James Wallace – Great Grandfather of Ruth Martha Andrews

March 3, 1863. JAMES WALLACE and his friend and neighbor HARRISON PIERCE leave their parents’ farms in Monson, Massachusetts and travel 14 miles to Springfield. Lieutenant John W.M. Appleton is recruiting soldiers for the Massachusetts 54th Infantry. About a month ago, Appleton opened the first recruiting office for the 54th in Boston. There were speakers at the stations who excited and inspired potential recruits to join the fight for freedom.

Young, single, and having spent their lives in rural Monson, James and Harrison are among the early recruits to the Massachusetts 54th. Going to war has the promise of adventure, and a steady pay check. They return home and share their excitement with their families.

The next day ALANSON WALLACE, the younger brother of James, travels to Springfield and enlists so that he can join James and Harrison on this adventure. They muster in at the end of March 1863, and less than four months later, are in a fierce battle attacking the confederate Fort Wagner on Morris Island, South Carolina. Harrison is killed and Alanson is wounded.Regiment.1isabelledmcfarland1.wikispaces.com

These men are the first of the family to join the Civil War effort. Many others will follow.

The Civil War had a tremendous impact on this family and their neighbors. We cannot tell the story of James Wallace without talking about this period of history. The men in the family went off to fight once they were welcomed into the Army. This included his brothers, Alanson and Samuel, cousins, in-laws and friends. Families were left to fend for themselves once their loved ones enlisted and left with their troops. The horrors of the War did not stop at the end of the War. The men came home injured and ill, which continued to affect them the rest of their lives.

In 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected the 16th president of United States. Our country was torn between the right to own slaves, and the right of all men to be free. The North was in the midst of an industrial revolution, and the South was a largely agrarian society very dependent upon enslaved labor. The Republican Party, and their presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln, were opposed to the expansion of slavery. Upon Lincoln’s election, seven of the southern states succeeded from the Union to form the Confederate States of America (CSA). They were later joined by six other slaveholding states. In April 1861, with the attack on Fort Sumter by the CSA, our country was at war.

Although blacks were free in the New England states they were not considered equal. Massachusetts allowed Blacks to vote, but they were disenfranchised in Connecticut and Rhode Island. New England was the heart of the Industrial Revolution. However, Blacks were commonly found employed as laborers, domestics and servants, and laundresses or washerwomen. Rarely were they found working in the factories.

As the North began to enlist men to fight in the Civil War, Blacks who wanted to serve in the Army were prohibited from joining. Allowing Blacks to join the military was very controversial, with opponents arguing that Black men would not make good soldiers. Although African-Americans had served honorably in every major conflict, including the American Revolution, a 1792 federal law prohibited Blacks from serving in the Army. [1] Needing additional men, Congress passed acts in July 1862 allowing Blacks to join the Army.

Recruitment of Black soldiers began in the fall of 1862, with the first regiments of free Blacks organized in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Kansas. [2] President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, freeing slaves in the states that had succeeded from the Union. Massachusetts was the first Northern state to organize a Black militia, the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment. The history of this regiment was portrayed in the movie Glory. The Regiment began recruiting soldiers in mid-February 1863; advertising $13 per month, a $100 bounty at the end of the War, and aid for the soldier’s families. [3]

To Colored Men. 54th Regiment of African Descent
Massachusetts Historical Society Collections Online

“Not equal” for these new recruits continued. Once enlisted Black soldiers were paid less than their White counterparts; $10 per month, with an optional deduction from their pay of $3.00 for clothing, while white soldiers were paid $13 per month, and received a $3.50 clothing allowance. [4] Federal legislation limited the amount that Black soldiers could be paid, and it was to be less than that received by White soldiers.

The Black soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th Infantry, along with their White officers, refused to accept pay that was less than what their White counterparts received, even though Massachusetts was willing to make up the difference. It was a matter of principle. Black soldiers were not paid in a timely manner, creating additional hardships for families who depended upon their breadwinners to send money home. There was “near mutiny” in the Massachusetts 54th and 55th because of lack of and the inequality of pay, and more than twenty men of the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery (Calvin Dexter and Martin Philip Andrews serviced in this Regiment) were thrown into jail because of the soldiers discontent with the pay issue.

In June 1864, Congress enacted legislation allowing equal pay to Black soldiers retroactive to January 1, 1864, and retroactive to the time of enlistment for those who had been free on April 1, 1861. [5] Many soldiers had gone for over a year without receiving a paycheck by the time the rate of pay issue was settled.

Black soldiers faced additional risks of death if captured by Confederate soldiers. In spite of the long period without pay, the increased risks, and the hardships incurred in fighting the War, the soldiers served with valor and courage. One of the more notable battles occurred at Fort Wagner, a strategic confederate defense for the port of Charlestown, which involved the Massachusetts 54th. The Massachusetts 54th sustained heavy losses in this fight, but proved their bravery in combat by leading the attack on the Fort.

Black men composed over 10 percent of the Union Army and Navy, and over 40,000 died during the Civil War, with three-quarters of the deaths resulting from disease and infection. [6] Upon the end of the Civil War, the former soldiers returned home. With them, they brought the effects of the War, including disease and illnesses that often plagued them throughout the rest of their lives.

I have the pension and military records of James Wallace, his brothers, and his brother-in-law’s. The records help to understand the stories of these men and their families, and what life was like for the families both before and after the Civil War.

During the week, watch the movie Glory. It is a well-done movie, with a very good cast. I’m a big fan of Denzel Washington! It can be downloaded or rented from several on-line sources, and might be available for loan at your local library. The movie has new meaning when you are watching it knowing that members of your family served in this regiment.

The next blog will continue the story of James Wallace.

Have a great week….


[1] United States History: Racial Segregation in the U.S. Military, http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h3982.html
[2] Luis F. Emilio, A Brave Black Regiment: The History of the 54th Massachusetts, 1863-1865 (DeCapo Press:www.decapopress.com, 1995), 1-2.
[3] Ibid, 8-9.
[4] Racism against African Americans in the U.S. Military, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism_against_African_Americans_in_the_U.S._military
[5] James M. McPherson, The Negro’s Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted During the War for the Union (New York: Vintage Civil War Library, 1993), 197-207.
[6] Teaching with Documents: The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War, http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war/

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