A direct descendent of Elizabeth Hemings, John Freeman Shorter grew up in Washington, D.C. as a free man. By the spring of 1863, he was living in Ohio when he left for Boston to enlist in the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. A white officer once described Shorter as “tall, of muscular build, … hair light, complexion almost white, and blue eyes, whose lively expression brightened a face otherwise somewhat grave.” Shorter became one of only two other fully-commissioned black officers in the 55th Massachusetts—“Three as worthy men as ever carried a gun,” declared the chaplain of the 55th. All three of these officers were connected to Monticello. Shorter was the only direct descendent of the enslaved at Monticello; the other two were connected through marriage.
As the historian of the regiment wrote, Shorter had “every soldierly quality, from scrupulous neatness to unflinching bravery. He well merited the reputation of the best non-commissioned officer in the regiment. As such, he was selected for the first promotion from the ranks.” However, the army would not formally muster or recognize them as officers because of the color of their skin. Finally in the summer of 1865, when the fighting had ceased, the three men were officially commissioned as officers.
African American soldiers in the Massachusetts regiments were promised equal treatment, including equal pay. However, the men received half of the pay that their white counterparts received. Shorter became a leading force in the fight for equal pay. To protest this pay inequality, the soldiers went without pay for a year and a half. In July 1864, the men reached out to the president himself. By October, they finally received full pay. In a celebration at their camp on Folly Island, Shorter spoke on behalf of the regiment, saying that it was their primary responsibility as men to “prove our fitness for liberty and citizenship, in the new order of things now arising in this, our native land.”
Three weeks after this victory, the soldiers took up arms in the Battle of Honey Hill (South Carolina, November 1864). In this battle, Shorter was wounded in the leg, but he refused to stop fighting. As one soldier wrote, “Sergt. Shorter is wounded in the knee, yet will not go to the rear.” In August 1865, Shorter was honorably discharged, returning to Ohio to marry his fiancé. Sadly, Shorter succumbed to small pox, dying shortly before arriving home.
Source: Nancy Bercaw, Curator, Slavery and Freedom
A handwritten diary encased in a red leather cover with "Diary / 1865" embossed in gold lettering at top center surrounded by an ornate wreath. The diary is inscribed on the front endpaper in both pencil and ink. The diary begins with several printed pages including a page outlining eclipses that occurred in 1865, a calendar, a table of stamp duties and rates of postage. The diary entries were done predominantly in pencil. The diary begins on January 1, 1865 with the last entry occurring on September 30, 1865. The diary ends with a memorandum section and an accounts paid section. Both of these sections were used by Lieutenant John Freeman Shorter. A back pocket in the back of the diary contains two loose sheets of paper. One of the pieces of paper is a promotion certification for a second lieutenant in the 55th Massachusetts volunteer regiment. The document is written in ink. It is dated April 19, 1865. Additional notes are written in pencil on the other side of the document. The second piece of paper has a list of people’s names, dollar amounts and dates written on both sides in both ink and pencil.
A photograph of 59 members of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry in uniform. The image features two (2) rows of people, with the back row of men standing and the front row of men either kneeling or lounging. The soldiers stand outside with a row of trees in the background. The image is on photo paper and has been adhered to a larger backing. The image has discoloration throughout, especially on the back. There are no inscriptions, front or back.
A small, leather bond notebook. Written on the inside cover: [George T. Garrison/1st Lieut . & .A.R.L.M./55th Reg't Mass. Vol./Folly Island, S. C.,/Feb. 11th, 1864.]
This appears to be a personal notebook kept by G.T. Garrison which contains notes on a number of topics including food lists, company rankings, pricing lists, clothing supplies, notes about stolen items, camp and equipage items, stationary, notes, accounts, diary elements, and lists of personnel. The first list reads [Account Diary of Government Allowances of Subsistence Stores].
An etched mameluke sword and scabbard presented to Capt. George T. Garrison by the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The steel blade is slightly curved and has designs etched on both sides. At the midpoint of the PL side of the blade [U.S.] is inscribed in decorative letters and surrounded by floral filigree. On the PR side is a version of the coat of arms of the United States. An eagle with outstretched wings and holding an [E. PLURIBUS UNUM] banner in its beak flies behind a stars and stripes shield and is surrounded by rays of light. At the base of the blade where it meets the hilt there are two marks. On the PR side is a small circle with raised text reading [PROVED] and a fleur-de lis with a radiating pattern around it. On the PL side is the makers mark, reading [F. HORSTER / SOLINGEN] below a floral design. The words [IRON PROOF] are stamped in the bottom of the blade near the guard. The guard of the blade features the US coat of arms, with eagle, arrows, olive branch, shield, and [E. PLURIBUS UNUM] banner above molded letters [U S]. The guard is quite large where the blade attaches to the grip and narrows at the pommel of the sword. The grip itself is metal on the top and pommel, with shagreen, likely shark skin on the underside, lashed with a twisted metal coil. The metal scabbard is undecorated with a semi-circular shoe extension at the tip. It has two mounts with carrying rings on the half closest to the throat.
A traveling trunk owned by George Thompson Garrison while serving as an officer with the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. The wood, leather bound trunk is embossed throughout with four rows of brass rivets along the front, top and back of the base and lid. The leather is also stitched along the edges and lip of the trunk. Two metal buckles attached to leather straps are on the left and right sides of the front. A leather strap is attached to the top left of the trunk but the top right strap is removed. The removed strap is broken into nine pieces and includes a meral buckle. The leather is a different color where the original strap was located. A hinged lock plate is on the front of the base with the locking mechanism directly above it on the lid. Embossed below the lock plate on the base is “CROUCH & FITZGERALD / MAKERS / New York.” Embossed on the left and right sides of the trunk is “Geo T. Garrison.” The interior of the trunk has a removable cloth lined tray and a red leather pouch embedded into the cloth lined lid. Underneath the tray is a canvas bag with “Geo T. Garrison.” printed on each side in black paint. The canvas bag is torn in several places.
One half of a U.S. Military issued tent owned by G.T. Garrison. The tent is a flat, nearly square piece of cotton cloth. Along the two sides and the upper edge there are button holes, above each of these notches are white circular bone buttons sewn to the cotton, several of which are missing. One edge has neither buttons nor notches. The side on which the buttons are stitched has [Co. I / 55th] stamped in black pigment in the lower-right quadrant. At the top in small, faded letters [H.S. McCOMB / WILMINGTON] is stamped in red pigment. The opposite side of the tent is undecorated.