The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society


A Civil War soldier at age 16, a captain and regimental commander at 18, and a veteran by 20. This was the trajectory of Luis Fenollosa Emilio’s remarkable military career. Emilio served with the 23rd and 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiments in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida, including the Battle of New Bern (14 Mar. 1862), the famous assault on Fort Wagner (18 July 1863), and the Battle of Olustee (20 Feb. 1864). The Massachusetts Historical Society was thrilled to acquire his papers three months ago, serendipitously just as we opened our exhibition on the 54th Regiment. A few manuscripts from the Emilio papers are featured in the exhibition, which we hope you’ll come and see before it closes on May 23.

If you can’t make it to the exhibition, please visit our library and spend some time with this very interesting collection, now fully processed and described in an on-line guide. The papers include several boxes of Emilio’s personal correspondence, primarily with family members, both during and after the Civil War; his Civil War diaries; and papers related to his post-war research and writings. His definitive history of the 54th Regiment, the first regiment of black soldiers raised in the North, was published in 1891.

The MHS has several on-line resources related to the illustrious 54th Regiment. This essay is a good place to start. You can see digitized photographs of many of the soldiers on our website here and here, as well as Emilio himself, looking very young despite the facial hair!

Luis Emilio was born in Salem, Mass. to Spanish immigrants Manuel and Isabel (Fenollosa) Emilio. His father and his uncle Manuel Fenollosa had immigrated to the U.S. in 1837-1838 on the frigate United States and had become celebrated musicians, composers, and music teachers in Salem. The Emilios were also staunch abolitionists. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, 16-year-old Luis was anxious to join up and eventually wore his father down. The collection includes the “Consent to the Enlistment of a Minor” signed by his father Manuel and the letter Luis wrote to his mother explaining his decision to enlist.

Many of the 54th Regiment’s other white officers are better known than Emilio, especially, of course, Col. Robert Gould Shaw, who is commemorated by a memorial on the Boston Common right across from the Massachusetts State House. But Emilio was briefly in command of the regiment after every higher ranking officer was either killed or wounded at Fort Wagner. As for his service, I can do no better than quote Color Sergeant Charles W. Lenox, who wrote in a moving letter to Emilio on 1 Sep. 1884:

Capt. I well remember the interest and pride you took in your company making it one of the best in the regim’t. I have always felt that the men did not appreciate the first Officers of the regim’t so much as they ought to. But being Soldiers was something new for Colored men in those days. I shall always feel proud of having served in such a command.



Photograph: Photo. 03.12 from the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment carte de visite album at the MHS.

permalink | Published: Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 1:00 AM


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