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Colonel Samuel Miller Quincy

Colonel Samuel Miller Quincy Watercolor on paper
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The tumultuous events of the Civil War took many men and women far from home and thrust them into unfamiliar occupations and duties for which they had little or no training or preparation, but even judged by this standard, few soldiers saw as varied military service as Samuel Miller Quincy (1832-1887), depicted in this anonymous watercolor portrait in full uniform as a (brevet) brigadier general of United States volunteers. Quincy, as his portrait indicates, was a stickler for the details of military dress and deportment (although no martinet, he frowned upon fellow officers who wore Masonic pins on the lapels of their uniforms, or mixed civilian and military dress), and, as it would turn out, he was a stickler for accuracy in historical editing as well--even historical research done in the field during the war.

Samuel Quincy and the Civil War

Educated at Harvard and trained as a lawyer, Samuel M. Quincy was a descendant of an old and distinguished Massachusetts family. He had been active in the antebellum militia and when the Civil War began, he was commissioned an officer in an elite Bay State regiment, the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He served in the opening campaigns in Virginia where he was severely wounded and captured--he had been left for dead on the battlefield--at Cedar Mountain in 1862, and held at Libby Prison, not as an ordinary prisoner, but as one of the hostages for retaliation if the Union army executed Confederate guerillas. Captain Quincy was finally exchanged and quickly promoted to the rank of major; in 1863, then-Colonel Quincy briefly took command of the "Old Second," but he had never fully recovered from his wounds, and his continuing ill health made him unable to command in the field. He resigned his commission later the same year; he was only thirty, but as his portrait shows, he already had gone gray in the service of his country. Later the same year, however, he was appointed lieutenant colonel of one of the first Black military units that had been raised in the South, the First Regiment of the Corps d'Afrique (later the 73rd Regiment of United States Colored Troops). He also served as the acting assistant inspector general for the U. S. Colored Troops in the Department of the Gulf and wrote a Camp and Garrison Manual for the new African-American regiments that was published in 1865 for the wider use of volunteers and militia.

Publishing at Port Hudson

In Louisiana, Quincy was posted to Port Hudson, above New Orleans on the Mississippi River, where General George L. Andrews (another former commander of the Second Massachusetts) created the "West Point of the South" for the African American soldiers who had helped capture and now garrisoned the former Confederate bastion. With Quincy's assistance, Andrews founded schools of military instruction for the Corps d'Afrique, while also promoting the general education of his often illiterate soldiers. In spite of his distracting and overlapping duties as regimental commander, inspector, and president of the examining board for the troops, Quincy somehow found time to edit the manuscript records of legal cases in colonial Massachusetts, 1761-1771, compiled by his great-grandfather, Josiah Quincy, Jr.--known as "the Patriot" because of his leading role in the events leading up to the American Revolution. Josiah Quincy's records of cases are the earliest extant law reports in the United States. It is hard to think of any scholarly enterprise in American history that has been accomplished under such peculiar and trying circumstances and done so well. In his preface to Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudicated in the Superior Court of Judicature of the Province of Massachusetts Bay (dated "Port Hudson, Feb. 9th, 1864,"; and published in Boston the following year), Samuel Quincy apologized for not presenting historical and biographical background information on the period covered in the Reports. By way of explanation, he noted that "the breaking out of the war in which the country is still involved has suddenly called me from the profession [Quincy had edited the Boston Law Reporter before the war] to more engrossing duties, which allow neither time nor opportunity for the completion of the task proposed." In spite of Samuel Quincy's reservations about his work, when Daniel R. Coquillette and Neil Longley York, who have prepared the first modern edition of Josiah Quincy, Jr.'s complete works, Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior (2005-2009), turned to the manuscript of Josiah Quincy Jr.'s Reports, so accurate was Samuel Quincy's "battlefield edition," that the modern editors chose to reproduce it in facsimile, correcting the text when necessary, and adding the annotations and contextual information that the earlier editor was not able to provide.

Another "Mayor Quincy"

In the last days of the Civil War, in an ironic turn of events (in addition to his famous great-grandfather, Samuel Quincy was also the son and grandson of illustrious mayors of Boston), he was made the acting mayor of Union-occupied New Orleans. He enjoyed his time in the French-speaking city, and wrote to his family in Boston: "...if it pleases you to have another "Mayor Quincy" in the family--soyez-en heureuse. I hope it won't last long." Samuel Miller Quincy remained in the army until 1866 and received the brevet rank of brigadier general for his "gallant and meritorious services" in the war. Returning to Boston, the irrepressible Quincy did not return to his legal career, except as an advocate for philanthropic causes--he was among the first generation of historic preservationists--but devoted himself to good works before his early death in 1887.

An Exhibition to Celebrate the New Edition of Josiah Quincy's Law Reports

On 23 October 2010, the Massachusetts Historical Society will open a new exhibition, Josiah Quincy: A Lost Hero of the Revolution. The display celebrates the publication by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts of the final two volumes of Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior, edited by Daniel R. Coquillette and Neil Longley York, the first modern edition of the complete works of Josiah Quincy, Jr. (1744-1775). A brilliant young attorney--he was only twenty-six when, with John Adams, he defended the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials--Josiah Quincy, Jr., "The Patriot," was an ardent spokesman for the cause of liberty in Revolutionary Massachusetts, although his early death has made him less familiar today than many of his contemporaries.

The exhibition will focus on the Historical Society's manuscript sources for the new Colonial Society volumes, including Quincy's political and legal commonplace books, travel journals (he was a harshly critical observer of slavery in the American South), and the law reports that his great-grandson, Samuel Miller Quincy edited. In the exhibition, Josiah Quincy, Jr.'s personal papers will be shown in the context of the MHS's enormous archive of Quincy family papers--letters, diaries, drawings, artifacts, and paintings that document eight generations of this extraordinary family--including the watercolor portrait of Samuel M. Quincy displayed here.

Josiah Quincy: A Lost Hero of the Revolution will be open to the public without charge, 1:00-4:00 PM, Monday-Saturday, 23 October 2010 -22 January 2011, except from 24 December 2010 -1 January 2011, when the Historical Society is closed for a brief holiday season respite.

Sources for Further Reading

Bent, Samuel A. Eulogy on Samuel Miller Quincy. Boston: Old State House, 1887. Proceedings of a Special Meeting of the Bostonian Society, May 24, 1887.

Hollandsworth, James G. The Louisiana Native Guards: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1995.

Quincy, Josiah. Reports of Cases Argued and Adjudged in the Superior Court of Judicature of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, between 1761 and 1772 by Josiah Quincy, Junior. Printed from his Original Manuscripts in the Possession of his Son, Josiah Quincy, and Edited by His Great-Grandson, Samuel M. Quincy. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1865. The original publication of Samuel M. Quincy's edition of Josiah Quincy, Jr.'s law reports now republished as:

Quincy, Josiah. Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior. Ed. Daniel R. Coquillette and Neil Longley York. Vol. 4 and 5: The Law Reports, Part One (1761-1765) and Two (1765-1772). Boston: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 2009.

Quincy, Samuel M. History of the Second Massachusetts Regiment of Infantry: A Prisoner's Diary: A Paper Read at the Officers' Reunion in Boston, May 11, 1877. Boston: George H. Ellis, Printer, 1882.

Quincy, Samuel M. A Manual of Camp and Garrison Duty. New Orleans: Peter O'Donnell, Stationer, 1865.

Samuel M. Quincy's lively Civil War letters to his family form part of the Massachusetts Historical Society's enormous archive of Quincy Family Papers , and have been microfilmed as part of the Quincy, Wendell, Holmes, and Upham Family Papers Microfilm .

Quint, Alonzo H. The Record of the Second Massachusetts Infantry, 1861-1865. Boston: James P. Walker, 1867.