North and South – Civil War Diaries

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

General William Tecumseh Sherman famously said, “War is hell.”  A common adage says, “War is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.”  Taking a look at diaries kept by those fighting the war, both on the battlefield and at home, can serve to illustrate this.

Rice Library’s University Archives and Special Collections is fortunate to have a Civil War diary kept by James C. Greuzard, a member of the 38th Illinois Infantry.  (See this amUSIngArtifacts blog posting from October 8, 2013 for more information about this fascinating character.)  His diary has entries from Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama.  NOTE: the following entries have been lightly edited for spelling and clarity.  No content was altered. He gives these accounts for September 1863 at Chickamauga and Crawfish Spring (Crawfish Spring was the site of the federal hospital in Chickamauga).

“We now stopped at Crawfish Spring and got some water.  When on going further we heard the most terrible firing of muskets I ever heard.  We were soon on the double quick and in to it.  I cannot see how anyone escaped that murderous fire of lead.  After firing several volleys we retreated.”

He then talks about meeting Chaplain Wilkins of the 21st and helping to “put the wounded in ambulances.  Going on I had just picked up a blanket and piece of dog tent when there was a bullet whizzed past my head and I concluded to leave.  … I understand that the Rebels captured those ambulances.”

That surely was the “sheer terror” part, but there are plenty of entries that speak of boredom.

May 27, 1862, Corinth, MS:  “Day in camp all day.  It seems the nearer the boys get to battle the more they gamble….there is hardly a shade tree but what has a squad of the boys under it playing cards.”

January 18, 1863—Murfreesboro, TN: “Nothing going on in camp.  I started for Murfreesboro to see what I could see.  I went to the Pioneer Café and got a good dinner of fresh pork.  I then sauntered through the town….”

June 6, 1863—also Murfreesboro: “All quiet on the lines and in camp also after many days of rain.  We have a fine sunshiny day which makes the squirrels come out and affords fine sport to the boys catching them.”

Diary of James C. Grezuard while in Danville, Mississippi in June 1862. Source: Ken McCutchan collection, MSS 004-1.

Diary of James C. Grezuard, 1862. Source: Ken McCutchan collection, MSS 004-1.

For the view from the “other side of the aisle,” i.e., from a woman with Confederate sympathies, take a look at Mary Chesnut’s Diary, aka Diary from Dixie.  Mary Boykin Chesnut was born into a wealthy, influential planter family in South Carolina.  At the age of 17 she married James Chesnut Jr., and in 1858, he was elected a U.S. Senator from South Carolina.  After South Carolina seceded from the Union, he became a personal aide to Jefferson Davis and brigadier general in the Confederate Army. Her diary is one of the leading resources for this time period.  Although there is no doubt about her Southern sympathies and attitudes, she was not naive about what war would mean.

Mary Chesnut (1823-1886) is must known for her diary from the Confederate point-of-view, n.d. Source:

Mary Chesnut (1823-1886) is must known for her diary from the Confederate point-of-view during the American Civil War, n.d. Source:

Shortly after secession, in March 1861, she had this entry.

“We separated North from South because of incompatibility of temper.  We are divorced because we hated each other so.  If we could only separate, a ‘separation à l’agréable,’ as the French say it, and not have a horrid fight for divorce.” (p. 18)

As the war wore on, she commented on this “horrid fight” in her July 26, 1864 entry.

“When I remember all the true-hearted, the light-hearted, the gay and gallant boys who have come laughing, singing, and dancing in my way in the three years now past; how I looked into their brave young eyes and helped them as I could in every way and then saw them no more forever; how they lie stark and cold, dead upon the battle-field, or moldering away in hospitals or prisons, which is worse—I think if I consider the long array of those bright youths and loyal men who have gone to their death almost before my very eyes, my heart might break, too.  Is anything worth it—this fearful sacrifice, this awful penalty we pay for war?” (p. 276)

By the time the war neared its end, she was somewhat fatalistic in her outlook.  On September 2, 1864 she wrote,

“The battle has been raging at Atlanta, and our fate hanging in the balance.  Atlanta, indeed, is gone.  Well, that agony is over.  Like David, when the child was dead, I will get up from my knees, will wash my face and comb my hair.  No hope; we will try to have no fear.” (p. 284)

Upon receiving news of Lincoln’s assassination, she remarked in her April 22, 1865 entry,

“I know this foul murder will bring upon us worse miseries. …The death of Lincoln I call a warning to tyrants.  He will not be the last President put to death in the capital, though he is the first.”  (p. 331)

No matter how much research you read about the Civil War, little beats learning about it in the words of people who lived through it.  For more Civil War diaries in our collection, check our online catalog.  You might also enjoy Ken Burns’ The Civil War DVD, which uses diaries along with photographs, readings from documents, and historical materials to tell the story of the American Civil War.  It is available in the DVD area: E468.7 .C58 2009.

References Consulted

Chickamauga Campaign Heritage Trail. (

Civil War diary of Louis G. Puster. MSS 178 (in University Archives and Special Collections, 3rd floor.

Mary Chesnut’s Diary / Mary Boykin Chesnut.  New York: Penguin Books, 2011.

General Collection  E487 .C52 2011. (This book is sometimes referred to as Diary from Dixie).

Posted in American history, Civil War, history | Leave a comment

Take Me Out to the Ball Game!

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

As the World Series gets near, I thought it might be interesting to look at Evansville and baseball.

First, look at this beauty—Bosse Field.   It opened June 17, 1915, making it the third oldest professional baseball park still in use in the country, behind only Fenway (1912) and Wrigley (1914).  It was named for the then mayor of Evansville, Benjamin Bosse.

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Baseball uniform of the Rockford Peaches, 2018. Source: Library of Congress Magazine (July/August 2018), p. 6.

Rockford Peaches baseball uniform, 2018. Source: Library of Congress Magazine (July/Aug. 2018), p. 6.

If you have not been there, but still think it looks a little familiar—A League of their Own, with Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, and Madonna was filmed here.  It is the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during WWII.  They were portraying the Rockford Peaches; this is an authentic uniform from that time, from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, as shown in the Library of Congress Magazine July/August 2018, p. 17.  The Material Girl famously complained that being in Evansville was like being in Prague, but that is another story….  If you have not seen it, check it out from our library—it is in the DVD section with the call number PN1997 .L4342 2004.

Here’s a quick listing of the 12 teams that have called Bosse Field home:

Evansville have had ten different baseball teams at Bosse Field: the River Rats, Crimson Giants, Bees, and Triplets.

The two most recent teams to play at Bosse Field were the Triplets and the Otters.  “The American Association Evansville Triplets called Bosse Field home from 1970 to 1984. The Triplets were affiliates of the Minnesota Twins in 1970, the Milwaukee Brewers from 1971 to 1973, and the Detroit Tigers from 1974 to 1984. At least three future Hall of Famers played minor league baseball for Evansville at Bosse Field, including Chuck Klein (Evansville Hubs in 1927), Hank Greenburg (Evansville Hubs in 1931), and Warren Spahn (Evansville Braves in 1941).”

6. MSS 034-1710

Evansville Triplet baseball player, Mark “the Bird” Fidrych signing autographs at Bosse Field, 1977. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-1710.

One of the better-known Triplets was Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, who played at Bosse Field in 1975 until he was called up to the Detroit Tigers.  His nickname came from his resemblance to the Sesame Street character, Big Bird.  “The curly haired right-hander was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1976, when he went 19-9 with a 2.34 ERA and 24 complete games. But injuries cut short his career, and he ended up spending only five seasons in the major leagues, all with the Detroit Tigers. He was 29-19 with a 3.10 ERA.”  Here he is signing an autograph for a young fan back in August 1977.

One of the funny/interesting/shocking? (You pick the adjective) things about Major League Baseball during the 1970’s-1990’s was the appearance of Morganna the Kissing Bandit.  She was an exotic dancer who was known to rush the field during (mostly baseball, but not exclusively) games and plant a kiss on a player.  Johnny Bench, George Brett (twice), Steve Garvey and Cal Ripken Jr. were all objects of her affection.  On June 14, 1978, she visited Bosse Field and surprised Triplets’ pitcher Fernando Arroyo.

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Evansville’s own Don Mattingly also got smooched.  Mattingly played high school baseball for Memorial High School at Bosse Field in the late 1970s before signing with the Yankees.  In point of fact, the official address of the field is 23 Don Mattingly Way.

Evansville Otters baseball logo, n.d.Since 1995, Bosse Field has been home to the Evansville Otters, an independent Frontier League team.  They were the first franchise team to attract more than 100,000 fans in a season.  The Frontier League’s 14th Annual All-Star Game was played at Bosse Field. The West Division, in which the Otters play, won that game.  That was in 2006, and the Otters won the League championship over the Chillicothe Paints; the Otters won again in 2016.

Interest in baseball in Evansville preceded the building of Bosse Field.  In the earliest part of the 20th century, Evansville teams were part of the Three-I League.  “The Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League was colloquially known as the “Three-I League”.  Formed as a Class D League in 1901, the Three-I became a Class B operation in 1902 and stayed at that level until its demise after the 1961 season.  Like most minor leagues of the era, the Three-I went dark for a several seasons during World War I (1918), the Great Depression (1933-1934 & 1936) and World War II (1943-1945).  In addition to Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, the Three-I League also included occasional entries from Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.  After dropping to only six clubs in the league membership during the 1961 season, the Three-I League folded on January 7, 1962.”  On the 1901 scorecard below, the Evansville team was the River Rats.

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Song cover of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game", 1908. Source: Library of Congress (

Song cover of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, 1908. Source: Library of Congress (

The title of this blog is obviously a reference to the classic baseball song, famously sung during the 7th inning stretch.  It’s the third most song sung after “Happy Birthday” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” All that we generally hear is the chorus, but the verse tells of a girl who was baseball-mad. When her beau arrived Saturday to take her to the movies, she said no, but you can “take me out to the ball game….” This simple but memorable little song was written in 1908 by a man named Jack Norwich.  While riding on a subway in New York, he saw a billboard about an upcoming baseball game, took a scrap of paper, and penned the well-known lyrics. Ironically, Norwich had never been to a baseball game!  Although the song was an instant hit, it did not become a part of MLB games until 1934.  (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

There’s even a slight Evansville connection here. Norwich’s second wife was Louise Dresser, an actress from Evansville. Dresser was her stage name—she was not related to songwriter Paul Dresser or novelist Theodore Dreiser (Paul Dresser’s brother).  Her family was friends with Paul Dresser, and it was thought that having the same name would help her career. The ploy worked, and she went on to a successful show business career.

Here’s hoping the semester is going well for you, and that “your” team wins the World Series. Play ball!

Resources Consulted

Deadball Baseball: Baseball Outside The Time And Space Continuum (blog)

Fidrych, 54, dies in apparent accident  (AP article April 14, 2009 on ESPN website

Frontier League History

Fun While It Lasted: Lively Tales About Dead Teams blog.  Three-I League (1901-1961)

History of Bosse Field

Jewish Women’s Archive: Encyclopedia– Louise Dresser 1878-1965. Erticle by M. Alison Kibler.

JUGS Sports: The True Story Behind “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”

Library of Congress Magazine July/August 2018  (the entire issue is about baseball)

Reichard, Kevin.  “Bosse Field: A century of baseball history.” Baseball Digest online, June 17, 2015.

Posted in Evansville, Indiana, movies, sports | Leave a comment

So long, old friend!

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

In the late 1960’s, Sears was the world’s largest retailer, holding that position until the early 1990’s.  By now you’re surely aware that Sears has declared bankruptcy, has closed a number of stores, and may be exiting the American retail scene.  Did you know that Evansville holds a place in the store’s history?  Let’s take a brief look at how Sears came to be the retail giant it once was.

Richard Warren Sears (1863-1914). Source:

Richard Warren Sears (1863-1914), n.d. Source:

The United States was a lot different than it is now back in 1886 when the event that became the kernel for Sears occurred.  In 1880, the date of the last official Census before this, the U.S. population was 50, 155, 783.  “About 65 percent of these people lived in rural areas. Only a dozen or so cities had 200,000 or more residents. And the yearly national income was about $10 billion. This was the scene when, one day in 1886, a Chicago jewelry company shipped some gold-filled watches to an unsuspecting jeweler in a Minnesota hamlet. [The population of the entire state of Minnesota was only 780,773 in 1880.] Thus started a chain of events that led to the founding of Sears.  Richard Sears was an agent of the Minneapolis and St. Louis railway station in North Redwood, Minnesota. Sears’ job as station agent left him plenty of spare time, so he sold lumber and coal to local residents on the side to make extra money. Later, when he received a shipment of watches – unwanted by a neighboring Redwood Falls jeweler – he was ready. Sears purchased them himself, sold the watches at a nice profit to other station agents up and down the line, and then ordered more for resale.  In 1886 Sears began the R.W. Sears Watch Company in Minneapolis.”

Alvah C. Roebuck (1864-1948), n.d. Source:

Alvah C. Roebuck (1864-1948), n.d. Source:

Realizing that he could do far better if he were in a larger city, Sears moved his newly born enterprise to Chicago in 1887.  He placed a classified advertisement for an experienced watchmaker; the ad was answered by Alvah C. Roebuck, a man from Indiana. “He told Sears he knew watches and brought a sample of his work to prove it. Sears hired him. Here began the association of two young men, both still in their twenties, that was to make their names famous. For it was in 1893 that the corporate name of the firm became Sears, Roebuck and Co. By the time Sears was started, farmers in rural America were selling their crops for cash and buying what they needed from rural general stores. But when they laid their money on the line for goods, farmers saw red. In 1891, the wholesale price of a barrel of flour was reported to be $3.47. Price at retail was at least $7, a 100 percent increase. Farmers formed protest movements, such as the Grange, to do battle against high prices and the “middleman.” Sears, Roebuck and Co. and other mail-order companies were the answer to farmers’ prayers. Thanks to volume buying, to the railroads and post office, and later to rural free delivery and parcel post, they offered a happy alternative to the high-priced rural stores. Years later the company adopted the motto “Shop at Sears and Save.” Because farmers could do so in the 1890’s, Sears prospered.”

Sears, Roebuck and Co. prospered very quickly.  “So fast, in fact that the company soon outgrew its rented five-story building. In 1896 Sears moved to a new six-story-and-basement building. By the turn of the century, additional buildings were built or leased in various areas of Chicago. Meanwhile, construction was started on a 40-acre, $5 million mail-order plant and office building on Chicago’s West Side. When opened in 1906, the mail-order plant, with more than 3 million square feet of floor space, was the largest business building in the world.”

Fast forward to 1925, when the company began to see that in order to remain competitive, it needed retail stores as well as mail-order outlets.  The first retail outlet independent of a catalog operation opened in Evansville that year, in a building located at 101 NW 4th St.

Plaque on side of building detailing historic site of former Sears and Robuck Company retail store at 101 NW 4th Street. The sign's wording is misleading---this is not the site of Sears's first retail department store---that was in Chicago. This is the first store outside of a Catalog Merchandise Distribution Center. At the time of this photograph, the Sears store had long since (1963) moved to its 100 South Green River Road. address in Washington Square Mall, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0466.

Plaque on side of building detailing historic site of former Sears and Robuck Company retail store at 101 NW 4th Street. The sign’s wording is misleading—this is not the site of Sears’s first retail department store—that was in Chicago. This is the first store outside of a Catalog Merchandise Distribution Center. At the time of this photograph, the Sears store had long since (1963) moved to its 100 South Green River Road. address in Washington Square Mall, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0466.

Sears’ building in Evansville was built in 1920 for another hardware company.


Here’s a view of the 100-200 blocks of NW 4th St., looking from Sycamore St., in 1937, with the Sears store clearly visible.

MSS 264-2424

Sears & Roebuck Company on the left hand side, 1937. Source: Thomas Mueller collection, MSS 264-2424.

And a close-up of the building, circa 1978-1979.  By this time, the downtown store had closed (in 1975), with the expansion to other locations.  The building still stands today.

Sears building at 101 NW 4th St., at the corner with Sycamore Street, 1978-1979. Source: Hammond-Awe collection, MSS 183-182.

Sears building at 101 NW 4th St., at the corner with Sycamore Street, 1978-1979. Source: Hammond-Awe collection, MSS 183-182.

In April of this year, the last Sears outlet in Evansville closed.  Opened in 1963, it was Sears’ first mall location, in Washington Square Mall. (The mall itself opened in 1963 and was the first enclosed shopping center in Indiana.) Other locations in Evansville were a catalog outlet that opened in North Park in 1957 and became a retail store in 1961, and a bigger store on First Ave. that opened in 1967.

Jim Collins, in his book How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, says, “Every institution, no matter how great, is vulnerable to decline. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top.”  No one knows what the final outcome of Sears’ problems will be, but we can enjoy Evansville’s part in its history.

Resources consulted:

“Before it went bust, Sears was the Amazon of its day.” Moneywatch, October 15, 2018.

A Brief Chronology of Sears History

Collins, Jim.  How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In.  New York: HarperCollins, 2009.   Available in Rice Library in the General Collection: HG3761 .C65 2009

Delventhal, Shoshanna.  “Who Killed Sears? 50 Years on the Road to Ruin.”, October 15, 2018.

Hagan, Paige.  “A look at the history of Sears in Evansville.”  WFIE-14 news story, January 5, 2018.

Historic Evansville website: Sears

Howard, Vicki.  “The Rise and Fall of Sears.”, July 25, 2017.

Indiana Historical Bureau: McCurdy-Sears Building.

MSS 034  Gregory Smith collection

MSS 183  Hammond Awe collection

MSS 264  Thomas Mueller collection

A Narrative History of Sears

Schmitt, Stan.  “So Long Sears.”  Evansville Living Magazine, March/April 2018.

Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1885

Posted in American history, Evansville, Indiana, history | Leave a comment

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

In the play Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare puts these words into a character’s mouth: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” It could be argued that all three of these apply to Robert Gould Shaw.

Shaw was born in Boston on October 10, 1837.  He “was born into one of the nation’s richest families. He had all the advantages of the fortunate— the easy life, famous friends, the best schools, finest clothes, widest travels, ripest food, and richest drink the world could offer. Yet, he died with sand in his mouth and sword in hand face down among the sons of the unfortunate and despised.” (Blue-Eyed, p. 2) The family were staunch abolitionists; indeed, they socialized with both William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe (Garrison was the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, and Stowe the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin).  The parents joined “the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1838, and by 1842, Francis [the father] was working with the Boston Vigilance Committee to help runaway slaves to freedom.” (Blue-Eyed, p. 4).

Portrait of Robert Gould Shaw, n.d. Source:

Portrait photograph of Robert Gould Shaw, n.d. Source:

Although clearly influenced by his upbringing, Shaw was not as fervent in his beliefs as were his parents.  They were reformers—he was not interested in that avocation.  He did the things a young man of his age and social status did—traveled abroad, studied, and enjoyed an active social life.  But he was patriotic, and in a December 11, 1855 letter home from Europe, he was vehement in his dislike for those who disparaged his country.  “As the years to Civil War wound down, Shaw increasingly felt that the Slave Power soiled the fabric of an otherwise great nation. When war came, he was primed to take revenge on the South for the abuse he wrote about on December 11, 1855. To him, the South was the transgressor, not the North. If it took the end of slavery to redeem the honor of America, and to end the embarrassment Northerners felt to be in the same union with an anachronistic system, then Shaw stood for that. If the North could avenge itself in battle against the South, then let her go with or without slavery intact, and leave the North as a separate nation, now more honorable for the fight, then Shaw stood for that. He never really felt the immorality of slavery the way the abolitionists did; he was never quite an abolitionist.  … He would join the navy if he could “cut some of their heads open” and thus stop the offensive words coming from mouths of those who blasphemed his America. In 1861, he joined the army to do just that to Southerners. He would hope that slavery would fall, but he did not enlist to fight for that goal.” (Blue-Eyed, p. 10).

Shortly after secession, he joined the Seventh New York National Guard.  This unit was very short lived, and he soon joined the Second Massachusetts Infantry, gaining an officer’s commission.  Surprisingly, he found his calling and proved to be a good soldier.  Twice wounded at Antietam, he rose to captain and was loyal to his unit, staying with it even when the only chance of earning a higher commission was to leave.

Poster for African-Americans to serve in the American Civil War: "Men of Color: To Arms! To Arms! Now or Never. This is our golden moment! The Government of the United States calls for every able-bodied colored man to enter the Army for the three years' service! And join in fighting the battles of liberty and the Union. A new era is open to us. For generations we have suffered under the horrors of slavery, outrage, and wrong; our manhood has been denied, our citizenship blotted out, our souls seared and burned, our spirits cowed and crushed and the hopes of the future of our race involved in doubt and darkness. Fail now, and our race is doomed! This is the soil of our birth. We must now awake, arise, or be forever fallen. If we value liberty, if we wish to be free in this land, if we love our country, if we love our families, our children, our home, we must strike now while our country calls; we must rise up in the dignity of our manhood, and show by our own right arms that we are worthy to be freeman. Our enemies have made the country believe that we are craven cowards, without soul, without manhood, without the spirit of soldiers. Shall we die with this stigma resting upon our graves! Shall we leave this inheritance of shame to our children? No! A thousand times NO! We WILL rise! The alternative is upon us. Let us rather die freeman than live to be slavces. What is life without liberty! We say that we have manhood: now is the time to prove it. A nation or a people that cannot fight may be pitied, but cannot be respected. If we would be regarded men, if we would forever silence the tongue of Calumny, of Prejudice and Hate, let us Rise Now and Fly to Arms! We have seen what Valor and Heroism our Brothers displayed at Port Hudson and Milliken's Bend, though they are just from the galling, poisoning grasp of slavery, they have startled the world by the most exalted heroism. If they have proved themselves heroes, cannot WE PROVE OURSELVES MEN! Are freemen less brave than slaves? More than a milion white men have left comfortable homes and joined the armies of the Union to save their country. Cannot we leave ours, and swell the hosts of the Union, to save our liberties, vindicate our manhood, and deserve well of our Country. MEN OF COLOR! the Englishmen, the Irishmen, the Frenchmen, the German, the American, have been called to assert their claim to freedom and a manly character, by an appeal to the sword. The day that has seen an enslaved race in arms has, in all history, seen their last trial. We now see that our last opportunity has come. If We are not lower in the scale of humanity than Englishmen, Irishmen, White Americans, and other races, we can show it now. Men of color, Brothers and Fathers, we appeal to you, by all your concern for yourselves and your liberties, by all your regard for God and humanity, by all your desire for Citizenship and Equality before the law by all your love for the Country, to stop at no subterfuge, listen to nothing that shall deter you from rallying for the Army. Come forward, and at once enroll your names for the three years' service. Strike now and you are henceforth and forever freeman! Source:

Union Army Recruitment Poster, 1863. Source:

In 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and authorized the raising of black regiments.  Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew, who had been a strong advocate of enlisting black soldiers, soon began to raise the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry.  It was critical that the unit have the best leader, and after much consideration, Andrew opted to offer it to Robert Gould Shaw.  He wrote to Shaw’s parents, hoping that family pressure would encourage the acceptance of the commission.  The parents were thrilled at this honor, and Francis Shaw set out to personally deliver this to his son, and then encamped at Stafford Court House, Virginia.  The son, loyal to his unit, refused.  Concurrently, he received a letter from his mother, with these words, “Well! I feel as if God had called you up to a holy work. You helped him at a crisis when the most important question is to be solved that has been asked since the world began. I know the task is arduous . . . but it is God’s work.” (Blue-Eyed, p. 24)  Perhaps out of guilt for failing his mother, for his lack of commitment to the cause, and/or from a sense of honor, two days later he telegraphed his father with a change of heart, and agreed to accept the commission.

Recruitment began in earnest.  Frederick Douglass “delivered” more than 100 men, including two of his own sons.  The grandson of Sojourner Truth enlisted. Let’s be clear about this—Shaw was no saint.  Despite his upbringing, he shared many of the prejudices of his time and was uncertain about the ability of the black man to fight.  However, he was determined that he, personally, not be seen as a failure, and thus persevered with discipline and training.  For all his exposure to the cause of abolition, Shaw had never spent much time around blacks.  As he spent time with his men, he began to evolve in his attitudes, learning to respect them, care about them, and defend them.  The men responded by respecting him, and the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry began to “gel” as a unit.

Members of a black unit, including white officers, faced consequences that white units did not.  Jefferson Davis had decreed that white officers of black units faced execution or harsh treatment if captured.  The Confederate Congress resolved that white officers would be hanged and black soldiers returned to slavery. (Blue-Eyed, p. 321-322)

On May 28, 1863 Shaw and his men marched through Boston as they set off for South Carolina, and then on to Darien, Georgia, where they saw their first action in a raid on the town.  In July the regiment was ordered back to South Carolina, to take part in the capture of Charleston. Shaw’s regiment would be fighting alongside white soldiers; a successful mission would go far to prove that black soldiers could, indeed, fight.  On July 16 Confederate soldiers attacked the Union forces; the battle raged back and forth, but finally the Rebels broke off the attack.  Shaw was overjoyed—his men performed so well that all the other troops credited them with saving the operation.

Map of Fort Wagner, n.d. Source:

Map of Fort Wagner, n.d. Source:

Two days later, they were on Morris Island, with orders to take Fort Wagner.  The Fifty-fourth would take the lead.  Shaw positioned himself in front, and the regiment surged across the beach and up the parapet. Some 1700 Confederate soldiers opened fire.  Shaw was shot in the chest, dying and falling into the fort. “Nearly half the regiment succeeded in pushing its way inside Wagner. The men held their ground on the wall for almost an hour before being forced to withdraw. The Confederates lost 174 men. Of the 600 men of the Fifty-fourth who charged the fort, 272 were killed, wounded, or captured. Additional casualties from the white regiments that followed brought Union losses to 1,515. Confederate gravediggers buried eight hundred Union soldiers in the sand in front of the fort the morning after the battle. Showing the contempt Southern whites held for the “principle line of the Abolitionists”—white officers leading black soldiers—the fort’s commander, Gen. Johnson Hagood, ordered Shaw thrown into a ditch with his men. The diggers made a trench, dropped Shaw’s body within it, threw the bodies of twenty of his men on top of him, and shoveled them over with sand.” (Blue-Eyed, p. 52-53)  When Shaw’s parents learned of his death, they naturally mourned his loss but were far from being offended at the manner of burial. They deemed the trench a holy place and asked that his body be left with those of his men.

Shortly after the battle, soldiers of the Fifty-fourth advocated for a memorial to their fallen leader, to be placed near the place where he fell.  Shaw’s father was on board, but for a number of reasons, this memorial was never built.  The monies raised towards it went for the first free school for African American children in Charleston, which was named for Shaw.   In 1865 an African American businessman named Joshua Benton Smith, who had worked for the Shaw family when Robert was young, called for a memorial in Boston.  In 1883, the commission for a sculpture was given to Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who completed the work in 1897.  “Saint-Gaudens always strove for perfection regarding realism. In this relief, he wanted to show a range in facial features and age, as found among the men of the regiment. This was the first time a monument depicted blacks realistically, and not as stereotypes. He hired African American men to pose, and modeled about 40 different heads to use as studies. His concern for accuracy also extended to the clothing and accoutrements.” (

At the unveiling on Boston Common, two of Shaw’s nephews and some 65 veterans of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry were present.

Unveiling on Boston Common, two of Shaw’s nephews and some 65 veterans of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry were present, 1897. Source:

The dedication of Augustus Saint-Garden’s memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment on Boston Common, 1897. Source:

Here’s a close-up of the memorial.

The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, n.d. Source:


Shaw’s heroism and sacrifice were also lauded by people who never knew him.  University Archives Special Collections has a collection of poetry (MSS 102) written by a woman who lived in New Harmony named Betsy Wells Hall.  She lived during the Civil War, and wrote a poem in memory of Abraham Lincoln, as well as one on the New Year 1862.  When she learned about Shaw’s death, she penned this in his honor and memory.

All glory to the honored brave,

            Though low in gory bed he lies

To rise up with each rescued slave

                               When the last trump shall rend the skies.

He calmly sleeps with the oppressed

                         With them shall find a welcome given

Well done thou faithful soul expressed

                    In the assembled court of Heaven.

Thus for and with the Saviour’s poor

                     With the down trodden dared to die

The cross he bravely did endure

                   His crown awaits him far on high.

The lurid clouds of war o’erspread

                                Fierce lightnings flashed across our sky,

Oppression reared his baleful head

            Repelled by free born liberty.

He led those who of late were slaves,

                    E’en now their manhood to obtain

He lies beside the freed men’s graves,

                      Hallowed amid the martyred slain.

The mighty conflict shakes the world,

            Satan at war against the right,

Around destructive engines hurled

                     Darkness contending with the light.

The hero Satan’s host withstood,

                      That equal rights might be secure

For liberty he shed his blood,

                        And died amid the Saviour’s poor.

            He’s now removed to brighter spheres,

                  Through clearer vista to survey

The progress of far future years

                   Freedom’s broad meridian day.


The story of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry and Robert Gould Shaw was also told in the Academy Award winning 1989 film Glory.  Matthew Broderick plays Shaw, and Denzel Washington, Andre Braugher, and Morgan Freeman portray soldiers in his regiment.  Rice Library owns this on DVD, and it is available to be checked out — DVDs PN1997 .G562 2000.

Movie cover of "Glory", winner of three 1989 Academy Awards, 1989.

Movie adaptation, “Glory”, 1989.

So, what do you think about Shaw?  Was he born great?  Did he achieve greatness?  Did he have greatness thrust upon him?  It is your call.

To learn more, look at these resources consulted for this posting.

Blue-eyed child of fortune [electronic resource] : the Civil War letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw / edited by Russell Duncan

deGregory, C. A. (2009). Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry. Freedom Facts & Firsts: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience, 189.

Glory [DVD].  Culver City, CA : TriStar, c2000.  DVDs PN1997 .G562 2000

Posted in American history, American Poetry, Civil War, movies | Leave a comment

Coming Soon: ArchivesFest

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

ArchivesFest is October 15-19 and October 22-26 in the University Archives and Special Collections at Rice L.ibrary.

ArchivesFest occurs October 15-19 and 22-26 in the University Archives & Special Collections. This is free event and opened to the public.

October is National Archives Month and in celebration, the University Archives and Special Collections is hosting a two-week long celebration, ArchivesFest. Check out historic books, artifacts, photographs, and documents from the University Archives and Special Collections and four local historical institutions:

  • Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science
  • Willard Library
  • Evansville African-American Museum
  • Reitz Home Museum
  • Lawrence Library

Join us to learn more about this local history from these historic institutions and the history they preserve. There will be two door prize giveaways during both weeks and are allowed one entry per day. Use the hashtag, #ArchivesFest, to post your photos and videos throughout the event. Check the David L. Rice Library Facebook and Twitter pages or continue to check for update through amUSIngArtifacts for more information. This event is free and open to the public.

Posted in #ArchivesFest, Archives, Historical preservation, Lawrence Library | Leave a comment