…Brig.-Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore had relieved General Hunter. Admiral John A. Dahlgren was to replace Admiral Dupont. Tidings of these changes, of Lee having crossed the Rappahannock, the capture of Harper’s Ferry, and the investment of Port Hudson, were received by the “Harriet A. Weed,” on June 23. Orders also came for the Fifty-fourth to report at Hilton Head.
…About noon [on the 24th], Colonel Shaw reported his arrival and was ordered to St. Helena Island, across the harbor…
Rain was falling as the Fifty-fourth landed on the wharf. Marching for a mile or so, we camped in an old cotton-field near the water. Many regiments were on the island preparing for active operations. The post was commanded by Brig.-Gen. George C. Strong, a brilliant young officer who had recently arrived. The Fifty-fourth, with the Second South Carolina camped near by, constituted the “Colored Brigade,” under Colonel Montgomery. Although it rained very frequently, the moisture was speedily absorbed by the sandy soil. There was a terrible thunder-storm on the 28th, accompanied with such violent wind that many tents were blown down. One man was killed, and several stunned, by lightning, in adjoining camps…
A deserter from the Second South Carolina was brought by Lieut. George W. Brush of his regiment before Colonel Montgomery on June 28. After questioning him, the colonel ordered him to be taken away and shot, which was done at once. Montgomery was never taken to task for this illegal action.
Archive for June, 2010
Mercury, July 8, 1863 [OAF]
St. Helena Island, S.C., June 29
—Instead of going on another expedition, as we all expected and hoped, we find ourselves at the headquarters of the department, and great changes made in commanders; in fact, the changes had been made at least two weeks before we knew anything of them. It is probable that the change of commander has made some change in the operations in this department, for this summer at least. But from appearances there must be something definite in contemplation, from the fact that all the surplus troops are being concentrated on this island ready for a movement at the shortest notice; either to act on the offensive, at some weak point — as the force here is not large enough to make any grand movement — or to be transported wherever the urgency of the case may require out of this department; but it is safe to say the latter conjecture is the most probable one.
Yesterday there was a terrific thunder storm here. A man in the 76th Pa. regiment was killed by lightening, and 15 more were stunned at the same time, besides exploding 80 boxes of cartridges.
A sergeant in the 1st regiment S. C. Volunteers has been sentenced to be hung for mutiny, or inciting some of the men to mutinous conduct.
The rebel ram Atlanta, taken off the Savannah river, has been pronounced unseaworthy by the Naval Guard. It was the intention of the rebels to play hob with the Yankees. The plan was first, to pay a compliment to Col. Montgomery, then on St. Simon’s Island, and hang his whole force, then come up and clear out Port Royal harbour, raise the blockade at Charleston, and I don’t know but they would have gone on capturing till they reached Boston, according to their story. Probably that was one of the plans to assist in raising their volunteer navy. They have another ram underway at Savannah, but she will not be completed for some time.
J. H. G.
St. Helena’s Island, S.C.[BCF]
June 28 1863
Your note of the 20th came to me on board the “Benj. DeFord” just after I had sent my last ashore—also letters from Father of the 10, 13, 15, 18, 19 Inst. & others from Annie, Effie & Harry. Some of Annie’s have been lost, however.
We did not land at Hilton Head but were ordered to this Island that same afternoon. We landed and bivouacked for the night—and since then have been engaged in transporting our stores by hand from the landing, more than a mile.
Our whole experience, so far, has been in loading 8c discharging vessels.
There is nothing said about future plans. General Strong tells me that Admiral Foote’s illness will interfere materially with them. I hope and pray that we may go to Charleston. Strong, who was one of Butler’s staff officers, is very desirous to have the negro troops take their part in whatever is done.
Montgomery did a characteristic thing this morning. His men being near their homes have deserted rapidly since we returned from St. Simon’s. He sent word by their wives & others to the deserters that those who returned of their own free will should be pardoned — that those, whom he caught, he would shoot. This morning one of my sergeants captured one. At 8 o’cl. Col. Montgomery called him up & said: “Is there any reason why you should not be shot?” “No, Sir.” “Then, be ready to die at 9:30.” At 9:15 the man sent to ask permission to see the Colonel, but it was refused, and at 9:30 he was taken out and shot. There was no Court-Martial — and the case was not referred to a superior officer. Montgomery, who just told me the story, in his low voice, but with an occasional glare in his eye (which by the bye, is very extraordinary) thinks that this prompt action was the only way to stop desertion, and it only remains to be seen whether he will be pulled up for it. I wish you could see him. You would think at first sight that he was a school-master or parson. The only thing that shows the man, is that very queer roll or glare in his eye — and a contraction of the eyebrows every now & then, which gives him rather a fierce expression. He says he never had a fight until he went to Kansas, and was a very harmless creature formerly, though never a non-resistant.
June 29 — To continue the subject of Col. Montgomery, I went over last evening, after writing the above, & sat two hours with him. He gave me his whole history, which interested me very much. I wish I could tell you all he said of his life during the last ten years. He has been in such a state of excitement all that time that he says it seems as if the whole were compressed into a few days — and he could hardly help crying when he talked of the state of utter desperation & hopelessness in which they began their fight against the Border Ruffians, and compared it with present times which seem to him bright & cheerful. He believes that nothing happens by chance & is full of faith in Providence. His account of the abject manner in which he had seen some Missourians whom he had taken prisoners, beg for their lives was very interesting. He says that without exception, under such circumstances, their manhood forsook them completely —& he compared their conduct with that of the negro, who was shot yesterday, and who never flinched from it. I said above that M. looked like a schoolmaster, & he says he did teach school in Kentucky for many years, and learnt more about managing men there, than at any other time.
He strikes me as being a very simple-minded man — and seems to be pleased at any little attention — perhaps because he has been so much abused. You will see that he is very attractive to me, and indeed I have taken a great fancy to him.
I have just got your letter of the 21 Inst. & Father’s of 23d — his other two written after receipt of mine from St. Simon’s have not yet come to hand. What you say of Montgomery’s wife amused me very much, after hearing his account of it last evening. He said his wife saw an article in the paper stating what you say, and that all the punishment he ever wishes the writer to receive, is to come within reach of her broom-stick. Then he laughed very loud & long. Besides this, he assured me that no property of his was ever touched by a Border-Ruffian, being protected by his pro-slavery neighbours, whom he held responsible for it. He also said “To give the Devil his due” that he never, during his whole experience in Kansas heard of a well-authenticated case of a Border Ruffian having offered violence to a white woman, in any way — and he thinks that courtesy towards women is characteristic of the Southerners, good & bad. His wife is the daughter of a Kentucky Slave-holder.
I see by the papers, what is thought of the destruction of Darien, and it provokes me to have it laid on Montgomery’s shoulders, when he acted under orders from Hunter. I, myself, saw Hunter’s letters referring to it. I am sorry if it is going to harm the negro troops, but I think myself it will soon be forgotten.
The two boxes Father sent arrived tonight. Mr. Pierce has been up here today. I hope Father wrote to Gov. Andrew, after receiving my late letters, about Darien, & told him that Hunter, only, was to blame. I was so sorry & provoked at getting no word from Annie tonight, that I didn’t know what to do. I have only heard from her 3 times & the latest date is the 18th. After the number of letters I have written her, I thought it was pretty “steep.”
Uncle George has sent me an English sword, & a flask, knife, fork, spoon &c. They have not yet come.
My warmest love to Father & the girls.
Always dearest Mother,
your loving son
p.s. I suppose Annie is with you by this time. If so give my love to her
June 1863. [VT]
—Our regiment has been on the move ever since our arrival at Beaufort. Our active and brave leader, Col. Montgomery, gives none under his command time to rot, sicken and die in camp. No sooner does he accomplish one object than he has already inaugurated the necessary steps for the accomplishment of another. The 54th, as you, no doubt, have been apprised ere this, has made a successful raid on the coast of this State, capturing and burning the town of Darien and spreading terror to the hearts of the rebels throughout this region. The expedition which accomplished this, consisted of the U.S. steamer John Adams, Harriet A. Weed and two transports, having on board part of the 2nd S. C. Vol. and eight companies of the 54th Mass. Vol.
We left here on the 10th, reached Darien on the 11th, about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The John Adams led the way, approaching the town cautiously, shelling the suburbs to the right, left and rear of it. A considerable number of rebel cavalry appeared in sight, but the guns of the J. A. and Weed put them to flight. The town was found to be almost entirely deserted by its inhabitants. The 2nd South Carolina were the first to land and the 54th followed. Cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, and many things of use and comfort were secured. One rebel was killed by a shell, and the only persons we saw were one old colored woman and two whites, who requested to be left behind. When we left at sundown the whole town was enveloped in flames, and as we steamed gaily down the river, the Weed greeted the outbuildings with sundry iron missiles.
Darien, before the rebellion, was one of the principal outlets for the lumber trade of the State. I glanced at the books of the principal lumber-merchants here, Davis & Shina. They shipped their timber to French ports, principally.
The regiment or expedition did not lose a man. The regiment has enjoyed remarkably good health since our sojourn in this sickly portion of the Sunny South. We lost one man on the 4th inst., being the only death since the 1st of May and the fifth since the regiment was started in recruiting in March last.
Mr. Walton of our regiment has just informed me of the arrival of Miss C. L. Forten at Hilton Head. There is no telling when we shall return to Port Royal, our occupancy of St. Simon’s Island looks so much like a permanent one.
The first rebel flag captured was captured by the 54th, on 11th inst.,in Darien, by my company (B).
G. E. S.
St. Helena’s Island[BCF]
At Hilton Head we found our letters waiting, and I got two from you, of June 12th, and June 17th and 18th. As I have had nothing from May 31st to June 12th, I infer that one or more of yours have been lost. This is very disappointing, but I hope they will turn up finally. I was thankful to hear from you at all. Thank Clem, for hers; mine crossed hers on the way. You will have got my account of Mr. Butler’s plantation by this time, and from what you say, I see that it will have interested you. He has another large place, a rice plantation, opposite where Darien once was; but that I only saw from a distance.
The only persons responsible for the depravity of the negroes are their scoundrelly owners, who are, nevertheless, not ashamed to talk of the Christianizing influence of slavery. Whatever the condition of the slaves may be, it does not degrade them, as a bad life does most people, for their faces are generally good. I suppose this is owing to their utter ignorance, and innocence of evil.
. . . We landed on this island last night, and to-day are bringing everything to our camp, a mile from the landing, by hand. Having a great many stores, it is a long job. I am sitting on a box in the middle of a field of sand, under a tent-fly, and writing on my knee. I have not yet heard what is to be done with the forces here. General Strong tells me that Admiral Foote’s illness may interfere with their plans very much. . . .
June 27, 8 A.M.—General Strong (formerly of Butler’s staff), who commands on this island, I like very much; he came over to see me yesterday, and I must return his call to-morrow. The papers say there are about twenty thousand coloured troops in the service now. Just think what a change from six months since! . . .
10 P.M. — To-day I have been watching and talking with a good many of the negroes about here. Whatever their habits of life may be, they certainly are not bad or vicious; they are perfectly childlike, it seems to me, and are no more responsible for their actions than so many puppies.
Sunday, June 28 — We have just had a two hours’ thunder-storm, with such a wind that a good many of our tents were blown away, and the occupants of the rest sat in them in fear and trepidation. I think it is better, as you say, not to build too many Chateaux en Espagne, for they are sure to blow away (like our tents). For that reason, I am more uneasy in camp than ever before, and always wishing for a move and something to occupy my mind, in spite of myself. When we lie idle, as at present, I do nothing but think and think, until I am pretty home-sick.
. . . Shall we ever have a home of our own, do you suppose? I can’t help looking forward to that time, though I should not; for when there is so much for every man in the country to do, we ought hardly to long for ease and comfort. I wish I could do my share; i.e. that I had as much talent and ability to give to it as I want. …
Good bye for the present, my dearest.
Your faithful and affectionate Husband
p.s — Now that the conflagration policy is settled, I don’t mind your speaking of what I wrote about it. Though I would never justify such acts for a moment, there is a spark of truth in the reasoning that, if we are to be treated as brigands, if captured, we are not bound to observe the laws of war. But I think now, as I did at the time, that it is cruel, barbarous, impolitic, and degrading to ourselves and to our men; and I shall always rejoice that I expressed myself so at the time of the destruction of Darien. It is rather hard that my men, officers, and myself should have to bear part of the abuse for the destruction of Darien, isn’t it? — when they (at least the officers) all felt just as I did about it.
You see, darling, from our wanderings so far, that it is impossible to make any plans for the winter; so don’t set your heart upon it.
Steamer, off Hilton Head [BCF]
I wrote Father yesterday that we were to return here. We sailed this morning at six, having been up all night loading the ship. I don’t know where we are to be sent now; it is supposed that Gillmore is going to make an attack on Morris Island and Fort Sumter, from Folly Island. Whether we go with him, or into garrison at Beaufort, or on some detached expedition, I can’t say; as soon as I find out, I will write. We have had a good deal of moving about, for so young a regiment.
The captain of this ship says there is a large mail on shore; so I shall perhaps find a good many letters from home. You must be back in New York by this time. I have written to Uncle George and Aunt Sarah. I wish I could see them.
Love to Father and the girls, and believe me,
Your ever loving son,
I enclose a note to Annie.
St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
Yours of the 9th came to hand last evening. At the same time we received news of the Rebel incursion into the Northern [North] and orders to embark at once for Port Royal. We are now waiting for a transport, which will hold the regiment.
The news from the North is very exciting but not entirely unexpected, for Morse wrote me, that Lee wouldn’t leave the Potomac army quiet very long.Then my theory has always been that the North must feel the war much more than they have, before it is ended. I don’t know why we are ordered to return to Beaufort, unless the troops there are going North, or another attack is to be made on Charleston or Savannah.
I thank you a thousand times for your generosity to me in money affairs, dear Father; I never imagined you were going to assume so many of my debts. If Rice has not paid you, what he owes, I wish you would take it out of my funds. I enclose to you some bills which I had in Boston, lest they should be sent to you. I also enclose the following promissory notes:
Lincoln R. Stone — $115
John Ritchie — 115
G. W. James — 115
C. B. Bridgham — 96
I will notify you as soon as they are paid. I send this off immediately as Col. Montgomery’s boats which will get away before we do, will probably catch the “Arago.”
Love to all,
Your loving son
Please drop Annie a line saying we return to Beaufort lest my letter to her should not be ready.
Mercury, July 8, 1863 [OAF]
St. Simon’s Island, Ga., June 22
—Since my last letter, there has been nothing important occurred in this department that I am aware of. In fact if anything important were to happen, in which our regiment was not concerned, you in the North would be more likely to be posted in regard to it, than we should, isolated as we are. Of course the opposition press have heard of the burning of Darien, by the “Nigger guerillas,” and commented on it, as an “act of Vandalism” and all that sort of thing; manufactured capital enough to bring “Nigger worshippers” in contempt, in the opinion of gouty “conservatives,” and wrought Wood and Co.’s followers up to that delightful point, of commanding the Powers that be to stop enlisting the “impediments to civilization” instanter. How they must have harrowed the feelings of sentimental young ladies by informing them how those “ruthless heathens,” unmoved by the entreaties of terror stricken damsels, slew their gallant lovers in cold blood; and then exhausted the vocabulary of unmentionable adjectives on the horrified maidens after their protectors were slain. Of course they made it appear to credulous people that Darien was a place rivaling New York, in commercial importance, and the peer of Rome or Athens, in historical value. But they did not intimate that one of the ships, destroyed by the rebel pirates, might possibly be worth nearly as much as the village of Darien. Oh no! what the people of the North has lost is nothing, because what the North lost was stolen by our misguided brethern.But turn the tables — say the troops here should be captured by the rebels, (of course they would hang them every one), the copperhead press would treat that as an unimportant item, or some of them would say probably, “we are glad of it — that is a cheaper way of getting rid of them, than expending money to send them to President Lincoln’s Paradise in Central America, or to colonize them at Timbuctoo or Sahara.” But we all know they must say something, or people will think they are losing ground; they must keep up the appearance of knowing considerable, if not more, as one instance will show. A man living in Pennsylvania wrote to one of the men in this regiment that things had turned out just as he had predicted months ago; that the United States had repudiated the black troops and would never pay them the first red cent; that Gov. Andrew had disbanded his second party of “Pet Lambs” and advised the men to skedaddle, as the government would not have any power to punish them; in fact such an organization as the 54th regiment Mass. vols, was not known officially by the War Department. Now don’t you think that man was hired to write such stuff as that? The object is obvious; it is to create a spirit of insubordination among the men, so that the copperheads may have a better excuse to call for the disbanding of colored regiments in the field. Oh, there are some grand rascals out of State Prison! The scamp who wrote that letter signed no full name to it; it was dated from Susquehanna Co., Pa., no town, but the postmark was Philadelphia. Whoever he is, it is evident he has played at more than one game in his life, for the receiver of the letter does not know whose handwriting it is.
We are expecting to make a movement now hourly; the regiment are only waiting for the return of the commanding officer, with his instructions. There sounds the long roll! I must close.
J. H. G.
St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
June 22 1863
We got a small mail today, but there was nothing for me. I was very much disappointed, the latest date from you, being 3d Inst. & from Annie 31 Ulto.
Col. Montgomery returned from Hilton Head, this morning, bringing us news of the capture of the Ram “Fingal.” He found General Gilmor[e] very friendly and anxious to second him in every way, with the exception of the burning business — so that is satisfactorily settled. Montgomery tells me he acted entirely under orders from Hunter, and was at first very much opposed to them himself, but finally changed his mind.
I like him very much. He is not what one would call a “Kansas Ruffian”— being very quiet and reserved, & rather consumptive-looking. His language is very good & always grammatical. He is very religious & always has services in his regiment, before starting on an expedition.
Please don’t wait for the sailing of the “Arago” to mail my letters. Gunboats and transports come here (to Hilton Head) every week from Boston, New York & Philadelphia, and usually bring a mail. We are waiting here for coal for our transports; as soon as it arrives, we shall probably be off again, for a little while. They think at the “Head” that there will soon be another attempt made on Savannah or Charleston. Gilmor[e] is certainly much more active and energetic than Hunter.
Give my love to Mother and the girls. I am impatient to hear whether the Russells arrived safely and well. The “Nelly Baker is expected from Hilton Head” tomorrow, and I hope she will bring us some letters. I sent her up there, day before yesterday.
Your loving son