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    Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the elite 54th Massachusetts black regiment, writes, "What beastly generals we have had!"

    Robert Gould Shaw Archive, containing three letters written and signed by Shaw (along with one partial unsigned letter); two letters written by his sister, Susanna; and fourteen envelopes. Shaw is best known for his death as a Union colonel leading the 54th Regiment, the most famous black regiment of the Civil War, in a frontal assault on Fort Wagner. In this archive, the famous soldier criticizes Union generals and the Lincoln administration for their alleged mismanagement of the war. Included is an envelope addressed by Shaw to his sister and postmarked only seven days before his death at Fort Wagner. All letters are boldly written and easily legible.

    Four Robert Gould Shaw letters (all are written to his sister, Susanna):
    (1) Autograph Letter Signed. Two pages, 4.75" x 8", Washington, Virginia, August 1, 1862, signed "Your ever loving Brother" and written to "My dearest Susie", with envelope addressed to "Miss Shaw" of New York. In this letter, the Union officer congratulates his sister on her engagement to Robert Minturn. With folds.
    (2) Autograph Letter Signed. Five pages, 4.5" x 7", New York, September 3, 1862, signed "Ever your loving R." and written to "My dear girl", with envelope addressed to "Miss Shaw" at Nahant, Massachusetts. In this fascinating letter, Shaw reports on the different war sentiments in four cities: Boston, where residents were involved in various "workings" for the Union; New York, where residents were "blue, cursing the government"; Newport, where residents didn't seem to know that "any war was going on"; and Baltimore, where "there is a perfect panic" due to Southern sympathies there. Shaw adds his own criticism of the Lincoln administration's management of the war: "The administration seems to think people are as great fools as they. The official bulletin this morning tells us that the authorities at the War Department were never in better spirits! Do they think they cheat the people by such lies, or that their acts of despotism will be more readily submitted to when it is clear that they are not only despots but fools. I see they have lost a 'jackass battery' [small howitzers carried by mules], captured on Monday by the rebels. There will be no difficulty in finding animals for another in Washington. . . . It would be a reversal of all the rules that Providence has established . . . if such men as our Union Generals could succeed against such men as the Rebels have in command." This letter bears weakness and some separation at the folds; the lower portion of one page has completely separated.
    (3) Autograph Letter Signed. Eight pages, 4.5" x 7.25", Locust Wood, September 7, 1862, signed "Your loving R." Writing to "My dear girl", Shaw expresses his concern that "there are a good many who talk of . . . peaceable separation. . . . I enclose an extract from a speech which Cassius Clay has just delivered, and [William G.] Brownlow, who was as strong as anybody, now says that the government seems so incompetent in relieving the loyal men of East Tennessee that he shall endorse their giving up. It seems by the news today that the rebels have got into Maryland. . . . From what I can hear our army is very much demoralized. What beastly generals we have had!" Also in this letter, Shaw alludes to a previous letter he wrote in which he explained his position on emancipation: "When I wrote you on Friday, I used up all my time & paper in explaining your Extraordinary misunderstanding of my views on Emancipation." Weakness, with some separation at the folds.
    (4) Partial Autograph Letter. Two pages, 5" x 5", n.p., n.d. This is the postscript from a longer letter. "What do you think," Shaw writes, likely to Susie, "of the restoration of McClellan, and the abandonment of any attempt at an offensive policy - for a long time, I fear." With envelope.

    Two Susanna Shaw letters (both to her brother, Robert Shaw):
    (1) Autograph Letter Signed. Four pages, [New York], May 30 [1861], to "My dear Rob" at Camp Andrew, West Roxbury, Massachusetts. In this letter, written near the beginning of the Civil War, Susie writes, "I am glad you like your work so much; it seems as if you had really found your place, doesn't it?" She continues, "Wasn't it hard that that young Ellesworth [Elmer Ellsworth] should have been shot. They say he was engaged to some one in Brooklyn. An only son too." (Ellsworth, who was killed on May 24, 1861, is noted as possibly the earliest casualty of the Civil War.) With accompanying envelope.
    (2) Autograph Letter. Four pages, New York, March 21 [1862]. Susie requests, "Do write me all about the doings in your regiment . . . and if you are brought nearer to a captaincy." (Shaw was promoted to a captain in August 1862.) With envelope addressed to "Lieut. R. G. Shaw."

    This archive also contains nine additional envelopes. One, addressed by Shaw to his newly married sister, Susie ("Mrs. Robert B. Minturn Jr./ Care [of] Messr. Grimell Minturn of New York"), is postmarked "Port Royal, S.C., July 11, 1863", seven days before Colonel Shaw's death on July 18 at Fort Wagner on Morris Island, South Carolina. (Port Royal is less than eighty miles east of Morris Island.) The top left corner of the envelope is torn.

    Six of the remaining envelopes are Civil War-dated and addressed to Susie. Several still contain the original red seal; all are toned. The final two envelopes are addressed to "Lieut. R. G. Shaw/ Comp. F. 2nd Mass. Volunteers./ Genl. Banks' Division/ War Office Washington", with slight variation in the wording.

    Robert Gould Shaw won fame when he was killed leading the 54th Massachusetts black regiment in their near suicidal assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, on July 18, 1863. Earlier in the summer of 1861, the twenty-three-year-old student and Boston resident had enlisted as a 2nd lieutenant in the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry. In the spring of 1863, Shaw was promoted to a colonel and given leadership of the 54th. The soldiers of the 54th impressed Shaw with their dedication and valor, which they demonstrated during the Fort Wagner assault. Shaw's leadership of the regiment is portrayed in the film Glory (1989) and some of his letters are quoted in Ken Burns' documentary, The Civil War (1990). War-dated letters of Shaw are rare.

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