Getting to Know the Men of the 55th

Robert Gould Shaw Memorial

Just wrapped up another productive week at the Massachusetts Historical Society with collections related to the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.  There is something to researching real black Civil War soldiers as opposed to deconstructing silly claims about fictitious black Confederate soldiers.  The MHS has an impressive collection of correspondence among the unit’s officers.  In addition, I now have access to a number of black newspapers through a deal with Accessible Archives.  They include a large number of letters written by enlisted men and officers from black regiments, including the 55th.  I still haven’t decided what I plan on doing with this research beyond writing a couple of articles.  There is definitely a book in all of this, but we will have to see if I am the one who will write it.

I am coming to you from a cafe in downtown Boston as I make my way over to the North End for dinner. Rather than take the train I decided to walk it, which was really just an excuse to spend some time at the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial.  This was the first time I noticed that the line of men extends behind Shaw’s horse, which you can see in this photo.

Man, I love this city.

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10 comments… add one
  • S. Thomas Summers Oct 29, 2011 @ 8:26

    Walking is always better.

    I write about the Civil War. Poetry. I’ve a book forthcoming: Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War. The more I walk, the more the ideas flow.

    Thanks and all the best.

  • Matt McKeon Oct 29, 2011 @ 2:47

    The NPS offers a tour of the “Black Heritage Trail” which begins at the Shaw memorial, interpreting that monument, and continues over the north side of Beacon Hill, which was the heart of the black community of antebellum Boston. If you haven’t taken it, its worthwhile.

    Certainly delving into the records and documents of a regiment has a certain grounding in reality missing in the searching for the Loch Ness black confederate.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 29, 2011 @ 2:55

      My wife and I have walked sections of it. We are waiting for the African American Meeting House to re-open after extensive renovations.

  • Ray O'Hara Oct 28, 2011 @ 17:58

    The 54th and 55th being recruited from free Northern Blacks highlights a 3rd rarely discussed group. namely free North Blacks,
    These guys weren’t slaves or ex-slaves, but they were also not in many locales full citizens
    they must have a very interesting perspective on things.
    We get White narratives and slave narratives, and a healthy does of Fredrick Douglas.
    but this is a different unexplored bit.
    and you’re the one digging up papers, you should write a book. if it takes a few years so be it. Go for it.

    • Robert Moore Oct 30, 2011 @ 3:09

      Ray, You’re saying this, I’m taking it, with the understanding that the two regiments weren’t entirely recruited from Northern free blacks, correct? In fact, not long ago, with the intent of gathering info about Shenandoah Valley free blacks and slaves in all USCT units, I began finding a fair number in the 54th and 55th.

  • Emmanuel Dabney Oct 28, 2011 @ 13:53


    Knowing your interest now in the 55th Massachusetts, I found this today reposted by a friend of mine online.

    Fascinating story about this Muslim-converted-Christian African (NOT native born person in America of African descent).

    • Kevin Levin Oct 28, 2011 @ 14:20

      I read about him as well, but have yet to find anything substantive. It is a fascinating story.

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