Mercury, January 6, 1864 [OAF]
Morris Island, Dec. 19, 1863
Charleston Harbor Supposed To Be Clear Of Obstructions
—Since my last letter, we have been on tiptoe, expecting to see or hear the iron fleet making an effort to get into Charleston harbor; but still the Philadelphia haunts the waters of Lighthouse Inlet, and the “invulnerables” preserve a masterly inactivity. For forty-eight hours, commencing on the 11th, a heavy easterly gale prevailed on the coast, causing a higher tide in and around the harbor than has been known since this army has occupied the Island, and on Sunday afternoon could be seen huge rafts and buoys floating about in the harbor and in the roadstead opposite the Island. After some of these rafts and timbers had drifted ashore, it was apparent these formed the formidable obstructions in Charleston harbor; the timbers are, the most of them, six or seven feet in circumference and are covered with a coating of barnacles and shells, owing to being submerged so long. So far as the rafts indicate by their supposed position, the fleet could never have forced them sufficiently to pass without seriously damaging the motive power of the vessels, as it is very reasonably conjectured that the huge links of chain found attached to the rafts were cables to anchors or old guns, sunk to hold the raft in position directly across the channel, but short and heavy enough to keep the whole structure submerged, so that a hostile vessel could not be piloted clear of it. The rafts were apparently placed in sections, but each section was linked to the other by two bars of railway track, by means of car couplings bolted to the ends of each section. It may be that the naval authorities had a hand in loosening the grand network of obstructions in their nightly work upon them, fully expecting nature to assist them in the work, as it has done. But if they don’t take advantage of what nature has accomplished for them pretty soon, the wily rebels will place a more complicated trap in their way. But they may be justified in supposing that the harbor is not clear; or, they probably know such to be the fact, but no one here has seen the navy endeavoring to ascertain whether the harbor was clear or not; they may prepare to reconnoitre by next spring.
How The Weehawken Has Sunk
I have just found out how the Weehawken was sunk. It is gravely asserted that the Admiral, in his afternoon siesta, saw the ghost of Sumter coming towards the fleet and telegraphed the Weehawken to run out of the way, and her speed, under the circumstances of fright and a bottom clear of barnacles, was so great that she ran under.
Shooting Of A Deserter
Thursday Afternoon, Dec. 18. — A special order made it the duty of all the troops on this island to witness a melancholy and impressive scene. Kimball, of Co. G, 3d N.H. regiment, a conscript recently brought out from Boston, deserted from his regiment and had got as far as our picket lines on the left. It is asserted that when he was discovered, he was signalizing to the enemy across the river to come with a boat and take him across; and after being taken, he represented himself as a rebel deserter, and the object of his signalizing was to direct a brother deserter, who had agreed to desert with him from the enemy. He was brought in to the guard on Black Island, to be sent over to the post headquarters in the morning, as no one doubted his story. He was disguised in citizen’s dress at the time, and would have been paroled as a rebel deserter had not one of the men in his own company, who had been put into the provost guard house for some misdemeanor, recognized him. The delinquent soldier, seeing a rebel deserter, of course took a good look at him, just perhaps to see what a rebel looked like, when he suddenly exclaimed, “Hallo, Kimball, what the deuce are you doing here?” This familiarity excited curiosity, and when the guard saw the supposed deserter motion the soldier to keep mum, it created suspicion. An officer was called in and informed that something was wrong, whereupon there was an investigation, and the foregoing facts evolved. Several men from the same regiment were called and proved him to be a member of the regiment, whereupon he was court martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to suffer death.
As before stated, on Thursday, at 4 p.m., the sentence of the Court was carried out to the bitter end. The troops were formed in two columns of four ranks each, so the space occupied would be convenient for all the troops to witness the scene. Between the columns there was a space of eight paces for the funeral cortege to pass in review before the troops. An army hearse was driven through, containing the victim seated upon his coffin, preceded by a Martial Band playing a funeral march; the prisoner lounged upon his coffin, calm, and unmoved, except you might see a slight moisture of the eye; but his face was pale and careworn, like one who seemed to have hoped against fate, and now at the last was struggling to be resigned. He seemed to look each man in that vast assembly in the eye with a vague and melancholy appeal for sympathy, as the hearse drove down the line, which must have touched the hearts of many, although they knew he was guilty. After the cortege had arrived at the place of execution, he nimbly jumped from the hearse to the ground, and began to prepare himself for the final act in his drama of life. His head was shaved, and then the Chaplain offered a prayer; after that the Provost Marshall tied the fatal kerchief over his eyes, the officer of the guard put his men in position to fire, the Chaplain, Marshal and pall bearers shook hands with him, stepped aside suddenly; the officer shook his glove and the victim fell across his coffin; his feet trembled a moment and he was a corpse.
No sooner had the man fallen, a lifeless mass of earth, than a sea gull flitted over him, ready to pounce upon the first vestige of torn flesh that it might discover. This painful scene would have been totally devoid of incident, but for what the last mentioned occurrence gave to it. The appearance of the bird was so sudden, not one being in sight before, that it imparted to the scene a touch of the supernatural. It was only by repeated efforts that the guard was able to keep the voracious bird away. The lesson taught by the scene will no doubt be a lasting one to all who witnessed it.
The rebels opened pretty heavily on Tuesday last, but their fire did no extra damage. Last night about 11 o’clock, for the first time in a week, we opened on the city, which occasioned some savage firing on the part of the enemy, showing that firing on the city occasions more annoyance than they have admitted. The members of the regiment represented by their noncommissioned officers are making efforts to celebrate the 1st of January in a becoming manner, the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. An informal meeting was held last evening by the uncommish, and, of course, there was some rubbing of ideas. The only little incident that occurred worthy of notice was the wish expressed by some of the radicals to couch the language of the petition to the Commanding General for leave to make a celebration in such a manner as to convey the idea that the petition emanated from the soldiers of the department irrespective of class. The question was very warmly contested till tattoo, and it was unanimously agreed that the meeting was very harmonious!
Posts Tagged deserter
Late in the afternoon of December 17 the Fifty-fourth with all the troops was formed to see a deserter shot. The unfortunate man was Joseph Lane, a drafted soldier of the Third New Hampshire. On November 28 he started from Morris Island toward James. At last, despairing of crossing the water ways, he turned back to our lines, representing himself as a Rebel deserter. Taken to the post guard-house, he was recognized by some of his own company, whereupon he was tried and sentenced to death. General Stevenson commanded the division, by reason of General Terry’s illness. After forming, the column moved slowly up the beach followed by a wagon, in which, seated upon his coffin, rode Lane. When the troops halted, the wagon passed along the line to the lower beach. There the coffin was unloaded, the deserter knelt upon it, and at a signal, in full view of all the troops, the blindfolded man received the musket-shots of the firing party, falling forward on his face a quivering corpse.
St. Helena’s Island, S. C. [BCF]
My dear Charley,
Before I proceed to any other subject, let me ask you, if I ever sent you the $5.00 which you paid Brangle for me, & if you know of any other debts of mine in the Second. I don’t remember when I last wrote to you, but think it was just after I took dinner at your Father’s.
Since then I have seen your letters to your Brother describing the Chancellorsville fights, which I read with a great deal of interest. Harry and I couldn’t help feeling blue, when we heard the 2d was at work again, and we away from our old posts. I was very glad to hear that you liked Slocum so much, & had such confidence in him. It will, no doubt, be one of the Division or Corps Generals who will be the great man of the war.
I wish I knew where you were now; we have had no late news from the North, and what we have had, has served mostly to confuse my mind very decidedly, as to the whereabouts of the two armies.
So the 1st Mass. Cavalry has had a regular shindy at last. I was glad to hear that Henry Hig’s wounds were not dangerous. What a bloody-looking boy he must be, with a scar across his face.
Remember me to Curtis, if you see or write to him.
You may have heard that the passage of the 54th Mass through Boston was a great success. I never saw such a heavy turn-out there before. We came down to Hilton Head in a very nice Steamer, though a slow one, for we were six days en route.
We landed at Beaufort, and went into camp there. Hearing that Col. Montgomery the Kansas man, was going farther South, I asked permission to join him. So we remained only two days at Beaufort, and then sailed for St. Simon’s Island, on the coast of Georgia. The day after we arrived there, Montgomery started us off, up the Altamaha River, and after capturing a little schooner full of cotton & burning the town of Darien, we returned to the Island, having been absent two days.
The destruction of Darien disgusted me very much, and as soon as Montgomery told me he was going to burn it, I said I didn’t want to have anything to do with [it] and he was glad to take the responsibility. It was done by Genl Huntet’s order, however. We remained at St. Simon’s for about ten days after this.
I had a large plantation to myself & lived very comfortably in the former owner’s house—the regt being encamped in an adjacent field.
The island is very beautiful, and [is] traversed in all directions by excellent roads. We had splendid rides every day & explored the place from one end to the other. It has been uninhabited for so long, that it is completely full of birds of all kinds, and on the neighbouring Islands, there is good deer-shooting. There were a great many fine plantations & country seats there, and the people must have had a very jolly time. We found the records of a Yacht Race Club — and other signs of fun. Fanny Kemble’s husband, Pierce Butler, has a very large place, six or seven miles long, there, and another near Darien. We left St. Simon’s on the 25th & ret’d here by order of General Gillmore.
Montgomery is a strange sort of man. At first sight one would think him a parson or a school-master. He is a very quiet gentlemanlike sort of person — very careful to speak grammatically & not in the least like a Western man. He is religious, & never drinks, smokes, chews or swears. He shoots his men with perfect looseness, for a slight disobedience of orders, but is very kind & indulgent to those who behave themselves properly. The other night on board the steamer, he shot at and wounded a man for talking after taps, when he had twice ordered him to be quiet. He told me that he had intended to kill him & throw him overboard, & was much astonished at having missed his aim.
Last Sunday he caught a deserter — and had him executed without trial by Court Martial, or referring the case to any one (Strange to say the General has not taken any notice of it). Montgomery says he doesn’t like the red-tape way of doing things.
He is a very attractive man, and it is very interesting to sit & hear him relate his experiences.
Everything here indicates that there is to be another attack on Charleston. I trust we shall have a share in it — and indeed, we have been given to understand, that we should go with the army, wherever it went.
I want to hear from you, very much, Charley. Tell me as much as you can of your movements since you left Stafford C. H. this last time — and how the old regt is. I have been expecting to hear of your promotion. Good-bye, my dear fellow, for the present. I often long to be with you fellows. When you & Harry & I bunked together, from Sharpsburg to Fairfax, we hardly expected to be so far separated as we are now. I wonder where the deuce you are.
Give my love to Tom R, Jim Francis, Brown, the Foxes & Mudge.
Always your affectionate friend,
Robert G. Shaw
…Brig.-Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore had relieved General Hunter. Admiral John A. Dahlgren was to replace Admiral Dupont. Tidings of these changes, of Lee having crossed the Rappahannock, the capture of Harper’s Ferry, and the investment of Port Hudson, were received by the “Harriet A. Weed,” on June 23. Orders also came for the Fifty-fourth to report at Hilton Head.
…About noon [on the 24th], Colonel Shaw reported his arrival and was ordered to St. Helena Island, across the harbor…
Rain was falling as the Fifty-fourth landed on the wharf. Marching for a mile or so, we camped in an old cotton-field near the water. Many regiments were on the island preparing for active operations. The post was commanded by Brig.-Gen. George C. Strong, a brilliant young officer who had recently arrived. The Fifty-fourth, with the Second South Carolina camped near by, constituted the “Colored Brigade,” under Colonel Montgomery. Although it rained very frequently, the moisture was speedily absorbed by the sandy soil. There was a terrible thunder-storm on the 28th, accompanied with such violent wind that many tents were blown down. One man was killed, and several stunned, by lightning, in adjoining camps…
A deserter from the Second South Carolina was brought by Lieut. George W. Brush of his regiment before Colonel Montgomery on June 28. After questioning him, the colonel ordered him to be taken away and shot, which was done at once. Montgomery was never taken to task for this illegal action.
St. Helena’s Island, S.C.[BCF]
June 28 1863
Your note of the 20th came to me on board the “Benj. DeFord” just after I had sent my last ashore—also letters from Father of the 10, 13, 15, 18, 19 Inst. & others from Annie, Effie & Harry. Some of Annie’s have been lost, however.
We did not land at Hilton Head but were ordered to this Island that same afternoon. We landed and bivouacked for the night—and since then have been engaged in transporting our stores by hand from the landing, more than a mile.
Our whole experience, so far, has been in loading 8c discharging vessels.
There is nothing said about future plans. General Strong tells me that Admiral Foote’s illness will interfere materially with them. I hope and pray that we may go to Charleston. Strong, who was one of Butler’s staff officers, is very desirous to have the negro troops take their part in whatever is done.
Montgomery did a characteristic thing this morning. His men being near their homes have deserted rapidly since we returned from St. Simon’s. He sent word by their wives & others to the deserters that those who returned of their own free will should be pardoned — that those, whom he caught, he would shoot. This morning one of my sergeants captured one. At 8 o’cl. Col. Montgomery called him up & said: “Is there any reason why you should not be shot?” “No, Sir.” “Then, be ready to die at 9:30.” At 9:15 the man sent to ask permission to see the Colonel, but it was refused, and at 9:30 he was taken out and shot. There was no Court-Martial — and the case was not referred to a superior officer. Montgomery, who just told me the story, in his low voice, but with an occasional glare in his eye (which by the bye, is very extraordinary) thinks that this prompt action was the only way to stop desertion, and it only remains to be seen whether he will be pulled up for it. I wish you could see him. You would think at first sight that he was a school-master or parson. The only thing that shows the man, is that very queer roll or glare in his eye — and a contraction of the eyebrows every now & then, which gives him rather a fierce expression. He says he never had a fight until he went to Kansas, and was a very harmless creature formerly, though never a non-resistant.
June 29 — To continue the subject of Col. Montgomery, I went over last evening, after writing the above, & sat two hours with him. He gave me his whole history, which interested me very much. I wish I could tell you all he said of his life during the last ten years. He has been in such a state of excitement all that time that he says it seems as if the whole were compressed into a few days — and he could hardly help crying when he talked of the state of utter desperation & hopelessness in which they began their fight against the Border Ruffians, and compared it with present times which seem to him bright & cheerful. He believes that nothing happens by chance & is full of faith in Providence. His account of the abject manner in which he had seen some Missourians whom he had taken prisoners, beg for their lives was very interesting. He says that without exception, under such circumstances, their manhood forsook them completely —& he compared their conduct with that of the negro, who was shot yesterday, and who never flinched from it. I said above that M. looked like a schoolmaster, & he says he did teach school in Kentucky for many years, and learnt more about managing men there, than at any other time.
He strikes me as being a very simple-minded man — and seems to be pleased at any little attention — perhaps because he has been so much abused. You will see that he is very attractive to me, and indeed I have taken a great fancy to him.
I have just got your letter of the 21 Inst. & Father’s of 23d — his other two written after receipt of mine from St. Simon’s have not yet come to hand. What you say of Montgomery’s wife amused me very much, after hearing his account of it last evening. He said his wife saw an article in the paper stating what you say, and that all the punishment he ever wishes the writer to receive, is to come within reach of her broom-stick. Then he laughed very loud & long. Besides this, he assured me that no property of his was ever touched by a Border-Ruffian, being protected by his pro-slavery neighbours, whom he held responsible for it. He also said “To give the Devil his due” that he never, during his whole experience in Kansas heard of a well-authenticated case of a Border Ruffian having offered violence to a white woman, in any way — and he thinks that courtesy towards women is characteristic of the Southerners, good & bad. His wife is the daughter of a Kentucky Slave-holder.
I see by the papers, what is thought of the destruction of Darien, and it provokes me to have it laid on Montgomery’s shoulders, when he acted under orders from Hunter. I, myself, saw Hunter’s letters referring to it. I am sorry if it is going to harm the negro troops, but I think myself it will soon be forgotten.
The two boxes Father sent arrived tonight. Mr. Pierce has been up here today. I hope Father wrote to Gov. Andrew, after receiving my late letters, about Darien, & told him that Hunter, only, was to blame. I was so sorry & provoked at getting no word from Annie tonight, that I didn’t know what to do. I have only heard from her 3 times & the latest date is the 18th. After the number of letters I have written her, I thought it was pretty “steep.”
Uncle George has sent me an English sword, & a flask, knife, fork, spoon &c. They have not yet come.
My warmest love to Father & the girls.
Always dearest Mother,
your loving son
p.s. I suppose Annie is with you by this time. If so give my love to her
[Mercury, March 24, 1863][OAF]
Camp Meigs, Readville, March 21
The glorious 54th (that is to be) is getting on nicely, there being now in camp 368 men, two companies, A and B, being full, and C and D wanting a few more men to fill them up, which can easily be done in a very few days. We have five men in our company who are enlisted, but expect them to be discharged, on account of physical disability; indeed, if every man had been received who applied, I think it would very near have filled five companies.
The men appear to be all very well satisfied, except a few in Cos. A and B, who are of a class to be satisfied with nothing. Two of them attempted to skedaddle last Friday night, but were brought to by feeling a bayonet in the rear, as Co. C had sentinels posted at the time. They say their grounds for trying to desert are that they have received no bounty, as was represented they should as soon as they had enlisted and been sworn in. I think the men who are about the country recruiting should not misrepresent the conditions, but leave it more to the judgment and patriotism of men to enlist, simply providing conveyance to the camp, as, I think, they are authorized to do. As regards the men who came from New Bedford in this company, they do not seem to think so much about any bounty, but, by the vote of the City Council, a sum of money was appropriated for the relief of the families of colored citizens enlisted in the 54th regiment, and some of the men fear their families are suffering now for the want of their customary support.
You, Messrs. Editors, may be well aware that colored men generally, as a class, have nothing to depend upon but their daily labor; so, consequently, when they leave their labors and take up arms in defence of their country, their homes are left destitute of those little necessities which their families must enjoy as well as those of white men; and as the city has passed a resolution to pay them a sum, they would rather their families received it than become objects of public charity. We are all determined to act like men, and fight, money or not; but we think duty to our families will be a sufficient excuse for adverting to the subject.
John H. Atkinson, of New Bedford, is in the hospital, very sick. I could not ascertain exactly what his complaint is, but think it is the effect of cold. With that exception the health of the men is very good.
We have a very pleasant time in our barracks every evening, having music, singing, and sometimes dancing. We have two musicians who regale us with very fine music—a great deal better than a ‘feller’ pays to hear sometimes.
The ladies of the Relief Society will please accept the thanks of Co. C. for those shirts, socks and handkerchiefs, which should have been expressed in the last letter. God bless the ladies.
J. H. G.
PS. Wm. T. Boyd, of Pa., died this day (23d). He was in the hospital but two days. He was a member of Co. B.
J. H. G.