A Tale of War And Courage
First there was Peter Burchard’s “One Gallant Rush” (1965), retitled “Glory” to tie in with the motion picture. Then there was the motion picture, “Glory” (1989), starring Denzel Washington. Now there’s the new book, “On the Other Side of Glory,” important not because the earlier book or film didn’t tell the compelling story of the famed black Civil War regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, but because neither looked at the actual men who showed their bravery at the ill-fated assault on Fort Wagner, S.C., in July 1863.Rather than revisit the story of Robert Gould Shaw, the white colonel who died in the assault (his wife was Anne Haggerty of Lenox, MA), David Levinson and Emilie Piper focused on the black privates and a few sergeants. They look specifically at the 82 men — out of 1,200 soldiers total — who enlisted from Berkshire and Litchfield counties and relate what came of the survivors in the aftermath.The book is published under the imprint of the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail, an offshoot of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area. Levinson, a cultural anthropologist who lives in West Haven, and Piper, a librarian and archivist who lives in Pittsfield, MA, previously collaborated on “One Minute a Free Woman: Elizabeth Freeman and the Struggle for Freedom” (2010), the remarkably documented story of Mumbet of Sheffield.“Berkshire/Litchfield men made up 6 percent of the 54th,” Levinson said in introducing the book at Chesterwood in Stockbridge, MA, at an event last summer inaugurating the new Mass. 54th Heritage Trail in the Upper Housatonic region.“Twenty-eight percent of the Berkshire men died,” Levinson said. Only half of the 82 enlistees came home to live out their lives — sometimes brief lives, because of lingering effects of wounds or disease.The men, having never before been to Boston (to train), been on a ship sailing South, been on a battlefield, returned, finally, to menial farm jobs. Several raised families. A few prospered sufficiently to buy land. The courage of these men, Levinson asserted, besides what they showed on the battlefield, was in even leaving home at all. The Upper Housatonic population was far from united in its acceptance of blacks as soldiers. These men seized the opportunity to show they possessed no less valor than white men. “They had the courage to stand up to their neighbors, to serve and to achieve full equality,” Levinson said. The experience invigorated blacks, after the war, to form new neighborhoods, develop social networks, build new churches and broaden their prospects.The book gives new perspective to a national topic. If it is local history, it is local history achieved on a high plain.A long chapter in the book tracks the lives of the men who returned, including Chauncey Crossley and Edward Hines of Norfolk, Milo Freeland, a native of Sheffield, and William Parret of Sharon.Parret died during the war, of typhoid fever. Freeland returned home and lived in North Canaan. Crossley was captured during the war but escaped and settled in Slab City in Norfolk upon his return home. Hines also later lived in Slab City. All were laborers the rest of their lives. Copies of the 196-page paperback book may be ordered through Levinson, 44 Voss Road, West Haven, CT 06526, $19.50 each plus $3 shipping.