounty, but, by the vote of the City Council, a sum of money was appropriated for the relief of the families of colored citizens enlisted in the 54th regiment, and some of the men fear their families are suffering now for the want of their customary support.
You, Messrs. Editors, may be well aware that colored men generally, as a class, have nothing to depend upon but their daily labor; so, consequently, when they leave their labors and take up arms in defence of their country, their homes are left destitute of those little necessities which their families must enjoy as well as those of white men; and as the city has passed a resolution to pay them a sum, they would rather their families received it than become objects of public charity. We are all determined to act like men, and fight, money or not; but we think duty to our families will be a sufficient excuse for adverting to the subject.
John H. Atkinson, of New Bedford, is in the hospital, very sick. I could not ascertain exactly what his complaint is, but think it is the effect of cold. With that exception the health of the men is very good.
We have a very pleasant time in our barracks every evening, having music, singing, and sometimes dancing. We have two musicians who regale us with very fine music—a great deal better than a ‘feller’ pays to hear sometimes.
The ladies of the Relief Society will please accept the thanks of Co. C. for those shirts, socks and handkerchiefs, which should have been expressed in the last letter. God bless the ladies.
J. H. G.
PS. Wm. T. Boyd, of Pa., died this day (23d). He was in the hospital but two days. He was a member of Co. B.
J. H. G.
Men of Color, To Arms!
When first the rebel cannon shattered the walls of Sumter and drove away its starving garrison, I predicted that the war then and there inaugurated would not be fought out entirely by white men. Every month’s experience during these dreary years has confirmed that opinion. A war undertaken and brazenly carried on for the perpetual enslavement of colored men, calls logically and loudly for colored men to help suppress it. Only a moderate share of sagacity was needed to see that the arm of the slave was the best defense against the arm of the slaveholder. Hence with every reverse to the national arms, with every exulting shout of victory raised by the slaveholding rebels, I have implored the imperiled nation to unchain against her foes, her powerful black hand. Slowly and reluctantly that appeal is beginning to be heeded. Stop not now to complain that it was not heeded sooner. It may or it may not have been best that it should not. This is not the time to discuss that question. Leave it to the future. When the war is over, the country is saved, peace is established, and the black man’s rights are secured, as they will be, history with an impartial hand will dispose of that and sundry other questions. Action! Action! not criticism, is the plain duty of this hour. Words are now useful only as they stimulate to blows. The office of speech now is only to point out when, where, and how to strike to the best advantage. There is no time to delay. The tide is at its flood that leads on to fortune. From East to West, from North to South, the sky is written all over, “Now or never.” Liberty won by white men would lose half its luster. “Who would be free themselves must strike the blow.” “Better even die free, than to live slaves.” This is the sentiment of every brave colored man amongst us. There are weak and cowardly men in all nations. We have them amongst us. They tell you this is the “white man’s war”; and you will be “no better off after than before the war”; that the getting of you into the army is to “sacrifice you on the first opportunity.” Believe them not; cowards themselves, they do not wish to have their cowardice shamed by your brave example. Leave them to their timidity, or to whatever motive may hold them back. I have not thought lightly of the words I am now addressing you. The counsel I give comes of close observation of the great struggle now in progress, and of the deep conviction that this is your hour and mine. In good earnest then, and after the best deliberation, I now for the first time during this war feel at liberty to call and counsel you to arms. By every consideration which binds you to your enslaved fellow—countrymen, and the peace and welfare of your country; by every aspiration which you cherish for the freedom and equality of yourselves and your children; by all the ties of blood and identity which make us one with the brave black men now fighting our battles in Louisiana and in South Caroline, I urge you to fly to arms, and smite with death the power that would bury the government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave. I wish I could tell you that the Sate of New York calls you to this high honor. For the moment her constituted authorities are silent on the subject. They will speak by and by, and doubtless on the right side; but we are not compelled to wait for her. We can get at the throat of treason and slavery through the State of Massachusetts. She was the first in the War of Independence; first to break the chains of her slaves; first to make the black man equal before the law; first to admit colored children to her common schools, and she was first to answer with her blood the alarm cry of the nation, when its capital was menaced by rebels. You know her patriotic governor, and you know Charles Sumner. I need not add more.
Massachusetts now welcomes you to arms as soldiers. She has but a small colored population from which to recruit. She has full leave of the general government to send one regiment to the war, and she has undertaken to do it. Go quickly and help fill up the first colored regiment from the North. I am authorized to assure you that you will receive the same wages, the same rations, and the same equipments, the same protection, the same treatment, and the same bounty, secured to the white soldiers. You will be led by able and skillful officers, men who will take especial pride in your efficiency and success. They will be quick to accord to you all the honor you shall merit by your valor, and see that your rights and feelings are respected by other soldiers. I have assured myself on these points, and can speak with authority. More than twenty years of unswerving devotion to our common cause may give me some humble claim to be trusted at this momentous crisis. I will not argue. To do so implies hesitation and doubt, and you do not hesitate. You do not doubt. The day dawns; the morning star is bright upon the horizon! The iron gate of our prison stands half open. One gallant rush from the North will fling it wide open, while four millions of our brothers and sisters shall march out into liberty. The chance is now given you to end in a day the bondage of centuries, and to rise in one bound from social degradation to the place of common equality with all other varieties of men. Remember Denmark Vesey of Charleston; remember Nathaniel Turner of Southampton; remember Shields Green and Copeland, who followed noble John Brown, and fell as glorious martyrs for the cause of the slave. Remember that in a contest with oppression, the Almighty has no attribute which can take sides with oppressors. The case is before you. This is our golden opportunity. Let us accept it, and forever wipe out the dark reproaches unsparingly hurled against us by our enemies. Let us win for ourselves the gratitude of our country, and the best blessings of our posterity through all time. The nucleus of this first regiment is now in camp at Readville, a short distance from Boston. I will under take to forward to Boston all persons adjudged fit to be mustered into the regiment, who shall apply to me at any time within the next two weeks.
March 21, 1863
Yours of the 18th Inst is received. I don’t think there is any chance for Mr. Wingate in my regiment. We have filled the list of Officers already. There will probably be some vacancies before we leave, but I don’t want to take any one whom I don’t know myself, and the Governor is averse to any but Massachusetts men, as there are a great many applications from his regiments.
Please tell Mother I received her note and will take her advice about Aunt Mary’s house. Charley and Effie arrived safely night before last. The latter found some beautiful bouquets awaiting her, and yesterday received a swarm of visitors.
We have received a large number of men lately from New York State & Pennsylvania. Mr. Stearns’ recruits are beginning to come in too. We are picking them carefully & shall have a very sound set. I expect to have, at least 450 in camp before the middle of next week. Don’t you think Brown had better give up his office in New York? We get finer men from the country, and there is no doubt of our filling up pretty rapidly.
Annie isn’t coming until next Wednesday and I am afraid she will put off her visit even longer than that, from what she writes me of her mother’s health. I suppose you are at the Island again by this time. Give my best love to George & Anna. I hope they are both well.
The snow here is still deep, and is making a good layer of mud for us. We can’t drill out of doors which is a great disadvantage as the barracks are crowded.
Give my love to Mother. I hope Nellie is having a pleasant time in Philadelphia. I suppose it is pretty gay there.
Your loving son
Robert G. Shaw
Your note of Sunday reached me to-day. I am sorry it was a mistake about your visit to Boston, though I was astonished at there being any thought of your leaving Anna just now.
I had a pleasant time at Lenox. Annie and I went to see Mrs. Charles and Willie Sedgwick. The day before the battle of Antietam her husband spent with us, and I had a great deal to tell them about him. His little girl wanted to hear all about her father. His mother is one of the most patriotic women I have seen, and seemed to feel proud that her son had died for his country.
The regiment continues to flourish. Men come in every day. Mr. Stearns, who is at home for a few days from Canada, says we can get more men than we want from there. The Governor thinks of getting authority to raise some more coloured regiments. If he does, I hope Frank Barlow can get the command. He is just the man for it, and I should like to be under him. Yesterday we had several officers out to take a look at the men; they all went away very much pleased. Some were very sceptical about it before, but say, now, that they shall have no more doubts of negroes making good soldiers. The Massachusetts Legislature has passed a bill appropriating $75,000 for each new regiment, ours included. The men will receive $50 bounty, and the rest will be used for recruiting purposes.
Love to Father and Susie,
Your loving son,
My Dear Annie,
Your note of Monday reached me to-day. If I hadn’t written you such a very contemptible one yesterday, I should have thought yours was altogether too short.
To-night we received quite a large squad of men from Pittsfield. They seem to be very patriotic up there. We are beginning to get our men from Western New York and Canada now. Our recruiting agent up there says he can get enough to make two or three regiments, if the Governor is authorized to raise them; at any rate, we can fill ours up.
Effie will be here to-morrow, and I wish, dear Annie, you were coming too. However, a week is not a very long time. If you put off coming I shall begin to feel very melancholy. . ..
The other day I dined at H. Mason’s with seventeen officers, four of whom had to have their food cut up for them,being badly wounded in the arm, and several others had wounds in other parts. We had a very interesting time in talking over events of rhe past year. I have got the pup which Captain Scott brought me from Virginia, out here, and if he grows up to be a nice dog, I will leave him with you when I go off Yesterday I bought a full-bred English terrier, which is a beauty. . . .
There is a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, white-skinned, black preacher out here, who has great influence among the blacks. He wants to go as chaplain, and I think I shall take him; he looks so much like a white man, that I don’t believe there would be much prejudice against it. I think I should care very little for public opinion, if it did no harm to the regiment. It would be out of the question to have any black, field or line, officers at present, because of public
sentiment. It ruined the efficiency of the Louisiana coloured regiments. . . .
Good night, dearest Annie.
your affectionate Rob
Our men are to have $50 bounty from the State, according to a bill which has just passed the Legislature.
[Mercury, March 18, 1863][OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, March 15
—Presuming a few lines from this locality would prove interesting to some of your many readers, I have taken upon myself the task of penning them. Among the men in this camp the New Bedford men stand A No. 1, in military bearing, cleanliness and morality; not because I happen to belong to the New Bedford company do I assert this, for if the other companies proved to be better ordered than ours, I should be proud to confirm it. All the men appear to regard Capt. Grace with (I might say) veneration; for he presents that uncommon combination of a man strict in military discipline, but always tempered with kindness; a man who will go to the utmost length of his military power to assist or benefit an inferior. A better man, in my judgment, could not have been placed in command of a company of colored men; for he seems to have studied the peculiar modes of thought, action and disposition of the colored men so well, that there is the most cheerful obedience rendered to the most imperative command. These opinions are not hastily formed, but are arrived at by a close and careful observation of things as they are.
We have prayers every morning and evening, most of the men taking part in them; and I need not add that there is a great degree of fervor exhibited vide Bethel Church, Kempton street. As for myself I find it somewhat dull when I am not on duty, as I have nothing to read, although it is a source of amusement to watch some of the odd capers or listen to some of the equally ludicrous speeches, so peculiar to some of our class of people. They are all anxious to perfect themselves in drill that they may the sooner meet the Rebs, and they all feel determined to fight; they all say that is their wish, and I cannot doubt it, for there seems to be a sort of preternatural earnestness about their expressions which no one can mistake. They do not, some of them, yet exactly comprehend the future benefits of enlisting, but they have an impulse equally as great, so far as they are capable of understanding it, and that is revenge. Hoping the Relief Committee have paid the money to the families of those who are here in camp, for I know some who needed it very much, I will close.
J. H. G.
My Dear Annie,
Your yesterday’s letters reached me this morning, and gave me more pleasure than I can tell you.
I find that Mother is not coming to Boston in a fortnight; so please don’t change your mind, but come on the 21st. I will go up and meet you at Springfield. Aunt Mary wanted you to come here, even if Mother and Effie were here too. When the snow is gone, we can have some nice rides together. . . .
I went out to Readville yesterday morning, and have just come in. Everything out there is going on prosperously. The officers and men are very satisfactory. When Clem, comes, she mustn’t compare my men with French soldiers, but with American volunteers. From what I have seen of them, they will be more soldierly than the latter, because it is so easy to control and discipline them. The company from New Bedford are a very fine body of men, and out of forty, only two cannot read and write. Their barracks are in better order, and more cleanly, than the quarters of any volunteer regiment I have seen in this country. . . .
Excuse a short note, dear Annie, and, with love, believe me,
p.s.—… Last night I went to call on Lucy Codman. Do you know her? She is a cousin of ours, whom Mother had the care of for a good while, when Lucy was a little girl. She is a very lovely person, and we are all very much attached to her.
[Mercury, March 7, 1863]
Camp Meigs, Readville, March 6
Messrs. Editors: —Immediately upon our arrival here on Wednesday afternoon, we marched to the barracks, where we found a nice warm fire and a good supper in readiness for us. During the evening the men were all supplied with uniforms, and now they are looking quite like soldiers. They all seem contented, and appear in the best spirits. We have drill morning and afternoon, and the men are taking hold with a great degree of earnestness.
Col. Shaw is on the ground, doing all he can for the comfort of those now in camp. Lieut. Dexter has been appointed to the New Bedford company, but has not yet made his appearance. The men from New Bedford are the largest in camp and it is desired to fill up the company from our city, which can and ought to be done. Lieut. Grace will be in the city tomorrow and he wants to bring a squad back with him.
I have just received yours of the 3d inst. Governor Andrew says that all Colonel Higginson’s men, and the Colonel himself, wish to get into the regular United States uniform; and strongly advises our sticking to it. We are getting men very fast. There has been a hitch in the Rhode Island recruiting, but we hope to get it going in a day or two.
I trust — — will do something more practical than having meetings, and will manage to send some recruits. What do you think? Had we better send an officer on there to work?
Your loving Son
p.S. —Enclosed is another private letter for Mother.
My dear Charley,
Your letter of the 23d Feb. reached me today. In future address to 44 Beacon St. Though I shall be in camp after this I can get my letters sooner there.
I got yours just as I returned from visiting your Mother & sister at Jamaica Plain. I should have gone there long ago, if I could have found time — and shall certainly make them another visit as soon as I can. Greely Curtis is at home as you know, and his engagement is all right.
I had an invitation to visit the Somerset Club whenever I wished, and the other evening I went there. A great many of them are “bloody Copperheads” but no one made any disagreeable remarks while I was there. It would be a good thing for Greely to go in and give some of them a soaping down.
My regiment is making pretty good headway. We have nearly 150 men in camp, and they come in pretty fast. There are several among them, who have been well drilled, & who are acting sergeants. They drill their squads with a great deal of snap, and I think we shall have some good soldiers. Thirty four came up from New Bedford this afternoon, and marched with a drum & fife creating the greatest enthusiasm among the rest. We have them examined, sworn in, washed & uniformed as soon as they arrive — and when they get into their buttons they feel about as good as a man can. It is very laughable to hear the sergeants explain the drill to the men, as they use words long enough for a Doctor of Divinity or anything else.
The heel question is not a fabulous one — for some of them are wonderful in that line. One man has them so long that they actually prevent him from making the facings properly. Since you were here, I think there has come a change over the public mind, in regard to the war. That feeling which we noticed, was a sort of reaction from the early enthusiasm, and I believe it is fast passing.
The conscription act has encouraged me very much, and must show the Rebels and European Powers, that we have no thought of giving in. If it is enforced we are safe, but if the Government gives in to rebellious demonstrations in the North, it is lost, because that will be a test of its power — don’t you think so? I hope the 2d New Hampshire is only one of many old regiments coming home, to enforce conscription. It can never be done, I think, in many states without military aid. But the talk of resistance may turn out to be mere bluster after all.
I came out to Readeviile yesterday for good — and it seems like Camp Andrew over again. Everything topsy turvy. Nothing to eat and the coldest possible barracks.
George Bangs is in a state of despondency difficult to describe or even imagine. He says he thinks sometimes that he is going to become insane — and if he doesn’t take up another train of thought, I think there is some danger in it.
I saw Sam Quincy on Monday, just before he left. He may be able to keep the field, but he will need a great deal of pluck to do it. Charley Mudge seems very ill indeed. Between the two, you and Bangs stand a good chance of being Field officers. I hope to hear of your promotion before long, and in the mean time it is good you are in such comfortable quarters & pleasant company.
It has been a subject of wonder to me that the nigger concern meets with so little opposition here. Almost everyone, even those who do not favour it, says that it is a good thing to try. Even such fellows as Bill Horton, now they see that we are not tabooed, by what he considers respectable society, talk of wanting to go into it.
Perhaps though, there may be something rough for us to go through yet, in the way of abuse. It is a matter of chance, which way the public sentiment may take a turn — Especially in the army.
I have been to a dinner or small party almost every day since I got to Boston, and have enjoyed myself amazingly — though my mind wanders sometimes to a certain person in N. Y.
Powdered hair is coming in again. The gayety in N. Y. & Boston is greater than ever.
Postman waits. Good bye & God bless you my dear fellow.
Always afftcly yours,
R. G. S.
My dear Charley,
I thought I would write to you again this morning to tell you what Lowell says of the battle of Antietam. Hooker’s & Mansfield’s attack on the right was intended only for a feint—and Burnside’s was to have been the true attack — which would have cut off their retreat to the Fords & driven them into the river or obliged them to make a flank march by the Hagerstown road in the face of Hooker’s & Mansfield’s Corps. Hooker got so sharply engaged that Sumner had to be sent to his support, instead of being held for a grand attack on the centre — and Burnside, as you know, did not do his work. This gives me a different idea of the battle from what I had before, and explains its plan.
Perhaps you already knew these facts. I was at a small party last night, where I saw Henry Hig. He goes away today and is very melancholy at the idea. Charley Horton is still on the town — but goes in a few days. I saw him yesterday on his way to a reception at Mrs. H. G. Otis’, with sash & belt & head well over to the right.
We have got 30 men out at Readeville—all washed & uniformed. They feel as big as all creation — and really look very well. We expect a good many from New York & Philadelphia, and shall know soon how many we can expect from Canada & Fortress Monroe. The thing is getting along very nicely.
With [love] to the fellows.
Your affectionate friend,
Robert G. Shaw
The regimental committee here have engaged a coloured man, named W. Wells Brown, to go to New York and help along the enlistments there. He will call at your office immediately after his arrival. Mr. Hallowell thinks that he and Givens had better enroll as many men as they can, and that you had better buy tickets in New York for their transportation. The only bounty they will receive is $100 from the United States at the expiration of their time of service. The pay is $13 per month, the same our white soldiers receive. You can probably make an arrangement with the Stonington Line to pay the men’s passage to Readville, and let them out there. Mr. Hallowell wants you to pay everything, and send the accounts to him for reimbursement. Can’t you engage some surgeon to examine them before they start, so that we need not be under the necessity of sending any back? Telegraph to Mr. Hallowell, 98 Federal Street, when a squad is shipped, the time of their departure, and their number. I suppose it had better be done as quietly as possible. Our agents start for Canada to-morrow. The want of State aid for the men’s families will be a great drawback to their enlistment in other States. Only Massachusetts men can get it. Mr. Hallowell will answer your letter to him. I have not received the one you mention having written to me.
Love to Mother and the girls.
Your affectionate son,
Robert G. Shaw
Feb. 23, (Monday) 1863
We have opened the camp at Readville, got the barracks in good order, and sent twenty-seven men out there. I have a good quartermaster, who has got all the necessary stores out there, and seems to be attending to his business in the most satisfactory manner. Captain Edward Hallowell, a brother of the Lieutenant-Colonel, is in command of the camp. Day before yesterday he had the men all washed and uniformed, which pleased them amazingly. They are being drilled as much as is possible in-doors, for it is too cold out there to keep them in the open air for any length of time. These twenty-seven men are all from Philadelphia and Boston.
From other recruiting-offices we hear very good accounts, and the men seem to be enlisting quite fast. Governor Sprague has authorized a recruiting-office to be opened in Providence for this regiment. We have an officer at Fortress Monroe, but he has to be very secret about his work; and to-day three men are going on a campaign into Canada. By these different means we expect, or rather hope, to fill our ranks pretty rapidly. We are getting men from Pennsylvania, NewYork, Maine, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. So far, they are not of the best class, because the good ones are loath to leave their families, while there is a hope of getting a bounty later. Now, they receive only the $100 from the Federal government at the expiration of their term of enlistment.
Hallowell and I get along together in the pleasantest way. I like Governor Andrew more and more every day. As Charles Lowell says: “It was worth while to come home, if it were only to get acquainted with him.” … All my mornings are spent in the State-House; and as in-door, furnace-heated work does not agree with me, I shall get out to Readville as soon as possible.
Good bye for the present, my darling.
Always your loving Rob