Mercury, December 28, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Dec. 12, 1863
—The week just past has been one of unusual interest in the Department of the South. The first item is the loss of one of the iron monitors, on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 6th. The cause of her loss is enveloped in mystery to those on shore. We hear of a dozen different stories concerning it; some say that she was sunk by excessive rolling, as there was a heavy sea on at the time; while it is stated by others that she was sunk by a torpedo floating down the harbor; and others assert that some part of her boiler gear exploded and, forced downward, went through her bottom, thereby causing the catastrophe. Putting aside all speculations as to how it happened, it will bring to the mind of many persons at home, as well as some abroad, that it was almost time that the “Iron Fleet” off Charleston had made itself famous for something more remarkable than “completing preparations.” The country we think would feel better satisfied to pay a half million dollars apiece for every monitor before Charleston, providing they were sunk in a genuine endeavor to anchor in rebellion roads. If we don’t look sharp, U.S. Grant may send fighting Joe Hooker to the rear of Charleston before the monitors have been cleared of barnacles! The next item is the unfortunate penetration of one of our magazines by a rebel bomb shell. The shell came through a part of the magazine which the engineers were engaged in repairing, they having removed the sod and sand bags for the purpose of covering the top with four or five feet more of earth. The shell struck the top and broke through the roof, falling among a pile of capped shell, exploding twenty of them, besides a number of kegs of powder. The casualties resulting therefrom were four men killed, eleven men seriously wounded, and seventeen slightly, with the usual number scared — your correspondent among the last mentioned.
The next piece of news which you are no doubt apprised of through the Richmond papers, is the capture of Pocatiligo bridge by Brig. Gen. Seymour; so goes the yarn, on good authority too. The possession of this bridge by the Union forces may cut off some of the supplies of Charleston, but not to such an extent as to hasten a termination of the siege. It places Savannah in a rather tight position so far as direct communication with Richmond is concerned; but still they have a circuitous railroad open through the interior of Georgia, unless Grant’s army cuts them off at Atlanta. Still, holding Pocatiligo bridge is an advantage, which if backed by a sufficient number of men may induce the Commanding General to act independent of the “web feet,” although going up to the rear may be a hard road to travel, as it must be expected the rebels have taken every precaution to hold the rear since the taking of Pocatiligo bridge.
Gen. Gillmore seems determined to keep the citizens of Charleston awake, for hardly a night during the past week but what the rebellious city has been fired in some spot. Every night about 11 o’clock we open on the city. One night, being on grand guard at Fort Strong, everything was quiet as the grave, save the breaking of the droning swell on the beach, which made the quiet more intense. Hardly a breath of wind was stirring, when the roar of a 200-pound Parrott broke the silence. You could hear the missile whizzing through the air, and in just forty seconds, you see a sudden gleam — and hear a low rumbling noise, which plainly tells you that it has burst over Charleston. In five minutes the second shot is fired, with like effect, when you distinctly hear the alarm bells tolling, to warn the sleepy citizens of danger; and you observe James Island batteries signalizing to those on Sullivan’s Island, when away they blaze with mortars and columbiads, vainly endeavoring to silence the “indefatigueables.” They have a mortar battery on Sullivan’s Island, with seven mortars in it, which they let go every time we fire into the city, and you may suppose that there is a little noise about midnight, when the Yankees fire two pieces to the rebels’ one. Yesterday, Fort Sumter was in a blaze, but how it was brought about, I am at a loss to tell, unless the garrison set fire to the fort, or our forces have fired a few Greek shells into it. The fire and smoke were plainly visible from our camp all the forenoon, and till two o’clock in the afternoon. While Sumter was in flames, the contending batteries were unusually active in pelting each other; fourteen mortars were steadily kept firing into Sumter, Fort Strong attended to James Island, Fort Putnam poured into Moultrie, and the 300-pounders shook the folks up in Charleston. I think every gun and mortar the contending armies have mounted were brought into play at that time, for the roar of ordnance was steady and terrible. It was not safe for a man to venture out of the entrenchments between Forts Strong and Putnam, so steady was the fall of fragments of exploding shell, or round and steel pointed shot. Col. E. N. Hallowell, while riding up to Fort Putnam, had his horse shot from under him but was not touched himself. The rain commencing about 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon, the firing ceased, and has not yet been renewed.
Archive for December, 2010
Theodore Tilton, in a communication to the Boston “Journal,” dated New York, Dec. 12, 1863, quotes from a letter received by him “from a Massachusetts soldier in the Fifty-fourth “: —“A strange misapprehension exists as to the matter of pay, and it pains us deeply. We came forward at the call of Governor Andrew, in which call he distinctly told us that we were to be subsisted, clothed, paid, and treated in all respects the same as other Massachusetts soldiers. Again, on the presentation of flags to the regiment at Camp Meigs, the Governor reiterated this promise, on the strength of which we marched through Boston, holding our heads high as men and as soldiers. Nor did we grumble because we were not paid the portion of United States bounty paid to other volunteer regiments in advance. Now that we have gained some reputation, we claim the right to be heard.
“Three times have we been mustered in for pay. Twice have we swallowed the insult offered us by the. United States paymaster, contenting ourselves with a simple refusal to acknowledge ourselves different from other Massachusetts soldiers. Once, in the face of insult and intimidation such as no body of men and soldiers were ever subjected to before, we quietly refused and continued to do our duty. For four months we have been steadily working night and day under fire. And such work! Up to our knees in mud half the time, causing the tearing and wearing out of more than the volunteer’s yearly allowance of clothing, denied time to repair and wash (what we might by that means have saved), denied time to drill and perfect ourselves in soldierly qualities, denied the privilege of burying our dead decently. All this we’ve borne patiently, waiting for justice.
“Imagine our surprise and disappointment on the receipt by the last mail of the Governor’s address to the General Court, to find him making a proposition to them to pay this regiment the difference between what the United States Government offers us and what they are legally bound to pay us, which, in effect, advertises us to the world as holding out for money and not from principle, — that we sink our manhood in consideration of a few more dollars. How has this come about? What false friend has been misrepresenting us to the Governor, to make him think that our necessities outweigh our self-respect? I am sure no representation of ours ever impelled him to that action.”
To the letter Theodore Tilton added some forcible sentences. Among other things he wrote, —“They are not willing that the Federal Government should throw mud upon them, even though Massachusetts stands ready to wipe it off. And perhaps it is not unsoldierly in a soldier, white or black, to object to being insulted by a government which he heroically serves. The regiment whose bayonets pricked the name of Colonel Shaw into the roll of immortal honor can afford to be cheated out of their money, but not out of their manhood.”
December came in, cold and rainy, for the winter weather had set in. The day, however, was a happy and memorable one, for news was received of General Grant’s great victory at Missionary Ridge, and every fort fired a salute, causing spiteful replies from the enemy. A high wind prevailed on the 6th, and those who were upon the bluff or beach witnessed a terrible disaster to the fleet. At 2 P.M. the monitor “Weehawken,” off the island, foundered, carrying to their death, imprisoned below, four officers and twenty-seven men.
Calls for fatigue were now lighter and better borne, for seventy-three conscripts arrived for the Fifty-fourth on November 28, and twenty-two recruits on December 4. Battalion and brigade drills were resumed. We were furnishing heavier details for grand guard, composed usually of several officers and two hundred and fifty men. They went out every third or fourth day during our further stay on the island. For the diversion of the officers the “Christy Minstrels” gave their first performance December 5 in Dr. Bridgham’s hospital tent, enlarged by a wall tent on one side. Songs were sung and jokes cracked in genuine minstrel style.