Scholarly Editing

The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing

2013, Volume 34

"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864

Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4
Complete Issue: The Anglo-African (7 November 1863)
Elizabeth B. Sedgwick,  "'Buried With His Niggers'"  The Anglo-African (7 November 1863): [4]View Poem Image
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"BURIED WITH HIS NIGGERS."[1]

"When the body of Col. Robert G. Shaw[2] was asked of
those rebels in the midst of whom he fell, it was replied:
"He is buried with his niggers."
Buried with a band of brothers[3] Who for him would fain have died; Buried with the gallant fellows Who fell fighting by his side.
Buried with the men God gave him, Those whom he was sent to save; Buried with the martyred heroes, He has found an honored grave.
Buried where his dust so precious Makes the soil a hallowed spot; Buried where, by Christian patriot, He shall never be forgot.
Buried in the ground accursed, Which man's fettered feet have trod; Buried where his voice still speaketh, Appealing for the slave to God.
Fare thee well, thou noble warrior, Who in youthful beauty went On a high and holy mission, By the God of battles sent.
Chosen of Him, "elect and precious,"[4] Well didst thou fulfil thy part: When thy country "counts her jewels," She shall wear thee on her heart.
Evening Post.[6]

Notes

  1. This poem also appeared in the National Anti-Slavery Standard of October 31, 1863. The text of the poem is the same in both printings. Although the Anglo-African credited the Evening Post, the poem likely was reprinted from the Standard.Go back
  2. Robert Gould Shaw (1837–July 18, 1863) was colonel of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, the first regiment of African American volunteers raised in the North, authorized in late January 1863 and mustered into the US service on May 13. Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts received War Department authorization to raise the first Northern regiment of African American volunteers in January 1863. Determined to form a model regiment, Andrew took care to select advisers, officers, and recruiters with antislavery convictions or connections; he offered Shaw the regiment's colonelcy at the end of January, on the basis of the young captain's military record and his wealthy family's influence in reform circles. Shaw turned Andrew down; he did not have abolitionist principles to trump his strong attachment to the Second Massachusetts Infantry. His mother persuaded him to think again.
     
    Black leaders called on men to enlist and thereby seize their "golden opportunity" and "first best chance" to establish an undeniable claim to the full rights of American citizens (Frederick Douglass, "Men of Color, to Arms!" reprinted in the Anglo-African, March 7, 1863, [2]; editorial, Anglo-African, March 7, 1863, [2]). The Fifty-Fourth quickly filled with men "from virtually every black community in the North" (Donald Yacovone, A Voice of Thunder: A Black Soldier's Civil War [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998], 31). A number of the new recruits would provide the Anglo-African and the Christian Recorder with correspondence from the front during their term of service. Both titles served as a channel of communication between distant volunteers and the folks at home.
     
    Under Shaw's command, the regiment took shape at Camp Meigs in Readville, Massachusetts. On May, 28, 1863, after weeks of training, the men paraded through Boston's cheering streets and then embarked on the steamer De Molay, bound for South Carolina's Sea Islands and the theater of war. On July 18, 1863, Shaw and the Fifty-Fourth courageously led a frontal attack on Morris Island's (South Carolina) Fort Wagner. Their bravery could not compensate for General Quincy Gillmore's poor planning; the assault failed, and 272 members of the regiment were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner (Russell Duncan, ed., Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Col. Robert Gould Shaw [Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999], 52). Northern newspapers reported that Fort Wagner's Confederate garrison had buried Shaw in a mass grave with his men. Abolitionists reinterpreted the Confederate gesture of contempt as a mark of distinction. Shaw's parents made known their wish that his body should not be disturbed: "We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave & devoted soldiers, if we could accomplish it by a word" (letter dated August 3, 1863, quoted in Duncan, 54).
    Go back
  3. Perhaps an allusion to Shakespeare's King Henry V. Before the battle of Agincourt, Henry rallies his outnumbered soldiers with the promise of immortal fame and a vision of fraternity; each year, proud survivors will keep the battle's anniversary and pass on the story. The king also declares that a battlefield bond will elevate every soldier to noble rank, and thus level the feudal hierarchy: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. / For he today that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile, / This day shall gentle his condition" (act 4, scene 3, Henry V, ed. T. W. Craik [London: Arden Shakespeare, 1995]).Go back
  4. Possibly a reference to the contemporary hymn "Saint of God, Elect and Precious," which celebrated the martyrdom of St. Stephen. A Christ-parallel is also implicit: see 1 Peter 2:6, "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded."Go back
  5. Elizabeth Buckminster Dwight Sedgwick (1801–1864), sister-in-law of Catharine Maria Sedgwick, was headmistress of a girls' school in Lenox, Massachusetts, from 1829 until 1859. Like Robert Gould Shaw, Sedgwick's son William served in the Second Massachusetts Infantry. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862) and died almost two weeks later; Sedgwick and her daughter nursed him in the days before his death ("Charles Sedgwick Papers, 1813–1908: Guide to the Collection," Massachusetts Historical Society).
     
    Shaw knew the Sedgwick family. In a letter dated March 17, 1863, he told his mother that he had passed a pleasant visit at Lenox with "Mrs. Charles and [Mrs.] Willie Sedgwick" (Elizabeth and her daughter-in-law, Louisa) and that he had told them "a great deal" about William. Elizabeth he described as "one of the most patriotic women I have seen" (Russell Duncan, ed., Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Col. Robert Gould Shaw [Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999], 308–9).
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  6. The New York Evening Post, founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801. William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878) began to write for the title in 1826, having struggled to make a living as a poet; by 1830 he was the Post's editor-in-chief, and the daily's financial prospects looked good (Allan Nevins, The Evening Post: A Century of Journalism [New York: Russell and Russell, 1968], 134-136). Committed to Free Soil principles, Bryant severed the Post's connection with the Democratic Party in response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) and backed the fledgling Republican Party in 1856. He threw his weight behind Lincoln's presidential campaign in 1860. Although the Post remained staunchly Republican throughout the war, Bryant did not shrink from criticizing Lincoln's policies. The Post "shared with the Tribune the advocacy of what came to be called the 'radical' Republican doctrines during the Civil War—namely, emancipation, the need of strong and swift military measures, and the removal of pro-slavery and Democratic leaders from the government and army" (Frank Luther Mott, American Journalism: A History of Newspapers in the United States Through Twenty Years, 1690–1940 [New York: Macmillan, 1941], 5:344).Go back