Our Country's Fiery Ordeal

A blog about the American Civil War, written and maintained by historian Daniel J. Vermilya, author of The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (History Press, 2014) and James Garfield and the Civil War (History Press, 2015)

Dedicated to my great-great-great grandfather, Private Ellwood Rodebaugh, Company D, 106th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, killed at the Battle of Antietam, September 17, 1862.

"And may an Overuling Providence continue to cause good to come out of evil, justice to be done to all men where injustice has long prevailed, and finally, peace, quiet, and harmony to come out of this terrible confrontation and our country's fiery ordeal." -- Albert Champlin, 105th Ohio, Diary entry of June 19, 1864 (Western Reserve Historical Society)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

January 30, 1863: "I am about to raise a colored regiment in Massachusetts"

150 years ago, in January 1863, the United States government began fulfilling the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation by starting to raise African American regiments for the Union army. On January 20, the War Department sent word authorizing Massachusetts Governor John Andrews to raise an all black regiment. On January 30, Andrews wrote to Francis Shaw, a noted Boston abolitionist, to request his assistance in the matter:

As you may have seen by the newspapers, I am about to raise a colored regiment in Massachusetts. This I cannot but regard as perhaps the most important corps to be organized during the whole war.
I am desirous to have for its officers—particularly for its field officers—young men of military experience, of firm anti slavery principles, ambitious, superior to a vulgar contempt for color, and having faith in the capacity of colored men for military service. Such officers must necessarily be gentlemen of the highest tone and honor; and I shall look for them in those circles of educated anti slavery society which, next to the colored race itself, have the greatest interest in the experiment
With my deep conviction of the importance of this undertaking, in view of the fact that it will be the first colored regiment to be raised in the free states, and that its success or its failure will go far to elevate or depress the estimation in which the character of the colored Americans will be held throughout the world, the command of such a regiment seems to me to be a high object of ambition for any officer.

Andrew asked Francis Shaw to pass along the following to his son Robert, a Captain in the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry:


I am about to organize in Massachusetts a Colored Regiment as part of the volunteer quota of this State—the commissioned officers to be white men. I have today written your father expressing to him my sense of the importance of this undertaking, and requesting him to forward to you this letter, in which I offer to you the Commission of Colonel over it. The Lieutenant Colonelcy I have offered to Captain Hallowell of the Twentieth Massachusetts Regiment. It is important to the organization of this regiment that I should receive your reply to this offer at the earliest day consistent with your ability to arrive at a deliberate conclusion on the subject.

Respectfully and very truly yours,

John A. Andrew
 Thus, 150 years ago, Captain Robert Gould Shaw was offered the colonelcy of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. While he initially turned down the offer, Shaw ultimately accepted. The story of Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts is one of the great events of 1863, and it reminds us that the Civil War was indeed a fight for the future of freedom in the United States.

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