Morris Island, S.C., [VT]
Sept. 4, 1863.
Mr. Editor: There is so much of exciting interest to communicate, and there is so much danger of violating the orders of Gen. Gillmore regarding “contraband information,” that one scarcely knows where to commence or where to end. The recent order from headquarters declares that “the severest punishment known to the military law and usage in the field, will be inflicted on any citizen or soldier who gives information that will be of service to the enemy, or without permission from headquarters of U.S. forces in this department.” I have no desire to do this thing, and if there were no order touching the matter, my earnest desire for the speedy triumph of the cause would be amply sufficient to deter me from saying anything that would, in the least, give aid or comfort to the enemy.
The first item of interest to be referred to is the grand review of Gen. Stevenson’s Brigade, to which the 5 4th belongs, on the 16th ult. Ours is the only colored regiment in this brigade, and were drawn up in line, colors flying and marched with the other Massachusetts and also New York’soldiers, and reviewed by Gen. Gillmore and staff, Gen. Terry, and Gen. Stevenson and staff. Gens. Gillmore and Stevenson expressed the utmost satisfaction at the fine appearance of the regiment, and when on the march from camp, Gen. Terry met Col. Littlefield and said that no other regiment in the brigade made a finer appearance or marched better than the 54th. Even the privates in some of the regiments conceded that we outmarched them. When we passed Gen. Gillmore, he sat uncovered and could not fail to discover that the desire of every soldier in our regiment was to create a favorable impression on his mind. The good and faithful soldiers courts the favor and approval of his superior officer. The question of our pay continues to be the topic of conversation and correspondence. Numerous letters have reached us from distinguished friends in the State of Massachusetts, all expressing the utmost confidence that we will receive all of our pay and have secured to us every right that other Massachusetts soldiers enjoy. His Excellency Gov. Andrew; in a letter dated “Executive Department, Boston, August 24th,” and addressed to Mr. Frederick Johnson, an officer in the regiment, says:
“I have this day received your letter of the 10th of August, and in reply desire, in the first place, to express to you the lively interest with which I have watched every step of the Fifty-fourth Regiment since it left Massachusetts, and the feelings of pride and admiration with which I have learned and read the accounts of the heroic conduct of the regiment in the attack upon Fort Wagner, when you and your brave soldiers so well proved their manhood, and showed themselves to be true soldiers of Massachusetts. As to the matter inquired about in your letter, you may rest assured that I shall not rest until you have secured all of your rights, and that I have no doubt whatever of the ultimate success. I have no doubt, by law, you are entitled to the same pay as other soldiers, and on the authority of the Secretary of War, I promised that you should be paid and treated in all respects like other soldiers of Massachusetts. Till this is done I feel that my promise is dishonored by the government. The whole difficulty arises from a misapprehension, the correction of which will no doubt be made as soon as I can get the; subject fully examined by the Secretary of War.
I have the honor to be your obedient servant,
John A. Andrew,
Governor of Massachusetts.”
The trouble seems to be something like this: The Paymaster General, whoever that may be, has directed the paymasters to pay all negro troops, of African descent, $10 per month, the pay allowed to contrabands by statute when employed in the Commissary or Quartermaster’s Department. There seems to have been no provision made to pay colored soldiers. There may be some reason for making distinction between armed and unarmed men in the service of the government, but when the nationality of a man takes away his title to pay it becomes another thing. Suppose a regiment of Spaniards should be mustered into the service of the United States, would Congress have to pass a special law to pay Spaniards? Or, suppose, a regiment of Sandwich Islanders should do duty as soldiers of the United States, would it be necessary to pass a law to pay Sandwich Islanders? Does not the deed of muster secure the services and even life of the man mustered into the service, to the government? And does not this same deed of muster give a man a title to all pay and bounties awarded to soldiers bearing arms? I believe that “by law, we are entitled to the same pay as other soldiers,” and the “misapprehension arises” from this. The Paymaster General will not have the colored soldiers paid under the law which pay white soldiers, and virtually creates in his own mind the necessity for the passage of a special law authorizing them to be paid. Is there a special law on the statute books of the National Legislature touching the payment of colored men employed in the naval service?
In my last letter I made the types say that Col. Littlefield, our present commander, was of the 4th Connecticut Volunteers—it should have been 4th South Carolina; and for fear that my letter may create an impression that Col. Littlefield is not the friend of the colored soldiers, I will say that since Col. L. assumed command of our regiment he has done as much in the power of one man has, to maintain the character and discipline, as well as the comfort, of the men. Col. Littlefield is a martyr for the cause — an exile from his home, and holds a commission as Colonel of a negro regiment, the 4th South Carolina, now in process of formation. After the siege of Charleston he will make an active and efficient organizer of colored men. Few men are more capable of active, vigorous service, or have a higher appreciation of the services and efficiency of colored soldiers.
Since I wrote my last letter, the 54th has been assigned to a most perilous duty. A certain regiment in this department has been assigned to dig in the foremost parallels, but it was a new one and unaccustomed to sweeping grape and canister and bursting shells. The Commanding General sent word to Col. Littlefield that the aforesaid regiment, its officers as well as men, could not stand fire, and assigned the duty to the 54th. We are to do nothing else. It is a duty of the greatest danger. The men have to dig under the fire of rebel sharpshooters and all the rebel batteries on Morris and James Island. Every man “for duty” in our regiment has to suffer the ordeal eight hours out of every thirty two. We operate under the protection of our sharpshooters. You talk about your charges on Fort Wagner! It is a “pull Dick, pull Devil,” between them and the foremost parallels. But the labor must be done, and I feel proud that we are thus honored with the post of danger. Since we have been engaged thus we have been peculiarly fortunate. It seems that Divine Providence has willed that we have suffered enough in loss of life, for the 3d Pennsylvania Volunteers, colored, have lost considerably. The casualties in the 3d Pennsylvania up to this date are:
Corp. Edward Powell, killed.
Private Andrew Jackson, killed.
Private Joseph Harris, wounded.
Corp. Denny, wounded severely. All of Philadelphia.
Sergt. Hardy, wounded severely.
Corp. Denton Lox, killed.
Private Alfred Fenley, killed.
Private Alfred Rothwell, killed.
Private James Gray, killed.
Benj. Williams, slightly wounded.
Rich. Turpin, slightly wounded.
John Harris, slightly wounded.
Isaac Goddart, slightly wounded.
Daniel Jones, killed.
Israel Jones, wounded.
Francis Jackson, wounded slightly.
Benj. Bradley, wounded slightly.
Casualties in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.
John Alfred Green, wounded.
Corp. Joseph Stilles, wounded slightly.
Private Horace Bennett, wounded slightly.
Private Jas. Postley, wounded slightly.
Private Aaron Croger, wounded dangerously in back.
Geo. King, leg blown off, since died.
Geo. Vanderpool, Coxsackie, N.Y., killed.
Alex. Hunter, wounded in head severely.
G. E. S.
Posts Tagged Gen Quincy Gillmore
With our capture of the ridge on the 26th the last natural cover was attained. Beyond for two hundred yards stretched a strip of sand over which the besiegers must advance. It seemed impossible to progress far, as each attempt to do so resulted in severe losses. Every detail at the front maintained its position only at the cost of life. So numerous were the dead at this period of the siege that at almost any hour throughout the day the sound of funeral music could be heard in the camps. Such was the depressing effect upon the men that finally orders were issued to dispense with music at burials. The troops were dispirited by such losses without adequate results. That the strain was great was manifested by an enormous sick list. It was the opinion of experienced officers that the losses by casualties and sickness were greater than might be expected from another assault.
Success or defeat seemed to hang in the balance. Under no greater difficulties and losses many a siege had been raised. General Gillmore, however, was equal to the emergency. He ordered the fifth parallel enlarged and strengthened, the cover increased, and a line of rifle trench run in front of it. New positions were constructed for the sharpshooters. All his light mortars were moved to the front, and his guns trained on Wagner. A powerful calcium light was arranged to illumine the enemy’s work, that our fire might be continuous and effective. Changes were also made in the regiments furnishing permanent details in the trenches and advanced works, and an important part, requiring courage and constancy, was now assigned to our regiment. It is indicated in the following order: —HEADQUARTERS U. S. FORCES,
MORRIS ISLAND, S. C, Aug. 31,1863.
Special Orders No. 131.
II. The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers, Col. M. S. Littlefield, Fourth South Carolina Volunteers, commanding, are hereby detailed for special duty in the trenches under the direction of Maj. T. B. Brooks, A. D. C. and Assistant Engineer. The whole of the available force of the regiment will be divided into four equal reliefs, which will relieve each other at intervals of eight hours each. The first relief will report to Major Brooks at the second parallel at 8 A. M. this day. No other details will be made from the regiment until further orders.
By order of
BEIG.-GEN. A. H. TERRY.
Captain, and Assistant Adjutant-General.
Major Brooks, in his journal of the siege under date of August 31, thus writes, —” The Third United States Colored Troops, who have been on fatigue duty in the advance trenches since the 20th inst., were relieved to-day by the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers (colored), it being desirable to have older troops for the important and hazardous duty required at this period.”
Throughout the whole siege the First New York Engineers held the post of honor. Their sapping brigades took the lead in the advance trench opening the ground, followed by fatigue details which widened the cut and threw up the enlarged cover. These workers were without arms, but were supported by the guard of the trenches. Upon this fatigue work with the engineers, the Fifty-fourth at once engaged. During the night of the 31st work went on rapidly, as the enemy fired but little. Out of a detail of forty men from the One Hundred and Fourth Pennsylvania, one was killed and six were wounded. One of the guard was killed by a torpedo. A man of Company K, of our regiment, was mortally wounded that night.
Early on September 1 our land batteries opened on Sumter, and the monitors on Wagner. Four arches in the north face of Sumter with platforms and guns were carried away. Lieut. P. S. Michie, United States Engineers, was temporarily in charge of the advance works on the right. Much work was done in strengthening the parapets and revetting the slopes. Our Fifty-fourth detail went out under Lieutenant Higginson that morning, and had one man wounded. Rev. Samuel Harrison, of Pittsfield, Mass., commissioned chaplain of the regiment, arrived that day.
September 2 the land batteries were throwing some few shots at Sumter and more at Wagner. Capt. Jos. Walker, First New York Engineers, started the sap at 7 P. M. in a new direction under heavy fire. Considering that the trench was but eighty yards from Wagner, good progress was made. The sap-roller could not be used, because of torpedoes planted thereabout. Our fire was concentrated upon Wagner on the 3d, to protect sapping. But little success resulted, for the enemy’s sharpshooters on the left enfiladed our trench at from one hundred to three hundred yards. At this time the narrowest development in the whole approach was encountered, — but twenty-five yards; and the least depth of sand, — but two feet. Everywhere torpedoes were found planted, arranged with delicate explosive mechanism. Arrangements were made to use a calcium light at night. From August 19 to this date, when the three regiments serving as guards of the trenches were relieved by fresher troops, their loss aggregated ten per cent of their whole force, mainly from artillery fire.
On the night of the 3d, Wagner fired steadily, and the James Island batteries now and then. Our detail at the front had George Vanderpool killed and Alexander Hunter of the same company — H — wounded. Throughout the 4th we fired at Wagner, and in the afternoon received its last shot in daylight. Captain Walker ran the sap twenty-five feet in the morning before he was compelled to cease.
Captain Partridge about August 23 applied for sick leave and shortly went north. In consequence Captain Emilio again became the senior officer and was at times in charge of the regiment until the middle of October. On the 23d the brigade was reviewed on the beach by General Gillmore, accompanied by General Terry. The latter complimented the Fifty-fourth on its appearance. That evening Captain Emilio and Lieutenant Higginson took one hundred and fifty men for grand guard, reporting to Col. Jos. R. Hawley, Seventh Connecticut, field-officer of the trenches. This was the first detail other than fatigue since July 21. The detachment relieved troops in the second parallel. During the night it was very stormy, the rain standing in pools in the trenches. But few shots were fired. Charleston’s bells could be heard when all was still. At midnight the Swamp Angel again opened on the city. About 10 A. M., on the 24th, Wagner and Johnson both opened on us, the former with grape and canister sweeping the advanced works. In the camp, by reason of rain and high tides, the water was several inches deep in the tents on lowest ground. A new brigade — the Fourth — was formed on the 24th, composed of the Second South Carolina, Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, and Third United States Colored Troops (the latter a new regiment from the north), under Colonel Montgomery.
About dark on the 25th a force was again advanced against the enemy’s picket, but was repulsed. It was found that a determined effort must be made to carry the sand ridge crowned by the enemy’s rifle-pits. Just before dark the next day, therefore, a concentrated fire was maintained against this position for some time. Col. F. A. Osborn, Twenty-fourth Massachusetts, with his regiment, supported by the Third New Hampshire, Capt. Jas. F. Randlett, then advanced and gallantly took the line in an instant, the enemy only having time to deliver one volley. They captured sixty-seven men of the Sixty-first North Carolina. Cover was soon made, a task in which the prisoners assisted to insure their own safety. The Twenty-fourth lost Lieut. Jas. A. Perkins and two enlisted men killed, and five wounded. Upon this ridge, two hundred yards from Wagner, the fifth parallel was immediately opened. Beyond it the works, when constructed, were a succession of short zigzags because of the narrow breadth of the island and the flanking and near fire of the Confederates.
… Our own mortar-shells, on the 27th, in the evening killed seven men, and wounded two of the Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania. That night there was a severe thunder-storm drenching everything in camp and leaving pools of water in the tents. A warm drying sun came out on the 28th. … In the approaches work was slow by reason of the high tides and rain. Moonlight nights interfered also, disclosing our working parties to the enemy. Colonel Montgomery, commanding the brigade, on the 29th established his head-quarters near the right of our camp. It was learned that a list of prisoners recently received from the enemy contained no names of Fifty-fourth men. On the 30th Lieut.-Col. Henry A. Purviance, Eighty-fifth Pennsylvania, was killed by the premature explosion of one of our own shells.
New York, Aug. 24, 1863
Brigadier-General Gillmore, Commanding Department of the South.
Sir,–I take the liberty to address you because I am informed that efforts are to be made to recover the body of my son, Colonel Shaw of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment, which was buried at Fort Wagner. My object in writing is to say that such efforts are not authorized by me or any of my family, and that they are not approved by us. We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen. I shall therfore be much obliged, General, if in case the matter is brought to your cognizance, you will forbid the descecration of my son’s grave, and prevent the disturbance of his remains or those buried with him. With most earnest wishes for your success, I am, sir, with respect and esteem,
Your obedient servant,
Francis George Shaw
Mercury, September 7, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Aug. 23, 1863
—Supposing a detailed account of the operations now in progress in this quarter would prove interesting to your readers, I have taken the pains to jot them down as they occur, trusting to the leniency of the commanding officer to let the MSS. pass. On Monday morning, the 17th, the bombardment commenced. Such a roar of heavy cannon I greatly doubt has been heard since the art of war has been known; for the heaviest guns ever cast in the known world are now banging away at the doomed citadels of rebellion, Forts Wagner and Sumter. Shot after shot tears up the bricks and mortar of Sumter’s walls, but still her flag floats defiantly from the battlement. Battery Gregg, a little to the right of Sumter, has been silent the greater part of the day, as the rains of the Yankee Pandemonium are a little too hot for such small fry as herself. The clouds of sand which anon rise up around Fort Wagner give the surest indication that our gallant artillerists are unerring marksmen. To give you any information concerning the number, kind or position of guns would be violating a strict and necessary order; but suffice it to say that the work goes on in a manner assuring success. Slow, but sure, is the policy evidently pursued now, and it is fair to anticipate the fall of secession’s mother before the genial days of September are gone.
At evening, after the first day’s work, the firing ceased on the side of the rebels, and it being very dark and hazy, our side ceased also, with the exception of a shell now and then, probably to let the rebels know that folks were awake this side of Sumter. The next morning the ball reopened with renewed vigor and Sumter now began to show symptoms of rough usage. The mortar schooners keep up a slow shelling of Wagner,9 but from the look of things, the navy appear at present to hold faith in the poet’s line, “Distance lends enchantment to the view.” There was one casualty this day; one man of the 3d R.I. battery was almost instantly killed by a fragment of shell. On Wednesday the siege was progressing the same as the two days previous, with a steady diminution in the height and architectural beauty of the walls of Sumter and the regularity of the lines of Wagner’s parapet. Thursday morning; again the contending guns are belching forth their sheets of flame, reminding us that these are war times. The rebels are very active this morning, if judged by the number of shells they are throwing so promiscuously over the north end of the island; but these do not appear to scare Gen. Gillmore; he means to go ahead, and go he will. Friday may be considered about the same as the days preceding it, and we expect it will continue so for some time yet, though the rebels are evidently hard pushed, when judged by their slow fire from Wagner and Sumter, indicating scant resources in ammunition, at least, if not in provisions.
There was a very impressive cortege passed by our camp this morning, which is one of the inevitable concomitants of soldier life. There is a queer mixture of joy and sorrow in an army. Lieut. Holbrook, of the 3d R.I. battery, was followed to his last resting place by a detachment of his regiment, a large number of officers and a company of infantry, with two field pieces, escorted by the band of the 6th Conn, regiment. Lieut. Holbrook was a Massachusetts officer, and formerly was one of the 10th Mass. battery. He was struck by a piece of shell while training a gun, of which he was in charge. He lingered two days in the most intense agony. He was an officer beloved and respected both by his fellow officers and men, and his death is one more sacrifice, on the altar of freedom, of a brave and patriotic son of New England.
J. H. G.
Shortly after daybreak, August 17, the first bombardment of Sumter began from the land batteries, the navy soon joining in action. The fire of certain guns was directed against Wagner and Gregg. Sumter was pierced time, and again until the walls looked like a honeycomb. All the guns on the northwest face were disabled, besides seven others. A heavy gale came on the 18th, causing a sand-storm on the island and seriously interfering with gun practice… [on the 19th] The water stood in some of the trenches a foot and a half deep. Our sap was run from the left of the third parallel that morning.
An event of the 20th was the firing for the first time of the great three-hundred-pounder Parrott. It broke down three sling-carts, and required a total of 2,500 days’ labor before it was mounted. While in transit it was only moved at night, and covered with a tarpaulin and grass during the daytime. The enemy fired one hundred and sixteen shots at the Swamp Angel from James Island, but only one struck. Sumter’s flag was shot away twice on the 20th. All the guns on the south face were disabled. Heavy fire from land and sea continued on the 21st, and Sumter suffered terribly.
A letter from Gillmore to Beauregard was sent on the 21st, demanding the surrender of Morris Island and Sumter, under penalty, if not complied with, of the city being shelled. The latter replied, threatening retaliation. Our fourth parallel was opened that night 350 yards from Wagner, and the One Hundredth New York unsuccessfully attempted to drive the enemy’s pickets from a small ridge two hundred yards in front of Wagner. The Swamp Angel opened on Charleston at 1.30 A. M. on the 22d. By one shell a small fire was started there. Many non-combatants left the city. … Wagner now daily gave a sharp fire on our advanced works to delay progress.
… Although almost daily the Fifty-fourth had more or less men at the front, it had suffered no casualties. The men were employed at this period in throwing up parapets, enlarging the trenches, covering the slopes, turfing the batteries, filling sand-bags, and other labors incident to the operations. In the daytime two men were stationed on higher points to watch the enemy’s batteries. Whenever a puff of smoke was seen these ” lookouts ” called loudly, ” Cover!” adding the name by which that particular battery was known. Instantly the workers dropped shovels and tools, jumped into the trench, and, close-covered, waited the coming of the shot or shell, which having exploded, passed, or struck, the work was again resumed. Some of the newer batteries of the enemy were known by peculiar or characteristic names, as ” Bull in the Woods,” ” Mud Digger,” and ” Peanut Battery.” At night the men. worked better, for the shells could be seen by reason of the burning fuses, and their direction taken ; unless coming in the direction of the toilers, the work went on. Becoming; accustomed to their exposure, in a short time this ” dodging shells” was reduced almost to a scientific calculation by the men. Most of all they dreaded mortar-shells, which,, describing a curved course in the sky, poised for a moment, apparently, then, bursting, dropped their fragments from directly overhead. Bomb or splinter proofs alone protected the men from such missiles, but most of the work was in open trenches. Occasionally solid shot were thrown, which at times could be distinctly seen bounding over the sandhills, or burying themselves in the parapets.
In Camp, [VT]
Morris Island, S.C.,
Aug. 7/ 1863.
Since I wrote my last letter the startling news of the mobs, riots, incendiarism, pillage and slaughter, recently so rife in the North, particularly in New York City, has reached here. You may judge what our thoughts and feelings were as we read bulletin after bulletin depicting to the life the scenes of violence and bloodshed which rivaled and even surpassed in their horrors, those which were perpetrated in Paris, during the bloody French Revolution, for we are yet to find an instance there where the orphan was ruthlessly assailed, or women and children murdered and maltreated without cause or provocation, simply for belonging to another race or class of people.
What cause or provocation have the New York rabble for disloyalty to their country, and for their bloody, atrocious assaults on my countrymen? Are we their enemies? Have we tyrannized over them? Have we maltreated them? Have we robbed them? Are we alien enemies? And are we traitors? Has not the unrequited labor of nearly four million of our brethren added to the country’s wealth? Have we not been loyal to the country, in season and out of season, through good report and evil? And even while your mob-fiends upheld the assassin knife, and brandished the incendiary torch over the heads of our wives and children and to burn their homes, we were doing our utmost to sustain the honor of our country’s flag, to perpetuate, if possible, those civil, social, and political liberties, they, who so malig-nantly hate us, have so fully enjoyed. Oh! how causeless, senseless, outrageous, brutal, and violative of every sentiment of manhood, courage and humanity these attacks on our defenseless brethren have been!
Fearful as these mobs have been, I trust they may prove to be lessons, though fearful ones, to guide the popular and loyal masses in the country, in all times of national emergency and peril, for when the services of every citizen or denizen of the country are imperatively required to defend it against powerful and determined foes, either foreign or domestic, and there can be found a strong minority ready and willing to subvert the government by popular violence and tumult or a base submission unworthy the meanest varlet of some monarchy; much less the boasted citizens of this great and magnificent country, it will bring still more forcibly to their minds the truism that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
These mobs are the stepping-stones upon which base traitors and demagogues hope to mount into arbitrary power, and to overawe and subvert liberty and law. They seek anarchy; and despotism, they think, must succeed. First anarchy, then despotism. They make the negro the catspaw or victim; but the loyalist and the friend of law and order cannot fail to see that every blow directed against the negro is directed against them. Our relation to the government is and has been that of unflinching, unswerving loyalty. Even when the government, by its every precept and practice, conserved the interests of slavery, and slaves were hunted down by United States soldiers and surrendered to traitorous slave-masters, the conduct of the negro was marked with distinguished loyalty.
The instances are too numerous to cite of their braving the most fearful dangers to convey valuable information to the Union armies, and for this, the half yet untold, such has been our reward. Does not Milliken’s Bend and Port Hudson furnish a chapter of valor and faithful loyalty? Is there no justice in America—or are we doomed to general massacre, as Mr. Blair said we would be, in the event of the issue of the President’s Emancipation proclamation? If this be our doom let us prepare for the worst.
The siege of Charleston has not yet commenced. The preparations of Gen. Gillmore are very ample. There is no doubt that this citadel of treason will fall. Every one is impatient at the delay; but the siege of a stronghold upon which all of the engineering skill of the rebel Confederacy has been lavished, cannot be planned and matured in a day. They harass our fatigue parties considerably with their shells, but they only succeed in killing and wounding one or two men a day. These shells are very disagreeable at first, but after one is under them a while he can learn to become accustomed to them. The men sing, dance, and play cards and sleep as carelessly within range of them as if they were no more harmful than so many soap bubbles.
This Morris Island is the most desolate heap of sand-hills I ever saw. It is so barren that you cannot find so much as a gypsum weed5 growing. Our situation is almost unbearable. During the day the sun is intensely hot, and this makes the sand hot; so we are sandwiched between the hot sun and the hot sand. Happily, the evenings are cool and bracing—so much so, that woolen blankets are not uncomfortable. The bathing is most delightful. I think Morris Island beach the most magnificent on the whole Atlantic coast. Had we in the North such a bathing shore, it would soon eclipse Newport, Atlantic City or Long Branch, and the other bathing resorts. The beach at some points is at least one-third of a mile in width, descending at an almost imperceptible angle into the more refreshing breakers.
There is quite a stir in the camp of the 54th just at this moment, created by an attempt on the part of the Paymaster and Col. Littlefield of the 4th Connecticut volunteers (who has been temporarily assigned to the command of our regiment since the death of Col. Shaw, our lamented commander) to pay us off with the paltry sum of Sio per month, the amount paid to contrabands. Col. Littlefield had the men drawn up in their company streets, and addressed them in a style something like this: “Gentlemen, I know that you are in want of money. Many of you have families who are dependent on you for support. The Paymaster refuses to pay any of the colored troops more than $10 per month. I have no doubt that Congress, when it meets next December, will pay you the balance of your pay. The government, in paying you this sum, only advances you this amount—it is not considered paying you off.” Only one company consented to take this sum. The rest of the regiment are highly incensed at the idea that after they have been enlisted as Massachusetts soldiers, and been put into the active service of the United States government, they should be paid off as the drafted ex-slaves are. The non-commissioned officers are to be paid the same as the privates.
There is to be, according to the Colonel’s and Paymaster’s arrangement, no distinction. Our First Sergeants, Sergeant-Major, and other Sergeants are to be paid only $10 per month. Now, if this $10 per month is advanced by the Paymaster, and he is so confident or certain that the next Congress will vote us the pay that regularly enlisted soldiers, like the 54th, generally receive, why does he not advance the privates and non-commissioned officers their full pay? Or does he not fear that the next Congress may refuse to have anything to do with it, and conclude that if we could receive $10 and make out until then, we could make out with that amount to the end of our term? To offer our non-commissioned officers the same pay and reducing them to the level of privates, is, to say the least, insulting and degrading to them.
Then, again, if we are not placed on the same footing with other Massachusetts soldiers, we have been enlisted under false pretenses. Our enlistment itself is fraudulent. When Gov. Andrew addressed us at Readville on the presentation of our colors, he claimed us as Massachusetts soldiers. Frederick Douglass, in his address to the colored people to recruit the 54th, and who penned it by the authority of Gov. Andrew, declares that we form part of the quota of troops furnished by the State of Massachusetts. If this be the case, why make this invidious distinction? We perform the same duties of other Massachusetts troops, and even now we have to perform fatigue duty night and day, and stand in line of battle from 3 to 5 A.M. with white soldiers, and for all this, not to say anything of the many perils we necessarily encounter, we are offered $10 per month or nothing until next December or January! Why, in the name of William H. Seward, are we treated thus? Does the refusal to pay us our due pander to the proslavery Cerberus?” Negroes in the navy receive the same pay that the Irish, English, German, Spanish or Yankee race do, and take it as a matter of course. Why, sir, the State of Massachusetts has been rebuked and insulted through her colored soldiers, and she should protect us, as Gov. Andrew has pledged his word she would. Since our regiment has been in this department, an attempt has been made to substitute the dark for the light-blue pantaloons of the U. S. army. This was at St. Helena. Col. Shaw rejected them, and we continue to wear the uniform of the U.S. Infantry corps.
The ever-memorable anniversary of British West India Emancipation was observed by the non-commissioned officers of the 54th, by calling, on the 1st instant, a meeting, and passing a series of resolutions. This meeting was organized by the appointment of SergeantMajor Douglass, Chairman, and Sergt. Fletcher, Co. A, Secretary. A long list of Vice-Presidents were appointed, representing nearly every State. Commissary-Sergeant Lee represented South Carolina, Sergt. Grey, Massachusetts, Sergt. Swails, Pennsylvania. A Committee, consisting of Sergts. Francis, Stephens, Barquet, Johnson and Gambier, presented the following resolutions, which were passed:
1. Resolved, That we look with joy upon the example set by Great Britain twenty-nine years ago in liberating the slaves in her West India Islands, thereby making a long stride in the pathway of civilization, and eliciting the gratitude of enthralled millions everywhere—contributing largely to influence the people of this country to seek the overthrow of that system which has brought the nation to the verge of dissolution. We hail with more than gratification the determination of our government to follow her great and good example as evinced by that glorious instrument of January ist, 1863, proclaiming freedom to slaves of rebels in Southern States—the desire to purchase those in loyal States—the decision of Attorney-General Bates, and the calling to its aid the strong arms and loyal hearts of its black citizens.
2. Resolved, That we have another day added to our small family of holidays; we hail the 1st of January as twin-sister to the 1st of August,- and as we have met together within six miles of the birthplace of secession to commemorate this day, we trust that on the 1st day of January next, by the blessing of God on our arms, the city of Charleston will ring with the voices of free men, women and children shouting, “Truly, the day of Jubilee has come.”
3. Resolved, That while we look forward with sanguine hope for that day, and have the arms in our hands to help bring it about, we will use them, and put forth all our energies, and never cease until our ears shall hear the jubilant bell that rings the knell of slavery.
4. Resolved, That in our humble opinion the force of circumstances has compelled the loyal portion of this nation to acknowledge that man is physically the same, differing only in the circumstances under which he lives, and that action—true, manly action, only—is necessary to secure to us a full recognition of our rights as men by the controlling masses of this nation; and we see in the army, fighting for liberty and Union, the proper field for colored men, where they may win by their valor the esteem of all loyal men and women—believing that “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.”"
5. Resolved, That we recognize in the brilliant successes of the Union armies the proofs that Providence is on our side,- that His attributes cannot take sides with the oppressor.
Private John Peer, 20 Co. B, died at 6 o’clock P.M. this instant.
G. E. S.
Mercury, August 16, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, August 3, 1863
The latest news from this department is the capture of a blockade runner having on board heavy Whitworth guns. The guns captured are now in course of erection on the north end of the Island to bombard the fort, which they were intended to defend. The planting of siege guns steadily progresses, but is necessarily slow, as the guns have to be hauled through a marsh, and that too in the night, so the enemy cannot see what we are about, and to avert their constant rain of shells, they thinking of course we can’t work when they are shelling us; but they may find out their mistake before this week is out. Every available man on the Island is constantly at work, so as to bring things to a speedy issue. Some are throwing up breastworks, some hauling guns, others loading shells, or carting ammunition from the wharf to the magazines, and every one is confident of success, helping cheerfully in the great amount of work, which must be done before the “grand ball” comes off. It is evident the Commanding General intends to make a sure thing of it this time, and not make the assault till he has got everything ready. One noticeable feature is Gen. Gillmore is supervising the preparations himself, and I do not think any man in the department works more than he does. The consequence is the men has confidence in him, and the rebels a corresponding degree of fear of the “intrepid engineer,” as they term him. As I write, the rebels are vainly blazing away, while our men both white and black are steadily pursuing their work right in their very teeth. When they see the flash from Fort Sumter they merely slip into their caves, dug already for the purpose, and after the shell has exploded, out they come and go to work again, till old Sumter gives them another salute. I have been up to the front three times this week, but “I still live,” and all the others who have been up there.
The rebels are evidently getting scared. Last Tuesday we could see a balloon hovering over Charleston for over an hour; they were doubtless reconnoitering, but I think it is likely they could see they would be warmly received, should they take a notion to visit us. We were enlightened by the New York or Boston press, of the 18th to 20th ult. We were informed that the Monitors had reduced Forts Wagner and Sumter on the 11th, and Beauregard had evacuated and burned Charleston! And another yarn, of two regiments planting a flag on Fort Wagner, and holding it two hours! which would have been, but for the cowardice of a Pennsylvania regiment — all of which stories are sell, and must be compared with the Commanding General’s official report. The fact is, “our own special correspondents travelling with Gen. So-and-so’s division” are a good deal like the “highly intelligent contraband,” or the “gentleman of undoubted veracity”— they write of what they hear, rather than what they see. In a conversation with one of the men of the 6th Conn, regiment, which was in the charge first made, he said if any one got in the fort it was more than he knew, and he said the regiment which had been mentioned as acting cowardly had been wronged.
There is one name I omitted in the two last letters. Nathan L. Young of New Bedford, was wounded on the night of the 18th, and died on board the steamer before arriving at Hilton Head. According to Lieut. Grace’s official report from the Surgeon General at Beaufort, Corp. Torrance is not there, and the men who have arrived from there corroborate the statement. So he is among the killed or prisoners, as I intimated in my first letter. I am unable to give you any account of how the wounded are getting along, as I have received no communication from any of them since they have been there. Our boys have got over their depression of spirit somewhat, caused by the fall of so many of their companions, in the dawning of a speedy victory. They are all in hopes of another “good time” before going into Charleston, but they would a leetle rather have it on a fair field, with no odds. Charging is good when you have a fair sight; but they all agree that Wagner is a hot place.
J. H. G.
Mercury, August 1, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, July 20, 1863
—At last we have something stirring to record. The 54th, the past week, has proved itself twice in battle. The first was on James Island on the morning of the 16th. There were four companies of the 54th on picket duty at the time; our picket lines extending to the right of the rebel battery, which commands the approach to Charleston through the Edisto river. About 3 o’clock in the morning, the rebels began harassing our pickets on the right, intending, no doubt, to drive them in, so that by daylight the coast would be clear to rush their main force down on us, and take us by surprise. They did not suppose we had any considerable force to the rear of our pickets on the right, as Gen. Stevenson’s brigade was plain in sight on the left; and their plan, I suppose, was to rush down and cut Gen. Stevenson off. They made a mistake — instead of returning fire, the officer in charge of the pickets directed the men to lie down under cover of a hedge, rightly expecting the rebels to advance by degrees toward our lines. As he expected, at daylight they were within 600 yards of the picket line, when our men rose and poured a volley into them. That was something the rebels didn’t expect — their line of skirmishers was completely broken; our men then began to fall back gradually on our line of battle, as the rebels were advancing their main force on to them. On they came, with six pieces of artillery and four thousand infantry, leaving a heavy force to drive Gen. Stevenson on the left. As their force advanced on our right, the boys held them in check like veterans; but of course they were falling back all the time, and fighting too. After the officers saw there was no chance for their men, they ordered them to move on to a creek under cover of the gunboats. When the rebels got within 900 yards of our line of battle, the right wing of Gen. Terry’s brigade gave them three volleys, which checked their advance. They then made a stand with their artillery and began shelling us, but it had no effect on our forces, as the rebels fired too high. The 6th Connecticut battery then opened fire on them from the right, the John Adams and May Flower from the creek between James and Cole Islands, and the Pawnee and a mortar schooner from the Edisto [i.e., Stono], when the rebels began a hasty retreat. It was a warmer reception than they had expected. Our loss in the skirmishing before the battle, so far as we can ascertain, was nine killed, 13 wounded, and 17 missing, either killed or taken prisoners; but more probably they were driven into the creek and drowned. Sergeant Wilson, of Co. H, was called upon to surrender, but would not; he shot four men before he was taken. After he was taken they ordered him to give up his pistol which he refused to do, when he was shot through the head.
The men of the 54th behaved gallantly on the occasion — so the Generals say. It is not for us to blow our horn; but when a regiment of white men gave us three cheers as we were passing them, it shows that we did our duty as men should.
I shall pass over the incidents of that day, as regards individuals, to speak of a greater and more terrible ordeal the 54th regiment has passed through. I shall say nothing now of how we came from James to Morris Island; suffice it to say, on Saturday afternoon we were marched up past our batteries, amid the cheers of the officers and soldiers. We wondered what they were all cheering for, but we soon found out. Gen. Strong rode up, and we halted. Well, you had better believe there was some guessing what we were to do. Gen. Strong asked us if we would follow him into Fort Wagner. Every man said, yes — we were ready to follow wherever we were led. You may all know Fort Wagner is the Sebastopol of the rebels; but we went at it, over the ditch and on to the parapet through a deadly fire; but we could not get into the fort. We met the foe on the parapet of Wagner with the bayonet — we were exposed to a murderous fire from the batteries of the fort, from our Monitors and our land batteries, as they did not cease firing soon enough. Mortal men could not stand such a fire, and the assault on Wagner was a failure. The 9th Me., 10th Conn., 63d Ohio, 48th and 100th N.Y. were to support us in the assault; but after we made the first charge, everything was in such confusion that we could hardly tell where the reserve was. At the first charge the 54th rushed to within twenty yards of the ditches, and, as might be expected of raw recruits, wavered — but at the second advance they gained the parapet. The color bearer of the State colors was killed on the parapet. Col. Shaw seized the staff when the standard bearer fell, and in less than a minute after, the Colonel fell himself. When the men saw their gallant leader fall, they made a desperate effort to get him out, but they were either shot down, or reeled in the ditch below. One man succeeded in getting hold of the State color staff, but the color was completely torn to pieces.
I have no more paper here at present, as all our baggage is at St. Helena yet; so I cannot further particularize in this letter. Lieut. Grace was knocked down by a piece of shell, but he is not injured. He showed himself a great deal braver and cooler than any line officer.
J. H. G.
Our correspondent gives a list of killed, wounded and missing. It is the same that we have already published. [Mercury Editor]
MORRIS ISLAND. S. C. July 20
MY DEAR AMELIA:
I have been in two fights, and am unhurt. I am about to go in another I believe to-night. Our men fought well on both occasions. The last was desperate we charged that terrible battery on Morris Island known as Fort Wagoner, and were repulsed with a loss of 3 killed and wounded. I escaped unhurt from amidst that perfect hail of shot and shell. It was terrible. I need not particularize the papers will give a better than I have time to give. My thoughts are with you often, you are as dear as ever, be good enough to remember it as I no doubt you will. As I said before we are on the eve of another fight and I am very busy and have just snatched a moment to write you. I must necessarily be brief. Should I fall in the next fight killed or wounded I hope to fall with my face to the foe.
If I survive I shall write you a long letter. DeForrest of your city is wounded George Washington is missing, Jacob Carter is missing, Chas Reason wounded Chas Whiting, Chas Creamer all wounded. The above are in hospital.
This regiment has established its reputation as a fighting regiment not a man flinched, though it was a trying time. Men fell all around me. A shell would explode and clear a space of twenty feet, our men would close up again, but it was no use we had to retreat, which was a very hazardous undertaking. How I got out of that fight alive I cannot tell, but I am here. My Dear girl I hope again to see you. I must bid you farewell should I be killed. Remember if I die I die in a good cause. I wish we had a hundred thousand colored troops we would put an end to this war.
Good Bye to all Write soon
Your own loving LEWIS