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.