Beaufort, S. C, June 8th [OAF]
—We arrived at this town on the evening of the 4th, not debarking at Hilton Head. On the morning of the 5th, we left the steamer and marched to our camp ground about a quarter of a mile out of the town, near the 55th Pennsylvania and 8th Maine regiments. Our reception was almost as enthusiastic here in Beaufort, as our departure from Boston was. You know probably how universal the enthusiasm was in Boston. The 54th has already won the reputation here of being a first class regiment, both in drill, discipline and physical condition. When the 54th marched through the streets of this town, the citizens and soldiers lined the walks, to get a look at the first black regiment from the North. The contrabands did not believe we were coming; one of them said, “I nebber bleeve black Yankee comee here help culer men.” They think now the kingdom is coming sure enough. The yarns the copperhead press have so studiously spun, that the slaves were better satisfied in their old condition than under the present order of things, is all bosh. So far as I have seen, they appear to understand the causes of the war better than a great many Northern editors. South Carolina was the pioneer in the war, and she had a double reason for it. According to one of the slaves showing, there had been a conspiracy hatching among the slaves, as far back as 1856, the year Fremont was up for the Presidency. The negroes had heard through their masters that Fremont was a “damned abolitionist,” they then began to lay plans to escape, or if necessary to fight. In December, 1856, after the defeat of the Republicans, one Prince Rivers went to Charleston, in the name of an organized committee, praying the Governor of the State to recommend the legislature to so modify some certain statutes that the negroes could live a little more like civilized people. The Governor sent him home to his master, telling him the State could not interfere with the relations existing between master and slave. Soon after that, every gun, pistol or other weapon was taken from the slaves; but the chivalry took fine care to say nothing about it in the papers. The people of the North knew nothing of these things.
The slaves, hereabouts, are working for the government mostly, although they can make a pretty snug little sum, peddling among the soldiers, selling fruit, &c.
The 2d South Carolina volunteers have made a successful expedition. Col. Montgomery left with his regiment May 1st, in three small steamers, accompanied by Capt. Brayton of the Rhode Island artillery with one section of his command; the next morning he anchored in the Combahee river, thirty miles from Beaufort and twenty from Charleston, and thirteen from Asheepoo, on the Charleston and Savannah railroad. The village on the river is approached by three different roads; one from Field’s Point, where the rebels had built a battery, but had deserted it; one from Tar Bluff, two miles above Field’s Point and one from Combahee Ferry, six miles further up the river. According to plans laid beforehand, Col. Montgomery took possession of the three approaches at one time. Capt. Thompson, with one company was placed in the earthworks at Field’s Point; Capt. Carver, with Co. E. was placed in the rifle pits at Tar Bluff; and, with the balance of the force, Col. M. proceeded to Combahee Ferry, and with the guns of the John Adams, and two howitzers, under command of Capt. Brayton, completely covered the road and the approaches to the bridge. At Asheepoo the rebels had three regiments of infantry, one battalion of cavalry, and a field battery of artillery. As Capt. Thompson advanced up the road from Field’s Point, cavalry came in sight, but a few well-directed volleys sent them back in confusion to their stronghold at Asheepoo. At half past three a battery of six pieces opened fire upon them, but not a man flinched, but poured their fire in upon the rebels, killing and wounding a number. At this stage of affairs, the Harriet A. Weed came up the river and poured a few shells in the midst of the rebels, causing them to retreat hastily. The raid commenced in earnest then, the soldiers scattered in every direction, burning and destroying everything of value they came across. Thirty-four large mansions, belonging to notorious rebels, were burned to the ground. After scattering the rebel artillery, the Harriet A. Weed tied up opposite a large plantation, owned by Nicholas Kirkland. Major Corwin, in command of companies R and C, soon effected a landing, without opposition. The white inhabitants, terrified at seeing armed negroes in their midst, fled in all directions, while the blacks ran for the boats, welcoming the soldiers as their deliverers. After destroying all they could not bring away, the expedition returned to Beaufort Wednesday evening, with over $15,000 worth of property and 840 slaves. Over 400 of the captured slaves have been enlisted in the 3d S. C. regiment; the rest of the number being women and children and old men.
Col. M. left yesterday on another expedition, and the 54th is ordered for active service. We leave tonight for, the Lord knows where, but we shall try to uphold the honor of the Old Bay State wherever we go. The wagons are being packed, so I must close.
J. H. G.
Str. “DeMolay” Off Hilton Head [BCF]
June 8 1863
We got aboard this vessel again this morning and came up from Beaufort. I shall go ashore here in a little while & get my orders from Genl Hunter. We go probably to St. Simon’s Island, as I told you in my last. No mail has gone, I believe, since the first night we arrived, and we have received nothing since we left Boston.
I am not very anxious to have my large horse sold, unless he will bring a good price. When he gets well, perhaps Uncle Jim would like to take him & use him. He would make an excellent carryall horse & is steadier in harness than in the saddle. The three horses I have here are all good. The small black one I shall probably sell to Major Hallowell.
Please send me the price of the mess-chests so that I can divide among the officers of my mess.
Enclosed is a note for Annie.
Love to Mother & all.
Always your loving son
p.s. Hilton Head. We are going to St. Simon’s & shall get away immediately.
R. G. S.