Posts Tagged   BCF

June 26, 1863

Stephens’s fourth letter to the Weekly Anglo-African, and a letter from Shaw to his wife Annie:

June 1863. [VT]

Mr. Editor:

—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]
June 26,1863

Dearest Annie,

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.

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June 25, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his mother:

Steamer, off Hilton Head [BCF]
June 25,1863

Dear Mother,

I wrote Father yesterday that we were to return here. We sailed this morning at six, having been up all night loading the ship. I don’t know where we are to be sent now; it is supposed that Gillmore is going to make an attack on Morris Island and Fort Sumter, from Folly Island. Whether we go with him, or into garrison at Beaufort, or on some detached expedition, I can’t say; as soon as I find out, I will write. We have had a good deal of moving about, for so young a regiment.

The captain of this ship says there is a large mail on shore; so I shall perhaps find a good many letters from home. You must be back in New York by this time. I have written to Uncle George and Aunt Sarah. I wish I could see them.

Love to Father and the girls, and believe me,

Your ever loving son,


I enclose a note to Annie.

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June 24, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his father. Noteworthy: Lee’s invasion of the North accelerated today with Hill’s and Longstreet’s corps (the remainder of Lee’s army) beginning the crossing of the Potomac into Maryland.

St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
June 24,1863

Dear Father,

Yours of the 9th came to hand last evening. At the same time we received news of the Rebel incursion into the Northern [North] and orders to embark at once for Port Royal. We are now waiting for a transport, which will hold the regiment.

The news from the North is very exciting but not entirely unexpected, for Morse wrote me, that Lee wouldn’t leave the Potomac army quiet very long.Then my theory has always been that the North must feel the war much more than they have, before it is ended. I don’t know why we are ordered to return to Beaufort, unless the troops there are going North, or another attack is to be made on Charleston or Savannah.

I thank you a thousand times for your generosity to me in money affairs, dear Father; I never imagined you were going to assume so many of my debts. If Rice has not paid you, what he owes, I wish you would take it out of my funds. I enclose to you some bills which I had in Boston, lest they should be sent to you. I also enclose the following promissory notes:

Lincoln R. Stone — $115
John Ritchie — 115
G. W. James — 115
C. B. Bridgham — 96

I will notify you as soon as they are paid. I send this off immediately as Col. Montgomery’s boats which will get away before we do, will probably catch the “Arago.”

Love to all,

Your loving son

Please drop Annie a line saying we return to Beaufort lest my letter to her should not be ready.

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June 22, 1863

Gooding’s 18th letter to the Mercury and a letter from Shaw to his father:

Mercury, July 8, 1863 [OAF]
St. Simon’s Island, Ga., June 22

Messrs. Editors:

—Since my last letter, there has been nothing important occurred in this department that I am aware of. In fact if anything important were to happen, in which our regiment was not concerned, you in the North would be more likely to be posted in regard to it, than we should, isolated as we are. Of course the opposition press have heard of the burning of Darien, by the “Nigger guerillas,” and commented on it, as an “act of Vandalism” and all that sort of thing; manufactured capital enough to bring “Nigger worshippers” in contempt, in the opinion of gouty “conservatives,” and wrought Wood and Co.’s followers up to that delightful point, of commanding the Powers that be to stop enlisting the “impediments to civilization” instanter. How they must have harrowed the feelings of sentimental young ladies by informing them how those “ruthless heathens,” unmoved by the entreaties of terror stricken damsels, slew their gallant lovers in cold blood; and then exhausted the vocabulary of unmentionable adjectives on the horrified maidens after their protectors were slain. Of course they made it appear to credulous people that Darien was a place rivaling New York, in commercial importance, and the peer of Rome or Athens, in historical value. But they did not intimate that one of the ships, destroyed by the rebel pirates, might possibly be worth nearly as much as the village of Darien. Oh no! what the people of the North has lost is nothing, because what the North lost was stolen by our misguided brethern.But turn the tables — say the troops here should be captured by the rebels, (of course they would hang them every one), the copperhead press would treat that as an unimportant item, or some of them would say probably, “we are glad of it — that is a cheaper way of getting rid of them, than expending money to send them to President Lincoln’s Paradise in Central America, or to colonize them at Timbuctoo or Sahara.” But we all know they must say something, or people will think they are losing ground; they must keep up the appearance of knowing considerable, if not more, as one instance will show. A man living in Pennsylvania wrote to one of the men in this regiment that things had turned out just as he had predicted months ago; that the United States had repudiated the black troops and would never pay them the first red cent; that Gov. Andrew had disbanded his second party of “Pet Lambs” and advised the men to skedaddle, as the government would not have any power to punish them; in fact such an organization as the 54th regiment Mass. vols, was not known officially by the War Department. Now don’t you think that man was hired to write such stuff as that? The object is obvious; it is to create a spirit of insubordination among the men, so that the copperheads may have a better excuse to call for the disbanding of colored regiments in the field. Oh, there are some grand rascals out of State Prison! The scamp who wrote that letter signed no full name to it; it was dated from Susquehanna Co., Pa., no town, but the postmark was Philadelphia. Whoever he is, it is evident he has played at more than one game in his life, for the receiver of the letter does not know whose handwriting it is.

We are expecting to make a movement now hourly; the regiment are only waiting for the return of the commanding officer, with his instructions. There sounds the long roll! I must close.

J. H. G.

St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
June 22 1863

Dear Father,

We got a small mail today, but there was nothing for me. I was very much disappointed, the latest date from you, being 3d Inst. & from Annie 31 Ulto.

Col. Montgomery returned from Hilton Head, this morning, bringing us news of the capture of the Ram “Fingal.” He found General Gilmor[e] very friendly and anxious to second him in every way, with the exception of the burning business — so that is satisfactorily settled. Montgomery tells me he acted entirely under orders from Hunter, and was at first very much opposed to them himself, but finally changed his mind.

I like him very much. He is not what one would call a “Kansas Ruffian”— being very quiet and reserved, & rather consumptive-looking. His language is very good & always grammatical. He is very religious & always has services in his regiment, before starting on an expedition.

Please don’t wait for the sailing of the “Arago” to mail my letters. Gunboats and transports come here (to Hilton Head) every week from Boston, New York & Philadelphia, and usually bring a mail. We are waiting here for coal for our transports; as soon as it arrives, we shall probably be off again, for a little while. They think at the “Head” that there will soon be another attempt made on Savannah or Charleston. Gilmor[e] is certainly much more active and energetic than Hunter.

Give my love to Mother and the girls. I am impatient to hear whether the Russells arrived safely and well. The “Nelly Baker is expected from Hilton Head” tomorrow, and I hope she will bring us some letters. I sent her up there, day before yesterday.

Your loving son

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June 20, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his brother-in-law Charles Russell Lowell, Jr (married to Shaw’s sister Effie) who was a colonel in the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry and was killed at the Battle of Cedar Creek in October, 1864:

St. Simon’s Island, Ga. [BCF]
June 20,1863

My dear Charley,

I received your kind letter before I left Readville—and beg you will excuse my long delay in answering you. Besides other matters to occupy my attention, you will appreciate the fact of my having a more voluminous private correspondence than ever before. You may have heard from Effie of our doings, since we left Boston‚ — though, to be sure, I don’t know how many of my letters have reached home. We have only heard from there once.

I am totally in the dark as to what has been going on in other parts of the country for two weeks past. The last paper I saw, was of June 6. I should like to ask your opinion on a subject, which has troubled me a little lately. On a late expedition we made with Montgomery—he burnt the town of Darien about 20 miles from here. We had met with no resistance there & the only men to be seen were some horsemen at a great distance. There were a few women & darkeys in the place and a great many more had gone off in vehicles on our approach. It was never known to be a refuge for guerillas, and our gunboats have been in the habit of running by it at will & without opposition. Don’t you think that unless it is a settled policy of the Government to destroy all the property in rebeldom, the desttuction of a defenceless town, containing only a few non-combatants, is unjustifiable, and contrary to all rules of warfare?

Harry writes me that you have been transferred to Heintzelman, so I suppose there is a good chance of your remaining for some time, near Washington. Good, for Effie.

Now you are so near Headquarters, can’t you do something towards getting Barlow for us? I have just heard from him under date of May 21. He says he had just received yours of March 20 & regrets very much not having got it before. He still wishes to command a colored Brigade & I have no doubt we should do something under him.

Montgomery who seems the only active man in this Department, is enormously energetic, and devoted to the cause, but he is a bush-whacker—in his fighting, and a perfect fanatic in other respects. He never drinks, smokes or swears, & considers that praying, shooting, burning & hanging are the true means to put down the Rebellion. If he had been educated as a military man in rather a different school, I think he would accomplish a great deal, & he may yet in a certain way. He is very prompt & active, never lying idle, if he can help it, for more than three days at a time. When delayed and disappointed, he is wonderfully patient & calm, never letting a word escape him & putting through what he undertakes in spite of everything. I never met a man who impressed me as being more conscientious.

Isn’t it strange, being back at the old work again under such different circumstances. I shan’t realize until about two years after the war is over, that I am married.

I have often thought since I left, of our meetings at Harper’s Ferry, and how little I supposed then that we should be so intimately connected.  I hope this war will not finish one or both of us, and that we shall live to know each other well. I had a note from Effie a week ago. I remember, at Susie’s, just after you were engaged you said to me: “Am not I a lucky fellow?” And I must say, I think you are. There are not many girls like Effie; though she is my sister, I may say it.

Hoping to hear from you occasionally, believe me, dear Charley.

Your afftc brother,

R. G. S.

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June 18, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his mother:

St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
June 18 1863

Dearest Mother,

We have received nothing since our first mail, which I mentioned in my last to you. Captain Rand arrived at Beaufort after we had left there, and your second note arrived at the same time with the first. I am very glad you feel so happy and contented about my course in taking the black regiment and besides that cause for satisfaction—I have never had to regret it, for material reasons.

There is no doubt that all the black troops in the country should be gathered into one or two armies — as in small bodies they can never make themselves felt much. It was quite astonishing to be received as we were at Beaufort. The Commander of the Post, there, Col. Davis, is almost a Copperhead — as well as a good many of his subordinates — and I was told, at Hilton Head, that they might not be very cordial.  But, on the contrary, they treated me with the greatest consideration and there was no end to the offers of services from all the Colonels, Quartermasters & Commissaries of the place. Some, who had been very violent in their opposition to the enlistment of negroes, seemed glad of this chance to back out, by degrees, and say there was a vast difference between contrabands & free negroes &c, &c.

I am placed in a position where, if I were a man of real strength and ability, I might do a great deal, but where, under present circumstances, I am afraid I shall show that I am not of much account. Ned Hooper at Beaufort is the head of the whole Contraband Department. Every one there has the highest opinion of him. I should like to have stayed where I could see him every day.

Annie has sent you, I hope, my letter about the Darien expedition. I have not yet discovered if Col. Montgomety has Hunter’s orders to burn every thing, but expect to hear soon from Hilton Head. M. has not yet returned from there, so I remain still in command here. I have no doubt you may think at home that Col. M’s action is perfectly proper, but you would change your mind if you had to assist in it.

Frank Barlow still wishes to get command of a coloured Brigade, and I think it would be a great piece of good fortune for us if we could get him —& for the cause, as well. If Father can do anything towards it, I wish he would.

Always dear Mother,

Your loving son

p.s. If we remain here for long we could entertain any number of visitors on our plantation, after the hot weather is over, & I hope Father & you & some
of the girls can come down & bring Annie for a [one word illegible] while I have no doubt some of the Hallowells may be persuaded to come.

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June 17, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his his wife’s sister Clemence Haggerty:

St. Simon’s Island, Ga. [BCF]
June 17,1863

My Dear Clem.,

You have probably heard from Annie of our adventures since we left Boston; that is, if my many letters reached her. We are entirely isolated here, and know nothing of what has been going on in other parts of the country for the last two weeks. We have only just heard that General Hunter, in our own Department, was relieved.2 It is such a short time since you and I have been so nearly related, that I hardly realize it as yet; and now I am back in the old track, and routine of camp-life again, the three months at home, with their great pleasures and little troubles, seem to have been passed in dream-land. I don’t believe I think much more of Annie than I used to, but the great difference in our relation to each other seems very strange.

Now that General Hunter is relieved, I may say, without danger of being overhauled for it, that I am very glad. He does not impress one as being a man of power. General Gillmore, I hear, is not a friend to black troops, but I don’t mind that, for as long as there are so few regiments of them here, they may as well lie quiet as not. These little miserable expeditions are of no account at all; that is, as regards their effect on the war; but they serve to keep up the spirits of our men, and when successful, do a good deal towards weakening the prejudice against black troops, especially in this department, where, hitherto, absolutely nothing has been done.

… I read Mr. Ward’s present (Thiers’ Waterloo) very carefully, on the way down, and found it very interesting. Since I came here I have been reading “The Campaigns of 1862 and 1863,” by Errul Schalk. He shows what he thinks are the mistakes that have been made, and lays out an imaginary campaign, which he thinks ought to be successful. It is a good thing to read, but I don’t know how much humbug or how much solid stuff it contains. A former book of his—”Summary of the Art of War”— is quite interesting. There, he makes several prophecies that have been fulfilled. I wish some one like Napier could give us his opinion of the war.

You can’t imagine what a spooney, home-sick set we are here, after our pleasant times at Readville. Major Hallowell lies on his back singing,—

“No one to love, none to caress,
None to respond to this heart’s wretchedness”;

and we all feel just so. It is very demoralizing to be at home for so long a time. I felt quite sorry to deprive you of my old sword, but I wanted my Mother to have it, as I hadn’t given her any of my discarded shoulder-straps, sashes, &c, &c. I think of you every morning and evening when I put on my slippers; they are a great comfort. When you see your father, please give him my regards. I was sorry not to see him before I came away.

With much love to your Mother, and yourself, I am, dear Clem.,

your affectionate Brother

p.S. — If you read Thiers’ Waterloo, I advise you to get Jomini’s also, and compare them. The former is infinitely superior, I think, so much more clear and exact; there is something of the romance about it, though, which you never find in Napier. The latter seems to be the perfect historian.

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June 15, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his sister. Worthy of note: Lee’s second invasion of the North began today as Ewell’s Second Corps began crossing the Potomac river into Maryland.

St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
June 15,1863

My Dear Effie,

I received yours of 31 May, day before yesterday. Before you receive this, you will know, from my letters to Mother and Father, our doings since we left Boston.

We are very pleasantly situated here; the island is beautiful, and my house is a very comfortable one for the climate. Fortunately, there is an excellent camping-ground for the regiment close to it; otherwise I shouldn’t have taken it. The Major and I might have half our two families here without inconvenience. The only objection is, that Montgomery never lies quiet for more than four days at a time, so we are likely to be constantly on the go, and may leave the place at any time.

In front of us is St. Simon’s River, full of alligators, and behind, a thick wood full of insects and snakes. The former make such a noise at night, that I, at first, thought it was a vessel blowing off steam. The house had a few chairs and tables left when we got here, and our late expedition supplied all deficiencies. Our most respectable acquisitions are a table-cloth, and two large maps of the United States and Georgia, which latter, hung up in the hall, give an air of solidity to the entrance.

The only troops on the island are Montgomery’s regiment and the Fifty-fourth. Montgomery being absent, I am in command of the post. Imagine me governor of an island fifteen miles long and six or seven broad. It is all that “Sancho Panza” could desire.Yesterday afternoon, in the course of a ride, the Major, Dr. Stone, and I came across a herd of cattle, and drove them in; so now we have fresh milk and meat in plenty. Some of them are very fine, and must have been the fancy stock of the former owners of the island. I am afraid we shan’t long have the island to ourselves, as there is some intention of sending more troops here, I believe.

What you say about Annie gives me a great deal of pleasure, as of course I like to hear her praised. Give my love to Charley, if you happen to be writing one of these days, and thank him for his letter to me. I shall write to him myself before long. I had a nice note from Alice Forbes yesteiday. As I have several letters to write, I must leave you here.

Ever your loving brother,


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June 13, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his mother:

St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
June 13 1863

Dearest Mother,

Last evening I received your two letters of the 31st May, & 1st June—one from Annie, two from Father & one from Effie. This is the first news I have had since I left home. I hope you have received all mine. This should have gone this morning, but the steamer went off before her time, and my letter will consequently reach you a few days later. I am very sorry about it, as you have had nothing from me since we came here. We arrived at camp near Mr. Pierce Butler’s plantation Tuesday evening.

Today is Saturday — and in the mean time, we have been with Montgomery on an expedition up the Altamaha, and burned the town of Darien — much to my disgust — for we met with no resistance & no good reason can be given for doing such a thing. I have written Annie an account of this, and asked her to send it to you, if she is not with you, as I suppose she may be, from what she wrote.

Today I went over to Mr. Butler’s plantation & talked with some of the old negroes. There are about 10 left from his great sale of three years ago. Though he had sold their sons & daughters they said he was a good Marst’r. Some of them had lived there for 70 & 80 years. I feel like writing you a long account of our doings as I have to Annie, but it would be only a repetition of that, so I think it better to employ the time with my necessary correspondence with Gov. Andrew & other great men.

I couldn’t help thinking today, at Mr. Butler’s of Mrs. Kemble that summer at Sorrento, & what she told you of the paying the houseservants wages. I little thought then, I should ever visit the place under such circumstances. In regard to the burning of Darien, I am going to write to Genl Hunter’s A.A.G. for unless Montgomery has orders from headquarters to lay the country in ruins, I am determined to refuse to obey his orders in that respect.1 You will see from my letter to Annie, how I feel about it. Montgomery told me he did it because he thought it his duty. I asked him if it wasn’t partly from pure hatred of everything Southern. He said no —& that he only hated them as being enemies of liberty & he had good reason to hate every enemy of liberty. I can’t help feeling a great respect for him. He is quiet, gentlemanly, full of determination, but convinced that the South should be devastated with fire & sword. His perfect calmness at all times is very impressive. My objection is to firing into houses occupied by noncombatants, 8c burning down dwellings which shelter only women & children. It is most barbarous — more so than would be the hanging of every man we take in arms. This strikes one very forcibly, when one is engaged in it, propria persona.

June 14

I find a steamer is going this morning quite unexpectedly & send this without finishing it.

Your loving son

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June 9, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his wife Annie:

St. Simon’s Island, Ga. [BCF]

Tuesday, June 9,1863

My Dearest Annie,

We arrived at the southern point of this island at six this morning. I went ashore to report to Colonel Montgomery, and was ordered to proceed with my regiment to a place called “Pike’s Bluff,” on the inner coast of the island, and encamp. We came up here in another steamer, the “Sentinel,” as the “De Molay” is too large for the inner waters,—and took possession to-day of a plantation formerly owned by Mr. Gould. We have a very nice camping-ground for the regiment, and I have my quarters in “the house”; very pleasantly situated, and surrounded by fine large trees. The island is beautiful, as far as I have seen it. You would be enchanted with the scenery here; the foliage is wonderfully thick, and the trees covered with hanging moss, making beautiful avenues wherever there is a road or path; it is more like the tropics than anything I have seen. Mr. Butler King’s plantation, where I first went ashore, must have been a beautiful place, and well kept. It is entirely neglected now, of course; and as the growth is very rapid, two years’ neglect almost covers all traces of former care.

12th. — If I could have gone on describing to you the beauties of this region, who knows but I might have made a fine addition to the literature of our age? But since I wrote the above, I have been looking at something very different. On Wednesday, a steamboat appeared off our wharf, and Colonel Montgomery hailed me from the deck with, “How soon can you get ready to start on an expedition?” I said, “In half an hour,” and it was not long before we were on board with eight companies, leaving two for camp-guard. We steamed down by his camp, where two other steamers with five companies from his regiment, and two sections of Rhode Island artillery, joined us. A little below there we ran aground, and had to wait until midnight for flood-tide, when we got away once more.

At 8 A.M., we were at the mouth of the Altamaha River, and immediately made for Darien. We wound in and out through the creeks, twisting and turning continually, often heading in directly the opposite direction from that which we intended to go, and often running aground, thereby losing much time. Besides our three vessels, we were followed by the gunboat “Paul Jones.” On the way up, Montgomery threw several shells among the plantation buildings, in what seemed to me a very brutal way; for he didn’t know how many women and children there might be.

About noon we came in sight of Darien, a beautiful little town. Our artillery peppered it a little, as we came up, and then our three boats made fast to the wharves, and we landed the troops. The town was deserted, with the exception of two white women and two negroes. Montgomery ordered all the furniture and movable property to be taken on board the boats. This occupied some time; and after the town was pretty thoroughly disembowelled, he said to me, “I shall burn this town.” He speaks always in a very low tone, and has quite a sweet smile when addressing you. I told him, “I did not want the responsibility of it,” and he was only too happy to take it all on his shoulders; so the pretty little place was burnt to the ground, and not a shed remains standing; Montgomery firing the last buildings with his own hand. One of my companies assisted in it, because he ordered them out, and I had to obey. You must bear in mind, that not a shot had been fired at us from this place, and that there were evidently very few men left in it. All the inhabitants (principally women and children) had fled on our approach, and were no doubt watching the scene from a distance. Some of our grapeshot tore the skirt of one of the women whom I saw. Montgomery told her that her house and property should be spared; but it went down with the rest.

The reasons he gave me for destroying Darien were, that the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God, like the Jews of old. In theory it may seem all right to some, but when it comes to being made the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, I myself don’t like it. Then he says, “We are outlawed, and therefore not bound by the rules of regular warfare”; but that makes it none the less revolting to wreak our vengeance on the innocent and defenceless.

By the time we had finished this dirty piece of business, it was too dark to go far down the narrow river, where our boat sometimes touched both banks at once; so we lay at anchor until daylight, occasionally dropping a shell at a stray house. The “Paul Jones” fired a few guns as well as we. I reached camp at about 2 P.M. to-day, after as abominable a job as I ever had a share in. We found a mail waiting for us, and I received your dear letter, and several from Father, Mother, Effie, and some business correspondence. This is the first news we have had since our departure, and I rather regained my good spirits.

Now, dear Annie, remember not to breathe a word of what I have written about this raid, to any one out of our two families, for I have not yet made up my mind what I ought to do. Besides my own distaste for this barbarous sort of warfare, I am not sure that it will not harm very much the reputation of black troops and of those connected with them. For myself, I have gone through the war so far without dishonour, and I do not like to degenerate into a plunderer and robber — and the same applies to every officer in my regiment. There was not a deed performed, from beginning to end, which required any pluck or courage. If we had fought for possession of the place, and it had been found necessary to hold or destroy it, or if the inhabitants had done anything which deserved such punishment, or if it were a place of refuge for the enemy, there might have been some reason for Montgomery’s acting as he did; but as the case stands, I can’t see any justification. If it were the order of our government to overrun the South with fire and sword, I might look at it in a different light; for then we should be carrying out what had been decided upon as a necessary policy. As the case stands, we are no better than “Semmes,” who attacks and destroys defenceless vessels, and haven’t even the poor excuse of gaining anything by it; for the property is of no use to us, excepting that we can now sit on chairs instead of camp-stools.But all I complain of, is wanton destruction. After going through the hard campaigning and hard fighting in Virginia, this makes me very much ashamed of myself.

Montgomery, from what I have seen of him, is a conscientious man, and really believes what he says —”that he is doing his duty to the best of his knowledge and ability.”

. . . There are two courses only for me to pursue: to obey orders and say nothing; or to refuse to go on any more such expeditions, and be put under arrest, probably court-martialled, which is a serious thing.

June 13th. — This letter I am afraid will be behindhand, for a boat went to Hilton Head this morning from the lower end of the island, and I knew nothing about it. Colonel Montgomery has gone up himself, and will not be back until Tuesday probably.

… To-day I rode over to Pierce Butler’s plantation. It is an immense place, and parts of it very beautiful. The house is small, and badly built, like almost all I have seen here. There are about ten of his slaves left there, all of them sixty or seventy years old. He sold three hundred slaves about three years ago. I talked with some, whose children and grandchildren were sold then, and though they said that was a “weeping day,” they maintained that “Massa Butler was a good massa,” and they would give anything to see him again. When I told them I had known Miss Fanny, they looked very much pleased, and one named John wanted me to tell her I had seen him. They said all the house-servants had been taken inland by the overseer at the beginning of the war; and they asked if we couldn’t get their children back to the island again. These were all born and bred on the place, and even selling away their families could not entirely efface their love for their master. Isn’t it horrible to think of a man being able to treat such faithful creatures in such a manner?

The island is traversed from end to end by what they call a shell-road; which is hard and flat, excellent for driving. On each side there are either very large and overhanging trees, with thick underbrush, or open country covered with sago-palm, the sharp-pointed leaves making the country impassable. Occasionally we meet with a few fields of very poor grass; when there is no swamp, the soil is very sandy. There are a good many of these oyster-shell roads, for in many places there are great beds of them, deposited nobody knows when, I suppose. The walls of many of the buildings are built of cement mixed with oyster-shells, which make it very durable.

I forgot to tell you that the negroes at Mr. Butler’s remembered Mrs. Kemble very well, and said she was a very fine lady. They hadn’t seen her since the young ladies were very small, they said. My visit there was very interesting and touching.

A deserted homestead is always a sad sight, but here in the South we must look a little deeper than the surface, and then we see that every such over-grown plantation, and empty house, is a harbinger of freedom to the slaves, and every lover of his country, even if he have no feeling for the slaves them-selves, should rejoice.

Next to Mr. Butler’s is the house of Mr. James E. Cooper. It must have been a lovely spot; the garden is well laid out, and the perfume of the flowers is delicious. The house is the finest on the island. The men from our gunboats have been there, and all the floors are strewed with books and magazines of every kind. There is no furniture in any of these houses.  Please send this to Father, for I want him and Mother to read it, and I don’t care about writing it over.

Colonel Montgomery’s original plan, on this last expedition, was to land about fifteen miles above Darien, and march down on two different roads to the town, taking all the negroes to be found, and burning every planter’s house on the passage. I should have commanded our detachment, in that case. The above are the orders he gave me.

Good bye for to-day, dearest Annie.

Your loving Rob

9 P.M. June 13th

. . . To-morrow is Sunday, and perhaps you will be at Staten Island; at any rate, I suppose, not at Lenox; but wherever you are, I wish I could go to church with you, and saunter about in some pretty garden afterwards.

… There is a beautiful little church near here, almost buried in trees and moss. I have had it put to rights (it was damaged by some sailors and soldiers), and the Chaplain of the Second South Carolina Regiment is to preach there for us to-morrow. I shall always have a service of some kind on Sunday; and if we can’t always get a chaplain, I shall have one of the officers officiate. I don’t feel good enough myself to undertake to teach others, as you suggest. Perhaps I shall some time. I have read some of Robertson’s sermons, and think them very beautiful.

… I shall never let Mr. Ritchie go, if I can prevent it. He is a perfect jewel, and has been of incalculable service to us, in managing the regimental quartermaster’s department. …

Your loving Husband

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