Monday, June 10, 2024

General Giles W. Shurtleff Article – June 1954

A recent view of the statue 
Working in Oberlin has made me more interested in the city's history, as well as that of Oberlin College. Thus the article below about a statue of General Giles W. Shurtleff in that city was of great interest to me, especially as I am somewhat of a Civil War enthusiast. The article appeared in the Lorain Journal on June 4, 1954.

As the article notes, "Despite the fact that it has been a most tempting object for the paint brushes of rollicking Oberlin "undergrads" for many years, the stature of Gen. Giles W. Shurtleff, which stands on the sloping lawn of Shurtleff Cottage on South Professor Street, commemorates the life and deeds of a man who played a very prominent role in Oberlin's military activities during the Civil War.
"The inscription on the base of the life size likeness of this famous Oberlin student, teacher, and soldier reveals only a part of his contribution to his country and the cause of freedom, but it was a most significant  endeavor.
"Inscribed immediately beneath the statue "Freedom cannot be given – it must be achieved," and on the base, "Believing in the ability of the Negro to aid in the fight for Freedom, he organized the first regiment of colored troops raised in Ohio. Inspired by his leadership they offered their lives for the freedom of their race."
The story of General Shurtleff as told in various accounts of Oberlin history reveals that prior to his association with the Fifth Regiment of U. S. Colored Troops, he was captain of Company C, the first unit mobilized in Oberlin early in April in 1861. He left Oberlin in charge of this all-Oberlin company on April 25, 1861 and on August 26 of that same year was captured when Company C was surrounded in a woods in the western part of Virginia. Thirty-four of his men were taken with him and he remained a prisoner until September, 1863, when he was freed through a prisoner exchange.
"After a brief furlough which he spent in Oberlin, Shurtleff, with the aid of John Mercer Langston, a Negro lawyer and an Oberlin graduate, organized the Fifth Ohio regiment of colored troops. There was much opposition to this movement, particularly from Ohio's Governor Tod, who denounced any recognition of the colored man.
"Shurtleff was commissioned as colonel for the newly organized unit. In the summer of 1864 when this outfit was under continuous enemy fire he was severely wounded. He lost nearly half of his regiment. For his courageous leadership in this battle, which occurred at Petersburg and New Market Va., Colonel Shurtleff was honorably discharged at the end of the war as a brevet brigadier general.
"In September, 1865 he joined the Oberlin College faculty as adjunct professor of Latin and Greek languages and remained a member of the teaching staff until 1887 when he was appointed secretary - treasurer of the college, a position he held until his retirement in 1893."
If you are interested in visiting the statue, it is located at the intersection of South Professor Street and Morgan Street (just down the road from the Don Hilton Hacienda).

For more information about General Giles W. Shurtleff and the Fifth United States Colored Troops (USCT), visit this page on the Oberlin Heritage Center website. The Art in the Archives of Oberlin College website has a great page about the statue. The Architecture of Oberlin College website includes a page about Shurtleff Cottage.


Don Hilton said...

Rumor is the statue is haunted and will, on occasion, point the other direction. I've never witnessed this phenomenon. Then, again, it's been a long time since I've had that much to drink.

The Governor Tod mentioned in the article was a son of Lorain County's first President Judge, George Tod. After the old man's death, the family grew rich mining the old homestead for coal. The place was called "Brier Hill" and still is, today, in Youngstown, Ohio.

John Mercer Langston went on to a life of some renown:

Buster said...

Thanks, Dan (and Don) - a fascinating history lesson or two!

Anonymous said...

It's a wonder that the woke brigade doesn't try to get the words "colored troops" removed from the statue.I guess the students at Oberlin College have other important things on their political agenda like going after innocent business owners like Gibson Bakery instead.

Don Hilton said...

I have found Oberlin's woke brigade to be fairly benign when it's used in a respectful proper name rooted in the past.

Some belong to the N.A.A.C.P., for instance. And the cemetery has a bunch of U.S.C.T (U.S. Colored Troops) veteran's stones from the Civil War. And they recently celebrated players of the Negro Baseball League. Nobody squawks about those.

OTOH, were I to place an ad in the college paper for a "colored boys to bale and tote," there would probably be some pretty spectacular fireworks -- as there should be.

And, for goodness sake, the Gibson thing was 8 years ago. Please come up with a more recent example. All those kids are long gone, as are the people who were the college president and dean at the time.

Please tell me, Anon, where do you live? I'm asking so I can find some shameful behavior to bring up in a boringly predictable manner every time there's a post topic anywhere near.