Mercury, August 29, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Aug. 16, 1863
—As stringent orders have been recently issued relative to giving information in regard to military matters here, which is a very proper course and necessary, the amount of news is rather meagre, so I will violate no “General Orders” in expressing the general feeling of the regiment in respect to our late commander, Col. qualities, as a friend, commander and hero, and, I might add, without any extravagance, a martyr—for such he has proved himself to be. Who would dare ascribe a selfish motive to a man whose position in life bade fair to be a high one, without the prestige of military fame? He seemed to have taken the position more in the light of a reformer, or one to put in practice a system of order and discipline among a people sadly deficient in these respects, not in a military sense alone, because the seed of discipline sown among us as soldiers would ripen into fruit when the time arrived to become citizens. We, as a people, would know the value of obedience and the meaning of law and order; but I am off the point. When the raising of this regiment was first mooted I doubt if there could have been found a dozen men in the North, holding as high a position and with prospects of bettering themselves by another channel, as our respected Colonel, who would have accepted the unenviable position as commander of the first colored regiment organized in the North. There was then a great doubt among skeptical persons of our raising 500 men; and doubts, too, of colored men conforming to the restraint of camp life, and predictions that the men would run away in a week after being brought to camp; with these doubts and predictions before them, men were afraid to risk their reputations and name on what too many deemed a chimera; they did not care to stand a chance of being the laughing stock and butt of cynical persons. But Col. Shaw, from the beginning, never evinced any fear of what others thought or said. He believed the work would be done, and he put his hands, his head, and heart to the task, with what results you all know. It has been conceded by many that he carried through Boston one of the best drilled regiments ever raised by the State. The discipline of the regiment was perfect; not a slavish fear, but obedience enacted by the evidence of a superior and directing mind.
Col. Shaw was not what might be expected, familiar with his men; he was cold, distant, and even austere, to a casual observer. When in the line of duty, he differed totally from what many persons would suppose he would be, as commander of a negro regiment. If there was any abolition fanaticism in him, he had a mind well balanced, so that no man in the regiment would ever presume to take advantage of that feeling in their favor, to disobey, or use insolence; but had any man a wrong done him, in Colonel Shaw he always found an impartial judge, providing the complaint was presented through the proper channels. For he was very formal in all his proceedings, and would enforce obedience merely by his tones which were not harsh, but soft and firm. The last day with us, or I may say the ending of it, as we lay flat on the ground before the assault, his manner was more unbending than I had ever noticed before in the presence of his men; he sat on the ground, and was talking to the men very familiarly and kindly; he told them how the eyes of thousands would look upon the night’s work they were about to enter on; and said he, “Now boys I want you to be MEN!” He would walk along the entire line and speak words of cheer to his men. We could see that he was a man who had counted the cost of the undertaking before him, for his words were spoken so ominously, his lips were compressed, and now and then there was visible a slight twitching of the corners of his mouth, like one bent on accomplishing or dying. One poor fellow, struck no doubt by the Colonel’s determined bearing, exclaimed as he was passing him, “Colonel, I will stay by you till I die,” and he kept his word; he has never been seen since. For one so young, Col. Shaw showed a well-trained mind, and an ability of governing men not possessed by many older and more experienced men. In him, the regiment has lost one of its best and most devoted friends. Requiescat in pace.
J. H. G.
Posts Tagged James Gooding
Mercury, August 21, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Aug. 9, 1863
—Since my last weekly melange, the situation remains about the same in this department. The 55th regiment, Col. N. P. Hallowell commanding, arrived here from Newbern last Monday, and on Tuesday the regiment was introduced to Messrs. Shovel and Spade, a firm largely interested in building rifle pits, breastworks and batteries. The men appear to be in splendid physical condition, and take the two regiments in the aggregrate, I think the 55th is superior in material to the 54th. But the hardships incident to a soldier’s life may equalize them in a month or two.
Last Wednesday night, as a party of men on a fatigue expedition were approaching Fort Johnson, a little too near, they narrowly escaped being captured. The party were in boats containing lumber, for the purpose of building a bridge across the creek which divides this island from James Island. The tide falling, near morning they were discovered by the rebel pickets, who commenced firing on them. Had not our own sharpshooters been near, the rebels would no doubt have captured some of our men; as it was, however, the fatigue party scrambled out of the boats, and made tracks through the mud and mire for camp. The rebels did succeed in capturing a captain and five men, but they escaped.
The sickly season has now about commenced; daily we hear the muffled drum, accompanied by the shrill, shrieking tones of the fife, which tells us that the “fell destroyer, Death,” is near. Three times yesterday the plaintive notes of Bonaparte crossing the Alps were played passing our camp, followed by some noble son of New England in each instance. Our own regiment, too, lost one yesterday. His name was John Pieere, of Philadelphia; his complaint was fever.3 About noon yesterday there was sudden cessation of firing; the cause of it was the rebels sent out a flag of truce, and after that some of the general officers rode to the front and met those bearing it. What the result was is not known; but there were many rumors afloat during the afternoon in regard to it; some even hinting that Fort Wagner’s defenders wished to sue for conditional terms; others to the effect that the “populace” of Charleston, not unlike their confreres in New York, were becoming clamorous for peace, threatening Jeff, Beauregard & Co. with violence if they persisted in holding on to Charleston, in view of the vast preparations the “Yankees” were making for their destruction; and that Beauregard came to make some treaty for the surrender of the city. But the news manufacturers didn’t hit the nail on the head, I guess, for by 6 o’clock they were blazing away at each other nicely, with every prospect of —”to be continued.”
Last Wednesday afternoon the companies were all formed in line in their respective streets, when Col. Littlefield addressed each company separately to this effect: “I have been requested by the paymaster to say that if the men are ready to receive TEN dollars per month as part pay, he will come over and pay the men off; you need not be afraid though that you won’t get your THIRTEEN dollars per month, for you surely will.” He then went on explaining how this little financial hitch was brought about, by telling us of some old record on file in relation to paying laborers or contrabands employed on public works, which the War Department had construed as applying to colored soldiers, urging us to take the TEN NOW and wait for some action of the Government for the other three. He then said, “all who wish to take the ten dollars per month, raise your right hand,” and I am glad to say not one man in the whole regiment lifted a hand. He then said, we might not receive any money till after the convening of Congress. We replied that we had been over five months waiting, and we would wait till the Government could frame some special law, for the payment of part of its troops. The 2d South Carolina regiment was paid the ten dollars per month; but we were enlisted under different circumstances. Too many of our comrades’ bones lie bleaching near the walls of Fort Wagner to subtract even one cent from our hard earned pay. If the nation can ill afford to pay us, we are men and will do our duty while we are here without a murmur, as we have done always, before and since that day we were offered to sell our manhood for ten dollars per month.
J. H. G.
P.S. — I have just learned on “undoubted authority” that the flag of truce was for the purpose of returning the letters, valuables and money found on our dead and wounded in the assault of the 18th July. This may seem wonderful, that the rebels should act so honorably, but it is a fact. May be they are putting in practice what Hon. A. H. Stephens undertook to negotiate, thinking we will be magnanimous when we enter Charleston.
J. H. G.
Mercury, August 16, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, August 3, 1863
The latest news from this department is the capture of a blockade runner having on board heavy Whitworth guns. The guns captured are now in course of erection on the north end of the Island to bombard the fort, which they were intended to defend. The planting of siege guns steadily progresses, but is necessarily slow, as the guns have to be hauled through a marsh, and that too in the night, so the enemy cannot see what we are about, and to avert their constant rain of shells, they thinking of course we can’t work when they are shelling us; but they may find out their mistake before this week is out. Every available man on the Island is constantly at work, so as to bring things to a speedy issue. Some are throwing up breastworks, some hauling guns, others loading shells, or carting ammunition from the wharf to the magazines, and every one is confident of success, helping cheerfully in the great amount of work, which must be done before the “grand ball” comes off. It is evident the Commanding General intends to make a sure thing of it this time, and not make the assault till he has got everything ready. One noticeable feature is Gen. Gillmore is supervising the preparations himself, and I do not think any man in the department works more than he does. The consequence is the men has confidence in him, and the rebels a corresponding degree of fear of the “intrepid engineer,” as they term him. As I write, the rebels are vainly blazing away, while our men both white and black are steadily pursuing their work right in their very teeth. When they see the flash from Fort Sumter they merely slip into their caves, dug already for the purpose, and after the shell has exploded, out they come and go to work again, till old Sumter gives them another salute. I have been up to the front three times this week, but “I still live,” and all the others who have been up there.
The rebels are evidently getting scared. Last Tuesday we could see a balloon hovering over Charleston for over an hour; they were doubtless reconnoitering, but I think it is likely they could see they would be warmly received, should they take a notion to visit us. We were enlightened by the New York or Boston press, of the 18th to 20th ult. We were informed that the Monitors had reduced Forts Wagner and Sumter on the 11th, and Beauregard had evacuated and burned Charleston! And another yarn, of two regiments planting a flag on Fort Wagner, and holding it two hours! which would have been, but for the cowardice of a Pennsylvania regiment — all of which stories are sell, and must be compared with the Commanding General’s official report. The fact is, “our own special correspondents travelling with Gen. So-and-so’s division” are a good deal like the “highly intelligent contraband,” or the “gentleman of undoubted veracity”— they write of what they hear, rather than what they see. In a conversation with one of the men of the 6th Conn, regiment, which was in the charge first made, he said if any one got in the fort it was more than he knew, and he said the regiment which had been mentioned as acting cowardly had been wronged.
There is one name I omitted in the two last letters. Nathan L. Young of New Bedford, was wounded on the night of the 18th, and died on board the steamer before arriving at Hilton Head. According to Lieut. Grace’s official report from the Surgeon General at Beaufort, Corp. Torrance is not there, and the men who have arrived from there corroborate the statement. So he is among the killed or prisoners, as I intimated in my first letter. I am unable to give you any account of how the wounded are getting along, as I have received no communication from any of them since they have been there. Our boys have got over their depression of spirit somewhat, caused by the fall of so many of their companions, in the dawning of a speedy victory. They are all in hopes of another “good time” before going into Charleston, but they would a leetle rather have it on a fair field, with no odds. Charging is good when you have a fair sight; but they all agree that Wagner is a hot place.
J. H. G.
Mercury, August 4, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, July 24
Messrs. Editors: —
Since my letter of the 20th last, our forces have been busily engaged, preparing for the grand sortie on Wagner and Sumter. When everything is complete, you may expect to hear of decisive results. It is very probable that Fort Wagner would have been in our possession now, had the rebels not sent a flag-of-truce boat out on the 22d inst. to exchange prisoners. The monitors, gunboats and batteries were blazing away on her (Wagner) that forenoon, and from the look of things, it seemed as though they were in a pretty tight place. I do not think, with the vast preparations now being made, that Wagner can hold out 48 hours if our side push matters a little when they do begin. Ere this meets the eyes of the readers of the Mercury, the Union troops may garrison both forts, Wagner and Sumter; but the people at home must not expect Charleston to be taken in two minutes, for even if Forts Wagner and Sumter are soon reduced, there is still a few miles between Sumter and the city, backed by heavy batteries on each shore. Winning victories by theory, in easy chairs at home, and fighting to win them on the field, are different things.
We have since learned by the flag-of-truce boat that Colonel Shaw is dead—he was buried in a trench with 45 of his men! not even the commonest respect paid to his rank. Such conduct is in striking contrast to the respect paid a rebel Major, who was killed on James Island. The Commander of the 54th regiment had the deceased rebel officer buried with all the honors of war granted by the regulations; and they have returned the compliment by tossing him into a ditch. We hope the London Times will make note of that fact. They did not say how many of our men they had buried, beyond the 45 with the Colonel, nor how many of them they have as prisoners; they merely said they would not exchange them then, but should hold them for future consideration. So we can give no definite news of those who are killed or prisoners. We have never been allowed to approach near enough to hold any parley with them since the night of the assault. It seems though, from the proceedings since the truce, that there might have been some “kid glove handling” of the negro volunteer question, as the two boats were side by side nearly three hours; though I may be wrong in my surmises. But since that day our regiment has not been out on picket duty, either as outposts or reserves; and this may be prompted by a desire of those in charge not to place a regiment of black men in an exposed position under such peculiar circumstances, until they know definitely what is to be the fate of those in the hands of the rebels. If such be the case I think it is for the best. The regiment is hardly fit for service in the field at present for want of officers. Capts. Russell and Simpkins have never been heard of since the memorable night of the 18th. All the other company commanders are so severely wounded that it is feared some of them will never be able to resume the field again, and it is to be hoped that the steps for reorganizing the regiment will be speedily taken. It is due to what few officers we have left with us, to reward them with a step higher up the ladder. Col. Littlefield, of the 3d S.C. Regiment, has temporary charge of the 54th. I did intend to give you an account of our evacuation of James Island; but as we may have occasion to “play it over again,” for strategic reasons, I’ll keep dark on it.
In my last letter I put down Abram P. Torrance as killed. I have subsequently learned that he is wounded, and is in the hospital at Beaufort. The rest of the list is, I think, correct. The total number of men now killed, wounded and missing, is 357. It is estimated that about 70 of the wounded will be again fit for service.
J. H. G.
P.S. — Two more monitors arrived this afternoon, ready to take a part in the combat. The men of the regiment are raising a sum to send the body of the Colonel home, as soon as Fort Wagner is reduced. They all declare that they will dig for his body till they find it. They are determined this disgrace shall be counteracted by something noble.
Mercury, August 1, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, July 20, 1863
—At last we have something stirring to record. The 54th, the past week, has proved itself twice in battle. The first was on James Island on the morning of the 16th. There were four companies of the 54th on picket duty at the time; our picket lines extending to the right of the rebel battery, which commands the approach to Charleston through the Edisto river. About 3 o’clock in the morning, the rebels began harassing our pickets on the right, intending, no doubt, to drive them in, so that by daylight the coast would be clear to rush their main force down on us, and take us by surprise. They did not suppose we had any considerable force to the rear of our pickets on the right, as Gen. Stevenson’s brigade was plain in sight on the left; and their plan, I suppose, was to rush down and cut Gen. Stevenson off. They made a mistake — instead of returning fire, the officer in charge of the pickets directed the men to lie down under cover of a hedge, rightly expecting the rebels to advance by degrees toward our lines. As he expected, at daylight they were within 600 yards of the picket line, when our men rose and poured a volley into them. That was something the rebels didn’t expect — their line of skirmishers was completely broken; our men then began to fall back gradually on our line of battle, as the rebels were advancing their main force on to them. On they came, with six pieces of artillery and four thousand infantry, leaving a heavy force to drive Gen. Stevenson on the left. As their force advanced on our right, the boys held them in check like veterans; but of course they were falling back all the time, and fighting too. After the officers saw there was no chance for their men, they ordered them to move on to a creek under cover of the gunboats. When the rebels got within 900 yards of our line of battle, the right wing of Gen. Terry’s brigade gave them three volleys, which checked their advance. They then made a stand with their artillery and began shelling us, but it had no effect on our forces, as the rebels fired too high. The 6th Connecticut battery then opened fire on them from the right, the John Adams and May Flower from the creek between James and Cole Islands, and the Pawnee and a mortar schooner from the Edisto [i.e., Stono], when the rebels began a hasty retreat. It was a warmer reception than they had expected. Our loss in the skirmishing before the battle, so far as we can ascertain, was nine killed, 13 wounded, and 17 missing, either killed or taken prisoners; but more probably they were driven into the creek and drowned. Sergeant Wilson, of Co. H, was called upon to surrender, but would not; he shot four men before he was taken. After he was taken they ordered him to give up his pistol which he refused to do, when he was shot through the head.
The men of the 54th behaved gallantly on the occasion — so the Generals say. It is not for us to blow our horn; but when a regiment of white men gave us three cheers as we were passing them, it shows that we did our duty as men should.
I shall pass over the incidents of that day, as regards individuals, to speak of a greater and more terrible ordeal the 54th regiment has passed through. I shall say nothing now of how we came from James to Morris Island; suffice it to say, on Saturday afternoon we were marched up past our batteries, amid the cheers of the officers and soldiers. We wondered what they were all cheering for, but we soon found out. Gen. Strong rode up, and we halted. Well, you had better believe there was some guessing what we were to do. Gen. Strong asked us if we would follow him into Fort Wagner. Every man said, yes — we were ready to follow wherever we were led. You may all know Fort Wagner is the Sebastopol of the rebels; but we went at it, over the ditch and on to the parapet through a deadly fire; but we could not get into the fort. We met the foe on the parapet of Wagner with the bayonet — we were exposed to a murderous fire from the batteries of the fort, from our Monitors and our land batteries, as they did not cease firing soon enough. Mortal men could not stand such a fire, and the assault on Wagner was a failure. The 9th Me., 10th Conn., 63d Ohio, 48th and 100th N.Y. were to support us in the assault; but after we made the first charge, everything was in such confusion that we could hardly tell where the reserve was. At the first charge the 54th rushed to within twenty yards of the ditches, and, as might be expected of raw recruits, wavered — but at the second advance they gained the parapet. The color bearer of the State colors was killed on the parapet. Col. Shaw seized the staff when the standard bearer fell, and in less than a minute after, the Colonel fell himself. When the men saw their gallant leader fall, they made a desperate effort to get him out, but they were either shot down, or reeled in the ditch below. One man succeeded in getting hold of the State color staff, but the color was completely torn to pieces.
I have no more paper here at present, as all our baggage is at St. Helena yet; so I cannot further particularize in this letter. Lieut. Grace was knocked down by a piece of shell, but he is not injured. He showed himself a great deal braver and cooler than any line officer.
J. H. G.
Our correspondent gives a list of killed, wounded and missing. It is the same that we have already published. [Mercury Editor]
MORRIS ISLAND. S. C. July 20
MY DEAR AMELIA:
I have been in two fights, and am unhurt. I am about to go in another I believe to-night. Our men fought well on both occasions. The last was desperate we charged that terrible battery on Morris Island known as Fort Wagoner, and were repulsed with a loss of 3 killed and wounded. I escaped unhurt from amidst that perfect hail of shot and shell. It was terrible. I need not particularize the papers will give a better than I have time to give. My thoughts are with you often, you are as dear as ever, be good enough to remember it as I no doubt you will. As I said before we are on the eve of another fight and I am very busy and have just snatched a moment to write you. I must necessarily be brief. Should I fall in the next fight killed or wounded I hope to fall with my face to the foe.
If I survive I shall write you a long letter. DeForrest of your city is wounded George Washington is missing, Jacob Carter is missing, Chas Reason wounded Chas Whiting, Chas Creamer all wounded. The above are in hospital.
This regiment has established its reputation as a fighting regiment not a man flinched, though it was a trying time. Men fell all around me. A shell would explode and clear a space of twenty feet, our men would close up again, but it was no use we had to retreat, which was a very hazardous undertaking. How I got out of that fight alive I cannot tell, but I am here. My Dear girl I hope again to see you. I must bid you farewell should I be killed. Remember if I die I die in a good cause. I wish we had a hundred thousand colored troops we would put an end to this war.
Good Bye to all Write soon
Your own loving LEWIS
Mercury, July 8, 1863 [OAF]
St. Helena Island, S.C., June 29
—Instead of going on another expedition, as we all expected and hoped, we find ourselves at the headquarters of the department, and great changes made in commanders; in fact, the changes had been made at least two weeks before we knew anything of them. It is probable that the change of commander has made some change in the operations in this department, for this summer at least. But from appearances there must be something definite in contemplation, from the fact that all the surplus troops are being concentrated on this island ready for a movement at the shortest notice; either to act on the offensive, at some weak point — as the force here is not large enough to make any grand movement — or to be transported wherever the urgency of the case may require out of this department; but it is safe to say the latter conjecture is the most probable one.
Yesterday there was a terrific thunder storm here. A man in the 76th Pa. regiment was killed by lightening, and 15 more were stunned at the same time, besides exploding 80 boxes of cartridges.
A sergeant in the 1st regiment S. C. Volunteers has been sentenced to be hung for mutiny, or inciting some of the men to mutinous conduct.
The rebel ram Atlanta, taken off the Savannah river, has been pronounced unseaworthy by the Naval Guard. It was the intention of the rebels to play hob with the Yankees. The plan was first, to pay a compliment to Col. Montgomery, then on St. Simon’s Island, and hang his whole force, then come up and clear out Port Royal harbour, raise the blockade at Charleston, and I don’t know but they would have gone on capturing till they reached Boston, according to their story. Probably that was one of the plans to assist in raising their volunteer navy. They have another ram underway at Savannah, but she will not be completed for some time.
J. H. G.
Mercury, July 8, 1863 [OAF]
St. Simon’s Island, Ga., June 22
—Since my last letter, there has been nothing important occurred in this department that I am aware of. In fact if anything important were to happen, in which our regiment was not concerned, you in the North would be more likely to be posted in regard to it, than we should, isolated as we are. Of course the opposition press have heard of the burning of Darien, by the “Nigger guerillas,” and commented on it, as an “act of Vandalism” and all that sort of thing; manufactured capital enough to bring “Nigger worshippers” in contempt, in the opinion of gouty “conservatives,” and wrought Wood and Co.’s followers up to that delightful point, of commanding the Powers that be to stop enlisting the “impediments to civilization” instanter. How they must have harrowed the feelings of sentimental young ladies by informing them how those “ruthless heathens,” unmoved by the entreaties of terror stricken damsels, slew their gallant lovers in cold blood; and then exhausted the vocabulary of unmentionable adjectives on the horrified maidens after their protectors were slain. Of course they made it appear to credulous people that Darien was a place rivaling New York, in commercial importance, and the peer of Rome or Athens, in historical value. But they did not intimate that one of the ships, destroyed by the rebel pirates, might possibly be worth nearly as much as the village of Darien. Oh no! what the people of the North has lost is nothing, because what the North lost was stolen by our misguided brethern.But turn the tables — say the troops here should be captured by the rebels, (of course they would hang them every one), the copperhead press would treat that as an unimportant item, or some of them would say probably, “we are glad of it — that is a cheaper way of getting rid of them, than expending money to send them to President Lincoln’s Paradise in Central America, or to colonize them at Timbuctoo or Sahara.” But we all know they must say something, or people will think they are losing ground; they must keep up the appearance of knowing considerable, if not more, as one instance will show. A man living in Pennsylvania wrote to one of the men in this regiment that things had turned out just as he had predicted months ago; that the United States had repudiated the black troops and would never pay them the first red cent; that Gov. Andrew had disbanded his second party of “Pet Lambs” and advised the men to skedaddle, as the government would not have any power to punish them; in fact such an organization as the 54th regiment Mass. vols, was not known officially by the War Department. Now don’t you think that man was hired to write such stuff as that? The object is obvious; it is to create a spirit of insubordination among the men, so that the copperheads may have a better excuse to call for the disbanding of colored regiments in the field. Oh, there are some grand rascals out of State Prison! The scamp who wrote that letter signed no full name to it; it was dated from Susquehanna Co., Pa., no town, but the postmark was Philadelphia. Whoever he is, it is evident he has played at more than one game in his life, for the receiver of the letter does not know whose handwriting it is.
We are expecting to make a movement now hourly; the regiment are only waiting for the return of the commanding officer, with his instructions. There sounds the long roll! I must close.
J. H. G.
St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
June 22 1863
We got a small mail today, but there was nothing for me. I was very much disappointed, the latest date from you, being 3d Inst. & from Annie 31 Ulto.
Col. Montgomery returned from Hilton Head, this morning, bringing us news of the capture of the Ram “Fingal.” He found General Gilmor[e] very friendly and anxious to second him in every way, with the exception of the burning business — so that is satisfactorily settled. Montgomery tells me he acted entirely under orders from Hunter, and was at first very much opposed to them himself, but finally changed his mind.
I like him very much. He is not what one would call a “Kansas Ruffian”— being very quiet and reserved, & rather consumptive-looking. His language is very good & always grammatical. He is very religious & always has services in his regiment, before starting on an expedition.
Please don’t wait for the sailing of the “Arago” to mail my letters. Gunboats and transports come here (to Hilton Head) every week from Boston, New York & Philadelphia, and usually bring a mail. We are waiting here for coal for our transports; as soon as it arrives, we shall probably be off again, for a little while. They think at the “Head” that there will soon be another attempt made on Savannah or Charleston. Gilmor[e] is certainly much more active and energetic than Hunter.
Give my love to Mother and the girls. I am impatient to hear whether the Russells arrived safely and well. The “Nelly Baker is expected from Hilton Head” tomorrow, and I hope she will bring us some letters. I sent her up there, day before yesterday.
Your loving son
Mercury, June 30, 1863 [OAF]
St. Simon’s Island, Ga., June 14, 1863
—As intimated in my last letter, we left Beaufort last Monday morning. We did not know where we were going, and never found out until we dropped anchor off this Island on the morning of the 9th. After being transferred to a steamer of lighter draught, we were landed about nine miles up the river from the anchorage. Here I may say, I could hardly determine whether we were bound up or down the river, it is so crooked. The next day, after we arrived here, the 2nd South Carolina regiment, the 2nd R.I. battery, and 8 companies of the 54th started on an expedition. We landed on the main land, at a small town, named Darien, about 50 miles from here by water, but only about 20 miles over land. The force took the water route, as it is impracticable to get to it over land, the country being so marshy, crossed by numberless little creeks running through it. The rebels must have left the place when they saw such a large force concentrating on St. Simon’s Island the day before, supposing they would be attacked. After our forces landed, there was not more than 20 inhabitants to be seen in the place, the most of those were slaves and women; so there was no chance to show what sort of fighting material the Fifty-Fourth is made of. The fruits of the expedition are the capture of one schooner and a flat boat, loaded with cotton, about 20 barrels of turpentine, eight hogsheads of rosin, about a dozen cows, 50 or 60 sheep and 20 head of beeves; books, pictures, furniture and household property were burned. The town of Darien is now no more; the flames could be distinctly seen from the camp on the Island from three o’clock in the afternoon till daylight the next morning.
We are to go on another expedition next week, into the interior. It is rumored we are to try to take possession of a railroad between Savannah and some point south, probably Mobile. We all hope the rebels will make a stand, so that we may have a good chance to empty our cartridge boxes.
Talking about Southern scenery! Well, all I have seen of it yet is not calculated to make me eulogize its beauties. If a person were to ask me what I saw South, I should tell him stink weed, sand, rattlesnakes, and alligators. To tell the honest truth, our boys out on picket look sharper for snakes than they do for rebels.
In a church yard here, I saw a stone bearing this inscription, “James Gould, born at Granville, Mass., 1806, died 1862″; another was, “Lieut. Col. Wardrobe, of his B[ritish] Mfajesty’s] service, died 1812″; another, “James Wyley, born at Fitchburg, Mass., 1822, died February, 1863.”
J. H. G.
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.
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,