Mercury, December 15, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Nov. 28, 1863
—The past week has developed nothing new in military affairs that we are aware of. The bombardment of Sumter seems to have been relaxed since last Wednesday, but what the object is in desisting is more than I can conjecture, unless it be that a further expenditure of ammunition is considered useless at present. But we do not expect that the lull will last long, as everything looks like a vigorous pushing ahead, and if something decided is not soon done it cannot possibly be for the want of either time, men or means.
The troops here begin to feel a sort of impatient curiosity to see some fruition of their immense labor in making preparations. This has been one of the most arduous campaigns of the war, so far as steady endurance and sheer labor is concerned, and that too, under an almost tropical sun, and on an island totally void of antiscorbutic properties. The sentiment of the rank and file is “action.”
The rebels are busy razeeing [razing] the Moultrie House to the ground; so it may be presumed they intend or hope to make our position a pretty warm one, ere many days shall have elapsed. Battery Simpkins and Pemberton take an opportunity now and then to annoy our men, in Putnam and Chatfield, but they generally get the worst of the bargain, as our Parrott guns are quicker in reaching them than their old 42’s are in reaching us. The silence of Forts Johnson and Moultrie makes it plausible that the rebels are strengthening those forts to best advantage. The fire they have so recently passed through, in Wagner, Gregg and Sumter, has no doubt given them some valuable hints in defensive engineering, and it is important that our side batter them down before they become more impregnable than Wagner or Sumter.
It is reported that the steamer Planter, the same which was run out of Charleston harbor by Robert Smalls and turned over to the blockade fleet, has been captured by the rebels. It appears that the vessel was bound round to Stono inlet, through Lighthouse inlet and the creek dividing Cole and Folly Islands, but owing to the dense fog prevailing at the time, the pilot run her past the turn-off in the creek, continuing on too far up the inlet towards Seceshville. He did not discover his error until he ran in among the rebel picket boats patrolling the vicinity; when, as a natural [con]sequence she was captured. The pecuniary loss will not be very great, as the vessel was an old cotton dragger; but the fate of her crew may be a rather serious matter, for all except the captain and engineers are contrabands, and some of them formed a part of the crew who ran away with her. It is believed that Smalls was piloting her on the occasion.
Thursday last, being appointed as a day of Thanksgiving, the troops had a general holiday. The air was just cool and keen enough to make one feel that it was a genuine old New England Thanksgiving day, although it was not impregnated with the odor of pumpkin pies, plum puddings, and wine sauce, nor the savory roasts, boils and “schews” familiar to the Yankee homes of New England. But we made up the deficiency by the religious observance of the day in a very appropriate manner. It was a scene long to be remembered—a grand army assembled on the verge where old ocean roars, to render homage and thanks to the Great Giver of victory. The gilded star and waving plume of warring chief stood side by side with the humble citizen soldier or quondam slave! The famed cathedrals of the Old World never presented a scene more grand, majestic, and impressive than the volunteer soldiers of a great and powerful Republic, gathered in a solid mass, with the arching dome of heaven for their temple, acknowledging their dependence on the mighty King of kings. We had no rich toned and powerful organ to lull the warring passions into submissive reverence; but the waves on the sea-beat shore seemed to partake of the majesty of the hour, and in low and gentle ripples made music on the sands. Every head was bared as the Post Band commenced to play some of the good old Orthodox airs of home — no doubt reminding many there assembled, of the day as observed at home.
After the service was brought to a close, the respective regiments were dismissed, and the rest of the day was devoted to such sports as best suited each. The 54th had quite a good time considering the facilities at hand to create such a time. The officers of each company treated their men to what the Sutler’s shops afforded, such as cakes, oranges, apples, raisins, besides baker’s bread, and butter. Added to that, we had a greased pole set up, with a pair of new pantaloons tied to the end, with $13 in the pocket for the lucky one who could get it, by climbing to the top. The attempts made by some to win the prize were laughable indeed, and many who would not have been guilty of doing a hard day’s work for the government, worked with a will on the greasy pole. One funny chap in Co. C, who is known by the title of Stonewall Jackson, was the first one to make an essay at climbing, which was not successful, except it be in taking one or two pounds of soap fat on his clothing to make an easy job of it for his followers. Poor old Stonewall said, “now I oughtenter took the first trial on that plagued pole, cause I’ve spoilt my clothes, and the Colonel will put me in the guard house, too, if my clothes aint clean on inspection.” But the Quartermaster, enjoying the fun, and thinking Stonewall deserved something for his zeal, presented him with a new pair of pants for the pair he had spoiled. After the money was won by climbing the pole, we had a sack race. The purses were made up by officers, which were ten dollars for the first best, and five dollars for the second best; and in this contest poor “Stonewall” got entangled in his sack, so that he did not get three yards from the starting point. The next amusement was wheeling barrows, blindfolded, to a certain mark — the man coming nearest to the mark to receive five dollars, and the second to receive two dollars. So you see the boys are all alive and full of fun; they don’t intend to be lonesome or discouraged whether Uncle Sam pays them or not; in fact the day was kept up by the 54th with more spirit than by any other regiment on the island.
To-day the conscripts and substitutes arrived by the steamer City of Bath, 84 hours from Boston. The number is 73 men for the 54th and 160 for the 24th and 40th regiments. Among the subs is John Blackburn, of New Bedford, who is in Co. C. Company C has 11 men out of the 73 as her proportion.
Another marked feature in this department is an order recently issued, that all labor in the trenches and on batteries is stopped on the Sabbath day; that no duty is to be performed on Sunday, except what is imperatively necessary.
November 28, 1863.
In your issue of to-day I notice the article headed “A Defense of Col. Montgomery,” and over the signature of S. M. Markley, which, so resembles the speech of Col. Montgomery of the 30th of September, that I think it deserves a passing kick. I should not turn aside to administer this contemptuous rebuke had Mr. Markley not referred to the letter of Oct. 24th [October 3] in an imperious, threatening and insulting manner. Does Mr. Markley deny any word of that speech of Col. Montgomery? Has that speech been falsely reported? Certainly not. The truth is this: S. M. M. endorses the sentiments of that speech. He, like Col. M. has so little regard for our sentiments and feelings that he even forgets to refer to or consult them. Mr. M. do you think colored men so debased, cowardly and ignorant, that they can brook any and every insult? Would you or Col. M. have addressed a white regiment thus? I think not. But who has made an attack on Col. M? What have I said against his Christianity, or his anti-slavery sentiments, his accomplishments or his achievements? The time has come when words are important. They are things that are weighed and balanced. A man that speaks in times like these, should speak advisedly.
That speech coming from the source it did, ought to have been circulated all over the country. It is another evidence of the folly of manworship and the time has fully come when that should cease. Build a shrine of our principles and if need be, lay upon it life, services and wealth. In my letter giving a synopsis of the speech, I said nothing against Col. M. I simply rebutted the speech as well as I could. When I stood by the side of Col. M., and heard him declaim those sentiments with so much earnestness and vehemence I was filled with amazement and regret, but I consoled myself with the fact that no one or two men can avail against our cause. It rests on the rock of immutability—that rock is “Justice To All Men,” without regard to color. Our destiny is united with that of the country—with its triumph we rise, with its defeat we fall.
Contrast the speech of Col. Montgomery and the sentiments of S. M. Markley with the noble course of His Excellency, Gov. Andrew, and the Massachusetts Legislative Council—the one giving us good cheer, extending aid and the right hand of fellowship, the other hewing out a chasm and an impassable gulf between us and our rights and justice. Noble Massachusetts! patroness and protectress of equal rights and the principals of justice! When time-servers, and prejudiced quibblers are buried far down in the grave of oblivion, your escutcheon, glowing with the flaming record of your trials and triumphs, will be regarded by coming generations as an emblem of union, liberty, and equality. Mr. S. M. M. you are impressed with a notion that all the measures and policies adopted by the Administration were adopted especially to benefit the African race—that this is, plainly speaking, “a war for the negro.” This is the old Copperhead lie. It fomented riots and mobs by exciting all the baser passions against the African. His features, his hair, the color of his skin, and the fact that his having been a race of slaves, are ridiculed and discanted upon as if to make prejudice of race a passion, abiding and eternal. Ignorant men were made to believe that the white man was not to be benefited by the struggle,at the African was to receive and were receiving all the benefits of this war for the Union. Do you claim allegiance with the great freedom party and yet so unconscious of the grandeur of its principles and policy: Free Soil, Free Press, Free Speech, Free Men, not free Africans or free white men. In the providences of Almighty God you cannot imperil the liberty of any individual without detriment to the liberties of the whole body politic. The political system has its laws like that of the physical, which if violated, produce the sufferings that we to-day are living witnesses of, such as riots, tumult, and civil war with all its attendant miseries and calamities. Slavery is as much a curse to the white man as to the black, and emancipation if secured, will be to him as much a blessing. Hence it is a war for the liberty of the human race. We Africans, if justice is accorded to us, cannot say truthfully that it is a war for the white man. I would consider it a curse second only to slavery itself to owe the emancipation of our race purely and solely to the American people. If they had voluntarily and from philanthropic motives and not from military necessity adopted the policy of emancipation, for ages yet to come it would be made the pretext to deny us some right or withhold some benefit. We would stand in the attitude of supplicants and dependents instead of equals, not having by earnest efforts, and co-labor won manly independence. Mr. S. M. M. says: “The colored people should be very careful of the way in which they assail such men as Col. Montgomery.” This may be a warning or a threat; I don’t know or care which, as Mr. S. M. M. has not yet been invested with the power of life and death over the colored people. Threats nor insults shall not deter them from rebutting error; nor can an army of Markleys restore Col. Montgomery to the confidence of the colored soldiers in the Department of the South. His sentiments and opinions of the race are so indifferent that I, for one, do not feel that confidence that should always exist between comrades in battle. Unless some sort of explanation is attached to that speech by S. M. M. or somebody else, it must remain on record. I have no desire to be drawn into controversy any farther. The epitaph I offer is, Rest in Peace.
Geo. E. Stephens.