…Orders came on the 26th that, owing to the few officers and lack of arms, the Fifty-fourth should only furnish fatigue details.
Quartermaster Ritchie, who was sent to Hilton Head, returned on the 29th with the officers, men, and camp equipage from St. Helena, and tents were put up the succeeding day. Some six hundred men were then present with the colors, including the sick. The number of sick in camp was very large, owing to the severe work and terrible heat. About nineteen hundred were reported on August 1 in the whole command. The sight of so many pale, enfeebled men about the hospitals and company streets was dispiriting. As an offset, some of those who had recovered from wounds returned, and Brig.-Gen. Edward A. Wild’s brigade of the First North Carolina and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, both colored, arrived and camped on Folly Island.
Posts Tagged Hilton Head
…Brig.-Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore had relieved General Hunter. Admiral John A. Dahlgren was to replace Admiral Dupont. Tidings of these changes, of Lee having crossed the Rappahannock, the capture of Harper’s Ferry, and the investment of Port Hudson, were received by the “Harriet A. Weed,” on June 23. Orders also came for the Fifty-fourth to report at Hilton Head.
…About noon [on the 24th], Colonel Shaw reported his arrival and was ordered to St. Helena Island, across the harbor…
Rain was falling as the Fifty-fourth landed on the wharf. Marching for a mile or so, we camped in an old cotton-field near the water. Many regiments were on the island preparing for active operations. The post was commanded by Brig.-Gen. George C. Strong, a brilliant young officer who had recently arrived. The Fifty-fourth, with the Second South Carolina camped near by, constituted the “Colored Brigade,” under Colonel Montgomery. Although it rained very frequently, the moisture was speedily absorbed by the sandy soil. There was a terrible thunder-storm on the 28th, accompanied with such violent wind that many tents were blown down. One man was killed, and several stunned, by lightning, in adjoining camps…
A deserter from the Second South Carolina was brought by Lieut. George W. Brush of his regiment before Colonel Montgomery on June 28. After questioning him, the colonel ordered him to be taken away and shot, which was done at once. Montgomery was never taken to task for this illegal action.
St. Helena’s Island, S.C.[BCF]
June 28 1863
Your note of the 20th came to me on board the “Benj. DeFord” just after I had sent my last ashore—also letters from Father of the 10, 13, 15, 18, 19 Inst. & others from Annie, Effie & Harry. Some of Annie’s have been lost, however.
We did not land at Hilton Head but were ordered to this Island that same afternoon. We landed and bivouacked for the night—and since then have been engaged in transporting our stores by hand from the landing, more than a mile.
Our whole experience, so far, has been in loading 8c discharging vessels.
There is nothing said about future plans. General Strong tells me that Admiral Foote’s illness will interfere materially with them. I hope and pray that we may go to Charleston. Strong, who was one of Butler’s staff officers, is very desirous to have the negro troops take their part in whatever is done.
Montgomery did a characteristic thing this morning. His men being near their homes have deserted rapidly since we returned from St. Simon’s. He sent word by their wives & others to the deserters that those who returned of their own free will should be pardoned — that those, whom he caught, he would shoot. This morning one of my sergeants captured one. At 8 o’cl. Col. Montgomery called him up & said: “Is there any reason why you should not be shot?” “No, Sir.” “Then, be ready to die at 9:30.” At 9:15 the man sent to ask permission to see the Colonel, but it was refused, and at 9:30 he was taken out and shot. There was no Court-Martial — and the case was not referred to a superior officer. Montgomery, who just told me the story, in his low voice, but with an occasional glare in his eye (which by the bye, is very extraordinary) thinks that this prompt action was the only way to stop desertion, and it only remains to be seen whether he will be pulled up for it. I wish you could see him. You would think at first sight that he was a school-master or parson. The only thing that shows the man, is that very queer roll or glare in his eye — and a contraction of the eyebrows every now & then, which gives him rather a fierce expression. He says he never had a fight until he went to Kansas, and was a very harmless creature formerly, though never a non-resistant.
June 29 — To continue the subject of Col. Montgomery, I went over last evening, after writing the above, & sat two hours with him. He gave me his whole history, which interested me very much. I wish I could tell you all he said of his life during the last ten years. He has been in such a state of excitement all that time that he says it seems as if the whole were compressed into a few days — and he could hardly help crying when he talked of the state of utter desperation & hopelessness in which they began their fight against the Border Ruffians, and compared it with present times which seem to him bright & cheerful. He believes that nothing happens by chance & is full of faith in Providence. His account of the abject manner in which he had seen some Missourians whom he had taken prisoners, beg for their lives was very interesting. He says that without exception, under such circumstances, their manhood forsook them completely —& he compared their conduct with that of the negro, who was shot yesterday, and who never flinched from it. I said above that M. looked like a schoolmaster, & he says he did teach school in Kentucky for many years, and learnt more about managing men there, than at any other time.
He strikes me as being a very simple-minded man — and seems to be pleased at any little attention — perhaps because he has been so much abused. You will see that he is very attractive to me, and indeed I have taken a great fancy to him.
I have just got your letter of the 21 Inst. & Father’s of 23d — his other two written after receipt of mine from St. Simon’s have not yet come to hand. What you say of Montgomery’s wife amused me very much, after hearing his account of it last evening. He said his wife saw an article in the paper stating what you say, and that all the punishment he ever wishes the writer to receive, is to come within reach of her broom-stick. Then he laughed very loud & long. Besides this, he assured me that no property of his was ever touched by a Border-Ruffian, being protected by his pro-slavery neighbours, whom he held responsible for it. He also said “To give the Devil his due” that he never, during his whole experience in Kansas heard of a well-authenticated case of a Border Ruffian having offered violence to a white woman, in any way — and he thinks that courtesy towards women is characteristic of the Southerners, good & bad. His wife is the daughter of a Kentucky Slave-holder.
I see by the papers, what is thought of the destruction of Darien, and it provokes me to have it laid on Montgomery’s shoulders, when he acted under orders from Hunter. I, myself, saw Hunter’s letters referring to it. I am sorry if it is going to harm the negro troops, but I think myself it will soon be forgotten.
The two boxes Father sent arrived tonight. Mr. Pierce has been up here today. I hope Father wrote to Gov. Andrew, after receiving my late letters, about Darien, & told him that Hunter, only, was to blame. I was so sorry & provoked at getting no word from Annie tonight, that I didn’t know what to do. I have only heard from her 3 times & the latest date is the 18th. After the number of letters I have written her, I thought it was pretty “steep.”
Uncle George has sent me an English sword, & a flask, knife, fork, spoon &c. They have not yet come.
My warmest love to Father & the girls.
Always dearest Mother,
your loving son
p.s. I suppose Annie is with you by this time. If so give my love to her
June 1863. [VT]
—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]
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.
St. Simon’s Island, Ga. [BCF]
Tuesday, June 9,1863
My Dearest Annie,
We arrived at the southern point of this island at six this morning. I went ashore to report to Colonel Montgomery, and was ordered to proceed with my regiment to a place called “Pike’s Bluff,” on the inner coast of the island, and encamp. We came up here in another steamer, the “Sentinel,” as the “De Molay” is too large for the inner waters,—and took possession to-day of a plantation formerly owned by Mr. Gould. We have a very nice camping-ground for the regiment, and I have my quarters in “the house”; very pleasantly situated, and surrounded by fine large trees. The island is beautiful, as far as I have seen it. You would be enchanted with the scenery here; the foliage is wonderfully thick, and the trees covered with hanging moss, making beautiful avenues wherever there is a road or path; it is more like the tropics than anything I have seen. Mr. Butler King’s plantation, where I first went ashore, must have been a beautiful place, and well kept. It is entirely neglected now, of course; and as the growth is very rapid, two years’ neglect almost covers all traces of former care.
12th. — If I could have gone on describing to you the beauties of this region, who knows but I might have made a fine addition to the literature of our age? But since I wrote the above, I have been looking at something very different. On Wednesday, a steamboat appeared off our wharf, and Colonel Montgomery hailed me from the deck with, “How soon can you get ready to start on an expedition?” I said, “In half an hour,” and it was not long before we were on board with eight companies, leaving two for camp-guard. We steamed down by his camp, where two other steamers with five companies from his regiment, and two sections of Rhode Island artillery, joined us. A little below there we ran aground, and had to wait until midnight for flood-tide, when we got away once more.
At 8 A.M., we were at the mouth of the Altamaha River, and immediately made for Darien. We wound in and out through the creeks, twisting and turning continually, often heading in directly the opposite direction from that which we intended to go, and often running aground, thereby losing much time. Besides our three vessels, we were followed by the gunboat “Paul Jones.” On the way up, Montgomery threw several shells among the plantation buildings, in what seemed to me a very brutal way; for he didn’t know how many women and children there might be.
About noon we came in sight of Darien, a beautiful little town. Our artillery peppered it a little, as we came up, and then our three boats made fast to the wharves, and we landed the troops. The town was deserted, with the exception of two white women and two negroes. Montgomery ordered all the furniture and movable property to be taken on board the boats. This occupied some time; and after the town was pretty thoroughly disembowelled, he said to me, “I shall burn this town.” He speaks always in a very low tone, and has quite a sweet smile when addressing you. I told him, “I did not want the responsibility of it,” and he was only too happy to take it all on his shoulders; so the pretty little place was burnt to the ground, and not a shed remains standing; Montgomery firing the last buildings with his own hand. One of my companies assisted in it, because he ordered them out, and I had to obey. You must bear in mind, that not a shot had been fired at us from this place, and that there were evidently very few men left in it. All the inhabitants (principally women and children) had fled on our approach, and were no doubt watching the scene from a distance. Some of our grapeshot tore the skirt of one of the women whom I saw. Montgomery told her that her house and property should be spared; but it went down with the rest.
The reasons he gave me for destroying Darien were, that the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God, like the Jews of old. In theory it may seem all right to some, but when it comes to being made the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, I myself don’t like it. Then he says, “We are outlawed, and therefore not bound by the rules of regular warfare”; but that makes it none the less revolting to wreak our vengeance on the innocent and defenceless.
By the time we had finished this dirty piece of business, it was too dark to go far down the narrow river, where our boat sometimes touched both banks at once; so we lay at anchor until daylight, occasionally dropping a shell at a stray house. The “Paul Jones” fired a few guns as well as we. I reached camp at about 2 P.M. to-day, after as abominable a job as I ever had a share in. We found a mail waiting for us, and I received your dear letter, and several from Father, Mother, Effie, and some business correspondence. This is the first news we have had since our departure, and I rather regained my good spirits.
Now, dear Annie, remember not to breathe a word of what I have written about this raid, to any one out of our two families, for I have not yet made up my mind what I ought to do. Besides my own distaste for this barbarous sort of warfare, I am not sure that it will not harm very much the reputation of black troops and of those connected with them. For myself, I have gone through the war so far without dishonour, and I do not like to degenerate into a plunderer and robber — and the same applies to every officer in my regiment. There was not a deed performed, from beginning to end, which required any pluck or courage. If we had fought for possession of the place, and it had been found necessary to hold or destroy it, or if the inhabitants had done anything which deserved such punishment, or if it were a place of refuge for the enemy, there might have been some reason for Montgomery’s acting as he did; but as the case stands, I can’t see any justification. If it were the order of our government to overrun the South with fire and sword, I might look at it in a different light; for then we should be carrying out what had been decided upon as a necessary policy. As the case stands, we are no better than “Semmes,” who attacks and destroys defenceless vessels, and haven’t even the poor excuse of gaining anything by it; for the property is of no use to us, excepting that we can now sit on chairs instead of camp-stools.But all I complain of, is wanton destruction. After going through the hard campaigning and hard fighting in Virginia, this makes me very much ashamed of myself.
Montgomery, from what I have seen of him, is a conscientious man, and really believes what he says —”that he is doing his duty to the best of his knowledge and ability.”
. . . There are two courses only for me to pursue: to obey orders and say nothing; or to refuse to go on any more such expeditions, and be put under arrest, probably court-martialled, which is a serious thing.
June 13th. — This letter I am afraid will be behindhand, for a boat went to Hilton Head this morning from the lower end of the island, and I knew nothing about it. Colonel Montgomery has gone up himself, and will not be back until Tuesday probably.
… To-day I rode over to Pierce Butler’s plantation. It is an immense place, and parts of it very beautiful. The house is small, and badly built, like almost all I have seen here. There are about ten of his slaves left there, all of them sixty or seventy years old. He sold three hundred slaves about three years ago. I talked with some, whose children and grandchildren were sold then, and though they said that was a “weeping day,” they maintained that “Massa Butler was a good massa,” and they would give anything to see him again. When I told them I had known Miss Fanny, they looked very much pleased, and one named John wanted me to tell her I had seen him. They said all the house-servants had been taken inland by the overseer at the beginning of the war; and they asked if we couldn’t get their children back to the island again. These were all born and bred on the place, and even selling away their families could not entirely efface their love for their master. Isn’t it horrible to think of a man being able to treat such faithful creatures in such a manner?
The island is traversed from end to end by what they call a shell-road; which is hard and flat, excellent for driving. On each side there are either very large and overhanging trees, with thick underbrush, or open country covered with sago-palm, the sharp-pointed leaves making the country impassable. Occasionally we meet with a few fields of very poor grass; when there is no swamp, the soil is very sandy. There are a good many of these oyster-shell roads, for in many places there are great beds of them, deposited nobody knows when, I suppose. The walls of many of the buildings are built of cement mixed with oyster-shells, which make it very durable.
I forgot to tell you that the negroes at Mr. Butler’s remembered Mrs. Kemble very well, and said she was a very fine lady. They hadn’t seen her since the young ladies were very small, they said. My visit there was very interesting and touching.
A deserted homestead is always a sad sight, but here in the South we must look a little deeper than the surface, and then we see that every such over-grown plantation, and empty house, is a harbinger of freedom to the slaves, and every lover of his country, even if he have no feeling for the slaves them-selves, should rejoice.
Next to Mr. Butler’s is the house of Mr. James E. Cooper. It must have been a lovely spot; the garden is well laid out, and the perfume of the flowers is delicious. The house is the finest on the island. The men from our gunboats have been there, and all the floors are strewed with books and magazines of every kind. There is no furniture in any of these houses. Please send this to Father, for I want him and Mother to read it, and I don’t care about writing it over.
Colonel Montgomery’s original plan, on this last expedition, was to land about fifteen miles above Darien, and march down on two different roads to the town, taking all the negroes to be found, and burning every planter’s house on the passage. I should have commanded our detachment, in that case. The above are the orders he gave me.
Good bye for to-day, dearest Annie.
Your loving Rob
9 P.M. June 13th
. . . To-morrow is Sunday, and perhaps you will be at Staten Island; at any rate, I suppose, not at Lenox; but wherever you are, I wish I could go to church with you, and saunter about in some pretty garden afterwards.
… There is a beautiful little church near here, almost buried in trees and moss. I have had it put to rights (it was damaged by some sailors and soldiers), and the Chaplain of the Second South Carolina Regiment is to preach there for us to-morrow. I shall always have a service of some kind on Sunday; and if we can’t always get a chaplain, I shall have one of the officers officiate. I don’t feel good enough myself to undertake to teach others, as you suggest. Perhaps I shall some time. I have read some of Robertson’s sermons, and think them very beautiful.
… I shall never let Mr. Ritchie go, if I can prevent it. He is a perfect jewel, and has been of incalculable service to us, in managing the regimental quartermaster’s department. …
Your loving Husband
Beaufort, S. C, June 8th [OAF]
—We arrived at this town on the evening of the 4th, not debarking at Hilton Head. On the morning of the 5th, we left the steamer and marched to our camp ground about a quarter of a mile out of the town, near the 55th Pennsylvania and 8th Maine regiments. Our reception was almost as enthusiastic here in Beaufort, as our departure from Boston was. You know probably how universal the enthusiasm was in Boston. The 54th has already won the reputation here of being a first class regiment, both in drill, discipline and physical condition. When the 54th marched through the streets of this town, the citizens and soldiers lined the walks, to get a look at the first black regiment from the North. The contrabands did not believe we were coming; one of them said, “I nebber bleeve black Yankee comee here help culer men.” They think now the kingdom is coming sure enough. The yarns the copperhead press have so studiously spun, that the slaves were better satisfied in their old condition than under the present order of things, is all bosh. So far as I have seen, they appear to understand the causes of the war better than a great many Northern editors. South Carolina was the pioneer in the war, and she had a double reason for it. According to one of the slaves showing, there had been a conspiracy hatching among the slaves, as far back as 1856, the year Fremont was up for the Presidency. The negroes had heard through their masters that Fremont was a “damned abolitionist,” they then began to lay plans to escape, or if necessary to fight. In December, 1856, after the defeat of the Republicans, one Prince Rivers went to Charleston, in the name of an organized committee, praying the Governor of the State to recommend the legislature to so modify some certain statutes that the negroes could live a little more like civilized people. The Governor sent him home to his master, telling him the State could not interfere with the relations existing between master and slave. Soon after that, every gun, pistol or other weapon was taken from the slaves; but the chivalry took fine care to say nothing about it in the papers. The people of the North knew nothing of these things.
The slaves, hereabouts, are working for the government mostly, although they can make a pretty snug little sum, peddling among the soldiers, selling fruit, &c.
The 2d South Carolina volunteers have made a successful expedition. Col. Montgomery left with his regiment May 1st, in three small steamers, accompanied by Capt. Brayton of the Rhode Island artillery with one section of his command; the next morning he anchored in the Combahee river, thirty miles from Beaufort and twenty from Charleston, and thirteen from Asheepoo, on the Charleston and Savannah railroad. The village on the river is approached by three different roads; one from Field’s Point, where the rebels had built a battery, but had deserted it; one from Tar Bluff, two miles above Field’s Point and one from Combahee Ferry, six miles further up the river. According to plans laid beforehand, Col. Montgomery took possession of the three approaches at one time. Capt. Thompson, with one company was placed in the earthworks at Field’s Point; Capt. Carver, with Co. E. was placed in the rifle pits at Tar Bluff; and, with the balance of the force, Col. M. proceeded to Combahee Ferry, and with the guns of the John Adams, and two howitzers, under command of Capt. Brayton, completely covered the road and the approaches to the bridge. At Asheepoo the rebels had three regiments of infantry, one battalion of cavalry, and a field battery of artillery. As Capt. Thompson advanced up the road from Field’s Point, cavalry came in sight, but a few well-directed volleys sent them back in confusion to their stronghold at Asheepoo. At half past three a battery of six pieces opened fire upon them, but not a man flinched, but poured their fire in upon the rebels, killing and wounding a number. At this stage of affairs, the Harriet A. Weed came up the river and poured a few shells in the midst of the rebels, causing them to retreat hastily. The raid commenced in earnest then, the soldiers scattered in every direction, burning and destroying everything of value they came across. Thirty-four large mansions, belonging to notorious rebels, were burned to the ground. After scattering the rebel artillery, the Harriet A. Weed tied up opposite a large plantation, owned by Nicholas Kirkland. Major Corwin, in command of companies R and C, soon effected a landing, without opposition. The white inhabitants, terrified at seeing armed negroes in their midst, fled in all directions, while the blacks ran for the boats, welcoming the soldiers as their deliverers. After destroying all they could not bring away, the expedition returned to Beaufort Wednesday evening, with over $15,000 worth of property and 840 slaves. Over 400 of the captured slaves have been enlisted in the 3d S. C. regiment; the rest of the number being women and children and old men.
Col. M. left yesterday on another expedition, and the 54th is ordered for active service. We leave tonight for, the Lord knows where, but we shall try to uphold the honor of the Old Bay State wherever we go. The wagons are being packed, so I must close.
J. H. G.
Str. “DeMolay” Off Hilton Head [BCF]
June 8 1863
We got aboard this vessel again this morning and came up from Beaufort. I shall go ashore here in a little while & get my orders from Genl Hunter. We go probably to St. Simon’s Island, as I told you in my last. No mail has gone, I believe, since the first night we arrived, and we have received nothing since we left Boston.
I am not very anxious to have my large horse sold, unless he will bring a good price. When he gets well, perhaps Uncle Jim would like to take him & use him. He would make an excellent carryall horse & is steadier in harness than in the saddle. The three horses I have here are all good. The small black one I shall probably sell to Major Hallowell.
Please send me the price of the mess-chests so that I can divide among the officers of my mess.
Enclosed is a note for Annie.
Love to Mother & all.
Always your loving son
p.s. Hilton Head. We are going to St. Simon’s & shall get away immediately.
R. G. S.
Beaufort, S.C. [BCF]
June 5 1863
We came down from Hilton Head day before yesterday. I saw Col. Montgomery, who was about to embark for an expedition to Georgia. I immediately requested permission to go with him but was too late, and shall probably follow tomorrow or day after. I thought it best to get my men at work as soon as possible.
We shall, I think, not return here, but have our camp at St. Simon’s Island. If you don’t hear from me to the contrary, address letters &c to Hilton Head — from there they will be forwarded to wherever we are.
Montgomery is a good man to begin under — as he is a guerrilla-man by profession, you know. We are all very much refreshed by two days on shore. Tell Mother that from all I can ascertain, there is very little danger in this sort of work. Col. Montgomery says he never was in a fight in his life, where he lost more than 2 men killed. He is an Indian in his mode of warfare, and though I am glad to see something of it, I can’t say I admire it. It isn’t like a fair stand up such as our Potomac Army is accustomed to.
A telegram just received from Genl Hunter informs me that we must wait for other transports as our steamer must go North.
Love all at home.
Your loving son
Mercury, June 19, 1863 [OAF]
Port Royal, June 3
—After a long passage of seven days, we have arrived at Port Royal. We are still on board the vessel, and I write my first letter on the top of my knapsack, with one of the loudest noises around me ever heard, and heat enough to make a fellow contemplate the place prepared for the ungodly. There is nothing interesting to write as yet, for the very good reason that we have none of us been ashore. I write this letter to let the friends of the men know that we are all safe, except one, who jumped overboard the first night out from Boston. I think he must have been cracked or drunk, more likely the latter. The men are all in good health and spirits, not one man in the whole regiment being now on the sick list. After we are quartered on shore, and have an opportunity to look around, you may expect better letters.
J. H. G.
Steamer De Molay [BCF]
June 3,1863, Off Charleston
Here we are near the end of our voyage. Everything has prospered thus far. We have had no illness on board, with the exception of a little “heebin” (heaving), as the men call it. I have had no sea-sickness at all myself. The more I think of last Thursday, the more complete a triumph it seems to me. You know from the first day the regiment was organized, no one connected with it has talked extravagantly, or boasted about it in any way; we went on quietly with our work, letting outsiders say what they chose, and wound up with what you saw, as we passed through Boston. That was the greatest day for us all that we ever passed, and I only hope it was of corresponding importance to the cause.
We saw the blockading fleet, and the top of Fort Sumter, off Charleston this morning. We expect to get in this afternoon. I shall go on shore immediately, and report to General Hunter, and if we can find a good camping-ground, shall land the regiment this evening.
Your loving Son
June 3/63 [BCF]
My note to Mother will tell you of our prosperous voyage. My horses are all doing well fortunately. Major Hallowell’s died the 3d day out.
I told Annie that if she needed any more money than her allowance, towards the end of the year, to write to you for it. I shall soon be sending you home plenty. Will you please send an account of how much I have drawn, since I went home, and how much property I own now in the bank & in treasury notes.
I shall send Annie’s letters to her Father’s care, unless she is staying at the Island, as I think that is the quickest way.
I enclose a note for Anna Curtis. Call and Tuttlc are making me a flannel suit, which I ordered to be sent to you. Please put in the bundle a good stock of stationery and waste paper — and a supply of quinine, in pills & powder — and some postage stamps.
Your loving son
p.s. I enclose draft of R. P. Hallowell for $137.00
Hilton Head — Arrived safe at 2 1/2. We go to camp at Beaufort up the bay. Montgomery has just ret. from an expedition with 725 blacks from plantations.
Str. De Molay, Off Hilton Head, S.C. [BCF]
Dear Cousin John,
Here we are (the 54th Mass. Vols, (coloured) close to our Department, and in a very different condition from that in which you left us. Our recruiting system did not get well under weigh, until sometime after you went, and then we filled up very rapidly. The Governor gave Ned Hallowell the Majority without any difficulty, and soon after Norwood was ordered to take the 55th which was started about the 10th of May. He refused the Colonelcy for some time, but has finally decided to take it, as the Governor wouldn’t let him come with us, at any rate.
The 54th has been a success from beginning to end. The drill & discipline are all that anyone could expect. Crowds of people came to our battalion drills & dress parades every afternoon, and we have heard nothing but words of praise & astonishment from friend & foe — from hunkers & fogeys, old and young. The camp was crowded on the day of our banner presentation — and the Governor made an excellent speech. Last Thursday, 28 May, we left Readville at 7 A.M. & went by rail to Boston. We marched from the Providence Depot through Essex, Federal, Franklin, School Sts., Pemberton Square, Beacon St. to the Common — then by Tremont & State Sts. to Battery Wharf where we embarked. The streets were crowded, & I have not seen such enthusiasm since the first troops left for the war. On the Common the regiment was received
[rest of letter missing]
(from [BBR] pp.36-37):
HEADQUARTERS DEP’T OP THE SOUTH,
HILTON HEAD, PORT ROYAL, S. C, June 3, 1863.
His EXCELLENCY, GOVERNOR ANDREW, Massachusetts.
GOVERNOR, — I have the honor to announce that the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts (colored) troops, Colonel Shaw commanding, arrived safely in this harbor this afternoon and have been sent to Port Royal Island. The regiment had an excellent passage, and from the appearance of the men I doubt not that this command will yet win a reputation and place in history deserving the patronage you have given them. Just as they were steaming up the bay I received from Col. James Montgomery, commanding Second South Carolina Regiment, a telegraphic despatch, of which certified copy is enclosed. Colonel Montgomery’s is but the initial step of a system of operations which will rapidly compel the Rebels either to lay down their arms and sue for restoration to the Union or to withdraw their slaves into the interior, thus leaving desolate the most fertile and productive of their counties along the Atlantic seaboard.
The Fifty-fourth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers shall soon be profitably and honorably employed; and I beg that you will send for service in this department the other colored regiment which Colonel Shaw tells me you are now organizing and have in forward preparation.
Thanking you heartily for the kindness and promptness with which you have met my views in this matter, and referring you to my letter to Mr. Jefferson Davis as a guarantee that all soldiers fighting for the flag of their country in this department will be protected, irrespective of any accident of color or birth,
I have the honor to be, Governor, with the highest esteem,
Your very obedient servant,
Steamer De Molay [BCF]
June 1,1863, Off Cape Hatteras
We have got thus far on our voyage without accident, excepting the loss of Major Hallowell’s mare, which died this morning, and was consigned to the sea.
We left the wharf at 4 P.M., having been detained nearly two hours in packing the arms. That night, and the next day, the sea was very smooth, but Friday evening the wind rose, and before long we had a very sea-sick cargo. Since then, we have been rolling and pitching very steadily. I myself have not been ill at all, so I have done nothing but think over the events of the last three months; which has given me so much occupation, that I have hardly read anything. It is only three months and a half since I got to New York, and Nellie called to you to come down and see me. I hope I shall never forget the happy days we have passed together since then, and that I shall always look back on them with the same pleasure as now. It may be a long time before we find ourselves driving about Berkshire together again; but I do hope that some day we can live over those days at Lenox once more; or even Mrs. Crehore’s, with a regiment close by to worry us, would not be very bad.
.. . The more I think of the passage of the Fifty-fourth through Boston, the more wonderful it seems to me. Just remember our own doubts and fears, and other people’s sneering and pitying remarks, when we began last winter, and then look at the perfect triumph of last Thursday. We have gone quietly along, forming the regiment, and at last left Boston amidst a greater endiusiasm than has been seen since the first three-months troops left for the war. Every one I saw, from the Governor’s staff (who have always given us rather the cold shoulder) down, had nothing but words of praise for us. Truly, I ought to be thankful for all my happiness, and my success in life so far; and if the raising of coloured troops prove such a benefit to the country, and to the blacks, as many people think it will, I shall thank God a thousand times that I was led to take my share in it.
This steamer is a very slow one, but fortunately perfectly clean, and well-ventilated. She is entirely free from all disagreeable odours; and the cabin is as comfortable as possible. The weather to-day is perfectly clear, and the sun is getting hot. We have a fine large awning over the quarter-deck, so that we can sit there very pleasantly. You would hardly believe that we have very little trouble in keeping the men’s quarters clean, and that the air there is perfectly good. The men behave very well; in fact, they have so much animal spirits, that nothing can depress them for any length of time. I heard one man saying, “I felt sick, but I jes’ kep’ a ramblin’ round, and now I’m right well.” My three horses are perfectly well, though thin. I wonder where you now are; whether on the way to Lenox, or already there. Remember that the vessel is rolling and pitching in the most persevering manner, and don’t criticise my calligraphy too severely… .
June 3d, 10 A.M.— We passed the blockading fleet off Charleston at seven this morning, and saw the top of Fort Sumter, and the turrets of the iron-clads, or at any rate, something that looked like them. We expect to reach Hilton Head at about three this afternoon. O dear! I wish you were with us.
. . . Did any one tell you that, after bidding you and Mother and the girls good bye so stoically, Harry and I had to retire into the back parlour, and have a regular girl’s cry? It was like putting the last feather on the camel’s back; I had as much as I could carry before. It was a great relief, though.
Give my dearest love to your Mother and to Clem. I hope they are well, though I suppose you don’t know much about the latter, as she is not with you. How nice and cool and pleasant it must be at Lenox now. The air is pretty hot here, even at sea, but it is not close or oppressive. Remember me to “Mammy Did.” I thought yesterday at dinner that I should like some of her soup. Some day we will make that journey we used to talk of, from Lenox through Springfield and Northampton.
I will add a P. S. to this after we get safely established on dry land. Until then, good bye, darling Annie. I hope you have recovered your spirits, got over your cold, and are feeling happy. Remember all your promises to me; go to bed early, and take as much exercise as you can, without getting fatigued
Your ever loving Husband
May 29, the sea was smooth all day, and the weather fine but not clear. Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket were passed in the morning. At night a fine moon rose. Foggy weather prevailed on the 30th, with an increasing ground-swell, causing some seasickness. The next day the steamer struggled against a head wind. At midnight the craft narrowly escaped grounding on Point Lookout shoals. Some one had tampered with the sounding-line. June 1, pleasant weather enabled the seasick to take some interest in life. The air was soft and balmy, as we ran down the North Carolina coast, which was dimly visible. A few porpoises and a shark or two followed the ship. Distant sails were sighted at times. When evening came, the sun sank into the sea, red and fiery, gilding the horizon. A stiff breeze blew from ahead, which freshened later. Fine weather continued throughout daylight of June 2. With the evening, however, it clouded up in the south, and a squall came up, with lightning and some rain, driving all below.
Morning dawned the next day, with the sun shining through broken clouds. At reveille, some fifteen sail of outside blockaders off Charleston were seen far away, and soon passed. The sandy shores of South Carolina were in full view, fringed here and there with low trees. A warm wind was blowing, ruffling the water beneath a clouded sky. Every one was busy with preparations for landing, — writing letters, packing knapsacks, and rolling blankets. Running below Hilton Head, a pilot came alongside in a boat rowed by contrabands, and took the vessel back into Port Royal, completing a voyage at 1 P. M., which was without accident or death to mar its recollection.
Colonel Shaw, personally reporting to General Hunter, was ordered to proceed to Beaufort and disembark.