Mercury, January 7, 1864 [OAF]
Morris Island, Dec. 26, 1863
Strategy and Common Sense
—Since my last there has been nothing extraordinary occurred in military affairs, and the indications are that nothing will occur between now and spring, unless brought on by the enemy. The whole face of nature now presents a drear and gloomy appearance, and the thousands who a month or two ago were full of hope and expectation have gradually come down to that frame of mind so well adapted to wait till something turns up. The fleet inside the bar has been steadily diminishing, so that there is nothing but the monitors and Ironsides left, together with three or four tugs, and provision/ schooners. The Philadelphia seems to have taken up winter quarters in the inlet, no doubt to save her from being rocked on the waves or the boisterous Atlantic. So, you see, Christmas has come and gone, but Charleston still holds her head high, as the leading city in the van of the rebellion. But then, Secretary Welles, in his annual report, considers it to be no great matter whether the Union army occupies the city or not, as it is not, he says, any strategic point of value or commercial importance to the Confederate guerrillas. All that is very fine, as a defence of the miserable operation of the naval arm during the recent operations against that stronghold; but it will not possibly make the nation see why having it in our possession is not better than to leave it in the hands of the insurgents. Strategy or not, almost every one knows that the rebels depend upon Charleston for a very large amount of ammunition, which is manufactured there on account of its central position and being connected by all the interior lines of railway with different parts of the Confederacy. But the worthy old gentleman does not think that it would be any object to somewhat curtail these facilities, and it has not struck him as an idea, that in sealing Charleston up as a commercial help to the rebels, the most effective way is to take it, so that the fleet employed to watch it could be employed elsewhere. But the worthy Secretary is looking to the establishment of something stunning in war ships, which, as a precautionary measure, is very well. But do, good Mr. Secretary, let us have the 4th of July in Charleston, and we will not regret not having spent a merry Christmas therein so much.
Santa Claus in a Novel Shape
Yesterday (Christmas) morning, we gave the rebels in Charleston a Merry (or dismal) Christmas greeting, by throwing a few shell in among them. The shell thrown evidently set fire to some part of the city, as there was a grand illumination visible in a few minutes after the shell were thrown. The wind being then from the northwest and the air very clear, the sound of the church bells could be distinctly heard at Fort Strong, but whether it was the regular ringing of Christmas bells by the Catholic and established churches, or merely the alarm bells on account of fire, is difficult to determine. From the hour (3 o’clock) it may have been both circumstances that occasioned the loud ringing of bells in the Palmetto City; one set of bells ringing to commemorate a glorious event, bringing joy and mirth to the rising generation, and reflection and thankfulness to those of mature age, — and the other, to warn the guilty conspirators of the avenging flame thrown in their midst, ready to leave them houseless, unless they make efforts to extinguish it.
Soon after, the rebel batteries on James and Sullivan’s Islands were opened, but with the same effect as heretofore — a waste of powder and shell; but about daylight we could hear very rapid and heavy firing* on James Island in the neighborhood where our gunboats are stationed in Stono river. I have not found out anything as yet in regard to it, but I suspect the rebels were retaliating on the gunboats for our firing on the city, and the gunboats of course must have given them as good as they sent. I don’t think it was anything more than for annoying each other in that quarter; at least I shall wait till I hear something more definite, as I may be sold a la Pocatiligo. Christmas was rather a dull day with us, the 54th. But the 3d U.S. had a stirring time — eating and drinking. Apple dumplings, equalling a young mortar shell in weight, with rye whiskey sauce, was the principal item on the bill of fare. So far as my observation went, apple dumplings formed the first and last course, but the boys enjoyed them notwithstanding the seeming lack of talent in the pastry cooks. The dinner to the boys shows a warm attachment between the shoulder straps and the rank and file, for the expense was borne by the officers. The meeting referred to in my last, squelched by conservatives throwing cold water on the fire [fine?] spun plans of the radicals, adjourned sine die.
Hereafter Lieut. J. W. Grace ceases to be such — why? he will wear two bars on his shoulders, which it is hoped, will be replaced by two leaves — in time.
*This was the attack on the Marblehead, the account of which we have published. [Mercury Editor]
Posts Tagged Morris Island
Mercury, January 6, 1864 [OAF]
Morris Island, Dec. 19, 1863
Charleston Harbor Supposed To Be Clear Of Obstructions
—Since my last letter, we have been on tiptoe, expecting to see or hear the iron fleet making an effort to get into Charleston harbor; but still the Philadelphia haunts the waters of Lighthouse Inlet, and the “invulnerables” preserve a masterly inactivity. For forty-eight hours, commencing on the 11th, a heavy easterly gale prevailed on the coast, causing a higher tide in and around the harbor than has been known since this army has occupied the Island, and on Sunday afternoon could be seen huge rafts and buoys floating about in the harbor and in the roadstead opposite the Island. After some of these rafts and timbers had drifted ashore, it was apparent these formed the formidable obstructions in Charleston harbor; the timbers are, the most of them, six or seven feet in circumference and are covered with a coating of barnacles and shells, owing to being submerged so long. So far as the rafts indicate by their supposed position, the fleet could never have forced them sufficiently to pass without seriously damaging the motive power of the vessels, as it is very reasonably conjectured that the huge links of chain found attached to the rafts were cables to anchors or old guns, sunk to hold the raft in position directly across the channel, but short and heavy enough to keep the whole structure submerged, so that a hostile vessel could not be piloted clear of it. The rafts were apparently placed in sections, but each section was linked to the other by two bars of railway track, by means of car couplings bolted to the ends of each section. It may be that the naval authorities had a hand in loosening the grand network of obstructions in their nightly work upon them, fully expecting nature to assist them in the work, as it has done. But if they don’t take advantage of what nature has accomplished for them pretty soon, the wily rebels will place a more complicated trap in their way. But they may be justified in supposing that the harbor is not clear; or, they probably know such to be the fact, but no one here has seen the navy endeavoring to ascertain whether the harbor was clear or not; they may prepare to reconnoitre by next spring.
How The Weehawken Has Sunk
I have just found out how the Weehawken was sunk. It is gravely asserted that the Admiral, in his afternoon siesta, saw the ghost of Sumter coming towards the fleet and telegraphed the Weehawken to run out of the way, and her speed, under the circumstances of fright and a bottom clear of barnacles, was so great that she ran under.
Shooting Of A Deserter
Thursday Afternoon, Dec. 18. — A special order made it the duty of all the troops on this island to witness a melancholy and impressive scene. Kimball, of Co. G, 3d N.H. regiment, a conscript recently brought out from Boston, deserted from his regiment and had got as far as our picket lines on the left. It is asserted that when he was discovered, he was signalizing to the enemy across the river to come with a boat and take him across; and after being taken, he represented himself as a rebel deserter, and the object of his signalizing was to direct a brother deserter, who had agreed to desert with him from the enemy. He was brought in to the guard on Black Island, to be sent over to the post headquarters in the morning, as no one doubted his story. He was disguised in citizen’s dress at the time, and would have been paroled as a rebel deserter had not one of the men in his own company, who had been put into the provost guard house for some misdemeanor, recognized him. The delinquent soldier, seeing a rebel deserter, of course took a good look at him, just perhaps to see what a rebel looked like, when he suddenly exclaimed, “Hallo, Kimball, what the deuce are you doing here?” This familiarity excited curiosity, and when the guard saw the supposed deserter motion the soldier to keep mum, it created suspicion. An officer was called in and informed that something was wrong, whereupon there was an investigation, and the foregoing facts evolved. Several men from the same regiment were called and proved him to be a member of the regiment, whereupon he was court martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to suffer death.
As before stated, on Thursday, at 4 p.m., the sentence of the Court was carried out to the bitter end. The troops were formed in two columns of four ranks each, so the space occupied would be convenient for all the troops to witness the scene. Between the columns there was a space of eight paces for the funeral cortege to pass in review before the troops. An army hearse was driven through, containing the victim seated upon his coffin, preceded by a Martial Band playing a funeral march; the prisoner lounged upon his coffin, calm, and unmoved, except you might see a slight moisture of the eye; but his face was pale and careworn, like one who seemed to have hoped against fate, and now at the last was struggling to be resigned. He seemed to look each man in that vast assembly in the eye with a vague and melancholy appeal for sympathy, as the hearse drove down the line, which must have touched the hearts of many, although they knew he was guilty. After the cortege had arrived at the place of execution, he nimbly jumped from the hearse to the ground, and began to prepare himself for the final act in his drama of life. His head was shaved, and then the Chaplain offered a prayer; after that the Provost Marshall tied the fatal kerchief over his eyes, the officer of the guard put his men in position to fire, the Chaplain, Marshal and pall bearers shook hands with him, stepped aside suddenly; the officer shook his glove and the victim fell across his coffin; his feet trembled a moment and he was a corpse.
No sooner had the man fallen, a lifeless mass of earth, than a sea gull flitted over him, ready to pounce upon the first vestige of torn flesh that it might discover. This painful scene would have been totally devoid of incident, but for what the last mentioned occurrence gave to it. The appearance of the bird was so sudden, not one being in sight before, that it imparted to the scene a touch of the supernatural. It was only by repeated efforts that the guard was able to keep the voracious bird away. The lesson taught by the scene will no doubt be a lasting one to all who witnessed it.
The rebels opened pretty heavily on Tuesday last, but their fire did no extra damage. Last night about 11 o’clock, for the first time in a week, we opened on the city, which occasioned some savage firing on the part of the enemy, showing that firing on the city occasions more annoyance than they have admitted. The members of the regiment represented by their noncommissioned officers are making efforts to celebrate the 1st of January in a becoming manner, the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. An informal meeting was held last evening by the uncommish, and, of course, there was some rubbing of ideas. The only little incident that occurred worthy of notice was the wish expressed by some of the radicals to couch the language of the petition to the Commanding General for leave to make a celebration in such a manner as to convey the idea that the petition emanated from the soldiers of the department irrespective of class. The question was very warmly contested till tattoo, and it was unanimously agreed that the meeting was very harmonious!
Mercury, December 28, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Dec. 12, 1863
—The week just past has been one of unusual interest in the Department of the South. The first item is the loss of one of the iron monitors, on the afternoon of Sunday, Dec. 6th. The cause of her loss is enveloped in mystery to those on shore. We hear of a dozen different stories concerning it; some say that she was sunk by excessive rolling, as there was a heavy sea on at the time; while it is stated by others that she was sunk by a torpedo floating down the harbor; and others assert that some part of her boiler gear exploded and, forced downward, went through her bottom, thereby causing the catastrophe. Putting aside all speculations as to how it happened, it will bring to the mind of many persons at home, as well as some abroad, that it was almost time that the “Iron Fleet” off Charleston had made itself famous for something more remarkable than “completing preparations.” The country we think would feel better satisfied to pay a half million dollars apiece for every monitor before Charleston, providing they were sunk in a genuine endeavor to anchor in rebellion roads. If we don’t look sharp, U.S. Grant may send fighting Joe Hooker to the rear of Charleston before the monitors have been cleared of barnacles! The next item is the unfortunate penetration of one of our magazines by a rebel bomb shell. The shell came through a part of the magazine which the engineers were engaged in repairing, they having removed the sod and sand bags for the purpose of covering the top with four or five feet more of earth. The shell struck the top and broke through the roof, falling among a pile of capped shell, exploding twenty of them, besides a number of kegs of powder. The casualties resulting therefrom were four men killed, eleven men seriously wounded, and seventeen slightly, with the usual number scared — your correspondent among the last mentioned.
The next piece of news which you are no doubt apprised of through the Richmond papers, is the capture of Pocatiligo bridge by Brig. Gen. Seymour; so goes the yarn, on good authority too. The possession of this bridge by the Union forces may cut off some of the supplies of Charleston, but not to such an extent as to hasten a termination of the siege. It places Savannah in a rather tight position so far as direct communication with Richmond is concerned; but still they have a circuitous railroad open through the interior of Georgia, unless Grant’s army cuts them off at Atlanta. Still, holding Pocatiligo bridge is an advantage, which if backed by a sufficient number of men may induce the Commanding General to act independent of the “web feet,” although going up to the rear may be a hard road to travel, as it must be expected the rebels have taken every precaution to hold the rear since the taking of Pocatiligo bridge.
Gen. Gillmore seems determined to keep the citizens of Charleston awake, for hardly a night during the past week but what the rebellious city has been fired in some spot. Every night about 11 o’clock we open on the city. One night, being on grand guard at Fort Strong, everything was quiet as the grave, save the breaking of the droning swell on the beach, which made the quiet more intense. Hardly a breath of wind was stirring, when the roar of a 200-pound Parrott broke the silence. You could hear the missile whizzing through the air, and in just forty seconds, you see a sudden gleam — and hear a low rumbling noise, which plainly tells you that it has burst over Charleston. In five minutes the second shot is fired, with like effect, when you distinctly hear the alarm bells tolling, to warn the sleepy citizens of danger; and you observe James Island batteries signalizing to those on Sullivan’s Island, when away they blaze with mortars and columbiads, vainly endeavoring to silence the “indefatigueables.” They have a mortar battery on Sullivan’s Island, with seven mortars in it, which they let go every time we fire into the city, and you may suppose that there is a little noise about midnight, when the Yankees fire two pieces to the rebels’ one. Yesterday, Fort Sumter was in a blaze, but how it was brought about, I am at a loss to tell, unless the garrison set fire to the fort, or our forces have fired a few Greek shells into it. The fire and smoke were plainly visible from our camp all the forenoon, and till two o’clock in the afternoon. While Sumter was in flames, the contending batteries were unusually active in pelting each other; fourteen mortars were steadily kept firing into Sumter, Fort Strong attended to James Island, Fort Putnam poured into Moultrie, and the 300-pounders shook the folks up in Charleston. I think every gun and mortar the contending armies have mounted were brought into play at that time, for the roar of ordnance was steady and terrible. It was not safe for a man to venture out of the entrenchments between Forts Strong and Putnam, so steady was the fall of fragments of exploding shell, or round and steel pointed shot. Col. E. N. Hallowell, while riding up to Fort Putnam, had his horse shot from under him but was not touched himself. The rain commencing about 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon, the firing ceased, and has not yet been renewed.
Mercury, December 15, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Nov. 28, 1863
—The past week has developed nothing new in military affairs that we are aware of. The bombardment of Sumter seems to have been relaxed since last Wednesday, but what the object is in desisting is more than I can conjecture, unless it be that a further expenditure of ammunition is considered useless at present. But we do not expect that the lull will last long, as everything looks like a vigorous pushing ahead, and if something decided is not soon done it cannot possibly be for the want of either time, men or means.
The troops here begin to feel a sort of impatient curiosity to see some fruition of their immense labor in making preparations. This has been one of the most arduous campaigns of the war, so far as steady endurance and sheer labor is concerned, and that too, under an almost tropical sun, and on an island totally void of antiscorbutic properties. The sentiment of the rank and file is “action.”
The rebels are busy razeeing [razing] the Moultrie House to the ground; so it may be presumed they intend or hope to make our position a pretty warm one, ere many days shall have elapsed. Battery Simpkins and Pemberton take an opportunity now and then to annoy our men, in Putnam and Chatfield, but they generally get the worst of the bargain, as our Parrott guns are quicker in reaching them than their old 42’s are in reaching us. The silence of Forts Johnson and Moultrie makes it plausible that the rebels are strengthening those forts to best advantage. The fire they have so recently passed through, in Wagner, Gregg and Sumter, has no doubt given them some valuable hints in defensive engineering, and it is important that our side batter them down before they become more impregnable than Wagner or Sumter.
It is reported that the steamer Planter, the same which was run out of Charleston harbor by Robert Smalls and turned over to the blockade fleet, has been captured by the rebels. It appears that the vessel was bound round to Stono inlet, through Lighthouse inlet and the creek dividing Cole and Folly Islands, but owing to the dense fog prevailing at the time, the pilot run her past the turn-off in the creek, continuing on too far up the inlet towards Seceshville. He did not discover his error until he ran in among the rebel picket boats patrolling the vicinity; when, as a natural [con]sequence she was captured. The pecuniary loss will not be very great, as the vessel was an old cotton dragger; but the fate of her crew may be a rather serious matter, for all except the captain and engineers are contrabands, and some of them formed a part of the crew who ran away with her. It is believed that Smalls was piloting her on the occasion.
Thursday last, being appointed as a day of Thanksgiving, the troops had a general holiday. The air was just cool and keen enough to make one feel that it was a genuine old New England Thanksgiving day, although it was not impregnated with the odor of pumpkin pies, plum puddings, and wine sauce, nor the savory roasts, boils and “schews” familiar to the Yankee homes of New England. But we made up the deficiency by the religious observance of the day in a very appropriate manner. It was a scene long to be remembered—a grand army assembled on the verge where old ocean roars, to render homage and thanks to the Great Giver of victory. The gilded star and waving plume of warring chief stood side by side with the humble citizen soldier or quondam slave! The famed cathedrals of the Old World never presented a scene more grand, majestic, and impressive than the volunteer soldiers of a great and powerful Republic, gathered in a solid mass, with the arching dome of heaven for their temple, acknowledging their dependence on the mighty King of kings. We had no rich toned and powerful organ to lull the warring passions into submissive reverence; but the waves on the sea-beat shore seemed to partake of the majesty of the hour, and in low and gentle ripples made music on the sands. Every head was bared as the Post Band commenced to play some of the good old Orthodox airs of home — no doubt reminding many there assembled, of the day as observed at home.
After the service was brought to a close, the respective regiments were dismissed, and the rest of the day was devoted to such sports as best suited each. The 54th had quite a good time considering the facilities at hand to create such a time. The officers of each company treated their men to what the Sutler’s shops afforded, such as cakes, oranges, apples, raisins, besides baker’s bread, and butter. Added to that, we had a greased pole set up, with a pair of new pantaloons tied to the end, with $13 in the pocket for the lucky one who could get it, by climbing to the top. The attempts made by some to win the prize were laughable indeed, and many who would not have been guilty of doing a hard day’s work for the government, worked with a will on the greasy pole. One funny chap in Co. C, who is known by the title of Stonewall Jackson, was the first one to make an essay at climbing, which was not successful, except it be in taking one or two pounds of soap fat on his clothing to make an easy job of it for his followers. Poor old Stonewall said, “now I oughtenter took the first trial on that plagued pole, cause I’ve spoilt my clothes, and the Colonel will put me in the guard house, too, if my clothes aint clean on inspection.” But the Quartermaster, enjoying the fun, and thinking Stonewall deserved something for his zeal, presented him with a new pair of pants for the pair he had spoiled. After the money was won by climbing the pole, we had a sack race. The purses were made up by officers, which were ten dollars for the first best, and five dollars for the second best; and in this contest poor “Stonewall” got entangled in his sack, so that he did not get three yards from the starting point. The next amusement was wheeling barrows, blindfolded, to a certain mark — the man coming nearest to the mark to receive five dollars, and the second to receive two dollars. So you see the boys are all alive and full of fun; they don’t intend to be lonesome or discouraged whether Uncle Sam pays them or not; in fact the day was kept up by the 54th with more spirit than by any other regiment on the island.
To-day the conscripts and substitutes arrived by the steamer City of Bath, 84 hours from Boston. The number is 73 men for the 54th and 160 for the 24th and 40th regiments. Among the subs is John Blackburn, of New Bedford, who is in Co. C. Company C has 11 men out of the 73 as her proportion.
Another marked feature in this department is an order recently issued, that all labor in the trenches and on batteries is stopped on the Sabbath day; that no duty is to be performed on Sunday, except what is imperatively necessary.
November 28, 1863.
In your issue of to-day I notice the article headed “A Defense of Col. Montgomery,” and over the signature of S. M. Markley, which, so resembles the speech of Col. Montgomery of the 30th of September, that I think it deserves a passing kick. I should not turn aside to administer this contemptuous rebuke had Mr. Markley not referred to the letter of Oct. 24th [October 3] in an imperious, threatening and insulting manner. Does Mr. Markley deny any word of that speech of Col. Montgomery? Has that speech been falsely reported? Certainly not. The truth is this: S. M. M. endorses the sentiments of that speech. He, like Col. M. has so little regard for our sentiments and feelings that he even forgets to refer to or consult them. Mr. M. do you think colored men so debased, cowardly and ignorant, that they can brook any and every insult? Would you or Col. M. have addressed a white regiment thus? I think not. But who has made an attack on Col. M? What have I said against his Christianity, or his anti-slavery sentiments, his accomplishments or his achievements? The time has come when words are important. They are things that are weighed and balanced. A man that speaks in times like these, should speak advisedly.
That speech coming from the source it did, ought to have been circulated all over the country. It is another evidence of the folly of manworship and the time has fully come when that should cease. Build a shrine of our principles and if need be, lay upon it life, services and wealth. In my letter giving a synopsis of the speech, I said nothing against Col. M. I simply rebutted the speech as well as I could. When I stood by the side of Col. M., and heard him declaim those sentiments with so much earnestness and vehemence I was filled with amazement and regret, but I consoled myself with the fact that no one or two men can avail against our cause. It rests on the rock of immutability—that rock is “Justice To All Men,” without regard to color. Our destiny is united with that of the country—with its triumph we rise, with its defeat we fall.
Contrast the speech of Col. Montgomery and the sentiments of S. M. Markley with the noble course of His Excellency, Gov. Andrew, and the Massachusetts Legislative Council—the one giving us good cheer, extending aid and the right hand of fellowship, the other hewing out a chasm and an impassable gulf between us and our rights and justice. Noble Massachusetts! patroness and protectress of equal rights and the principals of justice! When time-servers, and prejudiced quibblers are buried far down in the grave of oblivion, your escutcheon, glowing with the flaming record of your trials and triumphs, will be regarded by coming generations as an emblem of union, liberty, and equality. Mr. S. M. M. you are impressed with a notion that all the measures and policies adopted by the Administration were adopted especially to benefit the African race—that this is, plainly speaking, “a war for the negro.” This is the old Copperhead lie. It fomented riots and mobs by exciting all the baser passions against the African. His features, his hair, the color of his skin, and the fact that his having been a race of slaves, are ridiculed and discanted upon as if to make prejudice of race a passion, abiding and eternal. Ignorant men were made to believe that the white man was not to be benefited by the struggle,at the African was to receive and were receiving all the benefits of this war for the Union. Do you claim allegiance with the great freedom party and yet so unconscious of the grandeur of its principles and policy: Free Soil, Free Press, Free Speech, Free Men, not free Africans or free white men. In the providences of Almighty God you cannot imperil the liberty of any individual without detriment to the liberties of the whole body politic. The political system has its laws like that of the physical, which if violated, produce the sufferings that we to-day are living witnesses of, such as riots, tumult, and civil war with all its attendant miseries and calamities. Slavery is as much a curse to the white man as to the black, and emancipation if secured, will be to him as much a blessing. Hence it is a war for the liberty of the human race. We Africans, if justice is accorded to us, cannot say truthfully that it is a war for the white man. I would consider it a curse second only to slavery itself to owe the emancipation of our race purely and solely to the American people. If they had voluntarily and from philanthropic motives and not from military necessity adopted the policy of emancipation, for ages yet to come it would be made the pretext to deny us some right or withhold some benefit. We would stand in the attitude of supplicants and dependents instead of equals, not having by earnest efforts, and co-labor won manly independence. Mr. S. M. M. says: “The colored people should be very careful of the way in which they assail such men as Col. Montgomery.” This may be a warning or a threat; I don’t know or care which, as Mr. S. M. M. has not yet been invested with the power of life and death over the colored people. Threats nor insults shall not deter them from rebutting error; nor can an army of Markleys restore Col. Montgomery to the confidence of the colored soldiers in the Department of the South. His sentiments and opinions of the race are so indifferent that I, for one, do not feel that confidence that should always exist between comrades in battle. Unless some sort of explanation is attached to that speech by S. M. M. or somebody else, it must remain on record. I have no desire to be drawn into controversy any farther. The epitaph I offer is, Rest in Peace.
Geo. E. Stephens.
Mercury, December 4, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Nov. 21, 1863
—Since the last record of events in this department, the bombardment of Sumter is still kept up night and day, and still the gallant rebels are masters of the situation — which, by the way, is a severe comment on the gallantry of Major Anderson in 1861. But circumstances now may be the incentive to the rebels to hold Sumter, rather than any desire of historic fame, for it is positively asserted that the great bar to the iron clads’ progress up the harbor is fastened to Sumter; and if we once get possession of Sumter, and let the chain drop to the bottom, which is stretched across the channel, then the monitors are to go in and demand the surrender of the city, as it is calculated that all the rebel batteries are not able to stop them. Such a belief is not unreasonable, if compared with what the iron clads have stood, in the way of shot.
This may account for the long delay in shelling the city from our present position — that Mr. Beauregard, who is a notorious chap for taking exceptions, may have no shadow of complaint against us, of unfairness, or “violating the usages of civilized warfare,” or acting in any manner objectionable to the ideas of Booli, Crapau & Co., in the siege of this “most refined city of America.”
Last Monday night, the rebels opened a new mortar battery, in rear of the Moultrie house on Sullivan’s Island, which occasioned some little excitement; they no doubt expected to surprise us and completely shell us out, before we could possibly do anything to silence them; it was about half past ten, everything was very quiet, nothing but the regular shot or shell every ten minutes at Sumter breaking the quiet of the night, when the shell came through the air like so many firey tongued devils; seven mortars were opened in quick succession, keeping such a steady rain of fire on our batteries, pickets, and working parties, that they were forced to seek shelter. The telegraph flashed the news to headquarters that the enemy was endeavoring to shell us out preparatory to making a grand assault, — the whole force of the Island was immediately drawn out in battle array — the parrots and sea coast mortars were ordered to talk, and in thirty-five minutes the rebel invasion was a something out of the question. The next day, the monitors went up and gave them such a peppering that they have not fired a mortar from that battery since, and the Ironsides which the rebels had fondly believed was made useless by their nocturnal visit, let go from her mooring and took a trip up to Moultrie, gave them a salute of shot and shell, and then very coolly went back to her position and anchored, as much as to say “I still live Mr. Beauregard.” In the engagement on Tuesday, one of the monitors got aground opposite Moultrie, and the rebels concentrated their fire upon her, but to no purpose — the extent of damage done was to riddle her smoke stack. She was aground for at least five hours, so that is a pretty sufficient proof of their invulnerability.
Last night our forces made a reconnaissance around Sumter; one boat’s crew more daring than some went up to the foot of the ruins and was hailed by the sentinel, the alarm was given and a lurid sheet of flame issued from Sumter, followed by the crack of at least four hundred muskets. Forts Johnson, Moultrie, Bee and Beauregard opened with grape and canister, and our party beat a hasty retreat. But where do the rebels keep such a strong garrison? The shot and shell falling in fort to all appearances leaves no room for 50 men, unless they have bomb proofs similar to what is in Wagner. But they must be got out, and I would suggest that we have a steam force engine, capable of squirting a column of liquid the distance from Gregg to Sumter; fill it with camphene, fluid, petroleum, or kerosene, or any other combustible fluid or oil, and saturate interior and exterior of the fort; the debris or anything else, becoming saturated with these combustible spirits or oils, would become ignited by the bursting of a few shell, and the heat from the flame would be so intense that the inhabitants of Sumter would be obliged to leave it. This may be considered rather ticklish, but, is it any worse than throwing red hot cannon balls, sticklers for humane proceedings? Get them out, any way. If they won’t come out for one species of torment invent something hotter. War is nothing but barbarism at the best, and those who can excel in that, to put an end to a longer train of barbarisms, are in the end the most humane of the two. Putnam and Strong are pounding at battery Simpkins on James Island to-day, making the mud and sand fly terribly; from the accuracy of our shots we gain the advantage of keeping them busy repairing damages. Johnson fires occasionally, but her fire does little damage. Moultrie fires none except a little daily practice, ricocheting shot, so as to sweep the water around the Northeast angle of Sumter in case of an assault.
What the intention of doing is, no one can divine; everything appears to go on as if we were to be established for life. The bombardment possesses no interest as it is going on night and day, and a lull in the booming of guns and mortars would be something extraordinary in itself.
Some of the men in the 54th have read with surprise that part of Governor Andrew’s special message to the extra session of the General Court, recommending the Commonwealth to pay the troops of the 54th and 55th regiments the extra three dollars per month which the Gen-eral government is too mean, or obstinate to pay. [We are] not surprised at the solicitude of the Governor to have us paid what we have so dearly earned, nor would we be surprised if the State would cheerfully assume the burden; but the Governor’s recommendation clearly shows that the General Government don’t mean to pay us, so long as there is a loophole to get out of it, and that is what surprises us, a government that won’t recognize a difference between volunteers in good faith, and a class thrown upon it by the necessities of war. What if they do say that colored troops were raised in the Northern States merely by sufferance. A man who can go on the field counts, whether he be white or black, brown or grey; and if Massachusetts don’t furnish the requisite number, why she must submit to a draft. But, we as soldiers, cannot call in question the policy of the government, but as men who have families to feed, and clothe, and keep warm, we must say, that the ten dollars by the greatest government in the world is an unjust distinction to men who have only a black skin to merit it. To put the matter on the ground that we are not soldiers would be simply absurd, in the face of the existing facts. A soldier’s pay is $13 per month, and Congress has nothing to do but to acknowledge that we are such — it needs no further legislation. To say even, we were not soldiers and pay us $20 would be injustice, for it would rob a whole race of their title to manhood, and even make them feel, no matter how faithful, how brave they had been, that their mite towards founding liberty on a firm basis was spurned, and made mock of.
Mercury, November 26, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Nov. 14, 1863
—Still the bombardment of Sumter progresses, and still the rebels are masters of it. The firing during the week has been principally carried on by mortars, keeping it up all night. From the long continued silence of our long Parrotts, it is very naturally supposed that we are preparing something in a new direction, to cooperate with the advance from this side. Everything looks auspicious and we may yet pounce upon Charleston before we are aware of it. Taking a place by storm or surprise is the work of a few minutes, provided you have assurance made doubly sure by preparing for it; and it is the preparation which takes time. However, we hope for the best. The rebels may be hard pushed for ammunition, as they fire but little of the improved patterns, compared to what they did in the early stages of the siege; or they may be witholding it for the iron fleet, should the Admiral’s “bak bon” betray him into the temerity of running the gauntlet. The fire from the enemy is principally with the old fashioned mortar shell, 6 and 8 inch; no doubt some of the same stock stolen by that valorous Gen. Floyd.
Although the booming of Yankee guns and mortars may keep the denizens of the city awake, it does not appear to impede home manufactures in the city, if we may judge by the curls of smoke apparently from factory chimneys.
The batteries on James Island, all below Simpkins, have remained silent for the last two weeks or more, which goes far to strengthen the impression that the guns are removed to some other point; probably to Sullivan’s Island, just below the city, to command the channel. But those at and around Seceshville still remain, as we have both auricular and ocular proof almost daily.
The rebels have kept up a pretty brisk fire from Moultrie and Johnson the last two days; they seem determined to make our working parties uncomfortable as possible. Yesterday, the 13th, we lost five men killed in battery Chatfield, besides three wounded in Fort Putnam; among the killed was one man belonging to the 3d regiment, U.S. colored troops; two to the 11th Maine. I could not ascertain to what regiment the other two belonged.
But all the horrors of war are soon forgotten in the pomp and circumstance of show and parade. I observed this yesterday, probably more than I would at some other times. One of the brigades was out on the beach, trapped out in their best turnout for a grand review. The officers composing the staff were riding from one end of the column to the other, perfecting the line, disposing of guides, and giving all the usual and necessary orders. At the prescribed number of paces from the column, stood, sat, or lounged the usual crowd of lookers-on, soldiers from other brigades, who go to look at and criticise the evolutions. At this juncture, the stretchers are borne along from the front, dripping with blood, with the dead corpse of a companion in arms. The crowd gather round the stretchers — ask hurried questions, such as, what regiment does he belong to — what company, or, where was he hit? and a thousand such little questions, winding up with — poor fellow! it may be our turn tomorrow! which shows that, hardened as a soldier becomes, he feels solemn once in a while. While they look on in silence, the General who is to review the brigade appears — the band executes a grand flourish and plays a grand march as he rides down the line, which dispels every vestige of concern, or thought of the mangled corpses, hardly lost to the view of the lookers-on of a few moments before. But it may be well that it is so. If a soldier gave way, and brooded over the chance and the probability of death, his life would be unbearable.
Mercury, November 17, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Nov. 7, 1863
—As I closed my letter last Sunday the guns were booming with a dull, heavy sound, and have been ever since, although not quite so many have been engaged during the past week as the one preceding. Sumter still holds out, and, to speak candidly, it is difficult to perceive any great change in the looks of the fort, after the lapse of a week. That part of the walls of the fort exposed to our guns is apparently battered down, as far as can be by artillery, be it ever so heavy and effective. From the top of the wall downward to within apparently 10 or 12 feet from the base, the material of which the wall was composed is entirely knocked down, some of the debris in and some outside the wall, so that the fort on that side (the sea front) presents the appearance of a regular sand work before it is sodded. Now, all the guns in Christendom can never effectually displace the debris accumulated there, for the more projectiles thrown into the mass, the stronger it becomes. Not that Sumter is not practically and theoretically useless, for in reality it is, and very probably has been for some time. Day after day we shoot the flag away, the rebels content themselves with waiting till night, and then they put it up again; so, when daylight comes, we see it still floating proudly on the same old corner. Last Wednesday morning we saw a new flag raised on a longer staff, apparently both new; it floated about two hours, when it was shot away.
Last Tuesday, a deserter came over to Folly Island from James Island, and reported that on the day previous 11 men were killed in Fort Sumter and 27 wounded; he says that the rebels keep only a small garrison there in the day time, but reinforce nightly, to the extent of 400 men, removing them before daylight. We have been on the alert nightly, to hear of an assault being made on it, as it is “reliably” reported daily, that such and such a regiment is to “lead the charge on Sumter to-night”; but it has not come to pass yet. ”Fort Putnam” (Gregg) keeps up the fire now on Sumter, as “Fort Strong” (Wagner) is arranging her guns and embrasures for another point. The other batteries are preparing for another vigorous campaign, and the “Reliables” say that Monday will inaugurate something stunning.
The rebels have kept pretty quiet, firing but very little. Fort Moultrie does not deign to give the monitors a shot, while they lay at anchor close to her, daily firing away at Sumter. Occasionally Moultrie throws a mortar shell over to Putnam or Wagner, but they do but very little damage. There must have been a little affair on James Island last Monday, as we heard pretty brisk firing and could see shell bursting high in the air, a little to the south of Seceshville. We have heard nothing in regard to it, as the most of the notables are quartered on Folly Island, and as a matter of course, the news is kept there. As an item I will record the sailing of the Flag Vessel, cleared, from Lighthouse Inlet Tuesday, Nov. 3d, steamer Philadelphia, — to take her position among the fleet, off Charleston Bar.
The sick and wounded of the 54th Massachusetts volunteers beg to acknowledge the receipt of a lot of hospital stores, kindly sent them by the benevolent citizens of New Bedford; and particularly to the committee, who interested themselves in carrying out the designs of the contributors. It is a gratifying proof that the poor soldier is not forgotten.
Mercury, November 11, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Oct. 31, 1863
—The past week has been one of active operations here with us. Last Monday at noon, the bombardment of Sumter recommenced with a vigor unparalled in the annals of warfare. By reference to my notes, jotted down as the events occurred, your readers will have a better understanding of the work going on than otherwise. Monday noon, the three hundred pound Parrott was fired a little, to test her qualities; she commenced by putting one shot into Sumter. Then, feeling pretty well satisfied with that result, she half faced to the right and sent a shot whizzing into Moultrie; then, completely about face, she let old Fort Johnson have a taste of her sauce; still feeling a little more ambitious she right obliqued and sent a message to Castle Pinckney, which must have caused some commotion in the city, as Pinckney is not a great way from town. The rebels, thinking we were opening a regular engagement, assailed our batteries from all the positions. Moultrie, Bragg, Johnson, Simpkins, and one or two other batteries nameless to me, were soon blazing away at the Yankees for dear life, but I am happy to say they did no harm. After our side saw the rebels were “spiling” for a fight, they concluded to let them have a foretaste of what was to come on the morrow. Accordingly, the quondam rebel stronghold, Wagner, was let loose, and it was not long before the rebels were obliged to keep still.
Tuesday morning, at 6 A.M., the battle began to rage. Wagner, Gregg, and the new battery midway between Wagner and Gregg opened all their powerful pieces on poor old Sumter. If Sumter was a wreck before, how shall we express what she is now? Every shot fired at her hit, some of them going literally through the opposite wall. At 11 o’clock the monitors moved up in position, gave a few shots, and walked out, but the land forces never even relaxed their fire. Surely, but slowly, the great siege guns are doing their work; at each shot from the 300-pounder ton after ton of bricks, mortar and rubbish are toppled down into the water surrounding the grim old fortress. Moultrie and Johnson send a few shells over now and then, but they do but little damage. Boom! Boom! in pendulum regularity go the great guns, the sky in the north looks black, and the sun sets once more with the contending guns bellowing with vengeance; the mantle of night is dropped, but still the indefatigable Yankees are pounding the first refuge of armed treason. Two fresh monitors come up and relieve those that have worked since noon; strong, able men on shore are wending their way to the front to serve the guns all night; and long trains of wagons are going to Gregg, Wagner, and the new battery, loaded with shot, shell and powder. The way everything looks now is, that Sumter must and shall fall.
Wednesday, 28th. — The bombardment still goes on, but it is about the same as on the day preceding, a perpetual roar of artillery and a gradual opening of the east wall of Sumter. The outer wall is now a mass of debris, forming an inclined plane of about 25 degrees from the water to the top of the wall. The arches are plainly visible from Fort Wagner without the aid of a glass, but still the irrepressible 11th S.C. hold out, and indeed I see no reason why they should not. It is a question whether one shot out of a hundred thrown at the fort damages that particular corner that is inhabited. The rebels hold what may be termed the southwest corner, directly facing Fort Johnson, and in the position our batteries are, it can hardly be expected that we can damage that corner a great deal, as the projectiles would nine times out of ten glance off, thereby depleting our stock of ordnance stores to no advantage. So, in view of this, we have to be patient and wait to see how knocking down the east wall will affect the work.
Thursday, 29th. — This day, being one of a detail to report at Gregg, I had a good opportunity of seeing how things were progressing; from there could be seen the sad havoc made on the once formidable Sumter. The fort was at times enveloped in smoke for the space of 15 minutes, so rapid was the fall of shell, in and around it. At 10 o’clock, the flag and staff were shot off the wall and toppled in the water; then arose a shout from the gunners, pickets and fatigue party, with waving of hats, caps, and even shovels; every man left his work and mounted the parapets or anything that had an elevation of four or five feet, to see the thing. But, presto! amid the shouts and rejoicings, the bellowing of guns, the whizzing of ponderous balls, and the bursting of bombs over that doomed citadel, another flag is raised out of the black smoke, with the staff inclining greatly to one side; the balls are directed to it in rapid succession — the gallant rebel is forced to desist, till a lull, often occurring in a bombardment like this, enables him to appear again and set the staff firm and upright. After performing this daring feat, he coolly took off his hat, swung it around once, just in time to escape a 12 pound shot fired from a light field piece. After I saw this trick, you may be sure I had some grave doubts of ever getting the rascals out by this mode of attack, although they may be bombed out.
It is now Sunday, but still the battle goes on. The iron clads begin to show their abilities now; there seems to be especial inclination on the part of Moultrie to trouble them, for they lay right in range of her guns; but she has not given them a shot yet — they must make the dirt fly in Sumter, as all their shell are thrown inside. The old Ironsides will take the lead, I hear, when we get ready to talk to Moultrie.
I hope by next week’s mail you will receive the gratifying news that Sumter is surrendered. But we have gone so far that we must go ahead. Thank the Lord there is no land left to build batteries on; we have got to Cumming’s Point, so if they want any shoveling done, they must begin on the next Island — Sullivan’s.
Mercury, November 3, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Oct. 24, 1863
—We have no news of any great interest, save what would be considered contraband. Items are as scarce as birds’ teeth; and everything and everybody is quiet as a burglar when the police are around. The rebels keep up a little gun practice daily, but the harm it does is very trifling, further than to make the fatigue parties do a little skedaddling behind the breastworks.
We heard pretty brisk firing on James Island last Wednesday, lasting about an hour and a half; but we have heard no particulars as to what it was. From the direction of the smoke of the guns, the firing must have been in the vicinity of the fight of July 16th.
It is rumored that a detachment of the 55th Mass. has been badly cut up; a detachment of 200 men are away from the regiment, but where they are no one knows; the fact of a number of the men being away, and the firing on James Island, may have given rise to the story; I cannot vouch for its correctness, and am inclined to think it is a canard. The prospect of active operations is rather obscure; but of course those who know “what is what” don’t mean that the secret shall be shared by the public or the “milishey” either. So all we have to do is grin and bear it. Morris Island begins to look as though civilized people were its inhabitants, but how can it be otherwise? Wherever the cosmopolitan Yankee goes, improvement goes with him; warehouses, docks and shipping are sure to spring up as soon as Mr. Yankee plants his feet, wherever there is land to put a house on and water enough to float a mud scow. His genius will make the land larger, or the water deeper, or else there is no virtue in machinery. Some of Johnny Bull’s blockade runners may make a mistake before long, if Morris City progresses as it does now — they will take it that Uncle Sam’s new city is Charleston, and run smack in before they find out their mistake. The navy remains quiet, with the indication of so continuing. But it is said that Admiral Dahlgren is seriously ill; the climate has acted very badly on his health, and it is very questionable if he ever completely recovers.
The Monitors had a little “brush” last night. It seems the rebel ram undertook to come out, for what purpose is quite obvious; she got down the harbor as far as Fort Moultrie, when the little cheeseboxes opened on her savagely. The Monitors were walking round the harbor in fine style, evidently to get around the ram, to head her off, and capture her; but it is likely the rebels recollected the fate of the Fingal,20 for the ram speedily made tracks for the city, well satisfied no doubt that the cheeseboxes are hard cases.
Shortly after the naval skirmish, there was a pretty brisk fire of musketry on Sullivan’s Island; but it is probable it was nothing more than a picket encounter. The pickets are liable to fall in with each other nightly, in their aquatic perambulations.
Old Sumter stands like a deserted castle, a lonely looking mark of departed power and glory. One can hardly realize when standing within less than half a mile of her crumbled walls, what a mighty sway she once wielded over this and the adjacent islands. She fires no gun now, neither do we see any men on the ruined walls. She must be practically deserted; only a few men left to preserve the name of possession. Her flag waves daily, but it is raised but a very few feet above the ruined walls and cannot be seen unless you are within a mile of the Fort, as it is rather unsafe for a man to show himself on the top of the wall. A Parrott gun is very quick in execution. The rebels have a continuous fine of batteries from Moultrie up to Mount Pleasant, but it is shrewdly suspected that the most of them are “dummies.” A few fifteen inch shell will soon reveal what they are.
Last Tuesday night there must have been an extensive conflagration in Charleston; the flames could be distinctly seen from Gregg for over three hours. While the fire was raging, the rebels ceased their regular gun practice, no doubt to view the scene going on at home.