“Who would be free themselves must strike the blow…. I urge you to fly to arms and smite to death the power that would bury the Government and your liberty in the same hopeless grave. This is your golden opportunity.” (Frederick Douglass; NPS)
“Organization directed by cautious aggression and manly defense will do for the race infinitel more than the policy of eternally stretching forth our hands without doing anything toward filling them, and of complaining because others are not watching our interest while we are asleep.” (Washington Bee, April 1, 1899)
The American Civil War (1861-1865) started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states.
The event that triggered war came at Fort Sumter in Charleston Bay on April 12, 1861. Claiming this United States fort as their own, the Confederate army on that day opened fire on the federal garrison and forced it to lower the American flag in surrender.
The real fighting began in 1862. For three long years, from 1862 to 1865, Robert E Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia staved off invasions and attacks by the Union Army of the Potomac commanded by a series of ineffective generals until Ulysses S Grant came to Virginia from the Western theater to become general in chief of all Union armies in 1864. (McPherson)
In the early years, African Americans were not permitted to fight in the war. In early 1863, President Lincoln wrote to Andrew Johnson (military governor of Tennessee and later Lincoln’s vice president) that, “The colored population is the great available yet unavailed of force for restoring the Union.”
“The bare sight of fifty thousand armed and drilled black soldiers upon the banks of the Mississippi would end the rebellion at once; and who doubts that we can present that sight if we but take hold in earnest.”
Two months later, War Department General Order #143 sanctioned the creation of the United States Colored Troops (USCT,) and African American units began to be integrated into the Union Army. (civilwar-org)
In Massachusetts, on January 26, 1863, Governor John Albion Andrew received permission to begin recruitment of African-Americans to man regiments of volunteer infantry. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was formed; because of excessive enlistments, a second regiment, the 55th, was formed.
The USCT were commanded by white officers. Captain Alfred Stedman Hartwell was assigned to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry; when the 55th was formed, Hartwell was made its lieutenant colonel. In the fall of 1863, Hartwell earned the rank of colonel of the 55th.
Hartwell was born at Dedham, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard in 1858; was a tutor at Washington University, St Louis, 1858-61, and in the latter year enlisted in the Army.
The 55th fought in many battles, serving primarily in South Carolina and Florida. However, throughout his leadership, Hartwell had growing concern about the inadequacy of pay given to the African American soldiers.
“They felt their manhood was at stake. They were regarded as good enough to be killed and wounded, and to work in the trenches side by side with white soldiers, so they said they would wait until they got their dues.” (Hartwell; Soodalter)
Hartwell pressured his superiors on behalf of his troops. “I can hardly write, talk, eat or sleep,” he wrote, “I am so anxious and indignant that pay is not forthcoming … for my men. Can anything be done to hasten this thing? No man staying at home can imagine how great and terrible is the wrong done these men, and the distress they suffer.” (Soodalter)
Finally, on August 22, 1864 the War Department sent word that all African American troops would be compensated with equal pay, retroactive to their date of enlistment. That year, when he was twenty-eight years old, Hartwell was brevetted for gallantry and promoted to Brigadier-General.
Hartwell was wounded three times and had his horse blown out from under him. He was removed from the field, treated and sent home to recuperate. He rejoined his regiment in January of 1865 and served for the remainder of the war. (Fisher)
By the spring of 1865, all the principal Confederate armies surrendered, and when Union cavalry captured the fleeing Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Georgia on May 10, 1865, resistance collapsed and the war ended. The long, painful process of rebuilding a united nation free of slavery began. (McPherson)
By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10 percent of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the US Army, and another 19,000 served in the Navy. (National Archives)
When the war was over, Hartwell left the Army and returned to Harvard where he received his law degree the following year. He then began private practice in Boston.
In 1868, King Kamehameha V was offered Hartwell the position of “First Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and Vice Chancellor of the Kingdom of the Hawaiian Islands.”
“After some weeks of deliberation I decided to come, and on August 15, 1868 started on the long trip, intending an absence of two or three years only, to obtain the new experience, not then knowing that I was making a permanent change of my home.” (Hartwell)
“After we had rounded Diamond Head and were beginning to take in the wonderful beauty of Honolulu, ever fresh and young … As we neared the wharf, we saw the crowd which was waiting to greet friends returning from abroad.” (Hartwell ) He arrived in the Islands on September 30, 1868.
“I began at once to study the Hawaiian language with such success that in holding the circuit court at Lahaina at the December term of 1868 I charged the native jury in their own language, briefly to be sure, but I believe they understood the charge, which is more than can always be said of the juries who listen to the elaborate present day instructions.”
“… the charm of the semi-tropical life was in the hospitality and friendliness of the people, native as well as foreign, shown to the stranger within their gates no less than to each other.”
“On January 10, 1872, my wedding day (to Miss Charlotte Elizabeth Smith, daughter of James W Smith of Kauaʻi,) my father died, but I did not know of his death until we got to San Francisco in the latter part of February, on our wedding journey to South Natick.” (On June 11, 1872, his birthday, his sister died.)
The Hartwells had seven daughters and one son: Bernice Hartwell, Mabel Rebecca Hartwell, Edith Millicent Hartwell, Madeline Perry Hartwell, Charlotte Lee Hartwell, Juliette Hartwell, Charles Atherton Hartwell and Alice Dorothy Hartwell.
He served as editor of the Hawaiian Gazette, member of the Board of Trustees for the Planters’ Labor and Supply Company, and president of the Pacific Cable Company. He supported the idea that the United States should acquire a permanent lease with Hawaiʻi for a naval base at Pearl Harbor.
After the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in January of 1893, Hartwell served on the Annexation Commission. When Hawaiʻi was annexed by the US on July 7, 1898, he traveled to Washington to advise Secretary of State John Hay regarding Hawaii’s future.
On June 15, 1904, he was appointed Associate Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Hawaii. He served in that capacity until August 15, 1907 when he was sworn in as Chief Justice.
In February 1911, he resigned and set sail for Europe. His vacation was cut short by illness and he returned to Hawaiʻi. He died at his home in Honolulu on August 30, 1912. His grave is the westernmost grave of a Civil War general on American soil (at Oʻahu Cemetery.) (Fisher)
The image shows Alfred Stedman Hartwell in his US Army uniform. In addition, I have included other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.