54th Regiment Pay Letters, 1864

This document includes transcripts of letters from various members of the MA 54th protesting their unequal pay and demanding that they receive thesame treatment as all other Massachusetts volunteers. 


To His Excellency John A. Andrew Governor of Massachusetts


Copies of your address delivered to the Legislature of Massachusetts Nov. 11 1893 have been received in this regiment. Such parts of it as recommend to General Court to authorize the payment to the enlisted men of the 54th Mass Vols of that portion of the lawful monthly pay of United States volunteers which ahs been or may be refused them by the Paymaster of the United States are received unfavorably by the enlisted men of this Regiment. They were enlisted and mustered into the service of the United States with the understanding that they would be treated in all respects as other soldiers from Massachusetts. They will refuse to accept any money from the United States until the United States is willing to pay them according to thee terms of their enlistment. They feel that by accepting a portion of their just dues from Massachusetts and a portion from the United States, they would be acknowledging a right on the part of the United States to draw a distinction between them and other soldiers from Massachusetts, and in so doing they would compromise their self respect. They enlisted because men were called for and because the Government signified its willing use to accept them as such not because of the money offered them. They would rather work and fight until they are mustered out of service without any pay than accept from the Government less than it gives to other soldiers from Massachusetts and by so accepting acknowledge that because they have African blood in their veins, they are less men than those who have saxon.

Thanking you on behalf of the men for the kind spirit you have always manifested in your efforts to establish their just rights.

I remain
Very Respectfully
Your Obt. Svt.
E.N. Hallowell
Col. 54th Ma

Head Quarters 54th Mass Vols
Morris [Island] SC Jan 14, 1864

The 54th Mass Vols was called forward + organized under a law enacted on the twenty second day of July, 1861 entitled “An Act to authorize the employment of volunteers to aid in enforcing the laws and protecting public property.” The recruiting officers under instructions from Gov. Andrews the authorized agent of the Sec. of War promised the men the same pay,, rations, clothing, and the same treatment in all respects as soldiers from Massachusetts. The original enlisted rolls pledge the men to service in the capacity of soldiers on the above mentioned terms.

The first man was enlisted in Boston Feb. 10, 1863. The regiment left the state with full ranks May 18, 1863. It has lost since that time in action enlisted men 39, wounded 155, missing 115, by disease 25. The U.S. Paymaster has refused to recognize it as a Mass. Regt. and refuses to pay the enlisted men more than seven dollars per month and three dollars per month in clothes. Six dollars and a half per month less than the amt. promised. The amount of fatigue work done by them has rendered it necessary for them to draw more than the usual amount of clothing so that those who have been discharged for disability are actually in debt to the govt.

Having been in the service nearly one year without the pay promised them, they naturally concluded that they will never get it and ask through me their representative, that they be paid according to the terms of their enlistment from the date of enrollment or that they be mustered out of service.

I have the honor to be
Very respectfully
Your obt servt
E.N. Hallowell
Col. Of Regt. Mass Vols.

Head Quarters 54th Mass Vols
Jacksonville Fla March 3rd 1864

Captain Samuel Breck
Asst Adjutant General

I have the honor [to] return enclosed letter from Mrs.

Nancy M. Weir requesting a discharge for her son James S. Weir, Private of Company D 54 Mass Vols.

Private Weir was enlisted under false representations his having been promised by the authorized agents the same bounty pay rations as is given to white soldiers. The case is the same with all the men in the regiment. In my opinion, they should all be mustered out of the service. Many of their families have suffered severely because the Government has failed to fulfill its contract with them.

I have the honor to be
Very respectfully
(signed) E.N. Hallowell
Col. Commandg Regt.

Head Quarters 54th Mass Vols
Jacksonville Fla March 3rd 1864

Major E.D. Judd
Paymaster U.S.A.

I wish most respectfully to remind you that the officers of my regiment have not been paid since the first of Nov. 1863 and to ask what you send some one with the funds to pay them. It may save useless trouble to state that the enlisted men refuse to take any pay unless you are prepared to pay them according to the terms of enlistment reg. $13 per mo. and $3.50 per mo. in clothes.

I have the honor to be Major
Very respectfully your
Obedient Servant
(signed) E.N. Hallowell
Col. 54th Mass Vols.

Head. Quarters. Mass Vols.
Morris Island S.C.
16 May 1864

To His Excellency
John A. Andrew

I have the honor to inform you that 1st Lieut. E.G. Tomlinson has been discharged per G.O. No. 166 War Dept. dated May 3rd 1864 on account of wounds received in battle of Olustee Feb. 20th 1864. I respectfully suggest that 2d Lieut. Thomas S. Bridgham be commissioned first Lieut. to fill the vacancy. I presume F.L. Lee has a name to suggest for 2d Lieut. We are all delighted to learn that Congress has decided to recognize us as soldiers.

I am sir
Very respectfully your
Obedient servant
(signed) E.N. Hallowell
Col. Commdg Regt.

Hd. Qrs. Mass Vols.
Morris Island S.C.
19 May 1864

David Wilder jr. Esq.

Your favor of May 5th is received. If it is possible, I would very much like to have Maj. Sturges present when the men are paid. I think he might induce many of them to send money home who otherwise would not. Quite a number are indebted to the state through him and they have confidence in him. After the first payment it is quite likely they may be induced to send it through their officers.

We have not been officially advised of the intention of the Govt to pay them but I shall write to the Paymaster of this Dept asking him to inform his Excellency, the Governor, of his intention in time to have Maj. Sturges sent down.

Very respectfully,
(signed) E.N. Hallowell
Col. Commdg 54th Mass Vols.

Head Qrs. 54 Mass Vols.
Morris Island S.C.
June 14th, 1864

To His Excellency John A. Andrew
Governor of Massachusetts

I have the honor to state that the 54th Mass Vols. Have been serving in the field more than one year and have not as yet been recognized as Massachusetts soldiers. I therefore respectfully request that you demand of the Secretary of War that the regiment be sent back to Massachusetts and mustered out of the service of the United States.

I have the honor to be
Very respectfully your Obt. Servt
E.N. Hallowell
Col. Commdg. 54th Mass Vols.

Head Quarters 54 Mass Volunteers
Morris Island September 19, 1864

To His Excellency John A. Andrew Governor of Massachusetts

Dear Sir

I respectfully request that Charles F. Gay of Brighton Mass now a Sergeant in the 2nd Mass heavy Artillery stationed at Fort Stephenson N.C. be commissioned a second Lieutenant in this regiment.

Sergeant Stephen A. Swails is not yet mustered as an officer because he is believed to have African blood in him! How can we hope for success to our aim of Gods blessing in any shape while we as a nation are so blind to justice?

The men now expect to be paid according to the terms of their enlistment about the first of October. I administered the following oath to them “You do solemnly swear that on or before the 19th day of April 1864, no man had the right to demand unrequited labor of you so help you lord.” None of them objected to taking the oath and I mustered them accordingly. The Paymaster has written me he will bring the money to us in about two weeks, he has it all ready and is only waiting to make the necessary calculation upon the roles. The men have been deceived so often in this matter they are not willing to send the money home in the usual manner but say they would “rather have it in their own hands first.” Adams Express Co has kindly promised to send an agent along with the Paymaster to receipt for such sums as they may conclude to send. Pay day will be our day of thanksgiving and prayer, for we will have won a victory as important to our men as the taking of Atlanta was to the nation.

Six Companies of the regiment now form part of this Guard over the camp of Rebel officers. Prisoners of War situated under the guard of Fort Wagner and near the grave of their beloved Colonel Saw. Some of these same rebel officers were in Fort Wagner on the memorable night when we assaulted it and say they saw colonel Shaw fall shot by one of the 57th N.C. regiment.

Our men are proud of the honor of guarding these Rebels but they do not like to see them starved even in retaliation, when off duty they say it is all in fight, but when on duty if a man begs them for something to eat, it is hard not to be allowed to yield to the feeling which prompts them to do good to those who respectfully ask them. The Rebel ration is for Breakfast on cracker, Dinner two crackers 1⁄2 lb. meat 1/5 pint beans Supper one cracker no Tea or Coffee.

Very Respectfully
Your Obt. Servant
(sgd) E.N. Hallowell
Col. Cmdg. 54 Mass Vols


“MA 54th Regiment Document Transcription”. M1659 Roll 1, Records of the 54th Mass Inf. Regt. (Colored) 1863-1865. Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, MA.