Today in Civil War History – the burial of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and his soldiers

Yesterday, July 18th, was the 156th anniversary of the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, where the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry (Colored) made its spectacular but tragic charge and cemented its place in history.  The story of the 54th is kinda-sorta told in the movie Glory, which came out thirty years ago and is still one of my favorite movies of all time.

Imagine, if you will, a little boy whose family was from Massachusetts, who read a book about the Civil War and learned about a brave unit, also from Massachusetts, that suffered some 44% casualties in its first major battle.  The accompanying artwork was something that has stayed in my memory ever since.

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Tom Lovell’s painting of Colonel Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts that appeared in Robert Paul Jordan’s book on the Civil War. Note that it also shows Sergeant William Carney holding the regiment’s national colors.  SGT Carney, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, would be the first African-American soldier to earn the Medal of Honor.

So you can imagine my excitement when they actually made a movie about the 54th.  The movie is far from perfect, both from a historian’s perspective and from a moviemaker’s perspective, but still, it is just a superb film and I love it.  And the fact that they show how Colonel Shaw and his men were buried just makes the ending so powerful.  The Confederates reported that they buried some 800 dead bodies in front of Fort Wagner that day, July 19th, 1863.  They had intended to disrespect Colonel Shaw by burying him with his soldiers.  But his parents, when asked if they wanted to try to recover his body, said that they could imagine no better place for him to be buried than with the men of his regiment.

The exact location of the grave site is not known, but so far some 118 acres of the battlefield have been preserved.  Colonel Shaw’s sword that he carried into the battle was recovered in 1865 and then rediscovered a couple of years ago in the attic of a descendant of one of his siblings.

~Geoff

 

 

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Today in history: the Medal of Honor is authorized by Congress

It was on July 12th, 1862 that “A Resolution to provide for the Presentation of “Medals of Honor” to the Enlisted Men of the Army and Volunteer Forces who have distinguished, or may distinguish, themselves in Battle during the present Rebellion” was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln.

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Ah, summer…

Yes, summer is really here, and today the temperature here in Winthrop by the Sea has reached 93 degrees, with a heat index of 100.  So naturally, this is when our air conditioner decides to partially break down.  We have AC in the basement (where it is least needed) and partially on the first floor, but it basically isn’t working at all on the second floor and so the temperature in our bedroom hit 85 degrees in the shade.  We are temporarily sleeping in the basement on the sleeper sofa until the HVAC guys can come on Monday.

The only one of us who seems totally unaffected is Violet.  She doesn’t seem to mind the heat at all.  Scratch, on the other hand, has camped out in the basement with us and the dogs.

Did the Continental Army seize airports during the Revolutionary War?

Yes.  Yes they did.

One of the bloodiest battles of the Revolution was fought on the Field of Logan (as it used to be called) in July 1775 between Massachusetts militia and two British army regiments: The Royal Regiment of Foot, Light  or ROFL Regiment; and the Western Tottenham Regiment of Foot, or WTF Regiment.  They were supported by a battery of artillery known as the Twickenham and Sussex Artillery, or the TSA.

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Gettysburg: the Second Day, as my ancestor saw it

When the men of the 11th Massachusetts awoke on July 2nd, they saw that the Confederates had occupied parts of the Emmitsburg Road, which the regiment and the rest of their division had used to march to the battlefield.  That morning was cloudy and threatened rain, but by noon the clouds had all disappeared.  At 3 PM that afternoon the entire Third Corps moved forward from its position on Cemetery Ridge to occupy the slightly higher ground in front of them.  The Second Division, under General Andrew A. Humphreys, was on the right, lined up along the Emmitsburg Road.  This included the 11th Massachusetts, which found itself on the farm belonging to an older couple named Peter and Susan Rogers.  The single-story log house and the barn provided some concealment, at least from the sun,  for some of the men of the 11th Massachusetts.  The Rogers’ granddaughter, a young woman named Josephine Miller, insisted on staying so she could bake bread for the Union troops, as well as serve them cold water and occasionally sell them a chicken.

Josephine MIller with stove
An older Josephine Miller, now married, was asked to come to Gettysburg to meet with some of the veterans when they put up their monuments. Here she poses with the original stove in which she baked bread, like the loaf she is holding. This photo was taken in the 1880s when the monument to the 1st Massachusetts (another regiment in the same brigade as the 11th) was dedicated.

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The Road to Gettysburg, as my Civil War ancestor saw it

Today is the 156th anniversary of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

For the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, the pursuit of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during its invasion of the North began on June 11th, 1863.  The regiment had been making plans to celebrate the anniversary of its muster into Federal service on June 13th.  Early in the afternoon a large group of the 11th’s officers were playing a baseball game against the officers of the 26th Pennsylvania, one of the other regiments in the brigade, when marching orders were received.  By 1:30 the regiment was assembled with knapsacks and began marching.  The weather was already brutally hot.

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