Posts Tagged   Robert Shaw

March 25, 1863

Picture of Lewis Douglass

Lewis Henry Douglass, the oldest son of Frederick Douglass, joined Company F of the regiment on this day. He became Sergeant-Major of the regiment on April 23, 1863.
A letter from Shaw to his mother:

Readville [BCF]
March 25 1863

Dear Mother,

I have received two notes from you, one about our course of conduct at Aunt Mary’s, and the other about shirts. I agree with you entirely about what you said in the first, and shall do as you suggest. I burned the note, as you requested, and will not say anything to Aunt Mary about it. I have bought the shirts but will pay the bill myself, as I shall be happy to make Howard a present of the others.

If the success of the 54 Mass. gives you so much pleasure, I shall have no difficulty in giving you good news of it, whenever I write. Everything goes on prosperously. The intelligence of the men is a great surprise, to me. They learn all the details of guard duty and Camp service, infinitely more readily than the Irish I have had under my command. There is not the least doubt, that we shall leave the state, with as good a regiment, as any that has marched. One trouble, which I anticipated, has begun-viz: complaints from outsiders of undue severity. But I shall continue to do, what I know is right in that particular, and you may be perfectly certain, that any reports of cruelty, are entirely untrue. I have treated them much more mildly, than we did the men of the 2d.

Tell Father I received his note, and would like very much to have him send me the horse he speaks of, if he is satisfied with him. I want as handsome a horse as I can get & need it as soon as possible.

I am going up to Lenox tonight, to come down with Annie tomorrow. I found I should have to be away just as long, if I only went to Springfield.

Love George, Anna & Susie.

Your loving son

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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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March 21, 1863

A recruiting speech by Frederick Douglass, and a letter from Shaw to his father:

Picture of Frederick Douglass

A speech first given by Frederick Douglass in Rochester, NY on March 2, 1863, and later published in Douglass’s Monthly on March 21, 1863. Douglass recruited over 100 men for the regiment, including two of his sons, Lewis and Charles. In late March, he travelled with his sons and 50 other recruits to Readville to enlist them.

Men of Color, To Arms!

When first the rebel cannon shattered the walls of Sumter and drove away its starving garrison, I predicted that the war then and there inaugurated would not be fought out entirely by white men. Every month’s experience during these dreary years has confirmed that opinion. A war undertaken and brazenly carried on for the perpetual enslavement of colored men, calls logically and loudly for colored men to help suppress it. Only a moderate share of sagacity was needed to see that the arm of the slave was the best defense against the arm of the slaveholder. Hence with every reverse to the national arms, with every exulting shout of victory raised by the slaveholding rebels, I have implored the imperiled nation to unchain against her foes, her powerful black hand. Slowly and reluctantly that appeal is beginning to be heeded. Stop not now to complain that it was not heeded sooner. It may or it may not have been best that it should not. This is not the time to discuss that question. Leave it to the future. When the war is over, the country is saved, peace is established, and the black man’s rights are secured, as they will be, history with an impartial hand will dispose of that and sundry other questions. Action! Action! not criticism, is the plain duty of this hour. Words are now useful only as they stimulate to blows. The office of speech now is only to point out when, where, and how to strike to the best advantage. There is no time to delay. The tide is at its flood that leads on to fortune. From East to West, from North to South, the sky is written all over, “Now or never.” Liberty won by white men would lose half its luster. “Who would be free themselves must strike the blow.” “Better even die free, than to live slaves.” This is the sentiment of every brave colored man amongst us. There are weak and cowardly men in all nations. We have them amongst us. They tell you this is the “white man’s war”; and you will be “no better off after than before the war”; that the getting of you into the army is to “sacrifice you on the first opportunity.” Believe them not; cowards themselves, they do not wish to have their cowardice shamed by your brave example. Leave them to their timidity, or to whatever motive may hold them back. I have not thought lightly of the words I am now addressing you. The counsel I give comes of close observation of the great struggle now in progress, and of the deep conviction that this is your hour and mine. In good earnest then, and after the best deliberation, I now for the first time during this war feel at liberty to call and counsel you to arms. By every consideration which binds you to your enslaved fellow—countrymen, and the peace and welfare of your country; by every aspiration which you cherish for the freedom and equality of yourselves and your children; by all the ties of blood and identity which make us one with the brave black men now fighting our battles in Louisiana and in South Caroline, I urge you to fly to arms, and smite with death the power that would bury the government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave. I wish I could tell you that the Sate of New York calls you to this high honor. For the moment her constituted authorities are silent on the subject. They will speak by and by, and doubtless on the right side; but we are not compelled to wait for her. We can get at the throat of treason and slavery through the State of Massachusetts. She was the first in the War of Independence; first to break the chains of her slaves; first to make the black man equal before the law; first to admit colored children to her common schools, and she was first to answer with her blood the alarm cry of the nation, when its capital was menaced by rebels. You know her patriotic governor, and you know Charles Sumner. I need not add more.

Massachusetts now welcomes you to arms as soldiers. She has but a small colored population from which to recruit. She has full leave of the general government to send one regiment to the war, and she has undertaken to do it. Go quickly and help fill up the first colored regiment from the North. I am authorized to assure you that you will receive the same wages, the same rations, and the same equipments, the same protection, the same treatment, and the same bounty, secured to the white soldiers. You will be led by able and skillful officers, men who will take especial pride in your efficiency and success. They will be quick to accord to you all the honor you shall merit by your valor, and see that your rights and feelings are respected by other soldiers. I have assured myself on these points, and can speak with authority. More than twenty years of unswerving devotion to our common cause may give me some humble claim to be trusted at this momentous crisis. I will not argue. To do so implies hesitation and doubt, and you do not hesitate. You do not doubt. The day dawns; the morning star is bright upon the horizon! The iron gate of our prison stands half open. One gallant rush from the North will fling it wide open, while four millions of our brothers and sisters shall march out into liberty. The chance is now given you to end in a day the bondage of centuries, and to rise in one bound from social degradation to the place of common equality with all other varieties of men. Remember Denmark Vesey of Charleston; remember Nathaniel Turner of Southampton; remember Shields Green and Copeland, who followed noble John Brown, and fell as glorious martyrs for the cause of the slave. Remember that in a contest with oppression, the Almighty has no attribute which can take sides with oppressors. The case is before you. This is our golden opportunity. Let us accept it, and forever wipe out the dark reproaches unsparingly hurled against us by our enemies. Let us win for ourselves the gratitude of our country, and the best blessings of our posterity through all time. The nucleus of this first regiment is now in camp at Readville, a short distance from Boston. I will under take to forward to Boston all persons adjudged fit to be mustered into the regiment, who shall apply to me at any time within the next two weeks.

Readville [BCF]
March 21, 1863

Dear Father,

Yours of the 18th Inst is received. I don’t think there is any chance for Mr. Wingate in my regiment. We have filled the list of Officers already. There will probably be some vacancies before we leave, but I don’t want to take any one whom I don’t know myself, and the Governor is averse to any but Massachusetts men, as there are a great many applications from his regiments.

Please tell Mother I received her note and will take her advice about Aunt Mary’s house. Charley and Effie arrived safely night before last. The latter found some beautiful bouquets awaiting her, and yesterday received a swarm of visitors.

We have received a large number of men lately from New York State & Pennsylvania. Mr. Stearns’ recruits are beginning to come in too. We are picking them carefully & shall have a very sound set. I expect to have, at least 450 in camp before the middle of next week. Don’t you think Brown had better give up his office in New York? We get finer men from the country, and there is no doubt of our filling up pretty rapidly.

Annie isn’t coming until next Wednesday and I am afraid she will put off her visit even longer than that, from what she writes me of her mother’s health. I suppose you are at the Island again by this time. Give my best love to George & Anna. I hope they are both well.

The snow here is still deep, and is making a good layer of mud for us. We can’t drill out of doors which is a great disadvantage as the barracks are crowded.

Give my love to Mother. I hope Nellie is having a pleasant time in Philadelphia. I suppose it is pretty gay there.

Your loving son

Robert G. Shaw

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March 17, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, one to his mother and one to his fiance.

Readville [BCF]

March 17,1863

Dearest Mother,

Your note of Sunday reached me to-day. I am sorry it was a mistake about your visit to Boston, though I was astonished at there being any thought of your leaving Anna just now.

I had a pleasant time at Lenox. Annie and I went to see Mrs. Charles and Willie Sedgwick. The day before the battle of Antietam her husband spent with us, and I had a great deal to tell them about him. His little girl wanted to hear all about her father. His mother is one of the most patriotic women I have seen, and seemed to feel proud that her son had died for his country.

The regiment continues to flourish. Men come in every day. Mr. Stearns, who is at home for a few days from Canada, says we can get more men than we want from there. The Governor thinks of getting authority to raise some more coloured regiments. If he does, I hope Frank Barlow can get the command. He is just the man for it, and I should like to be under him. Yesterday we had several officers out to take a look at the men; they all went away very much pleased. Some were very sceptical about it before, but say, now, that they shall have no more doubts of negroes making good soldiers. The Massachusetts Legislature has passed a bill appropriating $75,000 for each new regiment, ours included. The men will receive $50 bounty, and the rest will be used for recruiting purposes.

Love to Father and Susie,

Your loving son,


Readville [BCF]
March 17,1863

My Dear Annie,
Your note of Monday reached me to-day. If I hadn’t written you such a very contemptible one yesterday, I should have thought yours was altogether too short.
To-night we received quite a large squad of men from Pittsfield. They seem to be very patriotic up there. We are beginning to get our men from Western New York and Canada now. Our recruiting agent up there says he can get enough to make two or three regiments, if the Governor is authorized to raise them; at any rate, we can fill ours up.

Effie will be here to-morrow, and I wish, dear Annie, you were coming too. However, a week is not a very long time. If you put off coming I shall begin to feel very melancholy. . ..

The other day I dined at H. Mason’s with seventeen officers, four of whom had to have their food cut up for them,being badly wounded in the arm, and several others had wounds in other parts. We had a very interesting time in talking over events of rhe past year. I have got the pup which Captain Scott brought me from Virginia, out here, and if he grows up to be a nice dog, I will leave him with you when I go off Yesterday I bought a full-bred English terrier, which is a beauty. . . .

There is a blue-eyed, yellow-haired, white-skinned, black preacher out here, who has great influence among the blacks. He wants to go as chaplain, and I think I shall take him; he looks so much like a white man, that I don’t believe there would be much prejudice against it. I think I should care very little for public opinion, if it did no harm to the regiment. It would be out of the question to have any black, field or line, officers at present, because of public
sentiment. It ruined the efficiency of the Louisiana coloured regiments. . . .

Good night, dearest Annie.
your affectionate Rob

Our men are to have $50 bounty from the State, according to a bill which has just passed the Legislature.

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March 14, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his fiance:

March 14,1863

My Dear Annie,

Your yesterday’s letters reached me this morning, and gave me more pleasure than I can tell you.

I find that Mother is not coming to Boston in a fortnight; so please don’t change your mind, but come on the 21st. I will go up and meet you at Springfield. Aunt Mary wanted you to come here, even if Mother and Effie were here too. When the snow is gone, we can have some nice rides together. . . .

I went out to Readville yesterday morning, and have just come in. Everything out there is going on prosperously. The officers and men are very satisfactory. When Clem, comes, she mustn’t compare my men with French soldiers, but with American volunteers. From what I have seen of them, they will be more soldierly than the latter, because it is so easy to control and discipline them. The company from New Bedford are a very fine body of men, and out of forty, only two cannot read and write. Their barracks are in better order, and more cleanly, than the quarters of any volunteer regiment I have seen in this country. . . .

Excuse a short note, dear Annie, and, with love, believe me,

Always yours,


p.s.—… Last night I went to call on Lucy Codman. Do you know her? She is a cousin of ours, whom Mother had the care of for a good while, when Lucy was a little girl. She is a very lovely person, and we are all very much attached to her.

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March 12, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his friend Charles Fessenden Morse:

Boston [BCF]
March 12,1863

My dear Charley,

I received your note enclosing Brangle’s bill & send you now (8) Eight dolls.

We are getting on swimmingly, having near 250 men in camp. My Officers too are pretty good, some of them excellent.

I came down from Lenox last night, where I have been having rather a comfortable time for a few days. On the train I met Sergt. Griswold, looking a little peaked still, but intending to rejoin the regt soon.I think of you very often and I wish we could be together again. Perhaps some day it may be our luck to fall in with each other somewhere. I find my feeling for old class-mates is weak compared with friendships formed in the 2d—like yours & mine. I have not seen Harry for a week — as I have been away 4 days.

I read Hooker’s order with exultation when I found the name of our sturdy old regt among the favoured ones. The order will do more, I should think, towards creating a spirit of emulation in the army than any that has been issued since we entered the service. Indeed no other General ever attempted anything of the sort.

My third sister (Effie) is engaged to Charley Lowell. It is a very satisfactory affair for us all & especially for me — as I like him very much, and she and I have always been together, more than any other two of the family. I telegraphed to John Fox today, to know whether they had been notified of the extension of my leave‚ — as I am in continual dread of seeing my name among the Absent without Authority.

There seem to be shoals of men from the 2d in Boston. I suppose in a month or six weeks from this you will all be at work again. It is the luckiest thing in the wotld that Slocum has taken a fancy to our regiment.

I have not seen any of your family since I wrote last. Hoping to hear from you soon, and regularly, I am always

Your sincerely attached friend,
Robert G. Shaw

If you hear of anything going wrong regarding my leave, I wish you would
let me know — as soon as possible.

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March 10, 1863

Emilio [BBR] describes the support for the regiment among Massachusetts residents:

In consequence of the cold weather there was some suffering in the regimental camp. When this became known, a meeting was held at a private residence on March 10, and a committee of six ladies and four gentlemen was appointed to procure comforts, necessities, and a flag. Colonel Shaw was present, and gave an account of progress. To provide a fund, a levee was held at Chickering Hall on the evening of March 20, when speeches were made by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Wendell Phillips, Rev. Dr. Neale, Rev. Father Taylor, Judge Russell, and Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell. Later, through the efforts of Colonel Shaw and Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell, a special fund of five hundred dollars was contributed to purchase musical instruments and to instruct and equip a band.

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March 6, 1863

Gooding’s second letter to the Mercury:

[Mercury, March 7, 1863]

Camp Meigs, Readville, March 6

Messrs. Editors: —Immediately upon our arrival here on Wednesday afternoon, we marched to the barracks, where we found a nice warm fire and a good supper in readiness for us. During the evening the men were all supplied with uniforms, and now they are looking quite like soldiers. They all seem contented, and appear in the best spirits. We have drill morning and afternoon, and the men are taking hold with a great degree of earnestness.

Col. Shaw is on the ground, doing all he can for the comfort of those now in camp. Lieut. Dexter has been appointed to the New Bedford company, but has not yet made his appearance. The men from New Bedford are the largest in camp and it is desired to fill up the company from our city, which can and ought to be done. Lieut. Grace will be in the city tomorrow and he wants to bring a squad back with him.


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March 4, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his father and to his friend Charles Fessenden Morse:

Readville [BCF]
March 4,1863

Dear Father,

I have just received yours of the 3d inst. Governor Andrew says that all Colonel Higginson’s men, and the Colonel himself, wish to get into the regular United States uniform; and strongly advises our sticking to it. We are getting men very fast. There has been a hitch in the Rhode Island recruiting, but we hope to get it going in a day or two.

I trust — — will do something more practical than having meetings, and will manage to send some recruits. What do you think? Had we better send an officer on there to work?

Your loving Son
p.S. —Enclosed is another private letter for Mother.

Readeviile [BCF]
March 4,1863

My dear Charley,

Your letter of the 23d Feb. reached me today. In future address to 44 Beacon St. Though I shall be in camp after this I can get my letters sooner there.

I got yours just as I returned from visiting your Mother & sister at Jamaica Plain. I should have gone there long ago, if I could have found time — and shall certainly make them another visit as soon as I can. Greely Curtis is at home as you know, and his engagement is all right.

I had an invitation to visit the Somerset Club whenever I wished, and the other evening I went there. A great many of them are “bloody Copperheads” but no one made any disagreeable remarks while I was there. It would be a good thing for Greely to go in and give some of them a soaping down.

My regiment is making pretty good headway. We have nearly 150 men in camp, and they come in pretty fast. There are several among them, who have been well drilled, & who are acting sergeants. They drill their squads with a great deal of snap, and I think we shall have some good soldiers. Thirty four came up from New Bedford this afternoon, and marched with a drum & fife creating the greatest enthusiasm among the rest. We have them examined, sworn in, washed & uniformed as soon as they arrive — and when they get into their buttons they feel about as good as a man can. It is very laughable to hear the sergeants explain the drill to the men, as they use words long enough for a Doctor of Divinity or anything else.

The heel question is not a fabulous one — for some of them are wonderful in that line. One man has them so long that they actually prevent him from making the facings properly. Since you were here, I think there has come a change over the public mind, in regard to the war. That feeling which we noticed, was a sort of reaction from the early enthusiasm, and I believe it is fast passing.

The conscription act has encouraged me very much, and must show the Rebels and European Powers, that we have no thought of giving in. If it is enforced we are safe, but if the Government gives in to rebellious demonstrations in the North, it is lost, because that will be a test of its power — don’t you think so? I hope the 2d New Hampshire is only one of many old regiments coming home, to enforce conscription. It can never be done, I think, in many states without military aid. But the talk of resistance may turn out to be mere bluster after all.

I came out to Readeviile yesterday for good — and it seems like Camp Andrew over again. Everything topsy turvy. Nothing to eat and the coldest possible barracks.

George Bangs is in a state of despondency difficult to describe or even imagine.  He says he thinks sometimes that he is going to become insane — and if he doesn’t take up another train of thought, I think there is some danger in it.

I saw Sam Quincy on Monday, just before he left. He may be able to keep the field, but he will need a great deal of pluck to do it. Charley Mudge seems very ill indeed. Between the two, you and Bangs stand a good chance of being Field officers. I hope to hear of your promotion before long, and in the mean time it is good you are in such comfortable quarters & pleasant company.

It has been a subject of wonder to me that the nigger concern meets with so little opposition here. Almost everyone, even those who do not favour it, says that it is a good thing to try. Even such fellows as Bill Horton, now they see that we are not tabooed, by what he considers respectable society, talk of wanting to go into it.

Perhaps though, there may be something rough for us to go through yet, in the way of abuse. It is a matter of chance, which way the public sentiment may take a turn — Especially in the army.

I have been to a dinner or small party almost every day since I got to Boston, and have enjoyed myself amazingly — though my mind wanders sometimes to a certain person in N. Y.

Powdered hair is coming in again. The gayety in N. Y. & Boston is greater than ever.

Postman waits. Good bye & God bless you my dear fellow.

Always afftcly yours,
R. G. S.

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February 25, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his sister and to his father:

Readville [BCF]
Feb. 25,1863

Dear Effie,

I got your Sunday’s letter last night. I have not seen Colonel Lowell since, but will deliver your message at first opportunity. We have forty Darks out here now, and expect some more from New York and New Bedford in a day or two. When I hear from Providence, Fortress Monroe, and Canada, I shall be able to tell how rapidly the regiment will be likely to fill up. I am not staying out here yet, but shall probably take up my quarters here, in ten days or a fortnight.

Loulie has shown me several of Nellie’s letters. What good ones she writes. I am sorry you don’t see anything of Annie. I shall try to go on to New York on the 6th of March, and spend Saturday and Sunday at Susie’s. I spent last Sunday at Milton Hill with Henry Higginson and Charles Lowell. Monday evening, there was a small party at Clover Hooper’s, where I had a very pleasant time indeed, with Miss Ida, Miss Heath, &c. To-morrow evening, I am going to see old Mr. Quincy; he sent me word he should like to see me; the next evening, to the Sedgwicks in Cambridge. I have been somewhere almost every night.

Love to all.
Your loving Brother

Readville [BCF]
Feb. 25 1863

Dear Father,

I forgot to mention yesterday that a man is entitled to $2.00 per head for sound recruits sent to camp.  We have got our barracks all in order here, and can accommodate all the men that come now. I hope you will be able to send us some, before many days.

We have 40 here already and they look remarkably well in their uniforms. They are not of the best class of nigs—and if it weren’t for the want of state aid we should be able to get a much better set from the othet states. If you have any difficulty about making the arrangements I spoke of in my yesterday’s note, I wish you would let me know. Perhaps you can find a better man than Givens to do the work, and I think it would be well to get some white man who would interest himself in superintending the recruiting & take it off your hands. Doesn’t Mr. Gay know some one who would like a commission in the Regt & would be a good man to look after matters in N.Y.

Your loving son
R.G. S.

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