Albert Kendrick was recruited for the 35th in early 1862, after the regiment had been in uniform for about nine months of their 2-year enlistment. He joined in April 1862 as a private, and was steadily promoted through the year to second lieutenant. The Thirty-fifth participated in the battles of Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam and Fredericksburg. The regiment mustered out of the army in June 1863—just a month before the Battle of Gettysburg.
My latest “Faces of War” column in the Civil War News is the story of Union naval officer Thomas Armstrong and how the ship on which he served, the Hollyhock, went up against the Confederate Webb. An excerpt:
A side-wheel steamer laden with cotton chugged along the Mississippi River above New Orleans early on April 24, 1865. Her crew lounged about the deck, dressed in army overcoats to counter the morning chill, and casually smoked cigars or picked their teeth. The Stars and Stripes hung above them at half-mast, in mourning for the slain president.
This section of the river was crowded with vessels of all classes, including federal gunboats and military support ships. All the navy vessels were on high alert after a reliable report stated that a Confederate ram was moving in their direction. Word also reached the citizens of the city, who had gathered in the streets and along the levees to await the arrival of the rebels. According to an account published in the New York Herald, the fleet “looked for something of the Merrimac style of iron-clads.”
One of the sailors in New Orleans was Thomas Armstrong. An English immigrant who had joined the navy in 1861, he had been stationed in the Pelican City since it fell to Union forces in 1862. He had recently been appointed third assistant engineer and assigned to the supply ship Hollyhock, a paddle-wheel steamer armed with three guns.
On the morning of June 18, 1864, Pvt. Payson Wolf trudged through the streets of Petersburg, Va., with other battered and bloodied Union prisoners of war. The captives were herded into an old tobacco barn with hundreds of other bluecoats to await their fate in the hands of Confederate military authorities.
Only hours earlier, Wolf had come out on the wrong end of a rare nighttime assault, which put him and his comrades in an advanced position near the formidable defenses of the Cockade City. They had been attacked by veteran North Carolina troops and compelled to surrender after a brief and brutal fight.
The prisoners were quickly divested of their muskets; one company of Tar Heels jumped at the opportunity to trade their worn weapons for the captured guns. They soon noticed that the wooden musket stocks had been ornately carved with fish, snakes, turtles and other animals – perhaps their first clue that their captives were no ordinary Union soldiers.
The 54th Massachusetts Infantry is the best known of all the African American regiments in the Civil War. Some are aware that another African American infantry regiment, the 55th, was also organized in Massachusetts.
There was also an African American cavalry regiment formed in Massachusetts—the 5th. It was one of the first Union regiments to occupy Richmond on April 3, 1865, after the city was evacuated. Among the white officers of the regiment who entered the Confederate capital that day was the young man pictured here, 1st Lt. Patrick Tracy Jackson Jr.
This sketch of his life was published on pages 39-40 of the Harvard College Class of 1865:
PATRICK TRACY JACKSON, the oldest son of Patrick Tracy Jackson second of the name and Susan Mary (Loring) Jackson, was born in Boston, December 19, 1844, and died at Pride’s Crossing, Beverly, October 12, 1918. He was educated at the schools of Miss Ware, Mr. Sullivan, and Mr. Dixwell, where he distinguished himself in the athletics proper to his age.
The Civil War breaking out just before he entered college at once became the principal interest in his life, and after an abortive attempt to go to the front with the New England Guards to defend Washington during the retreat of General Banks in the Shenandoah Valley, he showed that he was in earnest by volunteering on the hospital ship Daniel Webster in his freshman vacation.
Toward the end of his sophomore year, he received a commission as Second Lieutenant in the First Mass. Cavalry, and joined the army during the battle of Chancellorsville. In the march from Chancellorsville to Gettysburg his regiment had only five hours sleep a day for a week, and once he was in the saddle for twenty-five hours without rest. In his entirely unacclimated state he was unable to bear such fatigue and was sent home with typhoid fever before the Battle of Gettysburg. When he returned to the front, he went through an active campaign with the Army of the Potomac for more than a year. Then he accepted a commission as First Lieutenant in the Fifth Mass. Cavalry (colored). After spending some time in guarding rebel prisoners at Point Lookout, Maryland, the regiment was sent to the front, and was one of the first to enter Richmond. After the fall of the Confederacy he was sent to Texas to guard the Mexican frontier for fear of trouble with Maximilian. When at last he got away from the army, he went into business with his father in the Hampden Mills, manufacturing ginghams and other cotton goods, and after learning the business in the mill at Holyoke, entered the office in Boston. The mill failed in 1875, and he and his father started business as cotton buyers. After his father’s death the firm, which now included his son, Arthur, took a commanding position in the buying of Egyptian cotton in the Boston market.
In 1871 he married Eleanor Baker Gray; and they had four children: Patrick Tracy Jackson, Arthur Loring Jackson, Susan Loring Jackson (who married John Noble) and Frederick Gray Jackson. He lived in Cambridge until 1917 when he moved to the Hotel Vendome, Boston, for the rest of his life. He took part in the social and dramatic activities of the Executive Committee of the Unitarian Church there. He was also treasurer of the Boston Provident Association (a charitable society) and an enthusiastic member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion.
His summers were passed at Pride’s Crossing where his classmates Goddard and Tweed gave him many opportunities to gratify his strong love of yachting. For many years he was treasurer of the Eastern Yacht Club.
Toward the end of his life he did a great deal of travelling, his first journeys being to South America, to Para in Brazil and later to La Paz in Bolivia, to see his son, Arthur, who was buying rubber in those places. Later he and his wife went abroad every spring, after the cotton-buying season came to an end, returning in the summer before it began again. In this way they visited the principal countries of Europe. War was declared just as they had started for home on a German steamer, which was the last to reach America.
After they were cut off from Europe, they took journeys to the South and to California. In 1918 trouble with his heart developed with at last fatal results, but it interfered little with his occupations or amusements in the half-year before his death, which came instantly on the 12th of October, 1918,—an easy end of a happy and useful life.
Today I will be visiting the offices of the National African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington to deliver the diary pictured here. It was kept by 2nd Lt. John Freeman Shorter in 1865—his last year with the 55th Massachusetts Infantry and the last of his life. Shorter, who is descended from Elizabeth (Betty) Hemings, through her daughter (and Sally Hemings’s sister or half-sister) Betty Brown, died of disease a few weeks after he returned to his home and fiancé in Ohio.
I spent three months working on the diary, with the help of my wife Anne and several friends who were truly generous with their time: Julie Baker, Susan Sukys Evanko and Phyllis M. Sukys. The transcription would not have been completed without their efforts.
The diary was purchased by Tom Liljenquist earlier this year at a Civil War show. He and I will make the visit to the Museum to formally donate the precious volume today.
Shorter was in a South Carolina hospital recovering from a crippling foot wound he suffered at the Battle of Honey Hill, S.C., on November 30, 1864. His daily entries record visits by comrades, friends and dignitaries including Martin Robison Delany. Shorter describes his recovery, notes wounded and sick soldiers from Sherman’s army arriving at the hospital during the march through the Palmetto State, the surrender by Gen. Lee of the Army of Northern Virginia, and the assassination of President Lincoln.
Each entry averages 30-35 words, and starts with a description of the weather before noting details of the day. Shorter does not share his feelings, and I can’t help but wonder if he intended someday to write a memoir of his wartime experience with this diary as a reference to remind him of day-to-day activities.
His last full entry was recorded on Friday, September 22, 1865. It is a typical entry, lacking punctuation and capital letters:
the morning clear and
pleasant quite a
number of the Officers
went to Boston on
business, nothing going
on on the Island
is written a letter
to my Father
reported that the
paymaster is by
command Paying off the
Regiment in the
This sketch of his life and service appears in the regimental history, Record of the service of the Fifty-fifth regiment of Massachusetts volunteer infantry:
John Freeman Shorter was born in Washington, D.C., in the year 1842. His father was for a long time messenger in the United-States Senate. At the time of his enlistment, Lieut. Shorter was working as a mechanic in Delaware, Ohio. With few early advantages, he had acquired by hard study a good English education. In the spring of 1863, hearing of the organization of the Massachusetts regiments, he left home, and joined the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, then recruiting at Readville. June 24, 1864, he was appointed First Sergeant of Company D. In this position, he proved himself to be an excellent Orderly. Quiet, reserved, modest, he yet held his company in the firmest control. With every soldierly quality, from scrupulous neatness to unflinching bravery, he well merited the reputation of the best non-commissioned officer in the regiment. As such, he was selected for the first promotion from the ranks, and was commissioned as Second Lieutenant by Gov. Andrew, March 24, 1864. The department commander (Brig. -Gen. John P. Hatch) refused him a discharge as Private and muster as Lieutenant, because ” men of African descent could not be commissioned in the United-States Volunteers ! ” While occupying the anomalous position of an officer commissioned and not yet mustered, he was wounded in the foot, at Honey Hill, S.C., Nov. 30, 1864. By this wound he was so severely crippled, that, when the Secretary of War finally decided to recognize colored line-officers, a special order was necessary to authorize his remuster. Notwithstanding this wound, he continued on duty with the regiment after returning from the hospital, and was finally mustered as Second Lieutenant, July 1, 1865. When the Fifty-fifth returned to Massachusetts, he accompanied them, and was discharged with his company, Aug. 29, 1865. He set out directly for Delaware, Ohio, where the young lady resided to whom he was engaged to be married. On the way, he was exposed to the contagion of the small-pox, which his constitution, weakened by wounds, could not resist ; and, soon after arriving at his destination, he died of varioloid.
The officers and men of the regiment will retain him in very pleasant and honorable remembrance. In person he was tall, of muscular build, with head carried a trifle forward, hair light, complexion almost white, and blue eyes, whose lively expression brightened a face otherwise somewhat grave. He was very reticent ; but his few words were crisp, earnest, and to the point. A thorough soldier and a thorough man, he earned and worthily filled the grade to which he was promoted, and amply justified the friendship of the officers of the regiment and the State authorities of Massachusetts, who had urged upon the United-States Government the justice and the policy of the final recognition of the rights of his race, implied in opening to them promotion from the ranks.
On June 5, I discussed African American Faces of the Civil War to a great group gathered at the Ft. Taber Community Center in New Bedford, Mass. Sponsored by the New Bedford Historical Society, the attendees included Carl Cruz, great-great-grand-nephew of Sgt. William H. Carney of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. I had met Carl at the National Gallery of Art at last year’s opening of the Shaw Memorial exhibit. The New Bedford Civil War Round Table also sponsored the event, and I’m grateful to the many folks who turned out. I am also indebted to organizer Lee Blake, and John Centeio for his kindness.
On June 13, I spoke to another great group at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., just outside Albany. Organizer Matt George of the Capital District Civil War Round Table. The event was co-sponsored by the Underground Railroad History Project. Special thanks to the three young re-enactors who attended, dressed in their uniforms.
I am grateful for the invitations, and happy to have had the opportunity to tell the stories and share the photos of men of color who participated in our Civil War.
Sylvanus Backus (born 1839) was appointed an acting midshipman to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1857 from his home state of Michigan. After the Civil War began, he received an appointment as a lieutenant, and served on the Constellation, Ohio and Mohongo. He left the navy in 1866, and died about 1915.
His story, and this carte de visite by Hodcend & Degoix of Genes (Genoa, Italy), will be featured in my forthcoming book about the Civil War navies.
The commander of the Union gunboat Albatross, John Elliot Hart was a native New Yorker who began his navy career in 1841 and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1847. During the Civil War, he was attached to the West Gulf Squadron, where he served on several ships in and about the Mississippi River. He took charge of the Albatross in October 1862 and served in this capacity in June 1863 when he was stricken with yellow fever. On June 11, 1863, he committed suicide with a revolver in his cabin.
His brother officers knew that Hart was a Mason and determined he should have a burial that honored his membership in this organization. They took the body ashore the next day under a flag of truce and arranged a funeral service with Confederate Masons in St. Francisville, La.
Beginning in 1999, St. Francisville marked the event with a festival and called it “The Day the War Stopped.” The festival is still held today.