Posts Tagged   54th Massachusetts

July 17, 1863

Emilio describes the immediate overnight march from James Island to Morris Island and the preparations for the assault on the 18th ( [BBR] pp.63-72):

General Terry was ordered to evacuate James Island that night. At about five o’clock P. M., the Fifty-fourth was relieved by the Fifty-second Pennsylvania, and returned to the bivouac. While awaiting the marching, orders, several officers and men of the Tenth Connecticut came to express their appreciation of the service rendered by the Fifty-fourth companies attacked in the morning, by which they were enabled to effect a safe retreat. Afterward, upon Morris Island the colonel of that regiment made similar expressions.

… the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts was given the advance, moving at 9.30 o’clock that night, followed by the other regiments, the route being pointed out by guides from the engineers, who accompanied the head of column.

All stores, ammunition, and horses of the Fifty-fourth were put on board the steamer “Boston” by Quartermaster Ritchie, who, with his men, worked all night in the mud and rain. Surgeon Lincoln R. Stone of the Fifty-fourth and Surgeon Samuel A. Green of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts saw that all the wounded were properly cared for, and also embarked.

It was a stormy night, with frequent flashes of lightning, and pouring rain. Colonel Davis, at the proper time, saw to the withdrawal of the Fifty-second Pennsylvania, which held the front lines. So silently was the operation accomplished that the enemy did not discover our evacuation until daylight. When the Fifty-sixth New York, the rear-guard, had crossed the bridge leading from James Island, at 1A. M., on the 17th, it was effectually destroyed, thus rendering pursuit difficult.

That night’s march was a memorable one, for the difficulties of the way were exceptional, and only to be encountered upon the Sea Islands. After passing the bridge, the road led along narrow causeways and paths only wide enough for two men to pass abreast; over swamps, and streams bridged for long distances by structures of frail piling, supporting one or two planks with no hand-rail. A driving rain poured down nearly the whole time, and the darkness was intense. Blinding flashes of lightning momentarily illumined the way, then fading but to render the blackness deeper.

Throughout most of the march the men were obliged to move in single file, groping their way and grasping their leader as they progressed, that they might not separate or go astray. Along the foot-bridges the planks became slippery with mire from muddy feet, rendering the footing insecure, and occasioning frequent falls, which delayed progress. Through the woods, wet branches overhanging the path, displaced by the leaders, swept back with bitter force into the faces of those following. Great clods of clay gathered on the feet of the men.

Two hours were consumed in passing over the dikes and foot-bridges alone. In distance the route was but a few miles, yet it was daybreak when the leading companies reached firmer ground. Then the men flung themselves on the wet ground, and in a moment were in deep sleep, while the column closed up. Reunited solidly again, the march was resumed, and Cole’s Island soon reached. The regiments following the Fifty-fourth had the benefit of daylight most of the way.

Footsore, weary, hungry, and thirsty, the regiment was halted near the beach opposite Folly Island about 5 A. M. , on the 17th. Sleep was had until the burning sun awakened the greater number. Regiments had been arriving and departing all the morning. Rations were not procurable, and they were fortunate who could find a few crumbs or morsels of meat in their haversacks. Even water was hard to obtain, for crowds of soldiers collected about the few sources of supply. By noon the heat and glare from the white sand were almost intolerable.

In the evening a moist cool breeze came; and at eight o’clock the regiment moved up the shore to a creek in readiness to embark on the ” General Hunter,” lying in the stream. It was found that the only means of boarding the steamer was by a leaky long-boat which would hold about thirty men. Definite orders came to report the regiment to General Strong at Morris Island without delay, and at 10 p. M. the embarkation began. By the light of a single lantern the men were stowed in the boat. Rain was pouring down in torrents, for a thunderstorm was raging. Throughout that interminable night the long-boat was kept plying from shore to vessel and back, while those on land stood or crouched about in dripping clothes, awaiting their turn for ferriage to the steamer, whose dim light showed feebly in the gloom. The boat journey was made with difficulty, for the current was strong, and the crowded soldiers obstructed the rowers in their task. It was an all night’s work. Colonel Shaw saw personally to the embarkation; and as daylight was breaking he stepped in with the last boat-load, and himself guided the craft to the “Hunter.” Thus with rare self-sacrifice and fine example, he shared the exposure of every man, when the comfortable cabin of the steamer was at his disposal from the evening before.

On the “General Hunter” the officers procured breakfast; but the men were still without rations. Refreshed, the officers were all together for the last time socially; before another day three were dead, and three wounded who never returned. Captain Simpkins, whose manly appearance and clear-cut features were so pleasing to look upon, was, as always, quiet and dignified; Captain Russel was voluble and active as ever, despite all fatigue. Neither appeared to have any premonition of their fate. It was different with Colonel Shaw, who again expressed to Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell his apprehension of speedy death.

Running up Folly River, the steamer arrived at Pawnee Landing, where, at 9 A. M. [on the 18th], the Fifty-fourth disembarked. Crossing the island through woods, the camps of several regiments were passed, from which soldiers ran out, shouting, ” Well done! we heard your guns! ” Others cried, “Hurrah, boys! you saved the Tenth Connecticut!” Leaving the timber, the Fifty-fourth came to the sea beach, where marching was easier. Stretching away to the horizon, on the right, was the Atlantic; to the left, sand hillocks, with pine woods farther inland. Occasional squalls of rain came, bringing rubber blankets and coats into use. At one point on the beach, a box of water-soaked hard bread was discovered, and the contents speedily divided among the hungry men. Firing at the front had been heard from early morning, which toward noon was observed to have risen into a heavy cannonade. After a march of some six miles, we arrived at Lighthouse Inlet and rested, awaiting transportation. Tuneful voices about the colors started the song, “When this Cruel War is Over,” and the pathetic words of the chorus were taken up by others. It was the last song of many; but few then thought it a requiem. By ascending the sand-hills, we could see the distant vessels engaging Wagner. When all was prepared, the Fifty-fourth boarded a small steamer, landed on Morris Island, about 5 P. M., and remained near the shore for further orders.

General Gillmore, on the 13th, began constructing four batteries, mounting forty-two guns and mortars, to damage the slopes and guns of Wagner, which were completed under the enemy’s fire, and in spite of a sortie at night, on the 14th. He expected to open with them on the 16th; but heavy rains so delayed progress that all was not prepared until the 18th. Beyond this siege line, which was 1,350 yards south of Wagner, stretched a narrow strip of land between the sea and Vincent’s Creek, with its marshes. At low tide, the beach sand afforded a good pathway to the enemy’s position; but at high tide, it was through deep, loose sand, and over low sand hillocks. This stretch of sand was unobstructed, until at a point two hundred yards in front of Wagner, the enemy had made a line of rifle trenches. Some fifty yards nearer Wagner, an easterly bend of the marsh extended to within twenty-five yards of the sea at high tide, forming a defile, through which an assaulting column must pass.

Nearly covered by this sweep of the marsh, and commanding it as well as the stretch of sand beyond to the Federal line, was “Battery Wagner,” so named by the Confederates, in memory of Lieut.-Col. Thomas M. Wagner, First South Carolina Artillery, killed at Fort Sumter. This field work was constructed of quartz sand, with turf and palmetto log revetment, and occupied the whole width of the island there, — some six hundred and thirty feet. Its southern and principal front was double-bastioned. Next the sea was a heavy traverse and curtain covering a sally-port. Then came the southeast bastion, prolonged westerly by a curtain connected with the southwest bastion. At the western end was another sally-port. An infantry parapet closed the rear or north face. It had large bombproofs, magazines, and heavy traverses.

Wagner’s armament was … Wagner’s garrison, on the 18th, consisted of … a total force of seventeen hundred men. Such was the position, armament, and garrison of the strongest single earthwork known in the history of warfare.

About 10 A. M., on the 18th, five wooden gunboats joined the land batteries in shelling Wagner, lying out of the enemy’s range. At about 12.30 P. M., five monitors and the ” New Ironsides ” opened, and the land batteries increased their fire. A deluge of shot was now poured into the work, driving the main portion of its garrison into the bombproofs, and throwing showers of sand from the slopes of Wagner into the air but to fall back in place again. The enemy’s flag was twice shot away, and, until replaced, a battle-flag was planted with great gallantry by daring men. From Gregg, Sumter, and the James Island and Sullivan’s Island batteries, the enemy returned the iron compliments; while for a time Wagner’s cannoneers ran out at intervals, and served a part of the guns, at great risk.

A fresh breeze blew that day; at times the sky was clear; the atmosphere, lightened by recent rains, resounded with the thunders of an almost incessant cannonade. Smoke-clouds hung over the naval vessels, our batteries, and those of the enemy. During this terrible bombardment, the two infantry regiments and the artillery companies, except gun detachments, kept in the bombproofs. But the Charleston Battalion lay all day under the parapets of Wagner, — a terrible ordeal, which was borne without demoralization. In spite of the tremendous fire, the enemy’s loss was only eight men killed and twenty wounded, before the assault.

General Taliaferro foresaw that this bombardment was preliminary to an assault, and had instructed his force to take certain assigned positions when the proper time came….The tide turned to flow at 4 p. M., and about the same time firing from Wagner ceased, and not a man was to be seen there. During the afternoon the troops were moving from their camps toward the front. Late in the day the belief was general that the enemy had been driven from his shelter, and the armament of Wagner rendered harmless. General Gillmore, after calling his chief officers together for conference, decided to attack that evening, and the admiral was so notified. Firing from land and sea was still kept up with decreased rapidity, while the troops were preparing.

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July 16, 1863

The Confederates attacked on James Island today, and the men of the 54th distinguished themselves by their steadfastness. Here is Emilio’s description of the battle ( [BBR], pp.57-63):

In the gray of early dawn of July 16, the troops in bivouac on James Island were awakened by dropping shots, and then heavy firing on the picket line to the right. Clambering to the top of a pile of cracker-boxes, an officer of the Fifty-fourth, looking in the direction of the firing, saw the flashes of musketry along the outposts. In a few moments came the sharp metallic explosions from field-guns to the left by the river-bank. Wilkie James, the adjutant, rode in post-haste along the line, with cheery voice but unusually excited manner, ordering company commanders to form. “Fall in! fall in!” resounded on all sides, while drums of the several regiments were beating the long-roll. But a few moments sufficed for the Fifty-fourth to form, when Colonel Shaw marched it to the right and some little distance to the rear, where it halted, faced to the front, and stood in line of battle at right angles to the Secessionville road. Rapid work was going on at the outposts. Before dawn the pickets of the Fifty-fourth had heard hoarse commands and the sound of marching men coming from the bank of darkness before them. Soon a line of men in open order came sweeping toward them from the gloom into the nearer and clearer light.

Colquitt, with six companies of the Eutaw Regiment (Twenty-fifth South Carolina), skirmishing before his infantry column, crossing Rivers’s causeway, was rapidly advancing on the black pickets.

Simpkins’s right was the first point of contact; and the men, thus suddenly attacked by a heavy force, discharged their pieces, and sullenly contested the way, firing as they went, over rough and difficult ground, which obstructed the enemy’s advance as well as their own retirement. Soon the enemy gained the road at a point in rear of Russel’s right. Some of the men there, hardly aware of their extremity, were still holding their positions against those of the enemy who appeared in the immediate front. It seemed to Sergt. Peter Vogelsang of Company H, who had his post at a palmetto-tree, that in a moment one hundred Rebels were swarming about him. He led his comrades to join men on his left, where they advanced, firing. With effect too, for they came to the body of a dead Rebel, from whom Vogelsang took a musket.

Russel’s right posts, thus cut off, were followed by a company of the Nineteenth Georgia, and after the desultory fighting were driven, to escape capture, into the creek on the right of the line, where some were drowned. Those most courageous refused to fall back, and were killed or taken as prisoners. Sergt. James D. Wilson of Company H was one of the former. He was an expert in the use of the musket, having been employed with the famous Ellsworth Zouaves of Chicago. Many times he had declared to his comrades that he would never retreat or surrender to the enemy. On that morning, when attacked, he called to his men to stand fast. Assailed by  five men, he is said to have disabled three of them. Some cavalrymen coming up, he charged them with a shout as they circled about him, keeping them all at bay for a time with the bayonet of his discharged musket, until the brave fellow sank in death with three mortal besides other wounds.

Captain Russel, finding that the enemy had turned his flank before he could face back, had to retire with such men as were not cut off, at double-quick, finding the foe about the reserve house when he reached it. A mounted officer charged up to Russel, and cut twice at his head with his sword. Preston Williams of Company H caught the second sweep upon his bayonet and shot the Confederate through the neck, thus saving his captain’s life. From the reserve house Russel and his men retired, fight-ing as they could.

Captain Simpkins’s right, as has been told, first bore the force of the attack. By strenuous efforts and great personal exposure that cool and gallant officer collected some men in line. With them he contested the way back step by step, halting now and then to face about and fire, thus gaining time, the loss of which thwarted the enemy’s plan. Of his men, Corp. Henry A. Field of Company K especially distinguished himself. Captain Willard at the reserve house at once sent back word, by a mounted orderly, of the situation. To the support of his right he sent Lieutenant Appleton with some men, and to the left First Sergeant Simmons of Company B with a small force, and then looked for aid from our main body. He endeavored to form a line of skirmishers, when the men began coming back from the front, but with little success. The men could not be kept in view because of the underbrush nearly as high as a man. As the expected succor did not come, the officers and the remaining men made their way back to the division.

It will be remembered that with the first musket-shots came the sound of field-guns from the Stono. The enemy’s four Napoleons had galloped into battery within four hundred yards of the gunboats, and fired some ten rounds before they were replied to; their shots crashed through the “Pawnee ” again and again, with some loss. It was impossible for the gunboats to turn in the narrow stream, and their guns did not bear properly. To drop down was dangerous, but it was done; when out of close range, the “Marblehead,” “Pawnee,” and “Huron ” soon drove their tormentors away from the river-bank.

To capture the Tenth Connecticut, the enemy, after dealing with the Fifty-fourth, sent a portion of his force; but the resistance made by Captain Simpkins had allowed time for the Tenth Connecticut to abandon its dangerous position at the double-quick. None too soon, however, for five minutes’ delay would have been fatal. A correspondent of ” The Reflector,” writing from Morris Island a few days later, said: —

“The boys of the Tenth Connecticut could not help loving the men who saved them from destruction. I have been deeply affected at hearing this feeling expressed by officers and men of the Connecticut regiment; and probably a thousand homes from Windham to Fairfield have in letters been told the story how the dark-skinned heroes fought the good fight and covered with their own brave hearts the retreat of brothers, sons, and fathers of Connecticut.”

The valuable time gained by the resistance of the Fifty-fourth pickets had also permitted the formation of Terry’s division in line of battle. Hardly had the Fifty-fourth taken its position before men from the front came straggling in, all bearing evidence of struggles with bush and brier, some of the wounded limping along unassisted, others helped by comrades. One poor fellow, with his right arm shattered, still carried his musket in his left hand.

Captain Russel appeared in sight, assisting a sergeant, badly wounded. Bringing up the rear came Captains Willard and Simpkins, the latter with his trousers and rubber coat pierced with bullets. As the pickets and their officers reached the regiment, they took their places in line.

A few minutes after these events, the enemy, having advanced to a position within about six hundred yards of the Federal line, opened fire with guns of the Marion Artillery, making good line shots, but fortunately too high.

It was a supreme moment for the Fifty-fourth, then under fire as a regiment for the first time. The sight of wounded comrades had been a trial; and the screaming shot and shell flying overhead, cutting the branches of trees to the right, had a deadly sound. But the dark line stood stanch, holding the front at the most vital point. Not a man was out of place, as the officers could see while they stood in rear of the lines, observing their men.

In reply to the enemy’s guns the Connecticut battery fired percussion-shells, and for some time this artillery duel continued. To those who were anticipating an attack by infantry, and looking for the support of the gunboats, their silence was ominous. Every ear was strained to catch the welcome sound, and at last it came in great booms from Parrott guns. Very opportunely, too, on the night before, the armed transports “John Adams” and “Mayflower” had run up the creek on our right flank, and their guns were fired twelve or fifteen times with good effect before the enemy retired.

The expected attack on Terry’s line by infantry did not take place, for after about an hour the enemy retired in some confusion. By General Terry’s order, the Fifty-fourth was at once directed to reoccupy the old picket line. Captain Jones with two companies advanced, skirmishing; and the main body followed, encountering arms and equipments of the enemy strewn over a broad trail. At the reserve house the regiment halted in support of a strong picket line thrown out. Parties were sent to scour the ground, finding several wounded men lying in the brush or in the marsh across the creek. They also brought in the body of a Confederate, almost a child, with soft skin and long fair hair, red with his own blood. This youthful victim of the fight was tenderly buried soon after.

Some of our dead at first appeared to be mutilated; but closer inspection revealed the fact that the fiddler-crabs, and not the enemy, did the work. It was told by some of those who lay concealed, that where Confederate officers were, the colored soldiers had been protected; but that in other cases short shrift was given, and three men had been shot and others bayonetted.

Colonel Shaw had despatched Adjutant James to report that the old line was re-established. He returned with the following message from General Terry:

“Tell your colonel that I am exceedingly pleased with the conduct of your regiment. They have done all they could do.”

During the afternoon a mail was received. After reading their letters Colonel Shaw and Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell conversed. The colonel asked the major if he believed in presentiments, and added that he felt he would be killed in the first action. Asked to try to shake off the feeling, he quietly said, “I will try.”

General Beauregard reported his loss as three killed, twelve wounded, and three missing, which is believed to be an under-estimate. We found two dead Confederates, and captured six prisoners representing four regiments. The Adjutant-General of Massachusetts gives the Fifty-fourth loss as fourteen killed, eighteen wounded, and thirteen missing. Outside our regiment the casualties were very light.

General Terry in his official report says : —

“I desire to express my obligations to Captain Balch, United States Navy, commanding the naval forces in the river, for the very great assistance rendered to me, and to report to the commanding general the good services of Captain Rockwell and his battery, and the steadiness and soldierly conduct of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment who were on duty at the outposts on the right and met the brunt of attack.”

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July 14, 1863

The run-up to the Confederate attack is described by Emilio ( [BBR], pp.55-56):

Between the 10th and 16th there had arrived for the enemy from Georgia and North Carolina two four-gun batteries and six regiments of infantry. Beauregard also reduced his force on Morris Island and concentrated on James, under command of Brig.-Gen. Johnson Hagood. Gillmore still kept Terry there, inviting attack, although the purpose of the diversion had been accomplished. On the 15th the enemy demonstrated in front of the Tenth Connecticut pickets. It was rumored that two scouts had been seen about our lines. Some thought had been given to securing a line of retreat; for the engineers were reconstructing the broken bridge leading from James Island, and repairing causeways, dikes, and foot-bridges across the marshes along the old road to Cole’s Island, formerly used by the Confederates.

Companies B, H, and K, of the Fifty-fourth, under command of Captain Willard, were detailed for picket on the 15th, and about 6 P. M. relieved men of Davis’s brigade. Captain Russel and Lieutenant Howard, with Company H, held the right from near a creek, over rolling ground and rather open country covered with high grass and thistles. Captain Simpkins and Lieut. R. H. L. Jewett held the left of the Fifty-fourth line with Company K and a portion of Company B. It was over lower ground, running obliquely through a growth of small timber and brush. There was a broken bridge in the front. A reserve, consisting of the remainder of Company B, under Lieut. Thomas L. Appleton, was held at a stone house. Captain Willard’s force was five officers and about two hundred men. From Simpkins’s left to the Stono the picket line was continued by men of the Tenth Connecticut, holding a dangerous position, as it had a swamp in rear. Frequent showers of rain fell that evening. All night following, the enemy was uneasy. Lurking men were seen, and occasional shots rang out. Captain Willard, mounting the roof of the house, could see great activity among the signal corps of the enemy. He sent word to his officers to be vigilant, and prepared for attack in the morning.

About midnight the men were placed in skirmishing order, and so remained. Sergeant Stephens of Company B relates that George Brown of his company, a ” dare-devil fellow,” crawled out on his hands and knees and fired at the enemy’s pickets.

An attack was indeed impending, arranged on the following plan: Brig.-Gen. A. H. Colquitt, with the Twenty-fifth South Carolina, Sixth and Nineteenth Georgia, and four companies Thirty-second Georgia, about fourteen hundred men, supported by the Marion Artillery, was to cross the marsh at the causeway nearest Secessionville, “drive the enemy as far as the lower causeway [nearest Stono] rapidly recross the marsh at that point by a flank movement, and cut off and capture the force encamped at Grimball’s.” Col. C. H. Way, Fifty-fourth Georgia, with eight hundred men, was to follow and co-operate. A reserve of one company of cavalry, one of infantry, and a section of artillery, was at Rivers’s house. Two Napoleon guns each, of the Chatham Artillery, and Blake’s Battery, and four twelve-pounders of the Siege Train, supported by four hundred infantry, were to attack the gunboats “Pawnee ” and “Marblehead ” in the Stono River.

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July 10-12, 1863

Emilio describes ( [BBR], pp.51-55) the lead-up to the 54th’s first major action:

Heavy cannonading was heard in the direction of Morris Island, at 5 A. M. on the 10th. Before night word came that all the ground south of Fort Wagner on Morris Island was captured with many guns and prisoners. This news was received with rousing cheers by Terry’s men and the sailors. At dawn Colonel Davis’s men crossed to James Island, his skirmishers driving a few cavalry. At an old house the main force halted with pickets advanced. While this movement was taking place, a portion of the other troops landed. That day a mail brought news of Vicksburg’s capture and Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg. Lieut. Edward B. Emerson joined the Fifty-fourth from the North.

About noon of the 11th, the regiment landed, marched about a mile, and camped in open ground on the furrows of an old field. The woods near by furnished material for brush shelters as a protection against the July sun. By that night all troops were ashore. Terry’s division consisted of three brigades, —Davis’s, of the Fifty-second and One Hundred and Fourth Pennsylvania and Fifty-sixth New York; Brig.-Gen. Thomas G. Stevenson’s, of the Twenty-fourth Massachusetts, Tenth Connecticut, and Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania; and Montgomery’s, of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts and Second South Carolina.

James Island is separated from the mainland by Wappoo Creek. From the landing a road led onward, which soon separated into two: one running to the right through timber, across low sandy ground to Secessionville; the other to the left, over open fields across the low ground, past Dr. Thomas Grimball’s house on to the Wappoo. The low ground crossed by both these roads over causeways formed the front of Terry’s lines, and was commanded by our naval vessels. Fort Pemberton, on the Stono, constituted the enemy’s right. Thence the line was retired partially behind James Island Creek, consisting of detached light works for field-guns and infantry. Their left was the fortified camp of Secessionville, where, before Battery Lamar, General Benham was repulsed in the spring of 1862.

General Beauregard, the Confederate Department commander, considered an attack on Charleston by way of James Island as the most dangerous to its safety. He posted his forces accordingly, and on July 10 had 2,926 effectives there, with 927 on Morris Island, 1,158 on Sullivan’s Island, and 850 in the city. Few troops from other points were spared when Morris Island was attacked on the 10th; therefore Terry’s diversion had been effective. Had Beauregard’s weakness been known, Terry’s demonstration in superior force might have been converted into a real attack, and James Island fallen before it, when Charleston must have surrendered or been destroyed.

Captain Willard, on the 11th, with Company B, was sent to John’s Island at Legareville to prevent a repetition of firing upon our vessels by artillery such as had occurred that morning.

In the afternoon the Tenth Connecticut and Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania, covered by the “Pawnee’s” fire, advanced the picket line. Word was received of an unsuccessful assault on Fort Wagner, with considerable loss to us. Abraham F. Brown of Company E accidentally shot himself to death with a small pistol he was cleaning. Late that afternoon Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell, with Companies D, F, I, and K, went out on picket in front of our right, remaining throughout a dark and stormy night. During the night of the 13th, Captain Emilio, with Company E, picketed about Legareville. Capt. A. P. Rockwell’s First Connecticut Battery arrived from Beaufort on the 14th.

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July 2, 1863

Emilio describes the beginning of the pay controversy and quotes Shaw’s letter to Gov. Andrew on the subject ( [BBR] pp.47-48). Notably, today was the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

While at this camp the condition of the regiment was excellent, and the men in high spirits, eager for service. Drills went on incessantly. A musician of the Forty-eighth New York was instructing the band. On the 30th, the Fifty-fourth was mustered for pay. It was then first rumored that the terms of enlistment would not be adhered to by the Government. The situation is best evidenced by the following letter of Colonel Shaw: — [see below]

ST. HELENA ISLAND, S. C, July 2,1863.



— Since I last wrote you, the Fifty-fourth has left St. Simon’s Island and returned to St. Helena near Hilton Head. We are now encamped in a healthy place, close to the harbor, where we get the sea breeze. You have probably seen the order from Washington which cuts down the pay of colored troops from $13 to $10. Of course if this affects Massachusetts regiments, it will be a great piece of injustice to them, as they were enlisted on the express understanding that they were to be on precisely the same footing as all other Massachusetts troops. In my opinion they should be mustered out of the service or receive the full pay which was promised them. The paymaster here is inclined to class us with the contraband regiments, and pay the men only $10. If he does not change his mind, I shall refuse to have the regiment paid until I hear from you on the subject. And at any rate I trust you will take the matter in hand, for every pay-day we shall have the same trouble unless there is a special order to prevent it.

Another change that has been spoken of was the arming of negro troops with pikes instead of firearms. Whoever proposed it must have been looking for a means of annihilating negro troops altogether, I should think — or have never been under a heavy musketry fire, nor observed its effects. The project is now abandoned, I believe.

My men are well and in good spirits. We have only five in hospital. We are encamped near the Second South Carolina near General Strong’s brigade, and are under his immediate command. He seems anxious to do all he can for us, and if there is a fight in the Department will no doubt give the black troops a chance to show what stuff they are made of.

With many wishes for your good health and happiness, I remain,

Very sincerely and respectfully yours,


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June 8, 1863

Gooding’s 16th letter to the Mercury, and a letter from Shaw to his father:

Beaufort, S. C, June 8th [OAF]

Messrs. Editors:

—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

Dear Father,

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.

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June 3, 1863

Gooding’s 15th letter to the Mercury, his first from South Carolina;  three letters from Shaw — to his mother, his father, and his cousin, John Murray Forbes; and a letter from Maj.-General David Hunter (commanding the Department of the South) to Governor Andrew:

Mercury, June 19, 1863 [OAF]
Port Royal, June 3

Messrs. Editors:

—After a long passage of seven days, we have arrived at Port Royal. We are still on board the vessel, and I write my first letter on the top of my knapsack, with one of the loudest noises around me ever heard, and heat enough to make a fellow contemplate the place prepared for the ungodly. There is nothing interesting to write as yet, for the very good reason that we have none of us been ashore. I write this letter to let the friends of the men know that we are all safe, except one, who jumped overboard the first night out from Boston. I think he must have been cracked or drunk, more likely the latter. The men are all in good health and spirits, not one man in the whole regiment being now on the sick list. After we are quartered on shore, and have an opportunity to look around, you may expect better letters.

J. H. G.

Steamer De Molay [BCF]
June 3,1863, Off Charleston

Dearest Mother,

Here we are near the end of our voyage. Everything has prospered thus far. We have had no illness on board, with the exception of a little “heebin” (heaving), as the men call it. I have had no sea-sickness at all myself. The more I think of last Thursday, the more complete a triumph it seems to me. You know from the first day the regiment was organized, no one connected with it has talked extravagantly, or boasted about it in any way; we went on quietly with our work, letting outsiders say what they chose, and wound up with what you saw, as we passed through Boston. That was the greatest day for us all that we ever passed, and I only hope it was of corresponding importance to the cause.

We saw the blockading fleet, and the top of Fort Sumter, off Charleston this morning. We expect to get in this afternoon. I shall go on shore immediately, and report to General Hunter, and if we can find a good camping-ground, shall land the regiment this evening.

Your loving Son

June 3/63 [BCF]

Dear Father,

My note to Mother will tell you of our prosperous voyage. My horses are all doing well fortunately. Major Hallowell’s died the 3d day out.

I told Annie that if she needed any more money than her allowance, towards the end of the year, to write to you for it. I shall soon be sending you home plenty. Will you please send an account of how much I have drawn, since I went home, and how much property I own now in the bank & in treasury notes.

I shall send Annie’s letters to her Father’s care, unless she is staying at the Island, as I think that is the quickest way.

I enclose a note for Anna Curtis. Call and Tuttlc are making me a flannel suit, which I ordered to be sent to you. Please put in the bundle a good stock of stationery and waste paper — and a supply of quinine, in pills & powder — and some postage stamps.

Your loving son

p.s. I enclose draft of R. P. Hallowell for $137.00

Hilton Head — Arrived safe at 2 1/2. We go to camp at Beaufort up the bay. Montgomery has just ret. from an expedition with 725 blacks from plantations.

Str. De Molay, Off Hilton Head, S.C. [BCF]
June 3,1863

Dear Cousin John,

Here we are (the 54th Mass. Vols, (coloured) close to our Department, and in a very different condition from that in which you left us. Our recruiting system did not get well under weigh, until sometime after you went, and then we filled up very rapidly. The Governor gave Ned Hallowell the Majority without any difficulty, and soon after Norwood was ordered to take the 55th which was started about the 10th of May. He refused the Colonelcy for some time, but has finally decided to take it, as the Governor wouldn’t let him come with us, at any rate.

The 54th has been a success from beginning to end. The drill & discipline are all that anyone could expect. Crowds of people came to our battalion drills & dress parades every afternoon, and we have heard nothing but words of praise & astonishment from friend & foe — from hunkers & fogeys, old and young. The camp was crowded on the day of our banner presentation — and the Governor made an excellent speech. Last Thursday, 28 May, we left Readville at 7 A.M. & went by rail to Boston. We marched from the Providence Depot through Essex, Federal, Franklin, School Sts., Pemberton Square, Beacon St. to the Common — then by Tremont & State Sts. to Battery Wharf where we embarked. The streets were crowded, & I have not seen such enthusiasm since the first troops left for the war. On the Common the regiment was received

[rest of letter missing]

(from [BBR] pp.36-37):

HILTON HEAD, PORT ROYAL, S. C, June 3, 1863.


GOVERNOR, — I have the honor to announce that the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts (colored) troops, Colonel Shaw commanding, arrived safely in this harbor this afternoon and have been sent to Port Royal Island. The regiment had an excellent passage, and from the appearance of the men I doubt not that this command will yet win a reputation and place in history deserving the patronage you have given them. Just as they were steaming up the bay I received from Col. James Montgomery, commanding Second South Carolina Regiment, a telegraphic despatch, of which certified copy is enclosed. Colonel Montgomery’s is but the initial step of a system of operations which will rapidly compel the Rebels either to lay down their arms and sue for restoration to the Union or to withdraw their slaves into the interior, thus leaving desolate the most fertile and productive of their counties along the Atlantic seaboard.

The Fifty-fourth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers shall soon be profitably and honorably employed; and I beg that you will send for service in this department the other colored regiment which Colonel Shaw tells me you are now organizing and have in forward preparation.

Thanking you heartily for the kindness and promptness with which you have met my views in this matter, and referring you to my letter to Mr. Jefferson Davis as a guarantee that all soldiers fighting for the flag of their country in this department will be protected, irrespective of any accident of color or birth,

I have the honor to be, Governor, with the highest esteem,
Your very obedient servant,
Major-General Commanding.

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May 30, 1863

The New York Times provided further coverage of the regiment:

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May 29, 1863

The New York Times reported on the parade and departure of the regiment:

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May 28, 1863

Emilio ( [BBR]pp.31-33) describes the departure from the Readville camp and the parade through Boston to the departure on a steamer. The map Parade Route Through Boston displays the parade route through Boston.

Gen. David Hunter, commanding the Department of the South, desired the Fifty-fourth sent to South Carolina. His wishes were gratified; for on May 18 the Secretary of War telegraphed Governor Andrew to have the Fifty-fourth report to General Hunter at once. With a field of service under a commander who had shown such faith in colored soldiers, the regiment prepared to depart upon the arrival of a steamer ordered from New York.

May 28, at 6.30 A. M., the regiment formed line for the last time at Readville, and marching to the railroad station, embarked on cars, arriving at Boston about nine o’clock. As the companies filed into the street from the station, the command was received with cheers from a large gathering. One hundred policemen, under the chief, Colonel Kurtz, were present, to clear the streets. Unknown to the general public, reserves of police were held in readiness, under cover, to repress any riotous proceedings.

Preceded by Gilmore’s band, the line of march was taken up through Pleasant, Boylston, Essex, Chauncy, Summer, High, Federal, Franklin, Washington, School, and Tremont streets, Peinberton Square, Somerset and Beacon streets to the State House. All along the route the sidewalks, windows, and balconies were thronged with spectators, and the appearance of the regiment caused repeated cheers and waving of flags and handkerchiefs. The national colors were displayed everywhere. Passing the house of Wendell Phillips, on Essex Street, William Lloyd Garrison was seen standing on the balcony, his hand resting on the head of a bust of John Brown. Only hearty greetings were encountered; not an insulting word was heard, or an unkind remark made. At a point on Essex Street, Colonel Shaw was presented with a bouquet by a lady.

Halting at the State House, Governor Andrew, his staff, and many distinguished gentlemen were received with due honor, and thence escorted along Beacon Street to the Common, which was entered by the Charles Street gateway. This historic parade-ground was crowded with spectators. After a short rest, Governor Andrew, with. Major-Generals Sutton and Andrews, and their respective staffs, Senator Wilson, the Executive Council, the Mayor of Boston, officers of other regiments, and other distinguished persons, took position at the reviewing stand. When all was ready, Colonel Shaw led his regiment in column over the intervening ground, and past the reviewing stand.

Again a rest; until, about noon, the regiment moved from the Common by the West Street gate, marched through Tremont, Court, State, and Commercial streets, and arrived at Battery Wharf. Entering State Street, the band played the stirring music of John Brown’s hymn, while passing over ground moistened by the blood of Crispus Attucks, and over which Anthony Burns and Thomas Sims had been carried back to bondage. It is a curious fact that Sims himself witnessed the march of the Fifty-fourth. All along this street the reception accorded was most hearty; and from the steps of the Exchange, crowded with business men, the appearance of the regimental colors was the signal for repeated and rousing cheers.

Of this march the papers of the day were full of items and accounts. One journal said: —

” No regiment has collected so many thousands as the Fifty-fourth. Vast crowds lined the streets where the regiment was to pass, and the Common was crowded with an immense number of people such as only the Fourth of July or some rare event causes to assemble. . . . No white regiment from Massachusetts has surpassed the Fifty-fourth in excellence of drill, while in general discipline, dignity, and military bearing the regiment is acknowledged by every candid mind to be all that can be desired.”

Upon arriving at Battery Wharf, the lines were maintained by the police. Many friends were allowed to remain with the officers for parting words until the vessel, sailed. It was about one o’clock in the afternoon when the regiment embarked on the steamer “De Molay,” and four o’clock before the lines were cast off and the vessel slowly moved from the wharf, where friendly and loving hands waved adieus, to which those on board responded. A few friends, including Adjutant-General Schouler and Frederick Douglass, remained until the steamer was well away, when they too said their farewells, and returned to the city on a tugboat.

Soon the city, the islands, and the shores faded from view, as the “De Molay” steamed rapidly out of harbor. The Fifty-fourth was en route for rebellious soil.

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