Mercury, August 21, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Aug. 9, 1863
—Since my last weekly melange, the situation remains about the same in this department. The 55th regiment, Col. N. P. Hallowell commanding, arrived here from Newbern last Monday, and on Tuesday the regiment was introduced to Messrs. Shovel and Spade, a firm largely interested in building rifle pits, breastworks and batteries. The men appear to be in splendid physical condition, and take the two regiments in the aggregrate, I think the 55th is superior in material to the 54th. But the hardships incident to a soldier’s life may equalize them in a month or two.
Last Wednesday night, as a party of men on a fatigue expedition were approaching Fort Johnson, a little too near, they narrowly escaped being captured. The party were in boats containing lumber, for the purpose of building a bridge across the creek which divides this island from James Island. The tide falling, near morning they were discovered by the rebel pickets, who commenced firing on them. Had not our own sharpshooters been near, the rebels would no doubt have captured some of our men; as it was, however, the fatigue party scrambled out of the boats, and made tracks through the mud and mire for camp. The rebels did succeed in capturing a captain and five men, but they escaped.
The sickly season has now about commenced; daily we hear the muffled drum, accompanied by the shrill, shrieking tones of the fife, which tells us that the “fell destroyer, Death,” is near. Three times yesterday the plaintive notes of Bonaparte crossing the Alps were played passing our camp, followed by some noble son of New England in each instance. Our own regiment, too, lost one yesterday. His name was John Pieere, of Philadelphia; his complaint was fever.3 About noon yesterday there was sudden cessation of firing; the cause of it was the rebels sent out a flag of truce, and after that some of the general officers rode to the front and met those bearing it. What the result was is not known; but there were many rumors afloat during the afternoon in regard to it; some even hinting that Fort Wagner’s defenders wished to sue for conditional terms; others to the effect that the “populace” of Charleston, not unlike their confreres in New York, were becoming clamorous for peace, threatening Jeff, Beauregard & Co. with violence if they persisted in holding on to Charleston, in view of the vast preparations the “Yankees” were making for their destruction; and that Beauregard came to make some treaty for the surrender of the city. But the news manufacturers didn’t hit the nail on the head, I guess, for by 6 o’clock they were blazing away at each other nicely, with every prospect of —”to be continued.”
Last Wednesday afternoon the companies were all formed in line in their respective streets, when Col. Littlefield addressed each company separately to this effect: “I have been requested by the paymaster to say that if the men are ready to receive TEN dollars per month as part pay, he will come over and pay the men off; you need not be afraid though that you won’t get your THIRTEEN dollars per month, for you surely will.” He then went on explaining how this little financial hitch was brought about, by telling us of some old record on file in relation to paying laborers or contrabands employed on public works, which the War Department had construed as applying to colored soldiers, urging us to take the TEN NOW and wait for some action of the Government for the other three. He then said, “all who wish to take the ten dollars per month, raise your right hand,” and I am glad to say not one man in the whole regiment lifted a hand. He then said, we might not receive any money till after the convening of Congress. We replied that we had been over five months waiting, and we would wait till the Government could frame some special law, for the payment of part of its troops. The 2d South Carolina regiment was paid the ten dollars per month; but we were enlisted under different circumstances. Too many of our comrades’ bones lie bleaching near the walls of Fort Wagner to subtract even one cent from our hard earned pay. If the nation can ill afford to pay us, we are men and will do our duty while we are here without a murmur, as we have done always, before and since that day we were offered to sell our manhood for ten dollars per month.
J. H. G.
P.S. — I have just learned on “undoubted authority” that the flag of truce was for the purpose of returning the letters, valuables and money found on our dead and wounded in the assault of the 18th July. This may seem wonderful, that the rebels should act so honorably, but it is a fact. May be they are putting in practice what Hon. A. H. Stephens undertook to negotiate, thinking we will be magnanimous when we enter Charleston.
J. H. G.
Archive for August, 2010
In Camp, [VT]
Morris Island, S.C.,
Aug. 7/ 1863.
Since I wrote my last letter the startling news of the mobs, riots, incendiarism, pillage and slaughter, recently so rife in the North, particularly in New York City, has reached here. You may judge what our thoughts and feelings were as we read bulletin after bulletin depicting to the life the scenes of violence and bloodshed which rivaled and even surpassed in their horrors, those which were perpetrated in Paris, during the bloody French Revolution, for we are yet to find an instance there where the orphan was ruthlessly assailed, or women and children murdered and maltreated without cause or provocation, simply for belonging to another race or class of people.
What cause or provocation have the New York rabble for disloyalty to their country, and for their bloody, atrocious assaults on my countrymen? Are we their enemies? Have we tyrannized over them? Have we maltreated them? Have we robbed them? Are we alien enemies? And are we traitors? Has not the unrequited labor of nearly four million of our brethren added to the country’s wealth? Have we not been loyal to the country, in season and out of season, through good report and evil? And even while your mob-fiends upheld the assassin knife, and brandished the incendiary torch over the heads of our wives and children and to burn their homes, we were doing our utmost to sustain the honor of our country’s flag, to perpetuate, if possible, those civil, social, and political liberties, they, who so malig-nantly hate us, have so fully enjoyed. Oh! how causeless, senseless, outrageous, brutal, and violative of every sentiment of manhood, courage and humanity these attacks on our defenseless brethren have been!
Fearful as these mobs have been, I trust they may prove to be lessons, though fearful ones, to guide the popular and loyal masses in the country, in all times of national emergency and peril, for when the services of every citizen or denizen of the country are imperatively required to defend it against powerful and determined foes, either foreign or domestic, and there can be found a strong minority ready and willing to subvert the government by popular violence and tumult or a base submission unworthy the meanest varlet of some monarchy; much less the boasted citizens of this great and magnificent country, it will bring still more forcibly to their minds the truism that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
These mobs are the stepping-stones upon which base traitors and demagogues hope to mount into arbitrary power, and to overawe and subvert liberty and law. They seek anarchy; and despotism, they think, must succeed. First anarchy, then despotism. They make the negro the catspaw or victim; but the loyalist and the friend of law and order cannot fail to see that every blow directed against the negro is directed against them. Our relation to the government is and has been that of unflinching, unswerving loyalty. Even when the government, by its every precept and practice, conserved the interests of slavery, and slaves were hunted down by United States soldiers and surrendered to traitorous slave-masters, the conduct of the negro was marked with distinguished loyalty.
The instances are too numerous to cite of their braving the most fearful dangers to convey valuable information to the Union armies, and for this, the half yet untold, such has been our reward. Does not Milliken’s Bend and Port Hudson furnish a chapter of valor and faithful loyalty? Is there no justice in America—or are we doomed to general massacre, as Mr. Blair said we would be, in the event of the issue of the President’s Emancipation proclamation? If this be our doom let us prepare for the worst.
The siege of Charleston has not yet commenced. The preparations of Gen. Gillmore are very ample. There is no doubt that this citadel of treason will fall. Every one is impatient at the delay; but the siege of a stronghold upon which all of the engineering skill of the rebel Confederacy has been lavished, cannot be planned and matured in a day. They harass our fatigue parties considerably with their shells, but they only succeed in killing and wounding one or two men a day. These shells are very disagreeable at first, but after one is under them a while he can learn to become accustomed to them. The men sing, dance, and play cards and sleep as carelessly within range of them as if they were no more harmful than so many soap bubbles.
This Morris Island is the most desolate heap of sand-hills I ever saw. It is so barren that you cannot find so much as a gypsum weed5 growing. Our situation is almost unbearable. During the day the sun is intensely hot, and this makes the sand hot; so we are sandwiched between the hot sun and the hot sand. Happily, the evenings are cool and bracing—so much so, that woolen blankets are not uncomfortable. The bathing is most delightful. I think Morris Island beach the most magnificent on the whole Atlantic coast. Had we in the North such a bathing shore, it would soon eclipse Newport, Atlantic City or Long Branch, and the other bathing resorts. The beach at some points is at least one-third of a mile in width, descending at an almost imperceptible angle into the more refreshing breakers.
There is quite a stir in the camp of the 54th just at this moment, created by an attempt on the part of the Paymaster and Col. Littlefield of the 4th Connecticut volunteers (who has been temporarily assigned to the command of our regiment since the death of Col. Shaw, our lamented commander) to pay us off with the paltry sum of Sio per month, the amount paid to contrabands. Col. Littlefield had the men drawn up in their company streets, and addressed them in a style something like this: “Gentlemen, I know that you are in want of money. Many of you have families who are dependent on you for support. The Paymaster refuses to pay any of the colored troops more than $10 per month. I have no doubt that Congress, when it meets next December, will pay you the balance of your pay. The government, in paying you this sum, only advances you this amount—it is not considered paying you off.” Only one company consented to take this sum. The rest of the regiment are highly incensed at the idea that after they have been enlisted as Massachusetts soldiers, and been put into the active service of the United States government, they should be paid off as the drafted ex-slaves are. The non-commissioned officers are to be paid the same as the privates.
There is to be, according to the Colonel’s and Paymaster’s arrangement, no distinction. Our First Sergeants, Sergeant-Major, and other Sergeants are to be paid only $10 per month. Now, if this $10 per month is advanced by the Paymaster, and he is so confident or certain that the next Congress will vote us the pay that regularly enlisted soldiers, like the 54th, generally receive, why does he not advance the privates and non-commissioned officers their full pay? Or does he not fear that the next Congress may refuse to have anything to do with it, and conclude that if we could receive $10 and make out until then, we could make out with that amount to the end of our term? To offer our non-commissioned officers the same pay and reducing them to the level of privates, is, to say the least, insulting and degrading to them.
Then, again, if we are not placed on the same footing with other Massachusetts soldiers, we have been enlisted under false pretenses. Our enlistment itself is fraudulent. When Gov. Andrew addressed us at Readville on the presentation of our colors, he claimed us as Massachusetts soldiers. Frederick Douglass, in his address to the colored people to recruit the 54th, and who penned it by the authority of Gov. Andrew, declares that we form part of the quota of troops furnished by the State of Massachusetts. If this be the case, why make this invidious distinction? We perform the same duties of other Massachusetts troops, and even now we have to perform fatigue duty night and day, and stand in line of battle from 3 to 5 A.M. with white soldiers, and for all this, not to say anything of the many perils we necessarily encounter, we are offered $10 per month or nothing until next December or January! Why, in the name of William H. Seward, are we treated thus? Does the refusal to pay us our due pander to the proslavery Cerberus?” Negroes in the navy receive the same pay that the Irish, English, German, Spanish or Yankee race do, and take it as a matter of course. Why, sir, the State of Massachusetts has been rebuked and insulted through her colored soldiers, and she should protect us, as Gov. Andrew has pledged his word she would. Since our regiment has been in this department, an attempt has been made to substitute the dark for the light-blue pantaloons of the U. S. army. This was at St. Helena. Col. Shaw rejected them, and we continue to wear the uniform of the U.S. Infantry corps.
The ever-memorable anniversary of British West India Emancipation was observed by the non-commissioned officers of the 54th, by calling, on the 1st instant, a meeting, and passing a series of resolutions. This meeting was organized by the appointment of SergeantMajor Douglass, Chairman, and Sergt. Fletcher, Co. A, Secretary. A long list of Vice-Presidents were appointed, representing nearly every State. Commissary-Sergeant Lee represented South Carolina, Sergt. Grey, Massachusetts, Sergt. Swails, Pennsylvania. A Committee, consisting of Sergts. Francis, Stephens, Barquet, Johnson and Gambier, presented the following resolutions, which were passed:
1. Resolved, That we look with joy upon the example set by Great Britain twenty-nine years ago in liberating the slaves in her West India Islands, thereby making a long stride in the pathway of civilization, and eliciting the gratitude of enthralled millions everywhere—contributing largely to influence the people of this country to seek the overthrow of that system which has brought the nation to the verge of dissolution. We hail with more than gratification the determination of our government to follow her great and good example as evinced by that glorious instrument of January ist, 1863, proclaiming freedom to slaves of rebels in Southern States—the desire to purchase those in loyal States—the decision of Attorney-General Bates, and the calling to its aid the strong arms and loyal hearts of its black citizens.
2. Resolved, That we have another day added to our small family of holidays; we hail the 1st of January as twin-sister to the 1st of August,- and as we have met together within six miles of the birthplace of secession to commemorate this day, we trust that on the 1st day of January next, by the blessing of God on our arms, the city of Charleston will ring with the voices of free men, women and children shouting, “Truly, the day of Jubilee has come.”
3. Resolved, That while we look forward with sanguine hope for that day, and have the arms in our hands to help bring it about, we will use them, and put forth all our energies, and never cease until our ears shall hear the jubilant bell that rings the knell of slavery.
4. Resolved, That in our humble opinion the force of circumstances has compelled the loyal portion of this nation to acknowledge that man is physically the same, differing only in the circumstances under which he lives, and that action—true, manly action, only—is necessary to secure to us a full recognition of our rights as men by the controlling masses of this nation; and we see in the army, fighting for liberty and Union, the proper field for colored men, where they may win by their valor the esteem of all loyal men and women—believing that “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.”"
5. Resolved, That we recognize in the brilliant successes of the Union armies the proofs that Providence is on our side,- that His attributes cannot take sides with the oppressor.
Private John Peer, 20 Co. B, died at 6 o’clock P.M. this instant.
G. E. S.
August 5 the men were informed that the Government was ready to pay them $ 10 per month, less $3 deducted for clothing. The offer was refused, although many had suffering families. About this time a number of men were detached, or detailed, as clerks, butchers, and as hands on the steamers ” Escort” and ” Planter.” Work was begun on the third parallel within four hundred yards of Wagner on the night of the 9th. When completed, it was one hundred yards in length, as the island narrowed. Water was struck at a slight depth. The weather was excessively hot, and flies and sand-fleas tormenting. Only sea-bathing and cooler nights made living endurable. The Fifty-fourth was excused from turning out at reveille in consequence of excessive work, for we were daily furnishing parties reporting to Lieut. P. S. Michie, United States Engineers, at the Left Batteries, and to Colonel Serrell at the “Lookout.”
Mercury, August 5, 1863
Our correspondent, “J.H.G.” is a member of Co. C, of the 54th Massachusetts regiment. He is a colored man, belonging to this city, and his letters are printed by us, verbatim et literatim, as we receive them. He is a truthful and intelligent correspondent, and a good soldier.
Mercury, August 16, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, August 3, 1863
The latest news from this department is the capture of a blockade runner having on board heavy Whitworth guns. The guns captured are now in course of erection on the north end of the Island to bombard the fort, which they were intended to defend. The planting of siege guns steadily progresses, but is necessarily slow, as the guns have to be hauled through a marsh, and that too in the night, so the enemy cannot see what we are about, and to avert their constant rain of shells, they thinking of course we can’t work when they are shelling us; but they may find out their mistake before this week is out. Every available man on the Island is constantly at work, so as to bring things to a speedy issue. Some are throwing up breastworks, some hauling guns, others loading shells, or carting ammunition from the wharf to the magazines, and every one is confident of success, helping cheerfully in the great amount of work, which must be done before the “grand ball” comes off. It is evident the Commanding General intends to make a sure thing of it this time, and not make the assault till he has got everything ready. One noticeable feature is Gen. Gillmore is supervising the preparations himself, and I do not think any man in the department works more than he does. The consequence is the men has confidence in him, and the rebels a corresponding degree of fear of the “intrepid engineer,” as they term him. As I write, the rebels are vainly blazing away, while our men both white and black are steadily pursuing their work right in their very teeth. When they see the flash from Fort Sumter they merely slip into their caves, dug already for the purpose, and after the shell has exploded, out they come and go to work again, till old Sumter gives them another salute. I have been up to the front three times this week, but “I still live,” and all the others who have been up there.
The rebels are evidently getting scared. Last Tuesday we could see a balloon hovering over Charleston for over an hour; they were doubtless reconnoitering, but I think it is likely they could see they would be warmly received, should they take a notion to visit us. We were enlightened by the New York or Boston press, of the 18th to 20th ult. We were informed that the Monitors had reduced Forts Wagner and Sumter on the 11th, and Beauregard had evacuated and burned Charleston! And another yarn, of two regiments planting a flag on Fort Wagner, and holding it two hours! which would have been, but for the cowardice of a Pennsylvania regiment — all of which stories are sell, and must be compared with the Commanding General’s official report. The fact is, “our own special correspondents travelling with Gen. So-and-so’s division” are a good deal like the “highly intelligent contraband,” or the “gentleman of undoubted veracity”— they write of what they hear, rather than what they see. In a conversation with one of the men of the 6th Conn, regiment, which was in the charge first made, he said if any one got in the fort it was more than he knew, and he said the regiment which had been mentioned as acting cowardly had been wronged.
There is one name I omitted in the two last letters. Nathan L. Young of New Bedford, was wounded on the night of the 18th, and died on board the steamer before arriving at Hilton Head. According to Lieut. Grace’s official report from the Surgeon General at Beaufort, Corp. Torrance is not there, and the men who have arrived from there corroborate the statement. So he is among the killed or prisoners, as I intimated in my first letter. I am unable to give you any account of how the wounded are getting along, as I have received no communication from any of them since they have been there. Our boys have got over their depression of spirit somewhat, caused by the fall of so many of their companions, in the dawning of a speedy victory. They are all in hopes of another “good time” before going into Charleston, but they would a leetle rather have it on a fair field, with no odds. Charging is good when you have a fair sight; but they all agree that Wagner is a hot place.
J. H. G.