Posts Tagged   retaliation

October 2-3, 1863

Gooding’s 32nd letter to the Mercury and Stephens’s ninth letter to the Weekly Anglo-African, which he addressed directly to one of the two brothers publishing and editing the newspaper:

Mercury, October 15, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Oct. 3, 1863

Messrs. Editors:

—All quiet here, so far as war news is concerned.  We hear of nothing to cause any great excitement around us, for we are so familiar with “bombs bursting in air,” and shot whizzing through space, that it would be an item were it to cease. We have been pegging away at Sumter, a little every day during the week, more I presume to keep them from working than anything else. The rebels opened in a new place yesterday; the battery is a little to the right of Castle Pinckney, but from the looks of the place it must be a floating battery. I was up in Wagner at the time, and from the way the shot came they must have a very superior gun. The shot came unexpectedly, as the sentinels on the lookout were not dreaming of a shot from that direction, their attention being directed to James Island’s “barkers,” and Fort Moultrie, and Batteries Bee and Beauregard. Suddenly, there came a noise through the air, like an Erie lightning-express train, — then a terrible explosion, and the pieces of a Brook’s shell were falling pell mell into the interior of the fort. Luckily not a man was hurt, although they had no time to “kiver,” as the Second S. Carolina boys express it. After that, we kept a lookout for that chap, and the rest of the afternoon he kept one end of the fatigue pretty busy covering. It is almost incredible how we manage to do so much work under such a heavy and constant fire.  Wagner and Gregg are ours, but it takes about as much courage to hold them as it did to take them; and then to work on them and completely change them is something more than digging on a canal or railroad. But it is just this trait of ‘keeping all you get’ in the Yankee character which will eventually beat the rebels. We believe in good sound doctrine — for war at any rate —”keep all and get more.”

The iron clads are flourishing. I believe they are being painted; though I hear they captured a blockade runner last night, or one of the rebel rams, which it is rumored was coming out to raise the blockade. I don’t know if this be true, as I have had no chance of learning anything definite. But I know there was a grand pow-wow on the water last night about 11 o’clock, as the big guns were bellowing at a great rate, the flag vessel was signalizing rapidly, and taken altogether, I guess there was something of the ram kind or neutral traders around.

The subscriptions and collections towards the monument to Col.  Robert G. Shaw have reached the sum of $1472, and it is proposed that the 54th contribute $1000. But we think the place proposed for its erection inexpedient, however much in keeping with poetic fitness. It is seriously proposed to erect it at the foot of Wagner’s parapet, facing Fort Sumter. Now the manner and place where the hero fell will be known in history; a monument does not of necessity need to be placed where a hero fell; its place is some city or town, where people can see it.  When we propose to erect a monument on some desolate island like this, it is simply creating a Mecca in the nineteenth century, where the race supposed to be benefited by the contest, which cost the hero his own; and even should they be subjugated, which is stronger than conquered, it would ill become us to flaunt our success by raising monuments to our fallen heroes on their soil. Massachusetts is big enough to furnish a spot sufficient to honor one of her own soldiers; and I doubt not she would be very proud to have within her lines a monument of every son who has fallen in this trying war. We are ready to put in our mite, but we would rather see it raised on old Massachusetts soil.  The first to say a black was a man, let her have the first monument raised by black men’s money, upon her good old rocks.


Morris Island, S.C.,

Oct. 3, 1863.

Mr. Thomas Hamilton—Dear Friend:

It has been a long time since I wrote you in my old-fashioned way. I have not sent you a line since my advent as a soldier. I thank God that I am at last in a position to learn to be a soldier. I believe that since the chieftains of the slavery party have sought and obtained the arbitrament of the bullet in their question of control of power with the Freedom party, every man should become a soldier, ready to do and to die in defence of freedom. Every Christian and enlightened man desires to see great principles and measures triumph through peaceful means, where reason rules her just sway, and amenity, conciliation, and love, take the place of hatred, passion and revenge.

The present century has been immortalized with the grandest reforms. From the abolition of the slave trade in 1808 down to the freeing of the Danish colonies, peaceful reform seems to have marched steadily on. Science, art and invention, a noble sisterhood, sat in counsel and astonished the world with their achievements. The very elements seemed to pay homage to the genius and skill of man. No man dare say what human ingenuity may not accomplish. The enlightened statesmen have in America hoped to secure the annihilation of every wrong and injustice through the agency of that power which Talleyrand considered more irresistible than the proudest and most powerful potentate, namely “public opinion.” The slavery party is arraigned at the bar of “public opinion.” Its vile vision is tortured and haunted by the wild spirit of reform. This is a subtle spirit. The engines of warfare cannot impede its progress. It is deathless and omnipresent. It underlies all the pageantry and misery of this gigantic war, The slavery party aims to plunge the country into disorder and anarchy and to establish by force of arms their hell-born system. There is but one alternative left to the freedom party if it would avert terrorism, proscription, and humiliation: ‘Tis steel for steel; bullet for bullet; life for life; man for man; blood for blood.

These are some of the notions that led me to join the 54th Mass. Volunteer Infantry. And again I thought that the true interests of all classes of men in our country depended on the success of our party. That they were the true representatives of the newest and best form of government ever established for the government of mankind and are the highest, noblest, and most progressive type of civilization. I can not see on what ground any man can discourage enlistments. Some urge that the treatment of colored citizens is exceptionable— that the guarantees of freedom vouchsafed to us by the government are tardy and doubtful—that some of our representative men, those who are considered the exponents of the principles of the freedom party are as bitter in their assaults on our race and as prejudiced as those of the slavery party. This is true, but these questions are only incidental in their character and cannot effect the general and fundamental principles and theories of the party: It must be remembered that the other class have suffered a slavery of the mind, just as brutalizing, just as debasing as that physical or social thraldom our class are suffering. It is prejudice and a disregard of the inalienable rights of their fellow men. Their notions of justice are so blinded they can without the least remorse rob their fellow-men of every sacred right. These men are to be elevated and their mental or moral condition must be ameliorated, just the same as the condition of those of our class who are debased by slavery should be ameliorated. They deserve  the same pity and commiseration that the poor black slave does and  we should “pass their imperfection by  just as willingly. Let us be 1 charitable and contend only for the principles of liberty, government and civilization.

The siege of Charleston drags its slow length. Morris Island can t never be retaken by the enemy. Fifty thousand men could be swept  away in fifty minutes by our guns. Our fatigue parties are somewhat annoyed by the rebel shell, but our labor progresses. The casualties are very few, I had prepared for your satisfaction a complete list of them, but lost my notes. The health of our regiment is bad. We average one hundred and fifty sick per day, caused no doubt, by excessive fatigue duty.

You have also heard I suppose of this matter of pay, it has caused a great deal of trouble, and if it is not adjusted one of the best regiments that ever left the Massachusetts will become utterly demoralized. The tribulations of our regiment have been many since we arrived in this department. The first business we were called on to participate in was the burning of Darien, Ga. Our officers, Col. Shaw among the rest, disapproved of the wanton destruction of that town defenseless and unoccupied as it was by the enemy. The men of this regiment have a distaste for this sort of warfare—we want to enter the field honorably—to fight a legitimate warfare. After our return from this expedition, we were sent to St. Helena. While there a proposition was made to take our arms from us and give in their stead long pikes. Col. Shaw expressed his disapprobation of this scheme. Then there was an offer made to pay us ten dollars per month less three for clothing, in other words pay us seven dollars per month. The men were enlisted as a part of the Mass. State quota of troops and never dreamed that any  other pay but that of other Massachusetts soldiers would be given them. We have been urged and urged again to accept seven dollars a month, all, sergeant-major down to the humblest private to get no more. There are respectable and well to do men in this regiment, who have accepted positions. It is insulting to them to offer them about half the pay of a poor white private.

To give you an idea of the feelings of some of the officers here with regard to us on this point, I will give you a short speech made Sept. 30th by Col. James Montgomery, 2d South Carolina Vols., of Kansas fame, and Commander of the Brigade to which we have been recently joined. Col. Montgomery was not in command of the brigade. He has been sick some time past. The paymaster was in Col. Littlefield’s tent. Some ten or twelve officers of our own and other regiments were present. The men had not accepted their pay and the well men were on fatigue duty, at Battery Shaw and Wagner.  Col. M. had those who were left in camp drawn up in line and addressed them as follows:

“I want to speak to you. You want plain talk and I shall give it to you. I am your friend. I made the first anti-slavery speech ever made in Kansas. I was the first man that employed negroes in the United States service. I fought six years in Kansas for nothing and I do not come here for pay. I can make $5,000 a year. I get only $2,200 here. I sacrifice my ease and comfort (for I enjoy myself at home). I have fought United States soldiers. There is a General now in the Rebel service whom I fought, killed his horse from under him and took him prisoner when in the United States service. I would have been hung long ago if I had held still. Old Jimmy Buchanan offered a reward for my head. It was a very mean one to be sure, and I was very indignant. He offered only a yearling nigger worth about two hundred and fifty dollars. If he had offered a full-grown nigger I would not have cared so much. You ought to be glad to pay for the privilege to fight, instead of squabbling about money. A great many of you are fugitive slaves, and can by law be returned to your masters. The government by its act in setting you free has paid you a thousand dollars bounty. I know what the trouble is: the noisy Abolitionists have been telling you you are better than anybody else. They are your worst enemies. You have two classes of friends: those who tell you what you are and those who sees in the Ethiopian a symbol of injured innocence. I have seen a hundred regiments but I never saw one so fully equipped as this. Look at your tents and cooking stoves. You want to be placed on the same footing as white soldiers. You must show yourselves as good soldiers as the white. For all anybody knows you did very well here. You must show it by bravery in battle. I should be glad to make you as good soldiers as the white. You are a race of slaves. A few years ago your fathers worshipped snakes and crocodiles in Africa. Your features partake of a beastly character. Your religious exercises in this camp is a mixture of barbarism and Christianity. I am disgusted with the mean, low habits you have learned from the low whites. I hear them say to you, ‘bully boys, bully boys, don’t take this pay’ What do they mean by this? Do you mean to bully the government out of your money or that you are stubborn as bulls? You would rather go out here and dig in the trenches than stay here in camp and be paid off. Gov. Andrew advises you to take this money and Frederick Douglass also. I have a letter here from Fred. He has been on a tour to Washington and had an interview with Sec. Stanton on the subject of enlistments. He advised that all that was needed was to treat the negro as a man. There are two classes of colored men: the indolent and careless; the industrious and ambitious. He (Douglass) called on Senator Pomeroy, but did not call on Jim Lane. He perhaps had found Lane out. There are two Senators from Kansas. Pomeroy is a pretty fair sort of man, but Jim Lane is at present a noisy Abolitionist. Some time ago he wanted to buy some lands, utensils and niggers, but not having any money had to do without the niggers. He will buy and sell a nigger as quick as anybody else, but since the majority are in favor of liberty, he is very loud-mouthed. Fred Douglass is far above the mass of his race; but he is not equal to the great men of this country, such as Wendell Phillips, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sumner, and others. You can be improved by education. Irishmen come to this country and in a few years become the same as other white men. Education expands the brain and improves the features. Your features can be improved. Your beauty cannot recommend you. Your yellow faces are evidences of rascality. You should get rid of this bad blood. My advice to you is the lightest of you must marry the blackest woman. You owe your sutler nearly $2,000 and your refusing to take your pay show that you intend to cheat him out of his goods. You went to his agent after he had gone away, and because he would not trust you broke open his place and robbed him. The men that robbed him should be hung. He had no right to trust you and could be handled for it. It is mutiny to refuse to take your pay, and mutiny is punishable with death.”

The Colonel spoke nearly an hour and I cannot stoop to give all the bad epithets directed to our regiment. We had not the remotest idea that he entertained such a spirit of hatred for our regiment. Had he scarcely left the bench on which he stood while addressing the men, when Col. Littlefield who was in command of the Brigade at the time stood up and said: “Men, I cannot let this opportunity pass. The regiment has endeared itself to me. You have done your whole duty. You have written your names on the scroll of fame and any man who defames this regiment defames me. Such a man is my enemy and if I have any fighting to do I will defend you. I do not urge you to take this money, but I am willing to give you a pledge of my honor that you will get your full pay. I have made a promise of $1,ooo to Gen. Saxton for a monument to Col. Shaw, and I would have you take this money and make up this sum to commemorate the name of your noble leader.”

This instantly dispelled the bad effects of Col. Montgomery’s remarks. I am astonished that some insubordinate demonstration was not made, but Col. M. is our superior officer and our boys respect their superior officers. The speech of Col. M. has fixed the determination in the minds of the men to await calmly and patiently. If we thought that our enemies would make this course on our part a ground of assault against colored soldiers, I for one should go for taking $7 per month, nay $2 would be enough, but as the Colonel says, all the private soldiers here are vehement in urging us to refuse this paltry pay. They say if we take this money they will want to cut down their wages next. I have never yet heard a man say that we have failed to perform our duty. We have been complimented for our arduous labor in the trenches and whenever paraded have cleaner clothes, cleaner arms, better polished equipments than any other colored regiment on the Island. In truth there is no negro regiment compared to the 54th. In the last review the palm for martial bearing, accurate marching, and cleanliness is disputed with the 54th by the 100th New York Volunteers. The crime that has unfortunately incurred the displeasure of our General is that we do not sign the pay rolls, and the pay-master will not give us money unless we sign and thus give him receipt in full for pay up to the ist of August. The words of Col. Montgomery fell with crushing effect on the regiment. We did not enlist for money but we feel that the men who enlisted us and those who accepted our service never intended that we should be treated different from other Massachusetts men. If the government had been too poor to pay us we would have been willing to give our services for nothing. But the government seems fully able to pay her soldiers, for just on the threshold of this great war she increased their pay.

We are told that by law we are slaves and can be returned to our masters. This I deny. But a few years ago when the slavery party controlled affairs, fugitives were hunted like so much wild game all over the country, and it was quite a paying business. A few years ago the same party, so the speech shows, made him an outlaw and would have hung him. Their power is broken and we are now United States soldiers and he a responsible citizen and high official. It would be just as incorrect—just as cruel, to call him an outlaw amenable to the law, as to call us fugitive slaves returnable to our masters by law. In truth there are necessarily some few fugitives here, but is the 54th made up of fugitive slaves?15 No, there are hundreds that have been blessed with a New England education, and have learned their duty as freemen, and know their rights and dare stand up for them, and if they cannot get their rights they can have the manly satisfaction that they stood up for them. Col. Montgomery unfortunately has been accustomed to the negro as a slave or freedman. It startles and astonishes him to see him stand erect with intelligence beaming in his countenance. He perhaps never saw a negro approach a white man except with hat in hand and bowed head. He says further, that he wishes to make us as good soldiers as the white. How can this be done if every stimulant to heroic actions are denied? The only hope of the negro soldiers as his status now appears, is half pay and the name not the rank of sergeant. To urge us to be good soldiers without throwing around us the influences which alone make the soldier, without which the noblest races will become varlet, is grossly absurd. But there seems to be an intimation here that we are not as good soldiers as whites. Is there to be a new theory developed? Everybody, citizens, soldiers, and the rest of mankind say, “thus far the negro soldier has done his whole duty.” Does Col. M. deny this? Is his services in ratio of value as $7 is to $13. It is said that the Government supports the worn-out and non-combatant slaves, but I understand that all of these classes of slaves or freedmen are self-supporting—that the government is now realizing an income from the Southern plantations.16 And does the government not expend hundreds of thousands in subsistence to the families of rebels in arms?17 Should those rebels return to their allegiance and espouse the Union cause would Uncle Sam ask them to work and fight for $7 a month?

Then again “we should be glad to pay for the privilege to fight.” After we have endured a slavery of two hundred and fifty years we are to pay for the privilege to fight and die to enable the North to conquer the South—what an idea! to pay for the privilege to fight for that tardy and at best doubtful freedom vouchsafed to us by the government. For what are we to be grateful? Here the white man has grown rich on our unpaid labor—has sold our children—insulted our wives—shut us out from the light of education, and even kept the Bible from us, and the moment he becomes convinced that these deeds of his are producing the desired results to his country and people, he gets to work and attempts to restore some of those rights and to allow for some of those wrongs. I think it a question of repentance on his part instead of gratitude on ours. What do you think of him should he demand your services and life, for a restoration of your rights and a release from his persecutions? If we are taunted because the suicidal course of the government has been changed, in the name of God, men of the freedom party, go back to your old policy. Exclude every fugitive from the armies—invalidate the President’s Emancipation Proclamation, let your officers be slaves—spies and catchers for Southern rebels, for no negro who has two ideas, one to rub against another, is willing to rest under this new slavery his presumed friends are marking out for him, namely: to keep ever present to the memory that his are a race of slaves and have an eternal tribute to pay to their oppressors. I want to feel as if I had a right to liberty and life, and that if I enjoy it, do not wish it said, that I owe to this one or that one.

It cannot be gainsayed that there is a frightful amount of profanity said to have been learned from the “low whites.” Now these “low whites,” belong to that race which the Colonel presumes to be the superior race. In what constitutes its superiority if it has a deleterious influence on our actions and character? I think there can be found more instances of barbarism in the whites in this country than in the blacks. Look at the Lawrence massacre, the New York mobs, and the Port Hudson atrocities! The fair Southern belle adorns her person with trinkets made from the bones of slaughtered Yankees. Is this not a “polished barbarism?” But the argument of this speech is not logical. It assumes the inferiority of our race, and denies its inferiority by declaring that all that is bad in us has been obtained from the whites which I think very true.

Profanity is a low mean vice, but it is universal in the army. Men are drawn into it almost unconsciously. Those who have been restrained by the associations at home when they get in the army seem to obtain a sort of immoral license. They contract habits and manners there from which they would shrink at home. Our regiment has been peculiarly unfortunate in this manner of spiritual instruction and advice. There have been but a half a dozen lectures delivered to the regiment since it left Readville, 28th last May. But this moral and spiritual void has been filled somewhat by instructive religious tracts and papers contributed by Christian and noble hearted friends in the North— yet while we have so much to regret, there are abundant evidences of a religious revival in our regiment. Are our prayer-meetings a mixture of paganism or barbarism and Christianity? I have witnessed camp-meetings of white Methodists and have seen just as much vehemence and excitement as our meetings are characterized with. It is a characteristic of Methodism in these later days to be exuberant, vehement, and boisterous; and Methodism is almost universal with the American negroes. There are more Methodists, I think statistics say, than every other sect among them unitedly.

The sutler was robbed of his goods by some five or six men in the regiment. The regiment did not rob the sutler. It is utterly impossible to get together any nine hundred or thousand men without some of them being bad enough to do almost anything. All soldiers regard sutlers as regimental Shylocks who demand their money or their lives. They have to pay them fifty cents per pound for rascally butter and twenty-five cents per pound for the blackest kind of sugar; and for everything else they pay equally exorbitant rates. There are few soldiers who think it highly penal to get the best of the sutler. Now this stealing for which the regiment is accused was perpetrated by men whose names are known, and whom Col. Littlefield intends to make pay for the small amount taken. Nor can this be called stealing but a sort of bushwacking raid.

The circumstances are as follows; Mr. De Mortie told the men in the regiment some two or three weeks ago, before he left for his home, that if they would not take the money the paymaster offered them, he would trust them. He went home, and his partners or agents refused to trust the men. The soldiers of other regiments who had been paid off came and bought the sutler’s stock out, and he replenished and sold out again, and any one of the 54th could with difficulty get accommodated. This incensed the men and five or six of the most violent tore down his tent. The sutler ran to the Colonel and he reported the circumstance and instantly sent the men off and put a guard over his tent. It was more a riot and a little spitefulness than robbery. The Colonel (Littlefield) had the whole affair quelled in less time than has been occupied in writing this account of it. How unjust to cast odium on the regiment for this act of half a dozen men. Raiding on sutlers is a most common thing in every camp. I have been the witness of many such catastrophes. I don’t dispute that the sutler is a very nice man and as just as sutlers generally can be, but I do say this, if his treatment of the men had been more conciliatory this would not have happened. His agent seems to have forgotten that he is a sutler of the 54th and should be prepared to fully accommodate their wants, as well as to make his fortune. The sutler trusted the men to two dollar checks, and compelled them to take the entire two dollars worth or nothing. He had no checks of smaller denomination than two dollars thus taking away the chance to economize. Two dollars is enough to answer the wants of a soldier from one to two months. Are we to be denounced as thieves for this?

As to yellow faces I don’t indulge in any controversy about color. I think “’tis the mind that makes the man,” not the color of his skin or any peculiarity of his hair. All I wish to know is the man just, is he humane and generous—noble-spirited—if yes, he is a man, if no, he is a slave to passion and iniquity.

I must not forget to tell you that Gov. Andrew has presented us with a new flag (State flag). In the charge on Fort Wagner, the old flag was torn asunder. In his speech to our regiment, Gov. A. told us that the State flag had never fallen into the hands of the enemy and urged if we could not save the flag, save the shreds—if we could not save the shreds save the staff, and his appeal has been heeded to the letter. When on the parapet of Fort Wagner, Corporal Peal, Co. F, who has had the honor to bear the State colors, inadvertently let the flag lean over the crest of the work, a rebel seized it, then commenced a desperate struggle between the corporal and the rebel for its possession. Unfortunately the color parted from the staff and thus by accident the flag was lost. The corporal said, “Ah you dirty rascal you did not get the staff any way,” and he brought the staff away with the spear. This flag is a facsimile of the old one, and when Col. Littlefield unfurled it the boys gave it three rousing cheers.

Trusting that health and prosperity are with you, I remain truly yours,

G. E. Stephens.

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August 13, 1863

Frederick Douglass served as a recruiter for the 54th and for other units in several regions of the country. Here is a letter to him regarding this:

War Department
Adjutant Generals Office
Washington DC Augt 13, 1863


I am instructed by the Secretary of War to direct you to proceed to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and on your arrival there to report in person to Brig’r General L. Thomas, Adjutant General, U. S. Army, to assist in recruiting colored troops.

Enclosed please find copy of order for your transportation at public expense.

I am Sir,
Very respectfully
Your Ob’t Servant,

C.W. Foster
Assist Adjt General

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July 30-31, 1863

In response to Confederate threats concerning black prisoners of war and their white officers, on July 30, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issue the following executive order:

Executive Order – Retaliation

It is the duty of every government to give protection to its citizens, of whatever class, color, or condition, and especially to those who are duly organized as soldiers in the public service. The law of nations and the usages and customs of war, as carried on by civilized powers, permit no distinction as to color in the treatment of prisoners of war as public enemies. To sell or enslave any captured person on account of his color, and for no offense against the laws of war, is a relapse into barbarism and a crime against the civilization of the age.

The Government of the United States will give the same protection to all its soldiers, and if the enemy shall sell or enslave anyone because of his color the offense shall be punished by retaliation upon the enemy’s prisoners in our possession.

It is therefore ordered, That for every soldier of the United States killed in violation of the laws of war a rebel soldier shall be executed, and for every one enslaved by the enemy or sold into slavery a rebel soldier shall be placed at hard labor on the public works and continued at such labor until the other shall be released and receive the treatment due to a prisoner of war.


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July 4, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his father:

St. Helena I.[BCF]

July 4,1863

Dear Father,

All the troops, excepting the coloured Regiments, are ordered to Folly Island. There will be a grand attack on Charleston, I suppose. I feel very much disappointed at being left behind, especially after Montgomery was promised by Genl Gilmore that we should have our share in it. I write you this lest you should see mention of the movement in the papers, & think we were in it.

I have not time to write to Annie, as the mail goes directly. Please send her this, or write to her.

Your loving Son

P.s. I sent you a box with some clothes & my old sword. Enclosed is receipt.

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June 30, 1863

Emilio described this period as follows ( [BBR], pp.46-48):

…Brig.-Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore had relieved General Hunter. Admiral John A. Dahlgren was to replace Admiral Dupont. Tidings of these changes, of Lee having crossed the Rappahannock, the capture of Harper’s Ferry, and the investment of Port Hudson, were received by the “Harriet A. Weed,” on June 23. Orders also came for the Fifty-fourth to report at Hilton Head.

…About noon [on the 24th], Colonel Shaw reported his arrival and was ordered to St. Helena Island, across the harbor…

Rain was falling as the Fifty-fourth landed on the wharf. Marching for a mile or so, we camped in an old cotton-field near the water. Many regiments were on the island preparing for active operations. The post was commanded by Brig.-Gen. George C. Strong, a brilliant young officer who had recently arrived. The Fifty-fourth, with the Second South Carolina camped near by, constituted the “Colored Brigade,” under Colonel Montgomery. Although it rained very frequently, the moisture was speedily absorbed by the sandy soil. There was a terrible thunder-storm on the 28th, accompanied with such violent wind that many tents were blown down. One man was killed, and several stunned, by lightning, in adjoining camps…

A deserter from the Second South Carolina was brought by Lieut. George W. Brush of his regiment before Colonel Montgomery on June 28. After questioning him, the colonel ordered him to be taken away and shot, which was done at once. Montgomery was never taken to task for this illegal action.

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June 21, 1863


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June 5, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his father:

Beaufort, S.C. [BCF]

June 5 1863

Dear Father,

We came down from Hilton Head day before yesterday. I saw Col. Montgomery, who was about to embark for an expedition to Georgia. I immediately requested permission to go with him but was too late, and shall probably follow tomorrow or day after. I thought it best to get my men at work as soon as possible.

We shall, I think, not return here, but have our camp at St. Simon’s Island. If you don’t hear from me to the contrary, address letters &c to Hilton Head — from there they will be forwarded to wherever we are.

Montgomery is a good man to begin under — as he is a guerrilla-man by profession, you know. We are all very much refreshed by two days on shore.  Tell Mother that from all I can ascertain, there is very little danger in this sort of work. Col. Montgomery says he never was in a fight in his life, where he lost more than 2 men killed. He is an Indian in his mode of warfare, and though I am glad to see something of it, I can’t say I admire it. It isn’t like a fair stand up such as our Potomac Army is accustomed to.

A telegram just received from Genl Hunter informs me that we must wait for other transports as our steamer must go North.

Love all at home.

Your loving son

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June 3, 1863

Gooding’s 15th letter to the Mercury, his first from South Carolina;  three letters from Shaw — to his mother, his father, and his cousin, John Murray Forbes; and a letter from Maj.-General David Hunter (commanding the Department of the South) to Governor Andrew:

Mercury, June 19, 1863 [OAF]
Port Royal, June 3

Messrs. Editors:

—After a long passage of seven days, we have arrived at Port Royal. We are still on board the vessel, and I write my first letter on the top of my knapsack, with one of the loudest noises around me ever heard, and heat enough to make a fellow contemplate the place prepared for the ungodly. There is nothing interesting to write as yet, for the very good reason that we have none of us been ashore. I write this letter to let the friends of the men know that we are all safe, except one, who jumped overboard the first night out from Boston. I think he must have been cracked or drunk, more likely the latter. The men are all in good health and spirits, not one man in the whole regiment being now on the sick list. After we are quartered on shore, and have an opportunity to look around, you may expect better letters.

J. H. G.

Steamer De Molay [BCF]
June 3,1863, Off Charleston

Dearest Mother,

Here we are near the end of our voyage. Everything has prospered thus far. We have had no illness on board, with the exception of a little “heebin” (heaving), as the men call it. I have had no sea-sickness at all myself. The more I think of last Thursday, the more complete a triumph it seems to me. You know from the first day the regiment was organized, no one connected with it has talked extravagantly, or boasted about it in any way; we went on quietly with our work, letting outsiders say what they chose, and wound up with what you saw, as we passed through Boston. That was the greatest day for us all that we ever passed, and I only hope it was of corresponding importance to the cause.

We saw the blockading fleet, and the top of Fort Sumter, off Charleston this morning. We expect to get in this afternoon. I shall go on shore immediately, and report to General Hunter, and if we can find a good camping-ground, shall land the regiment this evening.

Your loving Son

June 3/63 [BCF]

Dear Father,

My note to Mother will tell you of our prosperous voyage. My horses are all doing well fortunately. Major Hallowell’s died the 3d day out.

I told Annie that if she needed any more money than her allowance, towards the end of the year, to write to you for it. I shall soon be sending you home plenty. Will you please send an account of how much I have drawn, since I went home, and how much property I own now in the bank & in treasury notes.

I shall send Annie’s letters to her Father’s care, unless she is staying at the Island, as I think that is the quickest way.

I enclose a note for Anna Curtis. Call and Tuttlc are making me a flannel suit, which I ordered to be sent to you. Please put in the bundle a good stock of stationery and waste paper — and a supply of quinine, in pills & powder — and some postage stamps.

Your loving son

p.s. I enclose draft of R. P. Hallowell for $137.00

Hilton Head — Arrived safe at 2 1/2. We go to camp at Beaufort up the bay. Montgomery has just ret. from an expedition with 725 blacks from plantations.

Str. De Molay, Off Hilton Head, S.C. [BCF]
June 3,1863

Dear Cousin John,

Here we are (the 54th Mass. Vols, (coloured) close to our Department, and in a very different condition from that in which you left us. Our recruiting system did not get well under weigh, until sometime after you went, and then we filled up very rapidly. The Governor gave Ned Hallowell the Majority without any difficulty, and soon after Norwood was ordered to take the 55th which was started about the 10th of May. He refused the Colonelcy for some time, but has finally decided to take it, as the Governor wouldn’t let him come with us, at any rate.

The 54th has been a success from beginning to end. The drill & discipline are all that anyone could expect. Crowds of people came to our battalion drills & dress parades every afternoon, and we have heard nothing but words of praise & astonishment from friend & foe — from hunkers & fogeys, old and young. The camp was crowded on the day of our banner presentation — and the Governor made an excellent speech. Last Thursday, 28 May, we left Readville at 7 A.M. & went by rail to Boston. We marched from the Providence Depot through Essex, Federal, Franklin, School Sts., Pemberton Square, Beacon St. to the Common — then by Tremont & State Sts. to Battery Wharf where we embarked. The streets were crowded, & I have not seen such enthusiasm since the first troops left for the war. On the Common the regiment was received

[rest of letter missing]

(from [BBR] pp.36-37):

HILTON HEAD, PORT ROYAL, S. C, June 3, 1863.


GOVERNOR, — I have the honor to announce that the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts (colored) troops, Colonel Shaw commanding, arrived safely in this harbor this afternoon and have been sent to Port Royal Island. The regiment had an excellent passage, and from the appearance of the men I doubt not that this command will yet win a reputation and place in history deserving the patronage you have given them. Just as they were steaming up the bay I received from Col. James Montgomery, commanding Second South Carolina Regiment, a telegraphic despatch, of which certified copy is enclosed. Colonel Montgomery’s is but the initial step of a system of operations which will rapidly compel the Rebels either to lay down their arms and sue for restoration to the Union or to withdraw their slaves into the interior, thus leaving desolate the most fertile and productive of their counties along the Atlantic seaboard.

The Fifty-fourth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers shall soon be profitably and honorably employed; and I beg that you will send for service in this department the other colored regiment which Colonel Shaw tells me you are now organizing and have in forward preparation.

Thanking you heartily for the kindness and promptness with which you have met my views in this matter, and referring you to my letter to Mr. Jefferson Davis as a guarantee that all soldiers fighting for the flag of their country in this department will be protected, irrespective of any accident of color or birth,

I have the honor to be, Governor, with the highest esteem,
Your very obedient servant,
Major-General Commanding.

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March 23, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his friend Charles Fessenden Morse, and a letter from Governor John A. Andrew:

Readeville [BCF]
March 23,1863

My dear Charley,

I received yours of the 19th today, and was very glad to hear your account of the review of 12th Corps, by Hooker. I have been expecting it for some time, as you said in yout last, that it was going to take place. I can imagine your feelings very easily, when the old regiment was complimented by the General, for I felt just so when Pope reviewed us at Little Washington, and I was on Gordon’s Staff. It sent a thrill through me to see their steady marching & well closed ranks. It is very encouraging to hear your favourable account of Hooker. It really seems as if he must do something this Spring. The army will start, at any rate, in better condition and spirits than ever before. Oh, how I wish I were going to be with you! I should like to make one successful & brilliant campaign with the 2d and the Army of the Potomac.

I don’t think the conscription will stop the raising of negro regiments, for every one seems to go in for having them drafted too. And then they are destined for a peculiar service, I think, that of drawing off the blacks from the plantations, and making the Proclamation of Emancipation a reality. People lately from England say the change of feeling there, is a wonder — and they attribute it almost entirely to the Proclamation.

I have been meaning to write to you, for the last week, especially to urge you, if you are offered a position on Slocum’s, or any other good man’s Staff not to refuse it out of feeling for the regiment. You must reflect that this war may last a long time, and that you owe it to yourself and to your friends & relatives to get the best rank and position you honourably can. If you get on a good Staff, you will be sure to rise, and if a military man doesn’t continually look for promotion, what interest can he have in his profession?

We have 350 men in camp today and expect to get 100 or more during the week. I think we shall be full in a month—unless something occurs to stop the recruiting. That is not likely though, as $50 bounty has just been offered, while hitherto we have had none.

Let me hear from you regularly, my dear Charley, as I depend upon it. Tom Robeson & Grafton are here, but I have not seen them yet.  Miss Haggerty is coming to Boston to stay with one of my Aunts, so that my prospects for the next few weeks is pleasant.

Your sincere friend,

Robert G. Shaw

p.s. I saw Miss Nellie Low today & had a walk & a talk with her. She asked after you with much interest.

Emilio discussed the Confederate outlaw proclamation and reactions to it ([BBR, p.16-17],

In the proclamation of outlawry issued by Jefferson Davis, Dec. 23, 1862, against Major-General Butler, was the following clause: —

“Third. That all negro slaves captured in arms be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong, to be dealt with according to the laws of said States.”

The act passed by the Confederate Congress previously referred to contained a section which extended the same penalty to negroes or mulattoes captured, or who gave aid or comfort to the enemies of the Confederacy. Those who enlisted in the Fifty-fourth did so under these acts of outlawry bearing the penalties provided. Aware of these facts, confident in the protection the Government would and should afford, but desirous of having official assurances, George T. Downing wrote regarding the status of the Fifty-fourth men, and received the following reply:—

Black abolitionist George T. Downing wrote to Gov. Andrew concerning the status of recruits to the 54th Regiement. This is Gov. Andrew’s reply:


BOSTON, March 23, 1863.


DEAR SIR, —In reply to your inquiries made as to the position of colored men who may be enlisted into the volunteer service of the United States, I would say that their position in respect to pay, equipments, bounty, or any aid or protection when so mustered ia that of any and all other volunteers. I desire further to state to you that when I was in Washington on one occasion, in an interview with Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War, he stated in the most emphatic manner that he would never consent that free colored men should be accepted into the service to serve as soldiers in the South, until he should be assured that the Government of the United States was prepared to guarantee and defend to the last dollar and the last man, to these men, all the rights, privileges, and immunities that are given by the laws of civilized warfare to other soldiers. Their present acceptance and muster-in as soldiers pledges the honor of the nation in the same degree and to the same rights with all. They will be soldiers of the Union, nothing less and nothing different. I believe they will earn for themselves an honorable fame, vindicating their race and redressing their future from the aspersions of the past.

I am, yours truly,


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February 17, 1863

Picture of William H. Carney

Notably, on this day William H. Carney joined the regiment.  He would become the first African-American to receive the country’s Medal of Honor, in recognition of his valor during the assault on Fort Wagner.

Emilio observed that there were strong disincentives directed against both the soldiers and officers of the regiment [BBR,6-7]:

At the time a strong prejudice existed against arming the blacks and those who dared to command them. The sentiment of the country and of the army was opposed to the measure. It was asserted that they would not fight, that their employment would prolong the war, and that white troops would refuse to serve with them. Besides the moral courage required to accept commissions in the Fifty-fourth at the time it was organizing, physical courage was also necessary, for the Confederate Congress, on May 1, 1863, passed an act, a portion of which read as follows: —

” SECTION IV. That every white person being a commissioned officer, or acting as such, who, during the present war, shall command negroes or mulattoes in arms against the Confederate States, or who shall arm, train, organize, or prepare negroes or mulattoes for military service against the Confederate States, or who shall voluntarily aid negroes or mulattoes in any military enterprise, attack, or conflict in such service, shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection, and shall, if captured, be put to death or be otherwise punished at the discretion of the Court.”

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