With the sensationalism garnered in the movie "Glory," we reveled in the
drama and impact of the Civil War; however, the film also served to
remind us of why that war was fought. The Fifty-fourth Regiment, led
by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, was the first African American regiment
formed in Massachusetts, yet few of us realize that the Fifty-fifth Regiment,
the second African American regiment, was led by a Dorchester resident.
Charles Barnard Fox (1833–1895) was the son of the Reverend Thomas B.
Fox, editor of the "Boston Transcript." He was born in Newburyport while his
father was minister of the Unitarian church in that town, but the family
moved to Dorchester in 1845. Educated in the local schools, Fox entered
the field of civil engineering. His brother, the noted architect John A.
Fox, was also a civil engineer and is considered the father of Stick-stylearchitecture in this country.
Fox had enlisted in the Civil War at Lyceum Hall on Meeting House Hill,
the local recruiting office. With his brothers, John A. Fox and Thomas B. Fox
Jr., he was encouraged to enlist by his maternal grandmother, Lucy Tappan
Pierce, who came from an ardently abolitionist family. He received his
commission as second lieutenant in the Thirteenth Massachusetts Infantry;
one year later, he was made first lieutenant. In 1863, he was transferred
to the Second Massachusetts Cavalry with the same rank. That same year,
he was made major of the African American Fifty-fifth Regiment and was
promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel on November 3, 1863. The Fifty-fifthRegiment had been trained at Camp Meigs and was composed of men
who had everything at stake in the war. Fox and his fellow officers were well
trained and commended for their service, and it was said that Fox “had a
high standard of what a regiment should be, and he endeavored to bring hismen up to it.” Fox’s obituary read, in part:
It was abundantly shown in his long and meritorious service in the army
during the civil war, and especially in his readiness to enter a branch of
the service that was not regarded with favor even by many who in theory
favored perfect equality between races, and which was not calculated to
attract the young soldier powerfully, in comparison with the more popular
and agreeable positions in white regiments. But Colonel Fox believed in the
equality of the black men with the white, and whatever he believed he lived
up to, and the relations which existed between him and the colored soldiersin his command were ever the most intimate and mutually regardful nature.
Fox was reared in the Unitarian faith, and upon the family’s removal in
1845 to Dorchester, they became connected with the First Parish Church
on Meeting House Hill. The minister was the Reverend Nathaniel Hall, a
fierce antislavery opponent who expounded on the evils of both slavery and
the subjugation of African Americans in the South. His sermons, many of
which were published for a more general readership, were vociferous and
pointed to his belief that slavery was immoral and could only be abolished
through the war. Charles B. Fox was undoubtedly influenced by Hall, and
by his own father’s opinion, which was quite often read in the daily editions
of the "Boston Transcript."
Charles Barnard Fox served in the Army of the Potomac until after the
Battle of Fredericksburg, in the Siege of Charleston and in the Campaign
in Florida, the Battle of Honey Hill being particularly gruesome. His record
of bravery and courage was made known when he was made brevet colonel
of the Fifty-fifth Regiment; he resigned his commission on June 25, 1865,
at the end of the Civil War and decided to remain in the South. For three
years after the war, Fox managed a cotton plantation on Sea Island off the
coast of South Carolina. It was not until 1868 that he returned to Boston,
becoming an inspector at the Boston Custom House. In partnership with
his brother and his friends, he assisted in the establishment of Holbrook
& Fox, a real estate and land auction house in Boston. It was his friendSilas Pinckney Holbrook and his brother John Andrews Fox who created the
partnership. The firm of Holbrook & Fox was one of the leading firms of
its kind in New England and was well respected for the development of the
real estate market in the late nineteenth century. Colonel Thomas and Ruth
Prouty Fox built their home, designed by his architect brother, on Fuller
Street in Dorchester. His connection with the development of the old farms
and estates of Dorchester continued until his untimely death in 1895.
The contributions of Colonel Charles Barnard Fox in regards to the Civil
War were important enough to have his convictions and personal beliefs
supersede his comfort. He served the members of the Fifty-fifth Regiment
well and earned their respect with the title of colonel by brevet, an honorthat few officers received for their service in the Civil War.