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Historian hopes to write 'Glory' book

An American historian is hoping to write a book about a black Bermudian soldier who fought in the first coloured regiment in the American Civil War and who, he predicts, will eventually become one of the Island's great heroes.<br><br>Sergeant Robert John Simmons, who is believed to be from St. George's, was a member of the famous 54th Massachusetts Regiment, and was killed at the age of 26 in 1863 following an abortive attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina.

An American historian is hoping to write a book about a black Bermudian soldier who fought in the first coloured regiment in the American Civil War and who, he predicts, will eventually become one of the Island's great heroes.Sergeant Robert John Simmons, who is believed to be from St. George's, was a member of the famous 54th Massachusetts Regiment, and was killed at the age of 26 in 1863 following an abortive attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina.The Regiment, made up of the free Northern blacks, was immortalised in the Denzel Washington film “Glory”.Historian Mark Mitchell, who owns a respected collected of African American historical documents and artefacts, began discovering information about Sgt. Simmons in the past month when he found a newspaper article from 1863, which mentioned “a remarkably sprightly fellow” from Bermuda who stood out from the rest of the black troops and impressed his Confederate captors by his intelligence.The soldier was not named in the newspaper, which Mr. Mitchell presented to Premier Jennifer Smith at the recent African Diaspora Heritage Conference, but regiment records showed him to be Sgt. Simmons.In an eerie echo of the film's title, Sgt Simmons told the Southern soldiers he was fighting for “glory”.Mr. Mitchell now believes Sgt. Simmons to be a major undiscovered hero of the American Civil War and he is applying to the Department of Tourism for a grant to research his life, which will result in a book.He intends to carry out the research with Professor Benjamin Banneker of the History and American Studies Department at George Washington University in Washington.Mr. Mitchell told

The Royal Gazette: “I strongly believe Bermuda will have a new national hero in First Sergeant Robert John Simmons, and it is my strong prediction that within the next year, he will become a household name on the Island, and hopefully, if the American press cooperates, in the United States as well.“This amazing discovery which I was so honoured to have made, will, I believe, add to the rich history of Bermuda, and will have the potential to significantly increase tourism from the US - a major goal of the African Diaspora Heritage Trail Conference. Jim (Prof. Banneker) and I will be asking for a one-year grant from the Ministry of Tourism to bring Robert J Simmons 'alive', and to present a paper at next year's African Diaspora Heritage Trail Conference.“A book should follow, as we both believe there is much more information to be discovered both in the US and in Bermuda about this hero of the American Civil War.”Mr. Mitchell's research has shown that Sgt. Simmons was recruited in New York by William Wells Brown, a prominent black physician, abolitionist and reformer, who wrote “The Negro in the American Rebellion”.Brown introduced Sgt. Simmons to Frances George Shaw, whose son Col. Robert Gould Shaw, led the 54th Regiment. Brown described Sgt. Simmons as “a young man of more than ordinary ability who had learned the science of war in the British Army”.[JUMPIn his book, Brown noted that “Frances George Show remarked at the time that Simmons would make a 'valuable soldier'. Col Shaw also had a high opinion of him”.Mr. Mitchell told

The Royal Gazette: “What really impresses me is that Col. Shaw himself was actually acquainted with Simmons' fine training and demeanour.“Indeed, we can assume from what we have discovered thus far that Simmons may very well have been the single most trained and educated (as a soldier) enlisted man in the entire 54th Massachusetts Regiment.”St. George's Town Manager Lance Furbert, a local military history expert, is urging anyone with information about Sgt. Simmons or his family to contact him.He said yesterday: “I am very interested indeed. I hadn't realised how much was involved, and it is something we need to look at.“We have a major portion of the Diaspora Heritage sites here and we have a great black naval history through Pilot Darrell. And to have this man would fit in nicely.“I will definitely follow it up to try to get more information on this man and see if the Corporation of St. George's activities committee will make some sort of effort to find out more.“If we could find out where he lived, and even better if his family still own the house, we could have that site on the Diaspora trail. It will be extremely interesting to see if he still has any family here.“I am also very interested to find out where he got his training, because there was an integrated regiment here, which was very unusual.”Director of Tourism Judith Hall Bean said last night: “The minister (David Allen) thinks this is wonderful. If Mr. Mitchell wants to put in a request, we will look at it based on its merits, but we haven't received a request yet.”

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Published February 04, 2011 at 9:41 am (Updated February 04, 2011 at 9:41 am)

Historian hopes to write 'Glory' book

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