Description

    [54th Massachusetts Regiment]. Lieutenant Nathan Daniel Sawyer Autograph Letter Signed to Luis Emilio, a captain in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Colored) who authorized the regimental history of the 54th Massachusetts. Fourteen pages (three bifoliums and one single sheet), "Camp 2nd Mass. Inf. Near Stafford C.H.Va," May 30 and October 23, 1863. Lt. Sawyer writes a fascinating and lengthy letter full of details about the Battle of Gettysburg, "Colonel Shaw" [Robert Gould Shaw], the 54th Regiment's charge on Fort Wagner, and the New York Draft Riots. Sympathetic toward black Americans, he also praises the "colored man" for volunteering in the 54th. The original yellow transmittal envelope postmarked from Mississippi in October 1863 and addressed to "Capt. Luis F. Emilio / 54th Mass. Inf. / Morris Island, Charleston Har. S.C. / Via Washington" is included. The envelope is docketed on the reverse and bears only slight soiling. The letters, too, bear only slight soiling and are age-toned with folds.

    Nathan Daniel Sawyer enlisted in the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry, Co. "A" as a twenty-two-year-old farmer in May 1861. After a steady number of promotions, he mustered out in May 1865 as a captain. He was wounded several times (as he mentions in this letter): at the battles of Winchester, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Peach Tree Creek. After the war, Captain Luis Emilio authored Brave Black Regiment in 1891, documenting the history of the celebrated colored regiment.

    The young lieutenant wrote the first two pages of the letter on May 30, 1863; then he wrote pages 3-14 from Lowell on October 23, 1863. The reason for the gap, he explains in the letter, was that "at that time, we had just returned from the battle of Chancellorsville; I had written the preceeding two pages, when we were suddenly ordered off, and were on the move more or less from that time until the battle of Gettysburg not once pitching our tents." Sawyer goes on to explain that he had been wounded at Gettysburg since he began the letter: "You see this wound is in the front part of the thigh half way between the knee and body - the principle muscle or nerve or cord or whatever it may be was cut, thus causing lameness for a long while. . . . I am tired of limping."

    Offering thoughts on the war and "colored men" in the army, he writes, "To use every means in our power to put down this Rebellion, I believe is our duty - and for every colored man in our army a white man is saved; and they are willing and proud to render their service; and I believe they will prove a terrible power against their enemies and ours. This is what I have longed to see, colored men fighting for their liberty." Sawyer knew Robert Gould Shaw because the two had served together in the 2nd Massachusetts, before Shaw was transferred into the 54th. Writing about Shaw's death, which had occurred earlier on July 18, 1863, at Fort Wagner, Sawyer writes, "Col. Shaw is mourned by many aside from his officers & men in the 54th - he could not fill a more honorable grave, though the spirit which gave it him was so demonic. I wanted Capt. Smith to tell me the particulars about the charge of your Regt. on Fort Wagner, but didn't see him but a few moments. That was a desperate affair, and must have fully proved the metal of your men."

    Sawyer gives Emilio many details about his experience at Gettysburg. "Our fight at Gettysburg was, I think, the stearnest fight we have had tho' the loss was not greater than it has been several times before, we went into action with two hundred and ninety (290) and came out with 125 men - in my company there were thirty five, and after the fight ten men. . . . We got so close to the enemy that every shot that hit was very severe. We were right in among them, and I believe you were at Wagner. . . . My Regt. is now with Rosencrans - now Grants Army. . . . Many people are dissatisfied with the final result of the Gettysburg battle, because Gen. Meade did not totally destroy or capture Lee's Army . . . both parties were pretty well used up." Sawyer then gives details about the Confederate positions at the battle." About the New York Draft Riots he writes, "My Regt. came to New York for two weeks, all I regret is that they were not there in season to fire into that disgraceful mob - they would not have used blank cartridges I assure you."


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    Auction Dates
    April, 2015
    9th Thursday
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