Mercury, December 4, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Nov. 21, 1863
—Since the last record of events in this department, the bombardment of Sumter is still kept up night and day, and still the gallant rebels are masters of the situation — which, by the way, is a severe comment on the gallantry of Major Anderson in 1861. But circumstances now may be the incentive to the rebels to hold Sumter, rather than any desire of historic fame, for it is positively asserted that the great bar to the iron clads’ progress up the harbor is fastened to Sumter; and if we once get possession of Sumter, and let the chain drop to the bottom, which is stretched across the channel, then the monitors are to go in and demand the surrender of the city, as it is calculated that all the rebel batteries are not able to stop them. Such a belief is not unreasonable, if compared with what the iron clads have stood, in the way of shot.
This may account for the long delay in shelling the city from our present position — that Mr. Beauregard, who is a notorious chap for taking exceptions, may have no shadow of complaint against us, of unfairness, or “violating the usages of civilized warfare,” or acting in any manner objectionable to the ideas of Booli, Crapau & Co., in the siege of this “most refined city of America.”
Last Monday night, the rebels opened a new mortar battery, in rear of the Moultrie house on Sullivan’s Island, which occasioned some little excitement; they no doubt expected to surprise us and completely shell us out, before we could possibly do anything to silence them; it was about half past ten, everything was very quiet, nothing but the regular shot or shell every ten minutes at Sumter breaking the quiet of the night, when the shell came through the air like so many firey tongued devils; seven mortars were opened in quick succession, keeping such a steady rain of fire on our batteries, pickets, and working parties, that they were forced to seek shelter. The telegraph flashed the news to headquarters that the enemy was endeavoring to shell us out preparatory to making a grand assault, — the whole force of the Island was immediately drawn out in battle array — the parrots and sea coast mortars were ordered to talk, and in thirty-five minutes the rebel invasion was a something out of the question. The next day, the monitors went up and gave them such a peppering that they have not fired a mortar from that battery since, and the Ironsides which the rebels had fondly believed was made useless by their nocturnal visit, let go from her mooring and took a trip up to Moultrie, gave them a salute of shot and shell, and then very coolly went back to her position and anchored, as much as to say “I still live Mr. Beauregard.” In the engagement on Tuesday, one of the monitors got aground opposite Moultrie, and the rebels concentrated their fire upon her, but to no purpose — the extent of damage done was to riddle her smoke stack. She was aground for at least five hours, so that is a pretty sufficient proof of their invulnerability.
Last night our forces made a reconnaissance around Sumter; one boat’s crew more daring than some went up to the foot of the ruins and was hailed by the sentinel, the alarm was given and a lurid sheet of flame issued from Sumter, followed by the crack of at least four hundred muskets. Forts Johnson, Moultrie, Bee and Beauregard opened with grape and canister, and our party beat a hasty retreat. But where do the rebels keep such a strong garrison? The shot and shell falling in fort to all appearances leaves no room for 50 men, unless they have bomb proofs similar to what is in Wagner. But they must be got out, and I would suggest that we have a steam force engine, capable of squirting a column of liquid the distance from Gregg to Sumter; fill it with camphene, fluid, petroleum, or kerosene, or any other combustible fluid or oil, and saturate interior and exterior of the fort; the debris or anything else, becoming saturated with these combustible spirits or oils, would become ignited by the bursting of a few shell, and the heat from the flame would be so intense that the inhabitants of Sumter would be obliged to leave it. This may be considered rather ticklish, but, is it any worse than throwing red hot cannon balls, sticklers for humane proceedings? Get them out, any way. If they won’t come out for one species of torment invent something hotter. War is nothing but barbarism at the best, and those who can excel in that, to put an end to a longer train of barbarisms, are in the end the most humane of the two. Putnam and Strong are pounding at battery Simpkins on James Island to-day, making the mud and sand fly terribly; from the accuracy of our shots we gain the advantage of keeping them busy repairing damages. Johnson fires occasionally, but her fire does little damage. Moultrie fires none except a little daily practice, ricocheting shot, so as to sweep the water around the Northeast angle of Sumter in case of an assault.
What the intention of doing is, no one can divine; everything appears to go on as if we were to be established for life. The bombardment possesses no interest as it is going on night and day, and a lull in the booming of guns and mortars would be something extraordinary in itself.
Some of the men in the 54th have read with surprise that part of Governor Andrew’s special message to the extra session of the General Court, recommending the Commonwealth to pay the troops of the 54th and 55th regiments the extra three dollars per month which the Gen-eral government is too mean, or obstinate to pay. [We are] not surprised at the solicitude of the Governor to have us paid what we have so dearly earned, nor would we be surprised if the State would cheerfully assume the burden; but the Governor’s recommendation clearly shows that the General Government don’t mean to pay us, so long as there is a loophole to get out of it, and that is what surprises us, a government that won’t recognize a difference between volunteers in good faith, and a class thrown upon it by the necessities of war. What if they do say that colored troops were raised in the Northern States merely by sufferance. A man who can go on the field counts, whether he be white or black, brown or grey; and if Massachusetts don’t furnish the requisite number, why she must submit to a draft. But, we as soldiers, cannot call in question the policy of the government, but as men who have families to feed, and clothe, and keep warm, we must say, that the ten dollars by the greatest government in the world is an unjust distinction to men who have only a black skin to merit it. To put the matter on the ground that we are not soldiers would be simply absurd, in the face of the existing facts. A soldier’s pay is $13 per month, and Congress has nothing to do but to acknowledge that we are such — it needs no further legislation. To say even, we were not soldiers and pay us $20 would be injustice, for it would rob a whole race of their title to manhood, and even make them feel, no matter how faithful, how brave they had been, that their mite towards founding liberty on a firm basis was spurned, and made mock of.
November 21, 1863
This is Gooding’s 39th letter to the Mercury
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