Saturday, December 13, 2008

CWL---Controlling the Violence of the 54th Massachusetts

Managing The Violence In The Fifty Fourth Massachusetts, in Battle Exhortation: The Rhetoric of Combat Leadership, Keith Yellin, University of South Carolina Press, 2008, pp. 94-101.

A controlled explosion. "All the discipline of drill, uniforms, codes of conduct are meant to ignite and yet contain the forces that can keep up this . . . wrath' of Civil War combat (p. 94). Can violent ardor be managed? Most readers of CWL are familiar with the film Glory. Fredrick Douglass and Governor John Andrew review the enthusiastic troops as they march through Boston and Colonel Shaw nods to his proud parents. During the war, there was the issue of arming the Negroes. Slaveholders worried about nighttime slave uprisings; slavery itself was viewed as a restraint upon savages. Northerners understood that it may be perfectly naturally for former slaves in blue uniforms may slip the shackles of military discipline. Had slavery crippled blacks? Would they be soldiers and not give in to docility or vengeance when faced with armed Southern soldiers?

Colonel Shaw reports in his letters and diary that General Montgomery let loose his black troops, former slaves, to loot and burn small towns in South Carolina. At dusk on July 18, 1863 the 54th Massachusetts was ordered into line of battle. In the film, special attention to devoted to the flags. Exactly two months, before the assault on Fort Wagner, Governor Andrew as he presented four flags to the regiment asked for manly character and manly zeal. Discretion and aggression required by the troops. On the banners were the words: liberty, loyalty, unity and the Latin phrase In hoc signo vinces (In this sign you will conquer). Andrew asked the troops to fight, win and return with dignity.

An eyewitness recalled Shaw's words to the troops before the assault began. 'Now I want you to prove yourselves men' and and reminded them that the eyes of thousands would look upon the night's work (p. 100).Of the failed assault by the 54th Massachusetts, The Atlantic Magazine that "the manhood of the colored races shines before many eyes that would not see." The Federal flag was set upon the ramparts and then carried back to the Union lines; the Massachusetts flag was sent upon the ramparts and was ripped from the staff by the Confederates. The staff was carried back to the Union lines were lost at Fort Wagner.

Image Source: Keith Rocco is among the best contemporary Civil War and Napoleonic War artists.

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