Posts Tagged   Robert Shaw

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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June 1, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his (new) wife, Annie:

Steamer De Molay [BCF]
June 1,1863, Off Cape Hatteras

Dearest Annie,

We have got thus far on our voyage without accident, excepting the loss of Major Hallowell’s mare, which died this morning, and was consigned to the sea.

We left the wharf at 4 P.M., having been detained nearly two hours in packing the arms. That night, and the next day, the sea was very smooth, but Friday evening the wind rose, and before long we had a very sea-sick cargo. Since then, we have been rolling and pitching very steadily. I myself have not been ill at all, so I have done nothing but think over the events of the last three months; which has given me so much occupation, that I have hardly read anything. It is only three months and a half since I got to New York, and Nellie called to you to come down and see me. I hope I shall never forget the happy days we have passed together since then, and that I shall always look back on them with the same pleasure as now. It may be a long time before we find ourselves driving about Berkshire together again; but I do hope that some day we can live over those days at Lenox once more; or even Mrs. Crehore’s, with a regiment close by to worry us, would not be very bad.

.. . The more I think of the passage of the Fifty-fourth through Boston, the more wonderful it seems to me. Just remember our own doubts and fears, and other people’s sneering and pitying remarks, when we began last winter, and then look at the perfect triumph of last Thursday. We have gone quietly along, forming the regiment, and at last left Boston amidst a greater endiusiasm than has been seen since the first three-months troops left for the war. Every one I saw, from the Governor’s staff (who have always given us rather the cold shoulder) down, had nothing but words of praise for us. Truly, I ought to be thankful for all my happiness, and my success in life so far; and if the raising of coloured troops prove such a benefit to the country, and to the blacks, as many people think it will, I shall thank God a thousand times that I was led to take my share in it.

This steamer is a very slow one, but fortunately perfectly clean, and well-ventilated. She is entirely free from all disagreeable odours; and the cabin is as comfortable as possible. The weather to-day is perfectly clear, and the sun is getting hot. We have a fine large awning over the quarter-deck, so that we can sit there very pleasantly. You would hardly believe that we have very little trouble in keeping the men’s quarters clean, and that the air there is perfectly good. The men behave very well; in fact, they have so much animal spirits, that nothing can depress them for any length of time. I heard one man saying, “I felt sick, but I jes’ kep’ a ramblin’ round, and now I’m right well.” My three horses are perfectly well, though thin. I wonder where you now are; whether on the way to Lenox, or already there. Remember that the vessel is rolling and pitching in the most persevering manner, and don’t criticise my calligraphy too severely… .

June 3d, 10 A.M.— We passed the blockading fleet off Charleston at seven this morning, and saw the top of Fort Sumter, and the turrets of the iron-clads, or at any rate, something that looked like them. We expect to reach Hilton Head at about three this afternoon. O dear! I wish you were with us.

. . . Did any one tell you that, after bidding you and Mother and the girls good bye so stoically, Harry and I had to retire into the back parlour, and have a regular girl’s cry? It was like putting the last feather on the camel’s back; I had as much as I could carry before. It was a great relief, though.

Give my dearest love to your Mother and to Clem. I hope they are well, though I suppose you don’t know much about the latter, as she is not with you. How nice and cool and pleasant it must be at Lenox now. The air is pretty hot here, even at sea, but it is not close or oppressive. Remember me to “Mammy Did.” I thought yesterday at dinner that I should like some of her soup. Some day we will make that journey we used to talk of, from Lenox through Springfield and Northampton.

I will add a P. S. to this after we get safely established on dry land. Until then, good bye, darling Annie. I hope you have recovered your spirits, got over your cold, and are feeling happy. Remember all your promises to me; go to bed early, and take as much exercise as you can, without getting fatigued

Your ever loving Husband

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May 31, 1863

Emilio (pp.35-36) provided this description of the voyage from Boston to Port Royal (the map Voyage from Boston to Port Royal describes the route):

May 29, the sea was smooth all day, and the weather fine but not clear. Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were passed in the morning. At night a fine moon rose. Foggy weather prevailed on the 30th, with an increasing ground-swell, causing some seasickness. The next day the steamer struggled against a head wind. At midnight the craft narrowly escaped grounding on Point Lookout shoals. Some one had tampered with the sounding-line. June 1, pleasant weather enabled the seasick to take some interest in life. The air was soft and balmy, as we ran down the North Carolina coast, which was dimly visible. A few porpoises and a shark or two followed the ship. Distant sails were sighted at times. When evening came, the sun sank into the sea, red and fiery, gilding the horizon. A  stiff breeze blew from ahead, which freshened later. Fine weather continued throughout daylight of June 2. With the evening, however, it clouded up in the south, and a squall came up, with lightning and some rain, driving all below.

Morning dawned the next day, with the sun shining through broken clouds. At reveille, some fifteen sail of outside blockaders off Charleston were seen far away, and soon passed. The sandy shores of South Carolina were in full view, fringed here and there with low trees. A warm wind was blowing, ruffling the water beneath a clouded sky. Every one was busy with preparations for landing, — writing letters, packing knapsacks, and rolling blankets. Running below Hilton Head, a pilot came alongside in a boat rowed by contrabands, and took the vessel back into Port Royal, completing a voyage at 1 P. M., which was without accident or death to mar its recollection.

Colonel Shaw, personally reporting to General Hunter, was ordered to proceed to Beaufort and disembark.

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May 28, 1863

Emilio ( [BBR]pp.31-33) describes the departure from the Readville camp and the parade through Boston to the departure on a steamer. The map Parade Route Through Boston displays the parade route through Boston.

Gen. David Hunter, commanding the Department of the South, desired the Fifty-fourth sent to South Carolina. His wishes were gratified; for on May 18 the Secretary of War telegraphed Governor Andrew to have the Fifty-fourth report to General Hunter at once. With a field of service under a commander who had shown such faith in colored soldiers, the regiment prepared to depart upon the arrival of a steamer ordered from New York.

May 28, at 6.30 A. M., the regiment formed line for the last time at Readville, and marching to the railroad station, embarked on cars, arriving at Boston about nine o’clock. As the companies filed into the street from the station, the command was received with cheers from a large gathering. One hundred policemen, under the chief, Colonel Kurtz, were present, to clear the streets. Unknown to the general public, reserves of police were held in readiness, under cover, to repress any riotous proceedings.

Preceded by Gilmore’s band, the line of march was taken up through Pleasant, Boylston, Essex, Chauncy, Summer, High, Federal, Franklin, Washington, School, and Tremont streets, Peinberton Square, Somerset and Beacon streets to the State House. All along the route the sidewalks, windows, and balconies were thronged with spectators, and the appearance of the regiment caused repeated cheers and waving of flags and handkerchiefs. The national colors were displayed everywhere. Passing the house of Wendell Phillips, on Essex Street, William Lloyd Garrison was seen standing on the balcony, his hand resting on the head of a bust of John Brown. Only hearty greetings were encountered; not an insulting word was heard, or an unkind remark made. At a point on Essex Street, Colonel Shaw was presented with a bouquet by a lady.

Halting at the State House, Governor Andrew, his staff, and many distinguished gentlemen were received with due honor, and thence escorted along Beacon Street to the Common, which was entered by the Charles Street gateway. This historic parade-ground was crowded with spectators. After a short rest, Governor Andrew, with. Major-Generals Sutton and Andrews, and their respective staffs, Senator Wilson, the Executive Council, the Mayor of Boston, officers of other regiments, and other distinguished persons, took position at the reviewing stand. When all was ready, Colonel Shaw led his regiment in column over the intervening ground, and past the reviewing stand.

Again a rest; until, about noon, the regiment moved from the Common by the West Street gate, marched through Tremont, Court, State, and Commercial streets, and arrived at Battery Wharf. Entering State Street, the band played the stirring music of John Brown’s hymn, while passing over ground moistened by the blood of Crispus Attucks, and over which Anthony Burns and Thomas Sims had been carried back to bondage. It is a curious fact that Sims himself witnessed the march of the Fifty-fourth. All along this street the reception accorded was most hearty; and from the steps of the Exchange, crowded with business men, the appearance of the regimental colors was the signal for repeated and rousing cheers.

Of this march the papers of the day were full of items and accounts. One journal said: —

” No regiment has collected so many thousands as the Fifty-fourth. Vast crowds lined the streets where the regiment was to pass, and the Common was crowded with an immense number of people such as only the Fourth of July or some rare event causes to assemble. . . . No white regiment from Massachusetts has surpassed the Fifty-fourth in excellence of drill, while in general discipline, dignity, and military bearing the regiment is acknowledged by every candid mind to be all that can be desired.”

Upon arriving at Battery Wharf, the lines were maintained by the police. Many friends were allowed to remain with the officers for parting words until the vessel, sailed. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon when the regiment embarked on the steamer “De Molay,” and four o’clock before the lines were cast off and the vessel slowly moved from the wharf, where friendly and loving hands waved adieus, to which those on board responded. A few friends, including Adjutant-General Schouler and Frederick Douglass, remained until the steamer was well away, when they too said their farewells, and returned to the city on a tugboat.

Soon the city, the islands, and the shores faded from view, as the “De Molay” steamed rapidly out of harbor. The Fifty-fourth was en route for rebellious soil.

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May 18, 1863

Picture of the Regimental Flags of the 54th Massachusetts

The presentation of flags to the regiment occurred today. Gooding’s 13th letter to the Mercury described the ceremonies, as did Shaw’s brief letter to his mother, and Emilio provided an extended description including full quotes of the speeches; a picture of the flags dating from after the war appears at right:

Mercury, May 20, 1863
Camp Meigs, Readville, May 18 [OAF]

Messrs. Editors:

—Today the long talked of presentation of flags came off. At 11 o’clock the column was formed, ready to receive His Excellency the Governor. Between four and five hundred people were on the ground before the hour fixed for the parade; when the 11 A.M. train stopped, there was a motley mass of people emerging from the cars, among which were the ladies of Boston, who were the makers of the colors, and the donors. Arrived upon the ground, it was a long time before sufficient space could be made to carry out the formalities; the colonel was obliged to order the commanders of two companies to march their commands to the front to make room for forming the square. After all the preliminaries were settled, Rev. Mr. Grimes, of Boston, offered a very impressive prayer.30 The Governor and staff, Gen. Pierce and staff, with the whole regiment, during the prayer remained uncovered. The Governor then stepped forward and in substance spoke as follows:

Mr. Commander—Although the presentation of a stand of colors to a noble body of men is no new scene in this Commonwealth, this occasion is a novel and peculiar one—there is an importance attached to this occasion which never existed with any similar event. Today we recognize the right of every man in this Commonwealth to be a MAN and a citizen. We see before us a band of as noble men as ever came together for a great and glorious cause; they go not for themselves alone, but they go to vindicate a foul aspersion that they were not men; and I rejoice to see men from other states who have cast their lot in with ours—we welcome them as citizens of the Old Bay State. We not only see the germs of the elevation of a downtrodden and despised race, but a great and glorious future spread out before us, when the principles of right and justice shall govern our beloved country. You, Mr. Commander, have reason to be proud that you have the privilege of being the pioneer in this great and glorious cause, as the Chief of the Fifty Fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers. And my earnest prayer is that you will ever have in view a lively interest in its efficiency and glory in the field, as you have thus far shown in its organization. I now have the honor, in behalf of the colored ladies of Boston, to present to you, sir, for the 54th regiment of Mass. volunteers, the American Flag; and before it shall ever be surrendered to the foes may its white stripes be spattered with the red blood of their brethren who bear it in the  field. I now have the honor of presenting the 54th, through you, sir, in behalf of the Commonwealth, the arms of the State of Massachusetts; and I say today, from the beginning of this rebellion to the present day, that banner has never been surrendered to the foe; fifty-three regiments have marched from the old Bay State, but we have yet to learn that they ever surrendered that noble banner. Hold on to the staff, if every thread is blown away, your glory will be the same. Here is a banner, bearing for its emblem the Goddess of Liberty; take this, sir, in behalf of the colored ladies of Boston and the Commonwealth, for the 54th regiment Mass. volunteers. May you and your men prove that this emblem was never carried by worthier hands. And here I have the solemn pleasure of presenting you, sir, in behalf of the near and dear relatives of one of Massachusetts noble soldier boys, who gave his life for his country’s cause, Lieut. Putnam, the emblem which it bears, the symbol of the Christian, a Cross. While in the battle’s rage, you cast your eyes on this Christian banner, remember, sir, the example of the gallant man who took it for his guide. Though you fall in your country’s defence, with a just and sincere appreciation of the teachings inculcated by that banner, your spirit will soar to that home in store for those who faithfully do their duty here to Humanity, their Country and their God! And now let me thank you, sir, Mr. Commander, and your assistant officers, for the faithful discharge of the trust reposed in you all. I declare to you today, that the 54th regiment of volunteers will ever be to me a source of solicitude; it is an undertaking, which if it fails, I fail with it; not only myself in my official capacity, but thousands in the old Bay State will watch its progress with earnest, heartfelt interest; if on the field, this noble Corps shall prove as valiant as it is proficient in discipline and drill, the fondest well wisher of this cause will be amply rewarded.

You Mr. Commander, have an important trust confided to you; your own honor as a man, and commander, the sound and wholesome discipline of a class unused to military life, that they as well as yourself, may add lustre to the glory of your native State. Your country’s honor, and the safety of these men, depend upon you; a nobler corps ne’er tread the soil of Massachusetts, and I am proud tosay, much is due you for the military spirit they exhibit to-day; again [illegible] the flag.

Colonel Shaw responded in a [illegible] as follows:

It will be my earnest endeavors to faithfully perform all that is possible for the honor and glory of the 54th regiment volunteers; I consider it an honor to lead men, although many of them not citizens of Massachusetts, who exhibit such unmistakable evidences of patriotism; and I will take this occasion to express my sincere thanks to the officers, and men, for their untiring efforts to assist me in maintaining order, and a faithful discharge of every duty.

Mr. I.D. Hall and Mr. John Goings will please accept the thanks of Company C, for a present of tobacco, two twenty-five pound boxes; we can assure them it is very acceptable, as many of us have not had any tobacco for some time.

J. H. G.

Readville [BCF]
May 18,1863

Dearest Mother,

I am so sorry you were not here to-day. The presentation went off finely. The Governor made a beautiful speech.  My response was small potatoes. The day has been beautiful; and on the whole it was a success. After the ceremony, we had a Battalion drill, and then refreshments for guests at my head-quarters. The Governor handed me a telegram from the Secretary of War, saying, “The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts will report to General Hunter; make requisitions for transportation, so that they may go at once.”

As soon as the transports are ready, we shall be off; that may not be for a week, though. I shall find out to-morrow, if possible, and telegraph Father; if I don’t see you and Father before I go, I shall be terribly disappointed. Effie and Nellie are at Milton Hill to tea this evening. Cabot Russel and Wilkie James hired a large “carryall,” and drove them over. They thought the carryall more in accordance with your ideas of propriety, than separate buggies. You will wonder, no doubt, at our being taken from General Wilde.  General Hunter wanted us, and I told the Governor I thought the men would have a better chance for work than with Foster. The latter, as likely as not, would make us do all the digging of the department.

Always, dearest Mother,

Your loving Son

From [BBR], pp.25-31:

Friends [of the regiment] had procured flags, and it was determined to make the occasion of their presentation, on May 18, a memorable one. The day was fine and cloudless. Very early, friends of the command began to arrive in private carriages, and by the extra trains run to Readville. Many prominent persons were present, including Surgeon-General Dale, Hon. Thomas Russell, Professor Agassiz, Prof. William B. Rogers, Hon. Josiah Quincy, George S. Hale, William Lloyd Garrison, Wendell Phillips, Samuel May, Rev. Dr. Neale, Frederick Douglass, and many others. The parade was thronged with white and colored people of both sexes, to the number of over a thousand.

Line was formed at eleven o’clock, and the regiment was broken into square by Colonel Shaw. Governor Andrew, with his military staff in full uniform, took position inside the square. Brilliant in color and of the finest texture, fluttering in the fresh breeze blowing, the flags destined for the regiment were ready for presentation. They were four in number, — a national flag, a State color, an emblematic banner of white silk with the figure of the Goddess of Liberty, and the motto, ” Liberty, Loyalty, and Unity,” and another with a cross upon a blue field, and the motto, In Hoc Signo Vinces. By invitation, the Rev. Mr. Grimes offered an appropriate prayer. Governor Andrew then stepped forward; and the flow of eloquent words delivered with the earnestness which characterized him, heightened by the occasion, will never be forgotten by those that heard his voice. Standing in plain attire, and facing Colonel Shaw, he spoke as follows: —

COLONEL SHAW : As the official representative of the Commonwealth, and by favor of various ladies and gentlemen, citizens of the Commonwealth, and friends of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, I have the honor and the satisfaction of being permitted to join you this morning for the purpose of presenting to your regiment the national flag, the State colors of Massachusetts, and the emblematic banners which the cordial, generous, and patriotic friendship of its patrons has seen fit to present to you. Two years of experience in all the trials and vicissitudes of war, attended with the repeated exhibition of Massachusetts regiments marching from home to the scenes of strife, have left little to be said or suggested which could give the interest of novelty to an occasion like this. But, Mr. Commander, one circumstance pertaining to the composition of the Fifty-fourth Regiment, exceptional in its character, when compared with anything we have seen before, gives to this hour an interest and importance, solemn and yet grand, because the occasion marks an era in the history of the war, of the Commonwealth, of the country, and of humanity. I need not dwell upon the fact that the enlisted men constituting the rank and file of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment are drawn from a race not hitherto connected with the fortunes of the war; and yet I cannot forbear to allude to the circumstance for a brief moment, since it is uppermost in your thoughts, and since this regiment, which for many months has been the desire of my own heart, is present now before this vast assembly of friendly citizens of Massachusetts, prepared to vindicate by its future, — as it has already begun to do by its brief history of camp life here, — to vindicate in its own person, and in the presence, I trust, of all who belong to it, the character, the manly character, the zeal, the manly zeal, of the colored citizens of Massachusetts, and of those other States which have cast their lot with ours. I owe to you, Mr. Commander, and to the officers who, associated with you, have assisted in the formation of this noble corps, composed of men selected from among their fellows for fine qualities of manhood, — I owe to you, sir, and to those of your associates who united with me in the original organization of this body, the heartiest and most emphatic expression of my cordial thanks. I shall follow you, Mr. Commander, your officers, and your men, with a friendly and personal solicitude, to say nothing of official care, which can hardly be said of any other corps which has marched from Massachusetts. My own personal honor, if I have any, is identified with yours. I stand or fall, as a man and a magistrate, with the rise or fall in the history of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment. I pledge not only in behalf of myself, but of all those whom I have the honor to represent to-day, the utmost generosity, the utmost kindness, the utmost devotion of hearty love, not only for the cause, but for you that represent it. We will follow your fortunes in the camp and in the field with the anxious eyes of brethren, and the proud hearts of citizens. To those men of Massachusetts and of surrounding States who have now made themselves citizens of Massachusetts, I have no word to utter fit to express the emotions of my heart. These men, sir, have now, in the Providence of God, given to them an opportunity which, while it is personal to themselves, is still an opportunity for a whole race of men. With arms possessed of might to strike a blow, they have found breathed into their hearts an inspiration of devoted patriotism and regard for their brethren of their own color, which has inspired them with a purpose to nerve that arm, that it may strike a blow which, while it shall help to raise aloft their country’s flag — their country’s flag, now, as well as ours—by striking down the foes which oppose it, strikes also the last shackle which binds the limbs of the bondmen in the Rebel States.I know not, Mr. Commander, when, in all human history, to any given thousand men in arms there has been committed a work at once so proud, so precious, so full of hope and glory as the work committed to you. And may the infinite mercy of Almighty God attend you every hour of every day through all the experiences and vicissitudes of that dangerous life in which you have embarked; may the God of our fathers cover your heads in the day of battle ; may He shield you with the arms of everlasting power ; may He hold you always— most of all, first of all, and last of all — up to the highest and holiest conception of duty, so that if, on the field of stricken fight, your souls shall be delivered from the thraldom of the flesh, your spirits shall go home to God, bearing aloft the exulting thought of duty well performed, of glory and reward won, even at the hands of the angels who shall watch over you from above !

Mr. Commander, you, sir, and most of your officers, have been carefully selected from among the most intelligent and experienced officers who have already performed illustrious service upon the field during the two years of our national conflict. I need not say, sir, with how much confidence and with how much pride we contemplate the leadership which this regiment will receive at your hands. In yourself, sir, your staff and line officers, we are enabled to declare a confidence which knows no hesitation and no doubt. Whatever fortune may betide you, we know from the past that all will be done for the honor of the cause, for the protection of the flag, for the defence of the right, for the glory of your country, and for the safety and the honor of these men whom we commit to you, that shall he either in the human heart, or brain, or arm.

And now, Mr. Commander, it is my most agreeable duty and high honor to hand to you, as the representative of the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, the American flag, “the star-spangled banner” of the Republic. Wherever its folds shall be unfurled, it will mark the path of glory. Let its stars be the inspiration of yourself, your officers, and your men. As the gift of the young ladies of the city of Boston to their brethren in arms, they will cherish it as the lover cherishes the recollection and fondness of his mistress; and the white stripes of its field will be red with their blood before it shall be surrendered to the foe.

I have also the honor, Mr. Commander, to present to you the State colors of Massachusetts, — the State colors of the old Bay State, borne already by fifty-three regiments of Massachusetts soldiers, white men thus far, now to be borne by the Fifty-fourth Regiment of soldiers, not less of Massachusetts than the others. Whatever may be said, Mr. Commander, of any other flag which has ever kissed the sunlight or been borne on any field, I have the pride and honor to be able to declare before you, your regiment, and these witnesses, that from the beginning till now, the State colors of Massachusetts have never been surrendered to any foe. The Fifty-fourth now holds in possession this sacred charge, in the performance of their duties as citizen soldiers. You will never part with that flag so long as a splinter of the staff or a thread of its web remains within your grasp. The State colors are presented to the Fifty-fourth by the Relief Society, composed of colored ladies of Boston.

And now let me commit to you this splendid emblematic banner. It is prepared for your acceptance by a large and patriotic committee, representing many others besides themselves, — ladies and gentlemen of Boston, to whose hearty sympathy and powerful cooperation and aid much of the success which has hitherto attended the organization of this regiment is due. The Goddess of Liberty erect in beautiful guise and form; Liberty, Loyalty, and Unity, — are the emblems it bears. The Goddess of Liberty shall be the lady-love, whose fair presence shall inspire your hearts; Liberty, Loyalty, Unity, the watchwords in the fight.

And now, Mr. Commander, the sacred, holy Cross, representing passion, the highest heroism, I scarcely dare trust myself to present to you. It is the emblem of Christianity. I have parted with the emblems of the State, of the nation, — heroic, patriotic emblems they are, dear, inexpressibly dear to all our hearts; but now In hoc signo vinces, — the Cross which represents the passion of our Lord, I now dare to pass into your soldier hands; for we are fighting now a battle, not merely for country, not merely for humanity, not only for civilization, but for the religion of our Lord itself. When this cause shall ultimately fail, if ever failure at the last shall be possible, it will only fail when the last patriot, the last philanthropist, and the last Christian shall have tasted death, and left no descendants behind them upon the soil of Massachusetts. This flag, Mr. Commander, has connected with its history the most touching and sacred memories. It comes to your regiment from the mother, sister, friends, family relatives, of one of the dearest and noblest boys of Massachusetts. I need not utter the name of Lieutenant Putnam in order to excite in every heart the tenderest emotions of fond regard, or the strongest feeling of patriotic fire. May you, sir, and these, follow not only on the field of battle, but in all the walks and ways of life, in camp and hereafter, when, on returning peace, you shall resume the more quiet and peaceful duties of citizens,— may you but follow the splendid example, the sweet devotion, mingled with manly, heroic character, of which the life and death of Lieutenant Putnam was one example ! How many more there are we know not, —the record is not yet complete ; but oh, how many there are of these Massachusetts sons, who, like him, have tasted death for this immortal cause! Inspired by such examples, fired by the heat and light of love and faith which illumined and warmed these heroic and noble hearts, may you, sir, and these march on to glory, to victory, and to every honor! This flag I present to you, Mr. Commander, and your regiment. In hoc signo vinces.

At the conclusion of the Governor’s remarks, when the applause had subsided, Colonel Shaw responded as follows: —

YOUR EXCELLENCY : We accept these flags with feelings of deep gratitude. They will remind us not only of the cause we are fighting for, and of our country, but of the friends we have left behind us, who have thus far taken so much interest in this regiment, and whom we know will follow us in our career. Though the greater number of men in this regiment are not Massachusetts men, I know there is not one who will not be proud to fight and serve under our flag. May we have an opportunity to show that you have not made a mistake in intrusting the honor of the State to a colored regiment, — the first State that has sent one to the war.

I am very glad to have this opportunity to thank the officers and men of the regiment for their untiring fidelity and devotion to their work from the very beginning. They have shown that sense of the importance of the undertaking without which we should hardly have attained our end.

After the command was reviewed by the Governor, the battalion was dismissed, and officers and men devoted themselves to the entertainment of their guests.

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May 17, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his mother:

Readville [BCF]
May 17 1863

Dear Mother,

We were very sorry not to find you in the train last night, and to hear that you were ill.  Nellie arrived safely and is at present domiciled with Effie & us at Mrs. Crehore’s.

Tomorrow, if it is not stormy, there are to be four-banners presented to the 54th. I have persuaded all the donors to have them presented together by the Govr so that the whole affair will not occupy more than 1/2 hour.

The War Department has been notified that we shall be ready to go on the 20th Inst, but we have heard nothing from them yet, so that I can’t tell when we shall go. I will telegraph to you when I find out. Do try to come if you can.

Give my love to Father, Anna, & George. I wish I had something more to write you but I haven’t, because I am so sleepy and stupid. Goodnight dearest Mother.

Annie sends you & Father her best love.

Always your loving son

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May 11, 1863

The regiment reaches its full quota of 1,000 men today, and the overflow is used to start the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
A letter from Shaw to his father:

Readville [BCF]
May 11,1863

Dear Father,

I received your note, acknowledging my last from Lenox, this morning. Annie and I got to Boston, Saturday evening; coming the last part of the way with Mrs. Haggerty and Clem., having met them at Springfield. I found the regiment looking remarkably well; there are already one hundred men for the Fifty-fifth. Both the Hallowells refused the Colonelcy of it; but the Governor says Norwood must stay and help organize it, whether he wishes to or not; so he will be detailed by the War Department. I hope Mother and you will come on very soon. We shall get away next week without a doubt, if nothing unexpected turns up. General Wilde goes to New York Wednesday, and sails for Newbern on Friday.

We are settled at Mrs. Crehore’s, and ready to receive you whenever you can come. By this time, there must be some news from the coming baby.

Love to Mother and Nellie. I received Mother’s note at Lenox.

Your loving Son

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May 6, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his sister:

Lenox [BCF]
May 6,1863

My Dear Effie,

Annie and I shall be in Boston on Monday. Will you please tell Mrs. Crehore to expect us on Tuesday?  No matter whether she wants us or not, we are coming. I was very glad to hear from Mother that Charley (”Katie”) had got to New York after all.  Harry and Mary are married by this time; I wish I could have been at the wedding; what a pity the weather is so bad; it has been beautiful up here until now. I have been in quite an angelic mood ever since we got here—as is becoming — and haven’t felt envious of any one. Excuse this short note, for I am dreadfully busy. Annie sends love to you and Charley. We haven’t seen a single soul until today, and we’ve only been off the place twice. We began to read “The Mill on the Floss,” but have only finished three or four chapters. We read it three years ago together, when I was here on a visit. Our own ideas are more interesting to us just now, than Miss Evans’.

Always your loving Brother

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May 3, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his friend Charles Fessenden Morse:

Lenox, Mass. [BCF]

May 3,1863

My dear Charley,

I can only guess at your whereabouts. The papers tell us that you are once more at work in good earnest. How I wish I were to take my share in this campaign, and that my future fighting were to be (if there is any in store for me) might be done alongside of my old companions. Think of me when you come into camp of a night, and lie down on your blanket, before a rail fire (the rails must be scarce in that neighbourhood though.)

Just now I am very differently occupied, for I was married yesterday and have just come up here to spend a week.The country is just beginning to look green & the weather is perfect. We are living at Pa Haggerty’s place, which is a remarkably pretty one, & I expect to have as nice a time as any one in the same circumstances ever did. Saddle horses & a light wagon are at hand, when we want to tide or drive, and a nice garden & pine grove near, to furnish pleasant walks. I feel very humble when I think of you fellows out there, but shan’t fret much, as I expect to be off myself in less than 30 days. I have got my minimum of enlisted men & received my Col’s commission.

Harry follows suit, & will be married next Wednesday, after asserting for six weeks that he should wait until he returned home again. I dined at your Father’s Sunday before last, and passed a most pleasant afternoon on the border of the pond. It made me think of your many adventures in the neighbourhood. I saw Miss Goreham and couldn’t but admire your brother’s good taste. Your Mother, I only saw for a moment, as some indisposition prevented her from coming down to dinner. I don’t think I ever saw a sweeter face than yout sister’s, and if her lameness has had anything to do with forming such a beautiful character as she must have, it is not a dear price to pay for it.

I hope this will find you alive & well. Please hand the enclosed slip to Tom Fox at earliest opportunity. Write me what is going on when you have a chance. Bangs is engaged to Miss Laura Pell— very handsome young lady, and one of the best amateur performers on the [one word illegible] in N. Y.  I didn’t send cards to the fellows in the regt because it didn’t seem worth while. If any one speaks of it please excuse me to them.

Your afffc friend,


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