Posts Tagged   Robert Shaw

July 6, 1863

A letter from Charles Douglass to his father Frederick Douglass — Charles originally enlisted in the 54th, but transferred to the 55th Mass. as it was forming in May, and later in 1864, transferred to the 5th Massachusets Cavalry (colored), a dismounted unit; together with a long letter from Shaw to his wife:

Readville Camp Meigs
July 6th 1863

Dear Father

I have just returned to camp from Boston where I spent the fourth and fifth.  Yesterday, I went to Mr. Grimes Church and Dr. Rock read a letter that he had rec’d from his wife who is in Philadelphia [ ] and that the Rebels were sending the negroes south as fast as they advanced from our lines and that the colored people were rushing into Philadelphia and that yourself and Stephen Smith and other were doing all you could for them.  I was glad to hear that – only keep out of the hands of the rebels.

This morning as I was about to take the train for camp I saw some returned soldiers from Newbern[?] N.Y. and had just got the news that Meade had whipped the rebels and before me stood an Irishman.  I said that we had some sort of a Gen. now and that made the Irish mad and he stepped in front of me with his fist-doubled up in my face and said ain’t Mr. McLellan a good Gen. you black nigger. I don’t care if you have got the uniform on.  When he got done I was so mad that I sweat-freely and I threw my coat and went at him.  All the time there was a policeman on the opposite side watching our movements.  Just as I went at him (he was heavier than me) the policeman came and stopped me and asked what the matter was.  I told him and he marched the other fellow off and that made all the other Irish mad and I felt better.  Still I felt as though I could whip a dozen Irish. I did not care for them because I had my pistol and it was well loaded.  I’m all right for I got my mind made to shoot the first Irishman that strikes me.  They may talk but keep their paws to themselves.

We are expecting to leave here next week. The men will get their Bounty this week.  We have a full band and drum corp and a good healthy looking set of men.  I would like to see you before I go away.  The flag has not been presented yet.  If your write – direct it – to the care of

Martin Becker,

Comm. Sergeant

55 Reg. Mass Vol

I have written home twice but have received no answer from them.

Please write.

From your aff. son,




St. Helena’s Island [BCF]

July 6,1863

My Own Darling Wife,

As I wrote you last week, your long letter of June 5 th to 10th came at last, and to-day I got that of the 23d to 26th. I am so sorry you have been worrying yourself about Montgomery and my connection with him, and I hope that my later letters have put your mind at rest. . . .

When you get this, you will have been a good while without news from me, as the last mail was not allowed to go, on account of the military movements in this Department. I wrote to Father the other day that we were left here, and most of the other troops had gone to Folly Island,—at least we suppose that was their destination. There is no knowing how soon, or in what direction, we may get orders to move. It is my great desire to join the main army, and General Strong was so sorry to leave this regiment, that I think there may be a chance of his getting hold of us again.

… To-day I went on board the “Montauk,” a Monitor lying in the harbour. I met there an officer named Cushman, who took me all over the vessel, and explained everything. In port the cabins are tolerably well ventilated, though very dark; but at sea everything is closed, and in action also; so that the air in the men’s quarters becomes so foul that the lights can hardly be kept going. Forty per cent of their men are on the sick-list, and they have to send some of them home every day. Such a hideous place to live in I never saw. The officers of the navy have by no means as much confidence in the Monitors as the public at large, and say they can be of service only against other iron-clads, or wooden vessels, and brick-and-mortar work. Forts of other descriptions, such as field-works and sand-batteries, they think would get the better of them. It has been necessary to make a great many changes and improvements in them to render them fit for active service; and as this has been done by officers of the navy, they all seem very indignant that Ericsson should have all the credit. They say that, as he turned them over to the navy, they would have been useless. The officers also affirm that the Monitor class or iron-clads was invented by a New York man named Pimbey, four years before Ericsson’s was presented, and that the latter now pays him $30,000 for every Monitor he turns out. In short, they pitch into Ericsson energetically, and think he has appropriated other men’s work and inventions unsparingly. They showed us all the places where the “Montauk” was struck at Charleston, and explained how several of the vessels were disabled by one plate or bolt being forced out of place. The 11-inch gun can be fired once in 2.30 minutes, and the 15-inch not so often. This is very slow. Nevertheless, they are terrible engines, and wonderful in their strength.

I afterwards visited the “Atlanta,” or “Fingal,” the Rebel ram lately captured. She is very powerful, but roughly finished. She had four pieces; two 7-inch and two 61/2-inch rifles, marked “Tredegar Foundry.”4 They were roughly finished on the outside, but terrible-looking guns. This craft would have made great havoc in our blockading fleet, if she had got out, and it was by a piece of good fortune that we captured her. . . .

July 7th — Good morning. You will see in my letter to Mother what I said about your and her coming down here. Of course it depends entirely upon what we do. The last two weeks would have been delightful for you.

I have got you some of the moss, and send you as much as I can in a large envelope, — enough to hang over a small picture.

On Sunday, I rode six miles to the Episcopal church, but it was closed, the clergyman being ill, and I went to the Baptist. . . .

The gentleness and respect for civilized usages in this war have been wonderful, and for that reason Montgomery’s doings seem very horrible. I am not excusing them, but merely giving another side of the picture. He is not the only man who has done so. Foster destroyed three towns in North Carolina without reason, and Blufftown, in this Department, was burnt the other day by white troops. Montgomery’s previous reputation has been such that he attracts attention. Many people here blame him for having had one of his men shot without trial. According to Regulations, it was wrong; but the court-martial in this case would have been a technicality, for the man’s guilt was unquestionable, and before he could have been tried Montgomery’s regiment would have been dissolved. He had lost seventy men by desertion, in two days. Since the execution not one has gone, but thirty or forty have secretly returned in the night. Of course such a power cannot be allowed to a Colonel, as there would be murders without number under the name of execution; and I do not believe Montgomery has heard the last of it. Nevertheless, as to the right and wrong of the matter, he only violated a clause of the Regulations, and the result is extremely beneficial. I think that a Brigadier-General should have power to approve a sentence of death given by a court; but now it has to go to the Department commander.

Colonel Montgomery has told me some fearful stories of his life in Kansas. I will send you one, in order that you may know what a life he has led for ten years past. He had captured five men who had been committing depredations, — shooting men from behind, and taking their scalps. He intended to kill them, but they begged for life so hard, that he let them go, on condition they would not come into Kansas again. Instead of keeping their word, they began their old occupation again, and having captured some of his men, killed them, and took their scalps away with them. Some time after Montgomery took the same five again. This time there was no chance for them. Their courage forsook them entirely, so that they absolutely fell to the earth with fright, and begged and prayed for their lives, and said they should go to Hell, if he killed them.

When they were being taken out to be shot, seeing him somewhat moved by their entreaties, they clung to his knees and his garments, and it required the strength of three men to drag one of them away. As the first fire three were killed, and the other two only mortally wounded; these last kept on moaning, and begging in a weak voice to be allowed to live; but the sergeant in command of the squad of executioners drew his revolver, and blew their brains out!

Scenes like this were common occurences in Kansas at that time, and I wonder that Montgomery has not become a wild beast instead of a reasonable man. He commands the respect of all his superiors, and is undoubtedly a man gifted with some great qualities. You cannot talk with him long without discovering that he is in reality a tender-hearted man. This assertion would probably amuse most people, who only know him by reputation.

Don’t think I am humbugged by Montgomery. I am not often enthusiastic, and what I say of him is not of that kind. . . .

With all the love that I have,

Your attached Husband

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July 5, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his mother, begun on the 3rd, extended on the 4th, and completed on the 6th:

July 3,1863[BCF]

Dearest Mother,

You will have been sometime without letters from me, when you receive this, as the “Arago” was not allowed to take a mail last week, I understand, because of the late movement on Charleston. Last night, I went over to tea at a plantation 4 or 5 miles from here where some of the teachers, four ladies and the same number of gentlemen live. The interesting member of the family is Miss Lottie Forten, from Philadelphia, a niece of Mr. Purvis, and a quadroon. She is quite pretty, remarkably well educated, and a very interesting woman. She is decidedly the belle here, and the officers, both of the army & navy, seem to think her society far preferable to that of the other ladies.

After tea we went to what the negroes call a praise-meeting, which was very interesting. The praying was done by an old blind fellow, who made believe, all the time, that he was reading out of a book. He was also the leader in the singing, and seemed to throw his whole soul into it. After the meeting they had a shout, which is a most extraordinary performance. They all walk & shuffle round in a ring, singing & chanting, while 3 or 4 stand in a corner and clap their hands to mark the time. At certain parts of the chorus, they all give a duck, the effect of which is very peculiar. The shuffling is what they call shouting. They some times keep it up all night, and only church members are allowed to join in it.

Their singing, when there are a great many voices, is fine, but otherwise I don’t like it at all. The women’s voices are so shrill, that I can’t listen to them with comfort.

I met Mr. Arthur Turner, a brother of Ned Turner’s, over there, and today he came to see me. He has been teaching here some time. The licentiousness among the negroes is very great, but they say that the improvement in that respect, is very encouraging. They feel no shame about it at all, and hardly understand that it is wrong. As a general thing the men seem to me to have better faces than the women.

July 4

Today there has been a great meeting for the coloured people, at the Baptist Church 6 or 7 miles from camp. I rode down there, and heard a speech from a coloured preacher of Baltimore, named Lynch, & another from Mr. [one word crossed out and illegible] which latter was very bad. It may have seemed so to me, because [two words illegible] very much. (This is private).

Mr. Lynch was very eloquent. Can you imagine anything more wonderful than a coloured-Abolitionist meeting on a South Carolina plantation? Here were collected all the freed slaves on this Island listening to the most ultra abolition speeches, that could be made; while two years ago, their masters were still here, the lords of the soil & of them. Now they all own a little themselves, go to school, to church, and work for wages. It is the most extraordinary change. Such things oblige a man to believe that God isn’t very far off.

A little black boy read the Declaration of Independence, and then, they all sang some of their hymns. The effect was grand. I would have given anything to have had you there. I thought of you all the time. The day was beautiful and the crowd was collected in the churchyard under some magnificent old oaks, covered with the long, hanging, grey moss, which grows on the trees here. The gay dresses & turbans of the women made the sight very brilliant.

Miss Forten promised to write me out the words of some of the hymns they sang, which I will send to you.

July 6

Yesterday I went to church at the same place, where the meeting was held on the 4th. The preaching was very bad, being full of “hell & damnation” but administered in such a dull way, that sleep soon overcame most of the Congregation & we counted fifty darkeys fast in arms of Murphy. After the sermon the preacher said “Those who wish to be married can come forward.” Some one then punched a stout young fellow, in white gloves, near me, and as soon as he could be roused, and made to understand that the hour was come, he walked up to the altar. A young woman, still stouter, & broader shouldered, than the bride groom, advanced from the women’s side of the church, accompanied by a friend, and they both stood by his side — so that it looked as if he were being married to both of them. However they got through it all right, as he evidently knew which was which, and they both said “Yes sir” in answer to all the preacher asked them. They were both coal black. I couldn’t find out if the bride had been snoring, during the sermon, as well as the groom. At the church they sing our hymns, and make a sad mess of them, but they do justice to their own at their praise meetings.

9 P.M.

We have just had Miss Forten & two other ladies to tea, and entertained them afterwards with some singing from the men. It made us all think of those latter evenings at Readville, which were so pleasant. If there were any certainty of our being permanently here you & Annie (if Father or some other protector would accompany you) could come down & spend a month without the least difficulty. You would enjoy it immensely. There is enough here to interest you for months.

As you may suppose, I was bitterly disappointed at being left behind, but nothing has been done at Charleston yet, and we may still have a chance.

Today I went on board the Monitor “Montauk” & the Rebel ram “Fingal.” The latter is very strong and very powerfully armed—but the work is rough, and looks as if they wanted money & workmen to finish it properly.

We don’t know with any certainty, what is going on in the North, but can’t believe Lee will get far into Pennsylvania. I suppose it is not sure that he will not get Washington this time. My feeling towards the Government is one of pity — as if they were a poor weak creature goaded & tormented on every side, not knowing which way to turn.

No matter if the Rebels get to New York, I shall never lose my faith in our ultimate success. We are not yet ready for peace — and want a good deal of purging still. I got a letter from Annie this afternoon, but no others. What lively times they have been having at Portland. I wrote to General Strong this afternoon, & expressed my wish to be in his Brigade. Though I like Montgomery, I want to get my men alongside of white troops, and into a good fight if there is to be one. The General sent me word, before he went away, that he was very much disappointed at being ordered to leave us so I thought it well to put it into his head, to try to get us back.

Working independently, the coloured troops come only under the eyes of their own officers and to have their worth properly acknowledged, they should be with other troops in action. It is an incentive to them too to do their best. There is some rumour tonight of our being ordered to James Island, and put under Genl Terry’s command. I should be satisfied with that.

I shall write to Effie & Susie tomorrow if nothing happens to prevent it. Please tell them, so, if they don’t hear from me, for we may have to leave this, at any moment. Indeed I have been expecting it, every day.

Goodnight darling Mother. Give my love to Father & the girls. I hope you are all well. I had a note from Cousin John today enclosing an ivy leaf from the wall at Hugomount, Waterloo.”

If the Rebels get near New York, do go to Massachusetts. I shall be so anxious, if you don’t. Lenox would be a safe place.

Your ever loving son

Will you send this to Annie?

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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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July 3, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his friend and former fellow office from the 2nd Massachusetts, Charles Fessneden Morse. On this day, Morse was fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg with the 2nd Massachusetts. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on the day following. Today was the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

St. Helena’s Island, S. C. [BCF]

July 3,1863

My dear Charley,

Before I proceed to any other subject, let me ask you, if I ever sent you the $5.00 which you paid Brangle for me, & if you know of any other debts of mine in the Second. I don’t remember when I last wrote to you, but think it was just after I took dinner at your Father’s.

Since then I have seen your letters to your Brother describing the Chancellorsville fights, which I read with a great deal of interest.  Harry and I couldn’t help feeling blue, when we heard the 2d was at work again, and we away from our old posts. I was very glad to hear that you liked Slocum so much, & had such confidence in him. It will, no doubt, be one of the Division or Corps Generals who will be the great man of the war.

I wish I knew where you were now; we have had no late news from the North, and what we have had, has served mostly to confuse my mind very decidedly, as to the whereabouts of the two armies.

So the 1st Mass. Cavalry has had a regular shindy at last. I was glad to hear that Henry Hig’s wounds were not dangerous.  What a bloody-looking boy he must be, with a scar across his face.

Remember me to Curtis, if you see or write to him.

You may have heard that the passage of the 54th Mass through Boston was a great success. I never saw such a heavy turn-out there before. We came down to Hilton Head in a very nice Steamer, though a slow one, for we were six days en route.

We landed at Beaufort, and went into camp there. Hearing that Col. Montgomery the Kansas man, was going farther South, I asked permission to join him. So we remained only two days at Beaufort, and then sailed for St. Simon’s Island, on the coast of Georgia. The day after we arrived there, Montgomery started us off, up the Altamaha River, and after capturing a little schooner full of cotton & burning the town of Darien, we returned to the Island, having been absent two days.

The destruction of Darien disgusted me very much, and as soon as Montgomery told me he was going to burn it, I said I didn’t want to have anything to do with [it] and he was glad to take the responsibility. It was done by Genl Huntet’s order, however. We remained at St. Simon’s for about ten days after this.

I had a large plantation to myself & lived very comfortably in the former owner’s house—the regt being encamped in an adjacent field.

The island is very beautiful, and [is] traversed in all directions by excellent roads. We had splendid rides every day & explored the place from one end to the other. It has been uninhabited for so long, that it is completely full of birds of all kinds, and on the neighbouring Islands, there is good deer-shooting. There were a great many fine plantations & country seats there, and the people must have had a very jolly time. We found the records of a Yacht Race Club — and other signs of fun. Fanny Kemble’s husband, Pierce Butler, has a very large place, six or seven miles long, there, and another near Darien. We left St. Simon’s on the 25th & ret’d here by order of General Gillmore.

Montgomery is a strange sort of man. At first sight one would think him a parson or a school-master. He is a very quiet gentlemanlike sort of person — very careful to speak grammatically & not in the least like a Western man. He is religious, & never drinks, smokes, chews or swears. He shoots his men with perfect looseness, for a slight disobedience of orders, but is very kind & indulgent to those who behave themselves properly. The other night on board the steamer, he shot at and wounded a man for talking after taps, when he had twice ordered him to be quiet. He told me that he had intended to kill him & throw him overboard, & was much astonished at having missed his aim.

Last Sunday he caught a deserter — and had him executed without trial by Court Martial, or referring the case to any one (Strange to say the General has not taken any notice of it). Montgomery says he doesn’t like the red-tape way of doing things.

He is a very attractive man, and it is very interesting to sit & hear him relate his experiences.

Everything here indicates that there is to be another attack on Charleston. I trust we shall have a share in it — and indeed, we have been given to understand, that we should go with the army, wherever it went.

I want to hear from you, very much, Charley. Tell me as much as you can of your movements since you left Stafford C. H. this last time — and how the old regt is. I have been expecting to hear of your promotion. Good-bye, my dear fellow, for the present. I often long to be with you fellows. When you & Harry & I bunked together, from Sharpsburg to Fairfax, we hardly expected to be so far separated as we are now. I wonder where the deuce you are.

Give my love to Tom R, Jim Francis, Brown, the Foxes & Mudge.

Always your affectionate friend,

Robert G. Shaw

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July 2, 1863

Emilio describes the beginning of the pay controversy and quotes Shaw’s letter to Gov. Andrew on the subject ( [BBR] pp.47-48). Notably, today was the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

While at this camp the condition of the regiment was excellent, and the men in high spirits, eager for service. Drills went on incessantly. A musician of the Forty-eighth New York was instructing the band. On the 30th, the Fifty-fourth was mustered for pay. It was then first rumored that the terms of enlistment would not be adhered to by the Government. The situation is best evidenced by the following letter of Colonel Shaw: — [see below]

ST. HELENA ISLAND, S. C, July 2,1863.



— Since I last wrote you, the Fifty-fourth has left St. Simon’s Island and returned to St. Helena near Hilton Head. We are now encamped in a healthy place, close to the harbor, where we get the sea breeze. You have probably seen the order from Washington which cuts down the pay of colored troops from $13 to $10. Of course if this affects Massachusetts regiments, it will be a great piece of injustice to them, as they were enlisted on the express understanding that they were to be on precisely the same footing as all other Massachusetts troops. In my opinion they should be mustered out of the service or receive the full pay which was promised them. The paymaster here is inclined to class us with the contraband regiments, and pay the men only $10. If he does not change his mind, I shall refuse to have the regiment paid until I hear from you on the subject. And at any rate I trust you will take the matter in hand, for every pay-day we shall have the same trouble unless there is a special order to prevent it.

Another change that has been spoken of was the arming of negro troops with pikes instead of firearms. Whoever proposed it must have been looking for a means of annihilating negro troops altogether, I should think — or have never been under a heavy musketry fire, nor observed its effects. The project is now abandoned, I believe.

My men are well and in good spirits. We have only five in hospital. We are encamped near the Second South Carolina near General Strong’s brigade, and are under his immediate command. He seems anxious to do all he can for us, and if there is a fight in the Department will no doubt give the black troops a chance to show what stuff they are made of.

With many wishes for your good health and happiness, I remain,

Very sincerely and respectfully yours,


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July 1, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his father and to his wife’s sister Clem. Notably: The Battle of Gettysburg began today.

St. Helena Island S.C.[BCF]

July 1, 1863

Dear Father,

In my last to Mother, I mentioned receipt of all your letters, and yesterday, your other two of the 22d ulto. came to hand, having gone first to Beaufort. The two boxes which, I heard, were at Hilton Head, did come in the “Arago” but are still enroute, on board of some brig. A box of Uncle George’s containing a beautiful English sword came all right.

Do you ever write to Dr. Bowditch? If so, I wish, you would mention to him that Lieutenant Reid (whom he recommended) is an excellent officer.

Do you know [four words crossed out and illegible] very well? He doesn’t strike me as being a very straightforward man.

You may have perhaps heard that the coloured troops are to receive $10 instead [of] $13 per mo. It is not yet decided that this regt comes under the order. If it does I shall refuse to allow them to be paid until I hear from Gov. Andrew. The regt ought, in that case, to be mustered out of service, as they were enlisted on the understanding that they were to be on the same footing as other Mass. Vols.

Another plan is to arm the negroes with pikes. I shall escape that, but Montgomery & Higginson, I am afraid, will have to come to it, unless the plan is given up. Of course, it will be the ruin of all spirit & courage in their men. Everyone who has been in any of our battles should know that Pikes against Minie balls is not fair play—especially in the hands of negroes whose great pride lies in being a soldier like white men. One of Col. Montgomery’s remarks is that it is folly to suppose that a race, which has been in bondage for 200 years can be as brave as freemen, and that all our energies must be devoted to making the most of them.

You will see from my letter to Mother that there is a good deal of exaggeration in the stories of Montgomery’s experience in Kansas. At any rate he says so himself.

Whom did you give those last letters (22 June) to? They had no post-mark & were sent to Beaufort.

Love to all,

Your most loving son

St. Helena’s Island, S.C. [BCF]

July 1,1863

My dear Clem.,

Yours of the 23 d reached me day before yesterday, and I read it with a great deal of pleasure. I anticipated your and Annie’s indignation at the vandal policy of Hunter. (Please always remember that Hunter began it). . . .

General Gillmore and General Strong (the latter our immediate commander) are both excellent men, I should think. The former I have not seen, but judge from what I hear.

There is a late-order from Washington, cutting down the pay of coloured troops from $13 to $10 per month. They have not yet decided here whether we come under the order or not. If we do, I shall refuse to have the regiment paid off, until I hear from Governor Andrew.

Another bit of insanity is a proposition to arm the negroes with pikes instead of muskets. They might as well go back eighteen centuries as three, and give us bows and arrows. General Strong says the regiment shall retain their rifles; but Montgomery and Higginson are in a great stew about it; and, indeed, such an act would take all the spirit and pluck out of their men, and show them that the government didn’t consider them fit to be trusted with fire-arms; they would be ridiculed by the white soldiers, and made to feel their inferiority in every respect. The folly of some of our leaders is wonder-full! I can’t imagine who started the idea. I hope the gentleman has a book of drill for the pike all ready.

There is some movement on foot in this Department. We do not know exactly what will be done yet. I don’t believe Charleston will be taken without some hard knocks.

Give my best love and a kiss to the mamma from me. I imagine you will all soon be at Lenox again, among the cool mountains. I always think of Lenox as in a haze, for during my visits there I was in a haze myself.

Always, dear Clem., most affectionately,

your Brother

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June 28, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his mother:

St. Helena’s Island, S.C.[BCF]

June 28 1863

Dearest Mother,

Your note of the 20th came to me on board the “Benj. DeFord” just after I had sent my last ashore—also letters from Father of the 10, 13, 15, 18, 19 Inst. & others from Annie, Effie & Harry. Some of Annie’s have been lost, however.

We did not land at Hilton Head but were ordered to this Island that same afternoon. We landed and bivouacked for the night—and since then have been engaged in transporting our stores by hand from the landing, more than a mile.

Our whole experience, so far, has been in loading 8c discharging vessels.

There is nothing said about future plans. General Strong tells me that Admiral Foote’s illness will interfere materially with them. I hope and pray that we may go to Charleston. Strong, who was one of Butler’s staff officers, is very desirous to have the negro troops take their part in whatever is done.

Montgomery did a characteristic thing this morning. His men being near their homes have deserted rapidly since we returned from St. Simon’s. He sent word by their wives & others to the deserters that those who returned of their own free will should be pardoned — that those, whom he caught, he would shoot. This morning one of my sergeants captured one. At 8 o’cl. Col. Montgomery called him up & said: “Is there any reason why you should not be shot?” “No, Sir.” “Then, be ready to die at 9:30.” At 9:15 the man sent to ask permission to see the Colonel, but it was refused, and at 9:30 he was taken out and shot. There was no Court-Martial — and the case was not referred to a superior officer. Montgomery, who just told me the story, in his low voice, but with an occasional glare in his eye (which by the bye, is very extraordinary) thinks that this prompt action was the only way to stop desertion, and it only remains to be seen whether he will be pulled up for it. I wish you could see him. You would think at first sight that he was a school-master or parson. The only thing that shows the man, is that very queer roll or glare in his eye — and a contraction of the eyebrows every now & then, which gives him rather a fierce expression. He says he never had a fight until he went to Kansas, and was a very harmless creature formerly, though never a non-resistant.

June 29 — To continue the subject of Col. Montgomery, I went over last evening, after writing the above, & sat two hours with him. He gave me his whole history, which interested me very much. I wish I could tell you all he said of his life during the last ten years. He has been in such a state of excitement all that time that he says it seems as if the whole were compressed into a few days — and he could hardly help crying when he talked of the state of utter desperation & hopelessness in which they began their fight against the Border Ruffians, and compared it with present times which seem to him bright & cheerful. He believes that nothing happens by chance & is full of faith in Providence. His account of the abject manner in which he had seen some Missourians whom he had taken prisoners, beg for their lives was very interesting. He says that without exception, under such circumstances, their manhood forsook them completely —& he compared their conduct with that of the negro, who was shot yesterday, and who never flinched from it. I said above that M. looked like a schoolmaster, & he says he did teach school in Kentucky for many years, and learnt more about managing men there, than at any other time.

He strikes me as being a very simple-minded man — and seems to be pleased at any little attention — perhaps because he has been so much abused. You will see that he is very attractive to me, and indeed I have taken a great fancy to him.

Evening —

I have just got your letter of the 21 Inst. & Father’s of 23d — his other two written after receipt of mine from St. Simon’s have not yet come to hand. What you say of Montgomery’s wife amused me very much, after hearing his account of it last evening. He said his wife saw an article in the paper stating what you say, and that all the punishment he ever wishes the writer to receive, is to come within reach of her broom-stick. Then he laughed very loud & long. Besides this, he assured me that no property of his was ever touched by a Border-Ruffian, being protected by his pro-slavery neighbours, whom he held responsible for it. He also said “To give the Devil his due” that he never, during his whole experience in Kansas heard of a well-authenticated case of a Border Ruffian having offered violence to a white woman, in any way — and he thinks that courtesy towards women is characteristic of the Southerners, good & bad.  His wife is the daughter of a Kentucky Slave-holder.

I see by the papers, what is thought of the destruction of Darien, and it provokes me to have it laid on Montgomery’s shoulders, when he acted under orders from Hunter. I, myself, saw Hunter’s letters referring to it. I am sorry if it is going to harm the negro troops, but I think myself it will soon be forgotten.

The two boxes Father sent arrived tonight. Mr. Pierce has been up here today. I hope Father wrote to Gov. Andrew, after receiving my late letters, about Darien, & told him that Hunter, only, was to blame. I was so sorry & provoked at getting no word from Annie tonight, that I didn’t know what to do. I have only heard from her 3 times & the latest date is the 18th. After the number of letters I have written her, I thought it was pretty “steep.”

Uncle George has sent me an English sword, & a flask, knife, fork, spoon &c. They have not yet come.

My warmest love to Father & the girls.

Always dearest Mother,

your loving son

p.s. I suppose Annie is with you by this time. If so give my love to her

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June 26, 1863

Stephens’s fourth letter to the Weekly Anglo-African, and a letter from Shaw to his wife Annie:

June 1863. [VT]

Mr. Editor:

—Our regiment has been on the move ever since our arrival at Beaufort. Our active and brave leader, Col. Montgomery, gives none under his command time to rot, sicken and die in camp. No sooner does he accomplish one object than he has already inaugurated the necessary steps for the accomplishment of another. The 54th, as you, no doubt, have been apprised ere this, has made a successful raid on the coast of this State, capturing and burning the town of Darien and spreading terror to the hearts of the rebels throughout this region. The expedition which accomplished this, consisted of the U.S. steamer John Adams, Harriet A. Weed and two transports, having on board part of the 2nd S. C. Vol. and eight companies of the 54th Mass. Vol.

We left here on the 10th, reached Darien on the 11th, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The John Adams led the way, approaching the town cautiously, shelling the suburbs to the right, left and rear of it. A considerable number of rebel cavalry appeared in sight, but the guns of the J. A. and Weed put them to flight. The town was found to be almost entirely deserted by its inhabitants. The 2nd South Carolina were the first to land and the 54th followed. Cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, and many things of use and comfort were secured. One rebel was killed by a shell, and the only persons we saw were one old colored woman and two whites, who requested to be left behind. When we left at sundown the whole town was enveloped in flames, and as we steamed gaily down the river, the Weed greeted the outbuildings with sundry iron missiles.

Darien, before the rebellion, was one of the principal outlets for the lumber trade of the State. I glanced at the books of the principal lumber-merchants here, Davis & Shina. They shipped their timber to French ports, principally.

The regiment or expedition did not lose a man. The regiment has enjoyed remarkably good health since our sojourn in this sickly portion of the Sunny South. We lost one man on the 4th inst., being the only death since the 1st of May and the fifth since the regiment was started in recruiting in March last.

Mr. Walton of our regiment has just informed me of the arrival of Miss C. L. Forten at Hilton Head. There is no telling when we shall return to Port Royal, our occupancy of St. Simon’s Island looks so much like a permanent one.

The first rebel flag captured was captured by the 54th, on 11th inst.,in Darien, by my company (B).

G. E. S.

St. Helena’s Island[BCF]
June 26,1863

Dearest Annie,

At Hilton Head we found our letters waiting, and I got two from you, of June 12th, and June 17th and 18th. As I have had nothing from May 31st to June 12th, I infer that one or more of yours have been lost. This is very disappointing, but I hope they will turn up finally. I was thankful to hear from you at all. Thank Clem, for hers; mine crossed hers on the way. You will have got my account of Mr. Butler’s plantation by this time, and from what you say, I see that it will have interested you. He has another large place, a rice plantation, opposite where Darien once was; but that I only saw from a distance.

The only persons responsible for the depravity of the negroes are their scoundrelly owners, who are, nevertheless, not ashamed to talk of the Christianizing influence of slavery.  Whatever the condition of the slaves may be, it does not degrade them, as a bad life does most people, for their faces are generally good. I suppose this is owing to their utter ignorance, and innocence of evil.

. . . We landed on this island last night, and to-day are bringing everything to our camp, a mile from the landing, by hand. Having a great many stores, it is a long job. I am sitting on a box in the middle of a field of sand, under a tent-fly, and writing on my knee. I have not yet heard what is to be done with the forces here. General Strong tells me that Admiral Foote’s illness may interfere with their plans very much. . . .

June 27, 8 A.M.—General Strong (formerly of Butler’s staff), who commands on this island, I like very much; he came over to see me yesterday, and I must return his call to-morrow. The papers say there are about twenty thousand coloured troops in the service now. Just think what a change from six months since! . . .

10 P.M. — To-day I have been watching and talking with a good many of the negroes about here. Whatever their habits of life may be, they certainly are not bad or vicious; they are perfectly childlike, it seems to me, and are no more responsible for their actions than so many puppies.

Sunday, June 28 — We have just had a two hours’ thunder-storm, with such a wind that a good many of our tents were blown away, and the occupants of the rest sat in them in fear and trepidation. I think it is better, as you say, not to build too many Chateaux en Espagne, for they are sure to blow away (like our tents). For that reason, I am more uneasy in camp than ever before, and always wishing for a move and something to occupy my mind, in spite of myself. When we lie idle, as at present, I do nothing but think and think, until I am pretty home-sick.

. . . Shall we ever have a home of our own, do you suppose? I can’t help looking forward to that time, though I should not; for when there is so much for every man in the country to do, we ought hardly to long for ease and comfort. I wish I could do my share; i.e. that I had as much talent and ability to give to it as I want. …

Good bye for the present, my dearest.

Your faithful and affectionate Husband

p.s — Now that the conflagration policy is settled, I don’t mind your speaking of what I wrote about it. Though I would never justify such acts for a moment, there is a spark of truth in the reasoning that, if we are to be treated as brigands, if captured, we are not bound to observe the laws of war. But I think now, as I did at the time, that it is cruel, barbarous, impolitic, and degrading to ourselves and to our men; and I shall always rejoice that I expressed myself so at the time of the destruction of Darien. It is rather hard that my men, officers, and myself should have to bear part of the abuse for the destruction of Darien, isn’t it? — when they (at least the officers) all felt just as I did about it.

You see, darling, from our wanderings so far, that it is impossible to make any plans for the winter; so don’t set your heart upon it.

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June 25, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his mother:

Steamer, off Hilton Head [BCF]
June 25,1863

Dear Mother,

I wrote Father yesterday that we were to return here. We sailed this morning at six, having been up all night loading the ship. I don’t know where we are to be sent now; it is supposed that Gillmore is going to make an attack on Morris Island and Fort Sumter, from Folly Island. Whether we go with him, or into garrison at Beaufort, or on some detached expedition, I can’t say; as soon as I find out, I will write. We have had a good deal of moving about, for so young a regiment.

The captain of this ship says there is a large mail on shore; so I shall perhaps find a good many letters from home. You must be back in New York by this time. I have written to Uncle George and Aunt Sarah. I wish I could see them.

Love to Father and the girls, and believe me,

Your ever loving son,


I enclose a note to Annie.

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June 24, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his father. Noteworthy: Lee’s invasion of the North accelerated today with Hill’s and Longstreet’s corps (the remainder of Lee’s army) beginning the crossing of the Potomac into Maryland.

St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
June 24,1863

Dear Father,

Yours of the 9th came to hand last evening. At the same time we received news of the Rebel incursion into the Northern [North] and orders to embark at once for Port Royal. We are now waiting for a transport, which will hold the regiment.

The news from the North is very exciting but not entirely unexpected, for Morse wrote me, that Lee wouldn’t leave the Potomac army quiet very long.Then my theory has always been that the North must feel the war much more than they have, before it is ended. I don’t know why we are ordered to return to Beaufort, unless the troops there are going North, or another attack is to be made on Charleston or Savannah.

I thank you a thousand times for your generosity to me in money affairs, dear Father; I never imagined you were going to assume so many of my debts. If Rice has not paid you, what he owes, I wish you would take it out of my funds. I enclose to you some bills which I had in Boston, lest they should be sent to you. I also enclose the following promissory notes:

Lincoln R. Stone — $115
John Ritchie — 115
G. W. James — 115
C. B. Bridgham — 96

I will notify you as soon as they are paid. I send this off immediately as Col. Montgomery’s boats which will get away before we do, will probably catch the “Arago.”

Love to all,

Your loving son

Please drop Annie a line saying we return to Beaufort lest my letter to her should not be ready.

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