Posts Tagged   George Stephens

December 31, 1863: Epilogue

Today is the last day of a signally important year for the young United States (only 87 years old), a year which began with the issuing of an Emancipation Proclamation applying only to slaves in rebelling states, yet which ended with the first of several bills proposing amendments which would totally prohibit slavery throughout the country. The Senate passed the amendment in April 1864, 38 to 6, and the House passed it in January 1865, 119 to 56. The amendment was submitted to the states, and by December 6, 1865, it was ratified by the necessary 27 states; eventually, all 36 states ratified it.

The most compelling immediate consequence of the Emancipation Proclamation was the enlistment of colored people in the United States armies, in separate regiments officered by whites. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first such regiment raised among free negroes of the North. As such, it was highly visible throughout the country. The regiment’s great courage and steadfastness in all of its engagements, and especially the assault on Fort Wagner, had a significant impact on the perceptions and opinions of whites and blacks throughout the country.

The changes bought with so much blood of black and white Union soldiers were just the beginning of the long journey of this society. Racial segregation in the U.S. armed forces did not officially end until 1948. Despite the addition of the 14th Amendment (civil rights in the states; 1868) and the Fifteenth Amendment (voting rights; 1870), it took 100 years for the evils of explicit segregation to be confronted and substantially dismantled. In that time, it has come to be recognized that all people, regardless of color or gender, must enjoy the privileges of full citizenship. The election of a President of color, the selections of Secretaries of State who are of color or are female, the ascent of men of color, and women  — both white and colored, to high positions in U.S. corporate life, testify to the distance this country has travelled since 1863.  But one need only read or listen to the daily news to know that this journey is far from over, that it will remain a constant struggle to slowly grind down the evils of prejudice, generation by generation.

The 54th Massachusetts fought through the rest of the Civil War with distinction. The regiment was part of a poorly-led expedition to Florida in February of 1864 and participated in the disastrous battle of Olustee, distinguishing itself by steadfastly covering the retreat of the remaining Union forces. With ironic justice, the regiment was one of the principal occupying units in Charleston in 1865.

  • Robert Gould Shaw was killed in the assault on Fort Wagner. [BCF]
  • James Henry Gooding was shot in the thigh and captured at the Battle of Olustee. He later died imprisoned in the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville. [OAF]
  • George E. Stephens fought with the regiment through the end of the war and mustered out in July of 1865. [VT]
  • Luis Fenollosa Emilio fought with the regiment through the end of the war, and mustered out in March of 1865. [BBR]

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November 28, 1863

Gooding’s 40th letter to the Mercury and Stephens’s tenth letter to the Weekly Anglo-African:

Mercury, December 15, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Nov. 28, 1863

Messrs. Editors:

—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.

Mr. Editor:

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.

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October 2-3, 1863

Gooding’s 32nd letter to the Mercury and Stephens’s ninth letter to the Weekly Anglo-African, which he addressed directly to one of the two brothers publishing and editing the newspaper:

Mercury, October 15, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Oct. 3, 1863

Messrs. Editors:

—All quiet here, so far as war news is concerned.  We hear of nothing to cause any great excitement around us, for we are so familiar with “bombs bursting in air,” and shot whizzing through space, that it would be an item were it to cease. We have been pegging away at Sumter, a little every day during the week, more I presume to keep them from working than anything else. The rebels opened in a new place yesterday; the battery is a little to the right of Castle Pinckney, but from the looks of the place it must be a floating battery. I was up in Wagner at the time, and from the way the shot came they must have a very superior gun. The shot came unexpectedly, as the sentinels on the lookout were not dreaming of a shot from that direction, their attention being directed to James Island’s “barkers,” and Fort Moultrie, and Batteries Bee and Beauregard. Suddenly, there came a noise through the air, like an Erie lightning-express train, — then a terrible explosion, and the pieces of a Brook’s shell were falling pell mell into the interior of the fort. Luckily not a man was hurt, although they had no time to “kiver,” as the Second S. Carolina boys express it. After that, we kept a lookout for that chap, and the rest of the afternoon he kept one end of the fatigue pretty busy covering. It is almost incredible how we manage to do so much work under such a heavy and constant fire.  Wagner and Gregg are ours, but it takes about as much courage to hold them as it did to take them; and then to work on them and completely change them is something more than digging on a canal or railroad. But it is just this trait of ‘keeping all you get’ in the Yankee character which will eventually beat the rebels. We believe in good sound doctrine — for war at any rate —”keep all and get more.”

The iron clads are flourishing. I believe they are being painted; though I hear they captured a blockade runner last night, or one of the rebel rams, which it is rumored was coming out to raise the blockade. I don’t know if this be true, as I have had no chance of learning anything definite. But I know there was a grand pow-wow on the water last night about 11 o’clock, as the big guns were bellowing at a great rate, the flag vessel was signalizing rapidly, and taken altogether, I guess there was something of the ram kind or neutral traders around.

The subscriptions and collections towards the monument to Col.  Robert G. Shaw have reached the sum of $1472, and it is proposed that the 54th contribute $1000. But we think the place proposed for its erection inexpedient, however much in keeping with poetic fitness. It is seriously proposed to erect it at the foot of Wagner’s parapet, facing Fort Sumter. Now the manner and place where the hero fell will be known in history; a monument does not of necessity need to be placed where a hero fell; its place is some city or town, where people can see it.  When we propose to erect a monument on some desolate island like this, it is simply creating a Mecca in the nineteenth century, where the race supposed to be benefited by the contest, which cost the hero his own; and even should they be subjugated, which is stronger than conquered, it would ill become us to flaunt our success by raising monuments to our fallen heroes on their soil. Massachusetts is big enough to furnish a spot sufficient to honor one of her own soldiers; and I doubt not she would be very proud to have within her lines a monument of every son who has fallen in this trying war. We are ready to put in our mite, but we would rather see it raised on old Massachusetts soil.  The first to say a black was a man, let her have the first monument raised by black men’s money, upon her good old rocks.


Morris Island, S.C.,

Oct. 3, 1863.

Mr. Thomas Hamilton—Dear Friend:

It has been a long time since I wrote you in my old-fashioned way. I have not sent you a line since my advent as a soldier. I thank God that I am at last in a position to learn to be a soldier. I believe that since the chieftains of the slavery party have sought and obtained the arbitrament of the bullet in their question of control of power with the Freedom party, every man should become a soldier, ready to do and to die in defence of freedom. Every Christian and enlightened man desires to see great principles and measures triumph through peaceful means, where reason rules her just sway, and amenity, conciliation, and love, take the place of hatred, passion and revenge.

The present century has been immortalized with the grandest reforms. From the abolition of the slave trade in 1808 down to the freeing of the Danish colonies, peaceful reform seems to have marched steadily on. Science, art and invention, a noble sisterhood, sat in counsel and astonished the world with their achievements. The very elements seemed to pay homage to the genius and skill of man. No man dare say what human ingenuity may not accomplish. The enlightened statesmen have in America hoped to secure the annihilation of every wrong and injustice through the agency of that power which Talleyrand considered more irresistible than the proudest and most powerful potentate, namely “public opinion.” The slavery party is arraigned at the bar of “public opinion.” Its vile vision is tortured and haunted by the wild spirit of reform. This is a subtle spirit. The engines of warfare cannot impede its progress. It is deathless and omnipresent. It underlies all the pageantry and misery of this gigantic war, The slavery party aims to plunge the country into disorder and anarchy and to establish by force of arms their hell-born system. There is but one alternative left to the freedom party if it would avert terrorism, proscription, and humiliation: ‘Tis steel for steel; bullet for bullet; life for life; man for man; blood for blood.

These are some of the notions that led me to join the 54th Mass. Volunteer Infantry. And again I thought that the true interests of all classes of men in our country depended on the success of our party. That they were the true representatives of the newest and best form of government ever established for the government of mankind and are the highest, noblest, and most progressive type of civilization. I can not see on what ground any man can discourage enlistments. Some urge that the treatment of colored citizens is exceptionable— that the guarantees of freedom vouchsafed to us by the government are tardy and doubtful—that some of our representative men, those who are considered the exponents of the principles of the freedom party are as bitter in their assaults on our race and as prejudiced as those of the slavery party. This is true, but these questions are only incidental in their character and cannot effect the general and fundamental principles and theories of the party: It must be remembered that the other class have suffered a slavery of the mind, just as brutalizing, just as debasing as that physical or social thraldom our class are suffering. It is prejudice and a disregard of the inalienable rights of their fellow men. Their notions of justice are so blinded they can without the least remorse rob their fellow-men of every sacred right. These men are to be elevated and their mental or moral condition must be ameliorated, just the same as the condition of those of our class who are debased by slavery should be ameliorated. They deserve  the same pity and commiseration that the poor black slave does and  we should “pass their imperfection by  just as willingly. Let us be 1 charitable and contend only for the principles of liberty, government and civilization.

The siege of Charleston drags its slow length. Morris Island can t never be retaken by the enemy. Fifty thousand men could be swept  away in fifty minutes by our guns. Our fatigue parties are somewhat annoyed by the rebel shell, but our labor progresses. The casualties are very few, I had prepared for your satisfaction a complete list of them, but lost my notes. The health of our regiment is bad. We average one hundred and fifty sick per day, caused no doubt, by excessive fatigue duty.

You have also heard I suppose of this matter of pay, it has caused a great deal of trouble, and if it is not adjusted one of the best regiments that ever left the Massachusetts will become utterly demoralized. The tribulations of our regiment have been many since we arrived in this department. The first business we were called on to participate in was the burning of Darien, Ga. Our officers, Col. Shaw among the rest, disapproved of the wanton destruction of that town defenseless and unoccupied as it was by the enemy. The men of this regiment have a distaste for this sort of warfare—we want to enter the field honorably—to fight a legitimate warfare. After our return from this expedition, we were sent to St. Helena. While there a proposition was made to take our arms from us and give in their stead long pikes. Col. Shaw expressed his disapprobation of this scheme. Then there was an offer made to pay us ten dollars per month less three for clothing, in other words pay us seven dollars per month. The men were enlisted as a part of the Mass. State quota of troops and never dreamed that any  other pay but that of other Massachusetts soldiers would be given them. We have been urged and urged again to accept seven dollars a month, all, sergeant-major down to the humblest private to get no more. There are respectable and well to do men in this regiment, who have accepted positions. It is insulting to them to offer them about half the pay of a poor white private.

To give you an idea of the feelings of some of the officers here with regard to us on this point, I will give you a short speech made Sept. 30th by Col. James Montgomery, 2d South Carolina Vols., of Kansas fame, and Commander of the Brigade to which we have been recently joined. Col. Montgomery was not in command of the brigade. He has been sick some time past. The paymaster was in Col. Littlefield’s tent. Some ten or twelve officers of our own and other regiments were present. The men had not accepted their pay and the well men were on fatigue duty, at Battery Shaw and Wagner.  Col. M. had those who were left in camp drawn up in line and addressed them as follows:

“I want to speak to you. You want plain talk and I shall give it to you. I am your friend. I made the first anti-slavery speech ever made in Kansas. I was the first man that employed negroes in the United States service. I fought six years in Kansas for nothing and I do not come here for pay. I can make $5,000 a year. I get only $2,200 here. I sacrifice my ease and comfort (for I enjoy myself at home). I have fought United States soldiers. There is a General now in the Rebel service whom I fought, killed his horse from under him and took him prisoner when in the United States service. I would have been hung long ago if I had held still. Old Jimmy Buchanan offered a reward for my head. It was a very mean one to be sure, and I was very indignant. He offered only a yearling nigger worth about two hundred and fifty dollars. If he had offered a full-grown nigger I would not have cared so much. You ought to be glad to pay for the privilege to fight, instead of squabbling about money. A great many of you are fugitive slaves, and can by law be returned to your masters. The government by its act in setting you free has paid you a thousand dollars bounty. I know what the trouble is: the noisy Abolitionists have been telling you you are better than anybody else. They are your worst enemies. You have two classes of friends: those who tell you what you are and those who sees in the Ethiopian a symbol of injured innocence. I have seen a hundred regiments but I never saw one so fully equipped as this. Look at your tents and cooking stoves. You want to be placed on the same footing as white soldiers. You must show yourselves as good soldiers as the white. For all anybody knows you did very well here. You must show it by bravery in battle. I should be glad to make you as good soldiers as the white. You are a race of slaves. A few years ago your fathers worshipped snakes and crocodiles in Africa. Your features partake of a beastly character. Your religious exercises in this camp is a mixture of barbarism and Christianity. I am disgusted with the mean, low habits you have learned from the low whites. I hear them say to you, ‘bully boys, bully boys, don’t take this pay’ What do they mean by this? Do you mean to bully the government out of your money or that you are stubborn as bulls? You would rather go out here and dig in the trenches than stay here in camp and be paid off. Gov. Andrew advises you to take this money and Frederick Douglass also. I have a letter here from Fred. He has been on a tour to Washington and had an interview with Sec. Stanton on the subject of enlistments. He advised that all that was needed was to treat the negro as a man. There are two classes of colored men: the indolent and careless; the industrious and ambitious. He (Douglass) called on Senator Pomeroy, but did not call on Jim Lane. He perhaps had found Lane out. There are two Senators from Kansas. Pomeroy is a pretty fair sort of man, but Jim Lane is at present a noisy Abolitionist. Some time ago he wanted to buy some lands, utensils and niggers, but not having any money had to do without the niggers. He will buy and sell a nigger as quick as anybody else, but since the majority are in favor of liberty, he is very loud-mouthed. Fred Douglass is far above the mass of his race; but he is not equal to the great men of this country, such as Wendell Phillips, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sumner, and others. You can be improved by education. Irishmen come to this country and in a few years become the same as other white men. Education expands the brain and improves the features. Your features can be improved. Your beauty cannot recommend you. Your yellow faces are evidences of rascality. You should get rid of this bad blood. My advice to you is the lightest of you must marry the blackest woman. You owe your sutler nearly $2,000 and your refusing to take your pay show that you intend to cheat him out of his goods. You went to his agent after he had gone away, and because he would not trust you broke open his place and robbed him. The men that robbed him should be hung. He had no right to trust you and could be handled for it. It is mutiny to refuse to take your pay, and mutiny is punishable with death.”

The Colonel spoke nearly an hour and I cannot stoop to give all the bad epithets directed to our regiment. We had not the remotest idea that he entertained such a spirit of hatred for our regiment. Had he scarcely left the bench on which he stood while addressing the men, when Col. Littlefield who was in command of the Brigade at the time stood up and said: “Men, I cannot let this opportunity pass. The regiment has endeared itself to me. You have done your whole duty. You have written your names on the scroll of fame and any man who defames this regiment defames me. Such a man is my enemy and if I have any fighting to do I will defend you. I do not urge you to take this money, but I am willing to give you a pledge of my honor that you will get your full pay. I have made a promise of $1,ooo to Gen. Saxton for a monument to Col. Shaw, and I would have you take this money and make up this sum to commemorate the name of your noble leader.”

This instantly dispelled the bad effects of Col. Montgomery’s remarks. I am astonished that some insubordinate demonstration was not made, but Col. M. is our superior officer and our boys respect their superior officers. The speech of Col. M. has fixed the determination in the minds of the men to await calmly and patiently. If we thought that our enemies would make this course on our part a ground of assault against colored soldiers, I for one should go for taking $7 per month, nay $2 would be enough, but as the Colonel says, all the private soldiers here are vehement in urging us to refuse this paltry pay. They say if we take this money they will want to cut down their wages next. I have never yet heard a man say that we have failed to perform our duty. We have been complimented for our arduous labor in the trenches and whenever paraded have cleaner clothes, cleaner arms, better polished equipments than any other colored regiment on the Island. In truth there is no negro regiment compared to the 54th. In the last review the palm for martial bearing, accurate marching, and cleanliness is disputed with the 54th by the 100th New York Volunteers. The crime that has unfortunately incurred the displeasure of our General is that we do not sign the pay rolls, and the pay-master will not give us money unless we sign and thus give him receipt in full for pay up to the ist of August. The words of Col. Montgomery fell with crushing effect on the regiment. We did not enlist for money but we feel that the men who enlisted us and those who accepted our service never intended that we should be treated different from other Massachusetts men. If the government had been too poor to pay us we would have been willing to give our services for nothing. But the government seems fully able to pay her soldiers, for just on the threshold of this great war she increased their pay.

We are told that by law we are slaves and can be returned to our masters. This I deny. But a few years ago when the slavery party controlled affairs, fugitives were hunted like so much wild game all over the country, and it was quite a paying business. A few years ago the same party, so the speech shows, made him an outlaw and would have hung him. Their power is broken and we are now United States soldiers and he a responsible citizen and high official. It would be just as incorrect—just as cruel, to call him an outlaw amenable to the law, as to call us fugitive slaves returnable to our masters by law. In truth there are necessarily some few fugitives here, but is the 54th made up of fugitive slaves?15 No, there are hundreds that have been blessed with a New England education, and have learned their duty as freemen, and know their rights and dare stand up for them, and if they cannot get their rights they can have the manly satisfaction that they stood up for them. Col. Montgomery unfortunately has been accustomed to the negro as a slave or freedman. It startles and astonishes him to see him stand erect with intelligence beaming in his countenance. He perhaps never saw a negro approach a white man except with hat in hand and bowed head. He says further, that he wishes to make us as good soldiers as the white. How can this be done if every stimulant to heroic actions are denied? The only hope of the negro soldiers as his status now appears, is half pay and the name not the rank of sergeant. To urge us to be good soldiers without throwing around us the influences which alone make the soldier, without which the noblest races will become varlet, is grossly absurd. But there seems to be an intimation here that we are not as good soldiers as whites. Is there to be a new theory developed? Everybody, citizens, soldiers, and the rest of mankind say, “thus far the negro soldier has done his whole duty.” Does Col. M. deny this? Is his services in ratio of value as $7 is to $13. It is said that the Government supports the worn-out and non-combatant slaves, but I understand that all of these classes of slaves or freedmen are self-supporting—that the government is now realizing an income from the Southern plantations.16 And does the government not expend hundreds of thousands in subsistence to the families of rebels in arms?17 Should those rebels return to their allegiance and espouse the Union cause would Uncle Sam ask them to work and fight for $7 a month?

Then again “we should be glad to pay for the privilege to fight.” After we have endured a slavery of two hundred and fifty years we are to pay for the privilege to fight and die to enable the North to conquer the South—what an idea! to pay for the privilege to fight for that tardy and at best doubtful freedom vouchsafed to us by the government. For what are we to be grateful? Here the white man has grown rich on our unpaid labor—has sold our children—insulted our wives—shut us out from the light of education, and even kept the Bible from us, and the moment he becomes convinced that these deeds of his are producing the desired results to his country and people, he gets to work and attempts to restore some of those rights and to allow for some of those wrongs. I think it a question of repentance on his part instead of gratitude on ours. What do you think of him should he demand your services and life, for a restoration of your rights and a release from his persecutions? If we are taunted because the suicidal course of the government has been changed, in the name of God, men of the freedom party, go back to your old policy. Exclude every fugitive from the armies—invalidate the President’s Emancipation Proclamation, let your officers be slaves—spies and catchers for Southern rebels, for no negro who has two ideas, one to rub against another, is willing to rest under this new slavery his presumed friends are marking out for him, namely: to keep ever present to the memory that his are a race of slaves and have an eternal tribute to pay to their oppressors. I want to feel as if I had a right to liberty and life, and that if I enjoy it, do not wish it said, that I owe to this one or that one.

It cannot be gainsayed that there is a frightful amount of profanity said to have been learned from the “low whites.” Now these “low whites,” belong to that race which the Colonel presumes to be the superior race. In what constitutes its superiority if it has a deleterious influence on our actions and character? I think there can be found more instances of barbarism in the whites in this country than in the blacks. Look at the Lawrence massacre, the New York mobs, and the Port Hudson atrocities! The fair Southern belle adorns her person with trinkets made from the bones of slaughtered Yankees. Is this not a “polished barbarism?” But the argument of this speech is not logical. It assumes the inferiority of our race, and denies its inferiority by declaring that all that is bad in us has been obtained from the whites which I think very true.

Profanity is a low mean vice, but it is universal in the army. Men are drawn into it almost unconsciously. Those who have been restrained by the associations at home when they get in the army seem to obtain a sort of immoral license. They contract habits and manners there from which they would shrink at home. Our regiment has been peculiarly unfortunate in this manner of spiritual instruction and advice. There have been but a half a dozen lectures delivered to the regiment since it left Readville, 28th last May. But this moral and spiritual void has been filled somewhat by instructive religious tracts and papers contributed by Christian and noble hearted friends in the North— yet while we have so much to regret, there are abundant evidences of a religious revival in our regiment. Are our prayer-meetings a mixture of paganism or barbarism and Christianity? I have witnessed camp-meetings of white Methodists and have seen just as much vehemence and excitement as our meetings are characterized with. It is a characteristic of Methodism in these later days to be exuberant, vehement, and boisterous; and Methodism is almost universal with the American negroes. There are more Methodists, I think statistics say, than every other sect among them unitedly.

The sutler was robbed of his goods by some five or six men in the regiment. The regiment did not rob the sutler. It is utterly impossible to get together any nine hundred or thousand men without some of them being bad enough to do almost anything. All soldiers regard sutlers as regimental Shylocks who demand their money or their lives. They have to pay them fifty cents per pound for rascally butter and twenty-five cents per pound for the blackest kind of sugar; and for everything else they pay equally exorbitant rates. There are few soldiers who think it highly penal to get the best of the sutler. Now this stealing for which the regiment is accused was perpetrated by men whose names are known, and whom Col. Littlefield intends to make pay for the small amount taken. Nor can this be called stealing but a sort of bushwacking raid.

The circumstances are as follows; Mr. De Mortie told the men in the regiment some two or three weeks ago, before he left for his home, that if they would not take the money the paymaster offered them, he would trust them. He went home, and his partners or agents refused to trust the men. The soldiers of other regiments who had been paid off came and bought the sutler’s stock out, and he replenished and sold out again, and any one of the 54th could with difficulty get accommodated. This incensed the men and five or six of the most violent tore down his tent. The sutler ran to the Colonel and he reported the circumstance and instantly sent the men off and put a guard over his tent. It was more a riot and a little spitefulness than robbery. The Colonel (Littlefield) had the whole affair quelled in less time than has been occupied in writing this account of it. How unjust to cast odium on the regiment for this act of half a dozen men. Raiding on sutlers is a most common thing in every camp. I have been the witness of many such catastrophes. I don’t dispute that the sutler is a very nice man and as just as sutlers generally can be, but I do say this, if his treatment of the men had been more conciliatory this would not have happened. His agent seems to have forgotten that he is a sutler of the 54th and should be prepared to fully accommodate their wants, as well as to make his fortune. The sutler trusted the men to two dollar checks, and compelled them to take the entire two dollars worth or nothing. He had no checks of smaller denomination than two dollars thus taking away the chance to economize. Two dollars is enough to answer the wants of a soldier from one to two months. Are we to be denounced as thieves for this?

As to yellow faces I don’t indulge in any controversy about color. I think “’tis the mind that makes the man,” not the color of his skin or any peculiarity of his hair. All I wish to know is the man just, is he humane and generous—noble-spirited—if yes, he is a man, if no, he is a slave to passion and iniquity.

I must not forget to tell you that Gov. Andrew has presented us with a new flag (State flag). In the charge on Fort Wagner, the old flag was torn asunder. In his speech to our regiment, Gov. A. told us that the State flag had never fallen into the hands of the enemy and urged if we could not save the flag, save the shreds—if we could not save the shreds save the staff, and his appeal has been heeded to the letter. When on the parapet of Fort Wagner, Corporal Peal, Co. F, who has had the honor to bear the State colors, inadvertently let the flag lean over the crest of the work, a rebel seized it, then commenced a desperate struggle between the corporal and the rebel for its possession. Unfortunately the color parted from the staff and thus by accident the flag was lost. The corporal said, “Ah you dirty rascal you did not get the staff any way,” and he brought the staff away with the spear. This flag is a facsimile of the old one, and when Col. Littlefield unfurled it the boys gave it three rousing cheers.

Trusting that health and prosperity are with you, I remain truly yours,

G. E. Stephens.

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September 27, 1863

Emilio describes another incident in the on-going pay disputes, which would last until the U.S. Congress took action on September 28, 1864 ( [BBR] pp.130-131):

Paymaster Usher arrived in camp September 27, ready to pay the men #10 per month from enlistment, less $3 per month deducted for clothing. Upon the non-commissioned officers being assembled, they with great unanimity declined the reduced payment for themselves and their comrades. The paymaster again came on the 30th to renew his offer. It was on this date that Colonel Montgomery appeared and made the men a remarkable and characteristic address, which Sergeant Stephens of Company B has given in substance as follows: —

” Men: the paymaster is here to pay you. You must remember you have not proved yourselves soldiers. You must take notice that the Government has virtually paid you a thousand dollars apiece for setting you free. Nor should you expect to be placed on the same footing with white men. Any one listening to your shouting and singing can see how grotesquely ignorant you are. I am your friend and the friend of the negro. I was the first person in the country to employ nigger soldiers in the United States Army. I was out in Kansas. I was short of men. I had a lot of niggers and a lot of mules ; and you know a nigger and a mule go very well together. I therefore enlisted the niggers, and made teamsters of them. In refusing to take the pay offered you, and what you are only legally entitled to, you are guilty of insubordination and mutiny, and can be tried and shot by court-martial.”

Montgomery besides made some gross and invidious insinuations and reflections because the Fifty-fourth men were so light-colored, which it would be improper to repeat. The colonel seemed to be unaware that his remarks were insulting, and most of the men he addressed born free. Sergt. Henry Stewart, of Company E, a faithful soldier who had actively engaged in recruiting the regiment, died of disease September 27, and was buried with proper honors. His and other deaths, with an increased sick list, called for sanitary measures about this time. No radical change of camp was possible, as the ground available for such purposes was limited; but tents were struck so that the air and sun could reach the ground beneath, and a daily inspection of streets, sinks, and the cooked food instituted.

The Sanitary Commission furnished ice, raspberry vinegar, pickles, and other needed supplies; but there was a lack of fresh vegetables. Early in October, however, Mr. Reuben Tomlinson brought a large supply for the Fifty-fourth, — a present from the contrabands about Beaufort; and similar welcome gifts followed from the same source from time to time. Tobacco, dried apples, lime-juice, writing-paper, brushes, etc., were purchased with the company funds, as the men had no money.

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September 19, 1863

Gooding’s 29th letter to the Mercury and Stephens’s eighth letter to the Weekly Anglo-African:

Mercury, October 1, 1863 [OAF]

Morris Island, Sept 19, 1863
Messrs. Editors:

—”All quiet” in this department of the South is a very appropriate mode of expressing the operations the past week with us here. Although you may expect at no distant day to hear of stirring actions, that is, if signalizing, backing up and backing down mean anything. The monitors run up—fall in line — up goes a signal from the flag vessel — they break ranks, and, blow off steam out of gun range of old Moultrie. A comical chap in our company says, he guesses “they are having dress parade.” We expected to see the cheese boxes knock Sullivan’s Island batteries higher than a kite long ago, but we are agreeably left to keep expecting. But the land forces are busy preparing for something, but what it is to be I can’t venture to say for fear it may prove greatly the reverse. But if I were a rebel, and lived in Charleston, I should feel decidedly skittish to see the villainous Yankees planting those dangerous Parrot guns right in front of the city, and less than 4 miles off too. Mr. Beauregard is aware that those barbarous engines of war will carry a message a little over five miles. Hence his persistent efforts to shell us out of Wagner and Gregg. The mathematician of the regiment estimates that if the number of shells wasted by old Beaury costs three dollars in good money, it will only take three months and seven days to run out the last Confederate loan — each shell costing $15 in rebel scrip. I think Senator Toombs should point out the utter folly and extravagance of Beauregard’s course, as the Senator is deeply concerned about the Confederate finances.

Night and day the rebels are pouring shell around Wagner, Gregg, and on our camps on Black Island, or at the “Swamp Angel” but so far, they would have accomplished as much had they fired at the moon.  Yesterday, they appeared to be unusually extravagant — from the north end of James Island all the way down to Seceshville, they kept their batteries open (numbering 12 guns), firing at — nobody knows; it is certain their shot came no where near Morris Island. It is said a magazine was blown up on James Island last Tuesday, but I cannot rely upon it; there certainly was a great smoke seen over there, but it might have been a fire in the woods. Of course, every rebel magazine blown up is considered a gain to the Union cause, in the same light of the “utter demoralization” of such and such a rebel army, or a “strong Union sentiment” existing in this or that section, and many persons are credulous enough to believe that all such natural combinations will end the war, instead of good hard fighting. The best mode of creating Union sentiments now, is by planting artillery near the thresholds of those who are without them, and if you get that close to them, you must fight hard to get there; that is, you will have to demoralize the army between you and the apocryphal Union section by giving them a good sound drubbing, or else capture and put them in the penitentiary.  We had a heavy gale here, lasting all day Wednesday and Thursday; the rain came down as it only can in these latitudes, with a vengeance.  The most of the shipping inside the bar had to be towed out, for fear some of them would be swept ashore. The beach was strewn with boats, broke loose from vessels in the offing, stumps of huge trees, timber and spars. I saw the floor ribs of a good-sized ship high and dry on the beach, drove up by the fury of the waves. She may be a relic of the stone blockade, as I saw a piece of a vessel’s knighthead marked “Corea,” and I believe there was a ship of that name in the stone fleet. The weather is quite cool here since the storm; it is very comfortable in the day time, but the nights make an overcoat indispensable. I believe the bark Growler, or Grumbler, has arrived at last. Misfortunes or blessings never come singly — now we have cold weather, we have ice water.  But the soldiers thank the donors all the same, and bless the good people who thought of them weeks ago, when the days were long and sultry.

As I have taken too much of your space, I will end by giving the thanks of the 54th regiment to their friends in the Sperm City for the interest taken in our behalf. May they ever have plenty of “spondulicks” to relieve the boys in the field, if they can’t relieve us on picket.


[Sept.] 1863.

Mr. Editor:

Fort Wagner has fallen! The stronghold which bade defiance to every assault, and received for forty days the peltings of iron missiles vomited from the heaviest ordinance employed in modern warfare, has submitted to patient toil and labor with the spade. The enemy have admitted that Wagner was the key to Charleston, and our lights say that the reduction and occupancy of Sumter was an impossibility while it (Wagner) remained in possession of the enemy. These notices have been iterated and reiterated until the fall of Fort Wagner has become to be regarded by those far removed from the scenes of active operations as great an achievement as the capture of Fort Sumter, or the formidable Sullivan’s Island batteries. Fort Wagner and Battery Gregg, with some one hundred prisoners and a considerable amount of commissary stores, with seven or eight pieces of artillery, are our only trophies of victory.

For a week previous to the evacuation of Fort Wagner by the rebel forces, they had been removing their arms and ammunition, and when our forces took peaceable possession of it, the magazine was found to be empty, or nearly so. Their prisoners say no power on earth could keep us out of Fort Wagner or any other fort that could be approached by parallels. From the first landing of troops on Morris Island it has been regarded as lost. They admit that the city of Charleston can be destroyed by our combustible shells, and the rebel authorities seem to dare our commanding General to burn the city. For what are all those rebel batteries erected? To save the city of Charleston from destruction and to prevent its occupation by our forces. If we burn the city, half the necessity for rebel batteries has been taken away. And another thing: if Beauregard, or whoever else may have command, when he or they found that there was a fixed determination to bum it, if not surrendered, we would have [had) but very few of their insolent parleyings. I would spare the aged and infirm, the women and children, and give them ample time to go beyond the reach of danger, but the city I would burn to ashes. Not one stone of its buildings would I leave upon another for active rebels, armed and unarmed, I would dig graves beneath its smoldering ruins. It is not very likely that the rebels would occupy their works after the material interests of the city were destroyed. If the old nest which contains and has hatched out so many secession serpents was destroyed, the country would be spared many troubles, and a new order of beings not branded with treason or infatuated with slavery could find a home and habitation. The course would in the end be found to be one of the grandest steps toward restoring loyalty and peace, and remove the necessity of a standing army in South Carolina. For the sake of humanity, peace and victory give them "Greek fire," the torch and shell, not in anger or for revenge, but as a just, well merited punishment for treason, violation of the law, and other crimes.

From present appearances Charleston will not be burned, and the reduction of the other forts and batteries in Charleston harbor is as great a military problem as ever. There is a question between the relative activity of the land and naval forces now engaged in the sieges. The army claim to have achieved all the successes thus far, and that the navy have failed to fully co-operate with them. In the first place, with justice to the navy, it may be said to have been the right arm of the Federal service, and has been the safeguard of the army. The land forces have on many occasions owed their salvation to the naval. It seems to be unjust to deny the navy the high honors it deserves. What if victory has been achieved by the co-operation of the navy? One thing I think is demonstrated in the present siege: the superiority of the Ironsides over the Monitors for such operations. Rapidity of firing is just as essential as great weight of metal. Complete invulnerability cannot be attained. That is, an iron vessel could not be floated with a hull strong enough to resist steel-pointed shot of the weight modern improved guns can propel against it. Nothing but huge sandbanks can withstand these terrible missiles. During the siege of Fort Wagner, when the Ironsides would run up into the very jaws of their batteries on Sullivan's Island, right in the face of Wagner and Sumter, she invariably silenced them. One shell would not explode before another would take its place to fill the atmosphere with death. She did not give them breathing time. They could not take shelter from one shell and man and fire their guns before another could reach them, as they can easily do when engaged with the Monitors.

It is contraband to write of present operations, but I am privileged to have my say about the operations which led to the evacuation of Wagner and Gregg. We have lost as much of blood and suffered as much in toil as any other regiment in the Department in the performance of this task, and I presume that when the commanding General shall come to sum up his report of this affair, he will give us the credit we deserve. The truth cannot always be learned from newspaper correspondence, there is such wide scope for the ventilation of sentiments of prejudiced and irresponsible men. This may be "like pot calling kettle black," but I must say that after we have done as much as any other soldiers here, our flag should have been alongside the rest. Serrill's Engineers, who deserve the highest honor, planted their flag on the works, as did the 3d Rhode Island. If we had demanded to have our flag and urged its claims to a place there, as Col. Shaw would have done, it would have floated there. But not one suggested the propriety of it.

The main portion of our regiment was in line of battle, on the right of Montgomery's Brigade. Detachments from the 54th Massachusetts, ad South Carolina, 100th New York, 10th Connecticut and the Marine Corps intercepted three of the rebel barges which contained the last remains of Gregg's and Wagner's garrison, numbering about one hundred men. One of the rebel barges escaped. Some of the rebels in their fright and excitement jumped overboard. There were some drowned, but the greater number were rescued. There were some few men found scattered around the works who seemed to court capture. Our pickets were apprized by a rebel soldier of the evacuation of Wagner about midnight, but before he could make it known that he bore information for us some of the pickets shot him. The detachment which captured these retreating rebels was part of a programme of movements to take Wagner by assault. The part they had to play was to intercept re-enforcements during the assault, and it was not until we had marched them away down to the Beacon House that one of their principle men admitted that the works had been abandoned. They, to a man, deny havingbeen in the fort on the 18th; They, say they relieved the men who held the battery at that time. About a week ago they conversed freely with us negroes," and seemed to have vague notions of retaliation. They all said that they belonged to the Charleston Battalion—-were boatmen carrying provisions over to Curnmings's Point. There was an officer with them who said that he was only assistant surgeon, but his rank is higher and he does not belong to the medical corps. He cut a mighty sorry figure as he marched at the head of his comrades, and on each side of them the silent, moody negro guard.-Now and then the Sergeant would give out the stern command, "Close up!" and Mr. Reb did not have to be told a second time.

Quite a considerable number of colored refugees have come into our lines since the capture of the whole of Morris Island. Ten persons made their escape on last Friday night: four children, one women and five men. They came from the city and confirm the report of the destructiveness of shells charged with "Greek Fire." They say that the citizens are running off their slaves by the thousands. They towed their boats down the harbor in safety, and the mother says that just as they got opposite Sumter the little baby broke out in shrill screams and would not be comforted. They gave up all for lost, but the heroic mother instantly made a wad of a shawl and filled its little mouth, and when they landed on the beach and surrendered to our pickets, the poor little things were almost suffocated. She thinks "it better die den all be slave.";

I cannot resist the temptation to refer to the conduct of the colored soldiers digging in the approaches. Says Sergt. Barquet: "Men born and reared on Southern plantations who never saw a gun can now talk as glibly as you please of planes, augers, ranges and distances, and the entire military vocabulary is becoming familiar to them. I overheard the following conversation between two contraband soldiers: 'Sam, Cohorn mortar trow shell great range; to fetch him, reb wastes much powder.' 'Ah! Jirn, Cohorn mortar wuss den grape and schrapanel; grape shell come straight in trench—de odder bound to go ober.' " What a fund of information these men have gained, and what a grand school for the soldier is here opened to them! Eight hours out of thirty-six toiling and laboring in the face of death, shell from front and flank, Minnie bullets, grape and shrapnel plunging, whizzing and plowing up"the earth on all sides. Some one of the officers of the Engineer Corps has to superintend the work of the fatigue parties.

Barquet gives the following scrap which will show how reckless and profane a man can be under the intoxicating influence of rum, and, is, to say the least, an incident worth telling: The fifth and last parallethad been reached; the rebels seemed to be frenzied with alarm, and their sharpshooters and heavy guns kept up an incessant play on the fatigue parties. An Irish Lieutenant of Serrill's Engineer Corps had charge of the operations on that night. The perilous march had been made without any casualties. When our fatigue reached the point of operations, the following colloquy occurred between the Irish Lieutenant and the men who had the dangerous duty to perform:

"Who comes there?"

"54th fatigue party!"

"Arrah, there should be here at this late hour a brigade of fatigue men. Now listen. There was niver a man hurt wid me," the shot then nearly blinding the men with their fizzing, fuming glare. "I want two parties of sappers and miners of four men each. First party come forward!" The men came.  "No. 1 you're a sapper. No. 2, you're a miner. No. 3, you're a sapper. No. 4, you're a miner. No. 1, you're kilt! No. 2, you take his place. No. 3, you're kilt. No. 4, you must take his place." No. 1'S and 3's feelings may be better imagined than described. As a sort of climax to this arrangement, the inebriated officer said, "All I ask is two gabions to a man, and by to-morrow morning we'll be in the gates of Fort Wagner and the jaws of death and hell."

The boys went to work with a will, and before daylight an indignant rebel in the riflepits, just behind our parallel, was forced to exclaim to our boys,.  "You black Yankee sons of b—s intend to bury us in sand, don't you?" On this night poor young Vanderpool was killed, three of the 104th Pennsylvania volunteers, and several wounded.

The Rev. Samuel Harrison has been appointed Chaplain of our regiment. This is most fortunate. Our regiment has felt the need of a chaplain. We have had but four sermons preached to us since we left the camp Readville, Mass.—one by Rev. James Lynch at St. Helena, and one on St. Simon's by the Chaplain of the 2d South Carolina Volunteers, and two on Morris Island by an able and eloquent agent of the American Tract Society, now home in the North, and whose name I disremember. Prayer-meetings are regularly held in our camp and I think there are a few evidences of a revival. These meetings are very boisterous, and many who believe in deep, fervent, devotional worship cannot take as active a part in them as they would if there was less excitement and fewer of their unearthly yellings.

Gen. Gillmore has commenced granting furloughs. Today some ten or twelve of the 54th go North in the steamer that bears this letter. Your humble servant defers his visit North to a more convenient season. Sergt.-Major Douglass, Sergt. Barquet, and Sergt. Gray of New Bedford, are among this first installment of absentees.

I have just seen another Letter from Gov. Andrew, to the effect that there is no law which prevents our receiving full pay—that the Paymaster is not a competent judge in the matter, and that free colored men, citizens of Massachusetts, regularly enlisted as Massachusetts volunteers, cannot be less than citizen soldiers whom the Paymaster has no right to know but as soldiers, and advising us to take ten dollars a month under protest only. The law referring to persons of African descent employed in the army cannot refer to us. There is no proof that any of our fathers are Africans. If they adopt this rule there is no such thing as an American in the country, for all whites and blacks are not aborigines.


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September 4, 1863

This is Stephens‘ s seventh letter to the Weekly Anglo-African:

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.

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August 7, 1863

This is Stephens’s 6th letter to the Weekly Anglo-African:

In Camp, [VT]
Morris Island, S.C.,
Aug. 7/ 1863.

Mr. Editor:

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.

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July 21, 1863

Stephens describes the James Island action and the assault on Ft. Wagner in his fifth letter to the Weekly Anglo-African:

Morris Island, S.C., [VT]
July 21,1863.

Mr. Editor:

The month of July has been an eventful one for the 54th. We left our camp at St. Helena on the—inst., and landed at James Island on the—, fought the second battle of James Island1 on Thursday, 16th, escaped the snare which eight thousand rebels had prepared to entrap us with, by silent midnight retreat through bogs, marshes, and dense woods, reaching Morris Island beach on Saturday morning, 18th; marched directly to the front, and made (what has been conceded by every one to be) a heroic charge on Fort Wagner.

In the engagement at James Island we lost 45 killed, wounded and missing. Among the killed are Corporal Holloway, a nephew of Bishop Payne—a brave, intelligent, Christian soldier. Also Sergeant Wilson, Company H, of Chicago. He fought four rebel cavalrymen, slew three, but the fourth gave him a mortal wound. Sergeant Vogelsang of the same company was ordered by a party of rebels to surrender. His answer was, “Never!” and received, it is feared, a mortal wound. The battle commenced at daylight. Companies B, H and K were thrown out about two miles on picket. During Wednesday night and Thursday morning the rebels made repeated advances on our picket line, but were kept at bay by our unerring rifles. At the peep of day all was activity among them. Their long, dark line of battle could barely be discerned. Capt. Russell of Co, H ordered us to fall back on our reserve, at the same time, deploying as skirmishers, the whole rebel line advanced full eight hundred strong. Our picket line retired slowly and reluctantly, delivering their fire as if on a skirmish drill. The rebels yelled and hooted, but they could not drive us, and advanced only as our picket line retired.

The 10th Connecticut regiment was encamped on our extreme left. Had our pickets retired precipitately, as pickets generally do, this regiment would have been captured; but they were enabled to take shelter under the gunboats. When our picket line reached the reserve it had all skedaddled, and we were forced to withstand this attack of superior numbers until we reached the main body of our regiment drawn up in a line of battle, supported by the 1st Connecticut artillery.  On the rebels came. Volley after volley was poured into them, and after a contest of two hours they fled precipitately. They must have suffered terribly. They carried cart loads of dead off the field.

Although there were a great many other troops on the Island, none but the black regiment of Massachusetts fired a gun. The 54th stood between the foes and our white comrades. A great many of the white soldiers were killed and wounded by the enemies shells. Sergeant Merriman of Co. B was shot in the leg. He says the rebels bound it up for him, and gave him water to drink and to bathe his wound. This seems to ill accord with some of the atrocities they are known to have been guilty of.  On that day many of the wounded were killed, and Sergeant Vogelsang was pursued and shot like many others on the banks of an adjoining creek, which is very marshy. The only way that we could secure their bodies after the fight was by boat up the creek. Many of our wounded were shot while lying on the ground. Albert Walls, one of the missing or killed, did not hear the order to fall back and remained at his post and fought until killed or taken prisoner!

It is rumored that the enemy lost a general in the fight. They are known to have an officer killed, but his rank cannot be ascertained. We took eight rebel prisoners. One of our spies penetrated their lines, and found their force to be upwards of eight thousand men. They anticipated inflicting on us another James Island disaster, but our retreat saved us and disappointed them. They did not know that our forces had evacuated the Island until ten o’clock Friday morning. The official report of the killed, wounded and missing has already reached you. Capt. Simpkins1 of Co. K, a brave officer, had his life saved in the engagement. He was attacked by two rebel cavalrymen, when one of his men shot one dead and bayoneted the second one. Every man that fell, fell fighting with his face to the foe.

We left the lower end of Morris Island Saturday morning, and marched slowly and steadily to the front until in sight of Fort Wagner. We had heard of the previous attempt to take it by storm, and knew that nothing but hard fighting, with great sacrifice of life, could result in a successful storming of it. Gen. Strong, the hero of the attack of Saturday, when our regiment reached within range of the shells of the fort, rode out bravely a hundred yards in advance of us and reconnoitered the fort and its surroundings. Rode back to us and briefly addressed us, and asked, “Massachusetts men, are you ready to take that fort ?” The universal answer was, “We will try.” “They are nearly played out. They have but two effective guns,” said he. About sundown we were ordered to advance at the double quickstep, cheering as if going on some mirthful errand. The rebs withheld their fire until we reached within fifty yards of the work, when jets of flame darted forth from every corner and embrasure, and even Fort Sumter poured solid shot and shell on our heads. The 54th, undaunted by the hellish storm, pushed up to the work, down into the moat, and like demons ascended the parapet, found the interior lined with rebels soldiers who were well sheltered and fought them one hour before we were re-enforced; and when the regiment reached us, the 3d New Hampshire, which was presumed to be our re-enforcements, they, to a man, emptied their rifles into us. Thus we lost nearly as many men by the bullets of our presumed friends as by those of our known enemies.

Some few entered the fort, and when they got in, it was so dark that friends could not be distinguished from foes, and there is no doubt but that many a Union soldier was killed by his comrades.

On the whole, this is considered to be a brilliant feat of the 54th. It is another evidence that cannot now be denied, that colored soldiers will dare go where any brave men will lead them. Col. Shaw,is our noble and lamented commander, was the bravest of the brave. He did not take his thirty paces to the rear, but led the column up to the fort, and was the first man who stood oh the parapet of the fort. When he reached it he said, “Come on, men! Follow me!” and he either received a mortal wound and fell over the wall, or stumbled into the Fort and was killed. If he still lives, it is miraculous, for he must have fell on glistening bayonets. One of the rebel prisoners says that he is wounded and still lives, but for my part I do not believe it.

Gen. Strong, seeing that the rebels were in too great a force, ordered the retreat, and now comes another chapter which I would fain pass, but my duty tells me that I must advert to it. There were large quantities of whiskey to be had, and the guard placed to guard the line of retreat and to prevent straggling imbibed rather freely. Some of the men of the skedaddling white regiments were fired on and killed, and when some of our wounded were passing to the rear they were murdered by these drunken wretches. One of our Sergeants was shot dead by a private of this guard in the presence of an officer of our regiment who immediately shot the private dead. Dozens of our wounded were drowned. The only good approach to the fort is by the beach. The tide was low when we made the charge, and before we could secure our dead and wounded the tide came up, and such as could not crawl away were drowned.

Our total loss cannot be positively ascertained. It is placed at about 300 killed, wounded and missing: 75 killed, 125 wounded, 100 missing.  It is supposed that Sergeant R. J. Simmons of your city is among the killed. Major Hallowell is badly wounded.

G. E. S

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July 19, 1863

Emilio describes the aftermath of the assault ( [BBR], pp.86-93):

Although the storming column and supports did not move forward with a close formation and promptness in support of the Fifty-fourth, which might have won Wagner that night, their attacks when made were delivered with a gallantry and persistence that made their severe losses the more deplorable and fruitless, by reason of such faulty generalship.

When Strong’s brigade advanced, it met the same devastating fire at the defile; but a considerable number of the survivors, mainly of the Sixth Connecticut and Forty-eighth New York, pushed on to the southeast bastion, feebly defended by the Thirty-first North Carolina, and entered, securing a portion of the salient. Farther they could not penetrate against superior numbers. General Strong accompanied his column, and, as always, exhibited the utmost bravery.

General Seymour, learning the failure of Strong’s brigade to carry the work, ordered Colonel Putnam to advance his regiments. That officer gallantly led forward his brigade, meeting the same severe fire as he neared the fort. With survivors of the Seventh New Hampshire, he entered the disputed salient, followed by portions of the Sixty-second and Sixty-seventh Ohio. His One Hundredth New York advanced to a point near the work, in the confusion and darkness poured a volley into our own men in the salient, and then retired. It must be understood, however, that all these regiments suffered severe losses; but losses that night do not necessarily indicate effective regimental action. The greatest number of men in the salient at any time hardly equalled a regiment, and were of different organizations. They were fighting in a place unknown to them, holding their ground and repelling attacks, but were incapable of aggressive action. Fighting over traverses and sand-bags, hemmed in by a fire poured across their rear, as well as from the front and flanks, the struggle went on pitilessly for nearly two hours. Vainly were precious lives freely offered up, in heroic attempts to encourage a charge on the flanking guns. The enveloping darkness covered all; and the valiant, seeing how impotent were their efforts, felt like crying with Ajax, ” Give us but light, 0 Jove! and in the light, if thou seest fit, destroy us! ”

Every field-officer in the bastion was at last struck down except Major Lewis Butler, Sixty-seventh Ohio. Colonel Putnam had been shot through the head. When all hope of expected support was gone, Major Butler sent out the regimental colors, and gave orders to leave the bastion.  There were, according to his account, about one hundred men each of the Sixty-second and Sixty-seventh Ohio, about fifty of the Forty-eighth New York, and some small detachments of other regiments, some with and some without officers. When this force had departed, and the enemy had been re-enforced by the arrival of the Thirty-second Georgia, the wounded, those who feared to encounter the enclosing fire, and those who failed to hear or obey the order for abandonment, were soon surrounded and captured. General Stevenson’s brigade had advanced toward the fort, but it was too late, and the men were withdrawn.

Upon the beach in front of the siege line, drunken soldiers of the regular artillery, with swords and pistol-shots, barred the passage of all to the rear. They would listen to no protestations that the regiments were driven back or broken up, and even brutally ordered wounded men to the front. After a time, their muddled senses came to them on seeing the host of arrivals, while the vigorous actions of a few determined officers who were prepared to enforce a free passage, made further opposition perilous.

Thus ended the great assault on Fort Wagner. It was the second and last attempted. The Confederate loss was 181 killed and wounded, including Lieut.-Col. J. C.  Simkins, Captains W. H. Ryan, W. T. Tatom, and P. H.  Waring, and Lieut. G. W. Thompson, killed. Our loss was 1,515, including 111 officers, and embracing General Seymour wounded, General Strong mortally wounded, and Colonel Putnam (acting brigadier) killed. Of the ten regimental commanders, Colonel Shaw was killed, Col.  J. L. Chatfield, Sixth Connecticut, mortally wounded, and five others wounded. Such severe casualties stamp the sanguinary character of the fighting, and mark the assault as one of the fiercest struggles of the war, considering the numbers engaged. This is further evidenced by the fact that the losses exceeded those sustained by our forces in many much better-known actions during the Rebellion, —notably Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, Cedar Mountain, Chantilly, Prairie Grove, Pleasant Hills, Sailor’s Creek, Jonesborough, Bentonville, and High Bridge, in most of which a much larger Federal force was engaged.  The following is the official report of the part borne by the Fifty-fourth in the assault: —


MORRIS ISLAND, S. C, NOV. 7, 1863.

BRIG.-GEN. T. SEYMOUR, Commanding U. S. Forces, Morris Island, S. C.

GENERAL, — In answer to your request that I furnish you with a report of the part taken by the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers in the late assault upon Fort Wagner, I have to state: —

During the afternoon of the 18th of July last, the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers, Col. R. G. Shaw commanding, landed upon Morris Island and reported at about six o’clock P.M. to Brig.-Gen. G. C. Strong. Colonel Shaw’s command present consisted of a lieutenant-colonel of the field, a surgeon, adjutant, and quartermaster of the staff, eight captains and eleven subaltern officers of the line and six hundred enlisted men. General Strong presented himself to the regiment, and informed the men of the contemplated assault upon Fort Wagner, and asked if they would lead it. They answered in the affirmative. The regiment was then formed in column by wing, at a point upon the beach a short distance in the advance of the Beacon house. Col. R. G. Shaw commanded the right wing, and Lieut.-Col. E. N. Hallowell the left.

In this formation, as the dusk of evening came on, the regiment advanced at quick time, leading the column. The enemy opened on us a brisk fire, our pace now gradually increasing till it became a run. Soon canister and musketry began to tell on us. With Colonel Shaw leading, the assault was commenced.  Exposed to the direct fire of canister and musketry, and, as the ramparts were mounted, to a like fire on our flanks, the havoc made in our ranks was very great.

Upon leaving the ditch for the parapet, they obstinately contested with the bayonet our advance. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the men succeeded in driving the enemy from most of their guns, many following the enemy into the fort. It was here upon the crest of the parapet that Colonel Shaw fell; here fell Captains Russel and Simpkins; here were also most of the officers wounded. The colors of the regiment reached the crest, and were there fought for by the enemy ; the State flag there torn from its staff, but the staff remains with us. Hand grenades were now added to the missiles directed against the men.

The fight raged here for about an hour, when, compelled to abandon the fort, the men formed a line about seven hundred yards from the fort, under the command of Capt. Luis F. Emilio, — the ninth captain in the line; the other captains were either killed or wounded. The regiment then held the front until relieved by the Tenth Connecticut at about two o’clock A. M.  of the 19th.

The assault was made upon the south face of the fort. So many of the officers behaved with marked coolness and bravery, I cannot mention any above the others. It is due, however, to the following-named enlisted men that they be recorded above their fellows for especial merit: —

Sergt. Robt. J. Simmons ……………………………………………Co. B.
Sergt. William H. Carney …………………………………………..Co. C.
Corp. Henry F. Peal ………………………………………………….Co. F.
Pvt. Geo. Wilson ………………………………………………………Co. A.

The following is the list of casualties: —

Col. R. G. Shaw…………………………………………………………killed
Lieut.-Col. E. N. Hallowell……………………………………..wounded
Adjt. G. W. James…………………………………………………wounded
Capt. S. Willard…………………………………………………….wounded
Capt. C. J. Russel…………………….missing, supposed to be killed
Capt. W. H. Simpkins……………….missing, supposed to be killed
Capt. Geo. Pope……………………………………………………wounded
Capt. E. L. Jones…………………………………………………..wounded
Capt. J. W. M. Appleton………………………………………….wounded
Capt. O. E. Smith…………………………………………………..wounded
1st Lieut. R. H. L. Jewett………………………………………….wounded
1st Lieut. Wm. H. Homans……………………………………….wounded
2d Lieut. C. E. Tucker……………………………………………..wounded
2d Lieut. J. A. Pratt…………………………………………………wounded

Enlisted Men.


I have the honor to be, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
Colonel Commanding Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteers.

Lieutenant Howard, in falling back from the fort, with a few men he had gathered, retired directly down the beach, not encountering the larger part of the regiment.  Lieut. T. L. Appleton retired first but a short distance, where, in the sand-hills, he found General Strong with some detachments which he was urging to advance.  Lieutenant Appleton moved forward again a short distance, but finding there was no concerted advance, went rearward. Sergeant Swails of Company F was with Captains Simpkins and Russel under the left bastion. They climbed the parapet, and were at once fired upon. Captain Russel fell wounded, and Simpkins asked him if he would be carried off. When he declined, and asked to lie straightened out, Simpkins directed Swails to help him do this, and while kneeling over his friend’s head, facing the enemy, was himself hit. Putting his hand to his breast, he fell across Russel, and never spoke or moved again. Swails, who relates this, says he was soon asked by Russel to change his position, that he (Swails) might not draw the Rebel fire on the wounded, and did so. Frank Myers, of Company K, whose arm was shattered, states that he stood under the uplifted arm of Colonel Shaw, while that officer was on the parapet, waving his sword, and crying, ” Forward, Fifty-fourth! ” He saw the colonel suddenly fall, and was struck himself a moment after. Thomas Burgess, of Company I, makes a similar statement.

Capt. J. W. M. Appleton, at the curtain, hearing firing at last on the right, climbed with Captain Jones and Lieutenant Emerson into the southeast bastion, and joined in the desperate fighting there. Captain Appleton was finally badly wounded, and made his way out with great difficulty, to report the situation in the bastion. Captain Jones was also severely wounded. He fell into the moat, where he remained until assisted rearward by George Remsley of Company C. Lieutenant Emerson in the bastion used the musket he had picked up before the curtain. To protect the wounded lying near he pulled out sand-bags. When a volunteer was wanted to report their situation to some general officer, he offered himself, saying, ” I will go, but if I am killed, just tell them I did not run away! ” As he was still able to fight, Captain Appleton, who was disabled, went instead. Lieutenant Homans was wounded near the fort, and thought himself mortally hurt, as he was spitting blood, but staggered along until he was met by Lieutenant Dexter, who assisted him to the rear.

Sergt. George E. Stephens of Company B, in a letter to the writer[Emilio], says,—

” I remember distinctly that when our column had charged the fort, passed the half-filled moat, and mounted to the parapet, many of our men clambered over, and some entered by the large embrasure in which one of the big guns was mounted, the firing substantially ceased there by the beach, and the Rebel musketry fire steadily grew hotter on our left. An officer of our regiment called out, ‘ Spike that gun!’ . . . Just at the very hottest moment of the struggle, a battalion or regiment charged up to the moat, halted, and did not attempt to cross it and join us, but from their position commenced to fire upon us.  I was one of the men who shouted from where I stood, ‘ Don’t fire on us! We are the Fifty-fourth.’ I have heard it was a Maine regiment. . . . Many of our men will join me in saying that in the early stages of the fight we had possession of the sea end of Battery Wagner. . . . When we reached the Gatling battery drawn up to repel a counter-attack, I remember you were the only commissioned officer present, and you placed us indiscriminately, — that is, without any regard to companies in line, — and proposed to renew the charge. The commanding officer, whom I do not know, ordered us to the flanking rifle-pits, and we then awaited the expected counter-charge the enemy did not make.”

Lieutenant Smith, severely wounded, remained on the field until the next day, when he was brought in. Lieutenant Pratt, wounded in two places, concealed himself in the marsh. There he remained many hours, until at last, braving the fire of Rebel pickets, he escaped into our lines.

First Sergeant Simmons of Company B was the finest-looking soldier in the Fifty-fourth, — a brave man and of good education. He was wounded and captured.  Taken to Charleston, his bearing impressed even his captors. After suffering amputation of the arm, he died there.

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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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