The Governor Considers It A Most Important Command

Statue by sculptor Thomas R. Gould constructed in 1875, Hingham, MA

One of the stumbling blocks that I continue to come up against in researching the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry is in reference to Governor John Andrew.  The problem is especially acute given my interest in the pay crisis of 1863-64.  Andrew played an important role as an advocate for these men, but I am only able to skirt the surface of his involvement thus far.  Unless I am mistaken, the last biography was written in 1904.  I suspect that his pre-mature death in 1867 as well as the general trend of the nation’s collective memory by the end of the nineteenth century has something to do with his disappearance from the historical landscape.

Of course, he makes a very brief appearance in the movie Glory and you will find him referenced in scores of Civil War studies that focus on the organization and deployment of black Union soldiers, but there seems to be little more.  Can anyone think of a more important Civil War era governor?  Andrew is central not only to the inclusion of African Americans in the United States military, but emancipation itself.

I am now toying with writing a Civil War biography of Andrew.  Such a focus would allow me to continue to research black Union soldiers and the story of black citizenship in Massachusetts, but it would also highlight Andrew’s role in this dramatic story.  I suspect there is also room to talk about how Andrew was remembered in connection to emancipation and black soldiers after his death.

[Post title comes from a letter written by Col. Robert G. Shaw on Feb. 4, 1863, which appears in Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.]

2 responses... add one

I love the idea, Kevin. It would be cool if you could release it for the 25th anniversary of “Glory” in 2014. The 54th made its own reputation once it was formed but there would have been no 54th Massachusetts (or the 55th since, as you well know, the 55th was formed when so many men volunteered from all over the US that one regiment couldn’t accommodate them all) but for John Andrew. Even the fights he lost were significant. He wanted the 54th to have black officers, IIRR.

Maybe you could also tie it in to the incredibly important but now almost forgotten role that the “War Governors” played in supporting Lincoln and how Andrew interacted with his fellow War Governors such as Curtin of Pennsylvania.

Glad to see someone thinks it is a good idea. :-)

Maybe you could also tie it in to the incredibly important but now almost forgotten role that the “War Governors” played in supporting Lincoln and how Andrew interacted with his fellow War Governors such as Curtin of Pennsylvania.

You are reading my mind. It seems to me that this entire tier of emancipation advocates has been pushed to the side.

Join the Conversation