On the Altar of Freedom: A Black Soldier's Civil War Letters from the Front

By James Henry Gooding; Virginia Matzke Adams | Go to book overview

Introduction

Virginia Matzke Adams

On February 9, 1863, John A. Andrew, governor of Massachusetts, wrote to James B. Congdon of New Bedford saying that he was beginning to organize and recruit a regiment of colored men to be called the Fifty-fourth Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers. "It is my design and hope," he continued, "to make this a model regiment and, as it will be the first so raised, it is my intention to make it the best... ."

After outlining plans for recruiting the officers, Governor Andrew asked Congdon to become a corresponding member of a committee to support recruitment and organization of the regiment. He added, "Your long and well-known interest in ideas which now unite patriotism and philanthropy where they belong in a common work has encouraged me to write this note."1

The person to whom Andrew wrote was well disposed to accept the governor's invitation. James Bunker Congdon, one of New Bedford's most prominent civic leaders, had been a founding member of the New Bedford Anti-slavery Society in 1834 and a quiet champion of black civil rights on more than one occasion. A banker, he had served the town and, after its incorporation in 1847, the city for thirty years, first as a selectman, then as president of the Common Council, and later as city treasurer. His most visible achievement, and the one in which he probably took the most satisfaction, was the establishment of the New Bedford Free Public Library; yet, according to one writer, there was no philanthropic movement in the community that did not receive his active support.2

____________________
1
Governor John A. Andrew, War Correspondence, Executive Letters Sent, 1861- 1865, 12: 483, at Commonwealth of Massachusetts Military Division History Research and Museum, Natick. (Hereafter referred to as Letters Sent.)
2
G. H. D. in Leonard Bolles Ellis, The History of New Bedford and Its Vicinity ( Syracuse, N.Y., 1892), p. 85 in Appendix.

-xv-

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