To carry out the provisions of the Act for the relief of the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry, Maj. James Sturgis, accompanied by Mr. E. W. Kinsley, a public-spirited citizen, arrived at our camp December 12. They had previously visited the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, when Colonel Hartwell informed Major Sturgis that neither regiment would receive the relief. Upon meeting Colonel Hallowell the same information was given. At Major Sturgis’s request the officers and first sergeants were then assembled, when the matter was freely discussed. Both gentlemen explained fully the purpose of the Governor and the legislation securing it. Some of the officers and non-commissioned officers replied by a recital of the reasons for refusal hereinbefore set forth. Finally the noncommissioned officers on behalf of the men positively refused the State aid. At their conclusion cheers were given for Governor Andrew, to whom they were grateful for the proffered help. The result of his unsuccessful mission was reported in writing by Major Sturgis to the Governor under date of December 13. In his report he says, —” I deem it proper to say here, that among the many regiments that I saw at Hilton Head, St. Helena Island, Beaufort, Folly, and Morris Island, white and colored, there are none, to my inexperienced eye, that equalled the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth, unless it was the Fortieth Massachusetts, while none surpassed them in any respect.”
Posts Tagged pay controversy
Theodore Tilton, in a communication to the Boston “Journal,” dated New York, Dec. 12, 1863, quotes from a letter received by him “from a Massachusetts soldier in the Fifty-fourth “: —“A strange misapprehension exists as to the matter of pay, and it pains us deeply. We came forward at the call of Governor Andrew, in which call he distinctly told us that we were to be subsisted, clothed, paid, and treated in all respects the same as other Massachusetts soldiers. Again, on the presentation of flags to the regiment at Camp Meigs, the Governor reiterated this promise, on the strength of which we marched through Boston, holding our heads high as men and as soldiers. Nor did we grumble because we were not paid the portion of United States bounty paid to other volunteer regiments in advance. Now that we have gained some reputation, we claim the right to be heard.
“Three times have we been mustered in for pay. Twice have we swallowed the insult offered us by the. United States paymaster, contenting ourselves with a simple refusal to acknowledge ourselves different from other Massachusetts soldiers. Once, in the face of insult and intimidation such as no body of men and soldiers were ever subjected to before, we quietly refused and continued to do our duty. For four months we have been steadily working night and day under fire. And such work! Up to our knees in mud half the time, causing the tearing and wearing out of more than the volunteer’s yearly allowance of clothing, denied time to repair and wash (what we might by that means have saved), denied time to drill and perfect ourselves in soldierly qualities, denied the privilege of burying our dead decently. All this we’ve borne patiently, waiting for justice.
“Imagine our surprise and disappointment on the receipt by the last mail of the Governor’s address to the General Court, to find him making a proposition to them to pay this regiment the difference between what the United States Government offers us and what they are legally bound to pay us, which, in effect, advertises us to the world as holding out for money and not from principle, — that we sink our manhood in consideration of a few more dollars. How has this come about? What false friend has been misrepresenting us to the Governor, to make him think that our necessities outweigh our self-respect? I am sure no representation of ours ever impelled him to that action.”
To the letter Theodore Tilton added some forcible sentences. Among other things he wrote, —“They are not willing that the Federal Government should throw mud upon them, even though Massachusetts stands ready to wipe it off. And perhaps it is not unsoldierly in a soldier, white or black, to object to being insulted by a government which he heroically serves. The regiment whose bayonets pricked the name of Colonel Shaw into the roll of immortal honor can afford to be cheated out of their money, but not out of their manhood.”
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.
News was received the last of November that the matter of pay had come up in a new form. Governor Andrew in his message recommended the provisions of an Act which passed the Massachusetts Legislature November 16 in words as follows: ” An Act to make up the Deficiencies in the Monthly Pay of the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Regiments,” etc., and Section I. of this Act read as follows: — ” There shall be paid out of the Treasury of the Commonwealth to the non-commissioned officers, musicians, and privates of the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth regiments of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, to those who have been honorably discharged from the service, and to the legal representatives of those who have died in the service, such sums of money as, added to the amounts paid them by the United States, shall render their monthly pay and allowances from the time of their being mustered into the service of the United States equal to that of the other non-commissioned officers, musicians, and privates in the volunteer or regular military service of the United States.”
Upon the receipt of a copy of the Governor’s address and the Act, Colonel Hallowell, on November 23, wrote to Governor Andrew, that notwithstanding the generous action of the State authorities, the men of the Fifty-fourth had enlisted as other soldiers from Massachusetts, and that they would serve without pay until mustered out, rather than accept from the United States less than the amount paid other soldiers. Enlisted men were not less prompt to write to their friends expressing their disapprobation. Theodore Tilton, in a communication to the Boston “Journal,” dated New York, Dec. 12, 1863, quotes from a letter received by him “from a Massachusetts soldier in the Fifty-fourth ” [see the post for 12/11] –
Our brigade number was changed from “Fourth” to “Third” on November 23. Its colored regiments were still required to perform an undue proportion of fatigue work, and but few details for grand guards came for them. After this discrimination had long been borne, General Gillmore in an order said,—” Colored troops will not be required to perform any labor which is not shared by the white troops, but will receive in all respects the same treatment, and be allowed the same opportunities for drill and instruction.”
Thanksgiving Day, November 26, by general orders, was observed by the suspension of all unnecessary labor. At 1.30 p. M. the Fifty-fourth formed with side-arms only, and marched to the beach in front of the Third Brigade headquarters. There, with all the other troops on the island they joined in religious services. It was a glorious day, well fitted for the thorough enjoyment of the feast and sports which followed. In response to a call of the “Black” Committee the friends of the regiment had contributed for Thanksgiving dinner many luxuries. From this source, the company funds, and the efforts of the officers and company cooks, a most abundant and unusual feast was provided. In the afternoon there was much amusement and sport indulged in by the men. A greased pole some twenty feet high was erected, and at the top was suspended a pair of trousers the pockets of which contained $13. After four hours of ludicrously unsuccessful trials on the part of a number of men, Butler of Company K secured the ” full pay ” and the trousers. Wheelbarrow and sack races closed the games.
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.
Colonel Hallowell on his return used every means to have the many detached and detailed men returned to the colors, as heavy working parties of from one hundred to two hundred men were still called for to labor on the new works. Our first instalment of furloughed men having returned, the second left for Hilton Head on November 12. Lieutenant Howard relieved Lieutenant Littlefield as acting adjutant. Sergeant Swails of Company F was made acting sergeant-major and Sergeant Vogelsang of Company H quartermaster-sergeant.
Mercury, October 15, 1863 [OAF]
Morris Island, Oct. 3, 1863
—All quiet here, so far as war news is concerned. We hear of nothing to cause any great excitement around us, for we are so familiar with “bombs bursting in air,” and shot whizzing through space, that it would be an item were it to cease. We have been pegging away at Sumter, a little every day during the week, more I presume to keep them from working than anything else. The rebels opened in a new place yesterday; the battery is a little to the right of Castle Pinckney, but from the looks of the place it must be a floating battery. I was up in Wagner at the time, and from the way the shot came they must have a very superior gun. The shot came unexpectedly, as the sentinels on the lookout were not dreaming of a shot from that direction, their attention being directed to James Island’s “barkers,” and Fort Moultrie, and Batteries Bee and Beauregard. Suddenly, there came a noise through the air, like an Erie lightning-express train, — then a terrible explosion, and the pieces of a Brook’s shell were falling pell mell into the interior of the fort. Luckily not a man was hurt, although they had no time to “kiver,” as the Second S. Carolina boys express it. After that, we kept a lookout for that chap, and the rest of the afternoon he kept one end of the fatigue pretty busy covering. It is almost incredible how we manage to do so much work under such a heavy and constant fire. Wagner and Gregg are ours, but it takes about as much courage to hold them as it did to take them; and then to work on them and completely change them is something more than digging on a canal or railroad. But it is just this trait of ‘keeping all you get’ in the Yankee character which will eventually beat the rebels. We believe in good sound doctrine — for war at any rate —”keep all and get more.”
The iron clads are flourishing. I believe they are being painted; though I hear they captured a blockade runner last night, or one of the rebel rams, which it is rumored was coming out to raise the blockade. I don’t know if this be true, as I have had no chance of learning anything definite. But I know there was a grand pow-wow on the water last night about 11 o’clock, as the big guns were bellowing at a great rate, the flag vessel was signalizing rapidly, and taken altogether, I guess there was something of the ram kind or neutral traders around.
The subscriptions and collections towards the monument to Col. Robert G. Shaw have reached the sum of $1472, and it is proposed that the 54th contribute $1000. But we think the place proposed for its erection inexpedient, however much in keeping with poetic fitness. It is seriously proposed to erect it at the foot of Wagner’s parapet, facing Fort Sumter. Now the manner and place where the hero fell will be known in history; a monument does not of necessity need to be placed where a hero fell; its place is some city or town, where people can see it. When we propose to erect a monument on some desolate island like this, it is simply creating a Mecca in the nineteenth century, where the race supposed to be benefited by the contest, which cost the hero his own; and even should they be subjugated, which is stronger than conquered, it would ill become us to flaunt our success by raising monuments to our fallen heroes on their soil. Massachusetts is big enough to furnish a spot sufficient to honor one of her own soldiers; and I doubt not she would be very proud to have within her lines a monument of every son who has fallen in this trying war. We are ready to put in our mite, but we would rather see it raised on old Massachusetts soil. The first to say a black was a man, let her have the first monument raised by black men’s money, upon her good old rocks.
Morris Island, S.C.,
Oct. 3, 1863.
Mr. Thomas Hamilton—Dear Friend:
It has been a long time since I wrote you in my old-fashioned way. I have not sent you a line since my advent as a soldier. I thank God that I am at last in a position to learn to be a soldier. I believe that since the chieftains of the slavery party have sought and obtained the arbitrament of the bullet in their question of control of power with the Freedom party, every man should become a soldier, ready to do and to die in defence of freedom. Every Christian and enlightened man desires to see great principles and measures triumph through peaceful means, where reason rules her just sway, and amenity, conciliation, and love, take the place of hatred, passion and revenge.
The present century has been immortalized with the grandest reforms. From the abolition of the slave trade in 1808 down to the freeing of the Danish colonies, peaceful reform seems to have marched steadily on. Science, art and invention, a noble sisterhood, sat in counsel and astonished the world with their achievements. The very elements seemed to pay homage to the genius and skill of man. No man dare say what human ingenuity may not accomplish. The enlightened statesmen have in America hoped to secure the annihilation of every wrong and injustice through the agency of that power which Talleyrand considered more irresistible than the proudest and most powerful potentate, namely “public opinion.” The slavery party is arraigned at the bar of “public opinion.” Its vile vision is tortured and haunted by the wild spirit of reform. This is a subtle spirit. The engines of warfare cannot impede its progress. It is deathless and omnipresent. It underlies all the pageantry and misery of this gigantic war, The slavery party aims to plunge the country into disorder and anarchy and to establish by force of arms their hell-born system. There is but one alternative left to the freedom party if it would avert terrorism, proscription, and humiliation: ‘Tis steel for steel; bullet for bullet; life for life; man for man; blood for blood.
These are some of the notions that led me to join the 54th Mass. Volunteer Infantry. And again I thought that the true interests of all classes of men in our country depended on the success of our party. That they were the true representatives of the newest and best form of government ever established for the government of mankind and are the highest, noblest, and most progressive type of civilization. I can not see on what ground any man can discourage enlistments. Some urge that the treatment of colored citizens is exceptionable— that the guarantees of freedom vouchsafed to us by the government are tardy and doubtful—that some of our representative men, those who are considered the exponents of the principles of the freedom party are as bitter in their assaults on our race and as prejudiced as those of the slavery party. This is true, but these questions are only incidental in their character and cannot effect the general and fundamental principles and theories of the party: It must be remembered that the other class have suffered a slavery of the mind, just as brutalizing, just as debasing as that physical or social thraldom our class are suffering. It is prejudice and a disregard of the inalienable rights of their fellow men. Their notions of justice are so blinded they can without the least remorse rob their fellow-men of every sacred right. These men are to be elevated and their mental or moral condition must be ameliorated, just the same as the condition of those of our class who are debased by slavery should be ameliorated. They deserve the same pity and commiseration that the poor black slave does and we should “pass their imperfection by just as willingly. Let us be 1 charitable and contend only for the principles of liberty, government and civilization.
The siege of Charleston drags its slow length. Morris Island can t never be retaken by the enemy. Fifty thousand men could be swept away in fifty minutes by our guns. Our fatigue parties are somewhat annoyed by the rebel shell, but our labor progresses. The casualties are very few, I had prepared for your satisfaction a complete list of them, but lost my notes. The health of our regiment is bad. We average one hundred and fifty sick per day, caused no doubt, by excessive fatigue duty.
You have also heard I suppose of this matter of pay, it has caused a great deal of trouble, and if it is not adjusted one of the best regiments that ever left the Massachusetts will become utterly demoralized. The tribulations of our regiment have been many since we arrived in this department. The first business we were called on to participate in was the burning of Darien, Ga. Our officers, Col. Shaw among the rest, disapproved of the wanton destruction of that town defenseless and unoccupied as it was by the enemy. The men of this regiment have a distaste for this sort of warfare—we want to enter the field honorably—to fight a legitimate warfare. After our return from this expedition, we were sent to St. Helena. While there a proposition was made to take our arms from us and give in their stead long pikes. Col. Shaw expressed his disapprobation of this scheme. Then there was an offer made to pay us ten dollars per month less three for clothing, in other words pay us seven dollars per month. The men were enlisted as a part of the Mass. State quota of troops and never dreamed that any other pay but that of other Massachusetts soldiers would be given them. We have been urged and urged again to accept seven dollars a month, all, sergeant-major down to the humblest private to get no more. There are respectable and well to do men in this regiment, who have accepted positions. It is insulting to them to offer them about half the pay of a poor white private.
To give you an idea of the feelings of some of the officers here with regard to us on this point, I will give you a short speech made Sept. 30th by Col. James Montgomery, 2d South Carolina Vols., of Kansas fame, and Commander of the Brigade to which we have been recently joined. Col. Montgomery was not in command of the brigade. He has been sick some time past. The paymaster was in Col. Littlefield’s tent. Some ten or twelve officers of our own and other regiments were present. The men had not accepted their pay and the well men were on fatigue duty, at Battery Shaw and Wagner. Col. M. had those who were left in camp drawn up in line and addressed them as follows:
“I want to speak to you. You want plain talk and I shall give it to you. I am your friend. I made the first anti-slavery speech ever made in Kansas. I was the first man that employed negroes in the United States service. I fought six years in Kansas for nothing and I do not come here for pay. I can make $5,000 a year. I get only $2,200 here. I sacrifice my ease and comfort (for I enjoy myself at home). I have fought United States soldiers. There is a General now in the Rebel service whom I fought, killed his horse from under him and took him prisoner when in the United States service. I would have been hung long ago if I had held still. Old Jimmy Buchanan offered a reward for my head. It was a very mean one to be sure, and I was very indignant. He offered only a yearling nigger worth about two hundred and fifty dollars. If he had offered a full-grown nigger I would not have cared so much. You ought to be glad to pay for the privilege to fight, instead of squabbling about money. A great many of you are fugitive slaves, and can by law be returned to your masters. The government by its act in setting you free has paid you a thousand dollars bounty. I know what the trouble is: the noisy Abolitionists have been telling you you are better than anybody else. They are your worst enemies. You have two classes of friends: those who tell you what you are and those who sees in the Ethiopian a symbol of injured innocence. I have seen a hundred regiments but I never saw one so fully equipped as this. Look at your tents and cooking stoves. You want to be placed on the same footing as white soldiers. You must show yourselves as good soldiers as the white. For all anybody knows you did very well here. You must show it by bravery in battle. I should be glad to make you as good soldiers as the white. You are a race of slaves. A few years ago your fathers worshipped snakes and crocodiles in Africa. Your features partake of a beastly character. Your religious exercises in this camp is a mixture of barbarism and Christianity. I am disgusted with the mean, low habits you have learned from the low whites. I hear them say to you, ‘bully boys, bully boys, don’t take this pay’ What do they mean by this? Do you mean to bully the government out of your money or that you are stubborn as bulls? You would rather go out here and dig in the trenches than stay here in camp and be paid off. Gov. Andrew advises you to take this money and Frederick Douglass also. I have a letter here from Fred. He has been on a tour to Washington and had an interview with Sec. Stanton on the subject of enlistments. He advised that all that was needed was to treat the negro as a man. There are two classes of colored men: the indolent and careless; the industrious and ambitious. He (Douglass) called on Senator Pomeroy, but did not call on Jim Lane. He perhaps had found Lane out. There are two Senators from Kansas. Pomeroy is a pretty fair sort of man, but Jim Lane is at present a noisy Abolitionist. Some time ago he wanted to buy some lands, utensils and niggers, but not having any money had to do without the niggers. He will buy and sell a nigger as quick as anybody else, but since the majority are in favor of liberty, he is very loud-mouthed. Fred Douglass is far above the mass of his race; but he is not equal to the great men of this country, such as Wendell Phillips, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sumner, and others. You can be improved by education. Irishmen come to this country and in a few years become the same as other white men. Education expands the brain and improves the features. Your features can be improved. Your beauty cannot recommend you. Your yellow faces are evidences of rascality. You should get rid of this bad blood. My advice to you is the lightest of you must marry the blackest woman. You owe your sutler nearly $2,000 and your refusing to take your pay show that you intend to cheat him out of his goods. You went to his agent after he had gone away, and because he would not trust you broke open his place and robbed him. The men that robbed him should be hung. He had no right to trust you and could be handled for it. It is mutiny to refuse to take your pay, and mutiny is punishable with death.”
The Colonel spoke nearly an hour and I cannot stoop to give all the bad epithets directed to our regiment. We had not the remotest idea that he entertained such a spirit of hatred for our regiment. Had he scarcely left the bench on which he stood while addressing the men, when Col. Littlefield who was in command of the Brigade at the time stood up and said: “Men, I cannot let this opportunity pass. The regiment has endeared itself to me. You have done your whole duty. You have written your names on the scroll of fame and any man who defames this regiment defames me. Such a man is my enemy and if I have any fighting to do I will defend you. I do not urge you to take this money, but I am willing to give you a pledge of my honor that you will get your full pay. I have made a promise of $1,ooo to Gen. Saxton for a monument to Col. Shaw, and I would have you take this money and make up this sum to commemorate the name of your noble leader.”
This instantly dispelled the bad effects of Col. Montgomery’s remarks. I am astonished that some insubordinate demonstration was not made, but Col. M. is our superior officer and our boys respect their superior officers. The speech of Col. M. has fixed the determination in the minds of the men to await calmly and patiently. If we thought that our enemies would make this course on our part a ground of assault against colored soldiers, I for one should go for taking $7 per month, nay $2 would be enough, but as the Colonel says, all the private soldiers here are vehement in urging us to refuse this paltry pay. They say if we take this money they will want to cut down their wages next. I have never yet heard a man say that we have failed to perform our duty. We have been complimented for our arduous labor in the trenches and whenever paraded have cleaner clothes, cleaner arms, better polished equipments than any other colored regiment on the Island. In truth there is no negro regiment compared to the 54th. In the last review the palm for martial bearing, accurate marching, and cleanliness is disputed with the 54th by the 100th New York Volunteers. The crime that has unfortunately incurred the displeasure of our General is that we do not sign the pay rolls, and the pay-master will not give us money unless we sign and thus give him receipt in full for pay up to the ist of August. The words of Col. Montgomery fell with crushing effect on the regiment. We did not enlist for money but we feel that the men who enlisted us and those who accepted our service never intended that we should be treated different from other Massachusetts men. If the government had been too poor to pay us we would have been willing to give our services for nothing. But the government seems fully able to pay her soldiers, for just on the threshold of this great war she increased their pay.
We are told that by law we are slaves and can be returned to our masters. This I deny. But a few years ago when the slavery party controlled affairs, fugitives were hunted like so much wild game all over the country, and it was quite a paying business. A few years ago the same party, so the speech shows, made him an outlaw and would have hung him. Their power is broken and we are now United States soldiers and he a responsible citizen and high official. It would be just as incorrect—just as cruel, to call him an outlaw amenable to the law, as to call us fugitive slaves returnable to our masters by law. In truth there are necessarily some few fugitives here, but is the 54th made up of fugitive slaves?15 No, there are hundreds that have been blessed with a New England education, and have learned their duty as freemen, and know their rights and dare stand up for them, and if they cannot get their rights they can have the manly satisfaction that they stood up for them. Col. Montgomery unfortunately has been accustomed to the negro as a slave or freedman. It startles and astonishes him to see him stand erect with intelligence beaming in his countenance. He perhaps never saw a negro approach a white man except with hat in hand and bowed head. He says further, that he wishes to make us as good soldiers as the white. How can this be done if every stimulant to heroic actions are denied? The only hope of the negro soldiers as his status now appears, is half pay and the name not the rank of sergeant. To urge us to be good soldiers without throwing around us the influences which alone make the soldier, without which the noblest races will become varlet, is grossly absurd. But there seems to be an intimation here that we are not as good soldiers as whites. Is there to be a new theory developed? Everybody, citizens, soldiers, and the rest of mankind say, “thus far the negro soldier has done his whole duty.” Does Col. M. deny this? Is his services in ratio of value as $7 is to $13. It is said that the Government supports the worn-out and non-combatant slaves, but I understand that all of these classes of slaves or freedmen are self-supporting—that the government is now realizing an income from the Southern plantations.16 And does the government not expend hundreds of thousands in subsistence to the families of rebels in arms?17 Should those rebels return to their allegiance and espouse the Union cause would Uncle Sam ask them to work and fight for $7 a month?
Then again “we should be glad to pay for the privilege to fight.” After we have endured a slavery of two hundred and fifty years we are to pay for the privilege to fight and die to enable the North to conquer the South—what an idea! to pay for the privilege to fight for that tardy and at best doubtful freedom vouchsafed to us by the government. For what are we to be grateful? Here the white man has grown rich on our unpaid labor—has sold our children—insulted our wives—shut us out from the light of education, and even kept the Bible from us, and the moment he becomes convinced that these deeds of his are producing the desired results to his country and people, he gets to work and attempts to restore some of those rights and to allow for some of those wrongs. I think it a question of repentance on his part instead of gratitude on ours. What do you think of him should he demand your services and life, for a restoration of your rights and a release from his persecutions? If we are taunted because the suicidal course of the government has been changed, in the name of God, men of the freedom party, go back to your old policy. Exclude every fugitive from the armies—invalidate the President’s Emancipation Proclamation, let your officers be slaves—spies and catchers for Southern rebels, for no negro who has two ideas, one to rub against another, is willing to rest under this new slavery his presumed friends are marking out for him, namely: to keep ever present to the memory that his are a race of slaves and have an eternal tribute to pay to their oppressors. I want to feel as if I had a right to liberty and life, and that if I enjoy it, do not wish it said, that I owe to this one or that one.
It cannot be gainsayed that there is a frightful amount of profanity said to have been learned from the “low whites.” Now these “low whites,” belong to that race which the Colonel presumes to be the superior race. In what constitutes its superiority if it has a deleterious influence on our actions and character? I think there can be found more instances of barbarism in the whites in this country than in the blacks. Look at the Lawrence massacre, the New York mobs, and the Port Hudson atrocities! The fair Southern belle adorns her person with trinkets made from the bones of slaughtered Yankees. Is this not a “polished barbarism?” But the argument of this speech is not logical. It assumes the inferiority of our race, and denies its inferiority by declaring that all that is bad in us has been obtained from the whites which I think very true.
Profanity is a low mean vice, but it is universal in the army. Men are drawn into it almost unconsciously. Those who have been restrained by the associations at home when they get in the army seem to obtain a sort of immoral license. They contract habits and manners there from which they would shrink at home. Our regiment has been peculiarly unfortunate in this manner of spiritual instruction and advice. There have been but a half a dozen lectures delivered to the regiment since it left Readville, 28th last May. But this moral and spiritual void has been filled somewhat by instructive religious tracts and papers contributed by Christian and noble hearted friends in the North— yet while we have so much to regret, there are abundant evidences of a religious revival in our regiment. Are our prayer-meetings a mixture of paganism or barbarism and Christianity? I have witnessed camp-meetings of white Methodists and have seen just as much vehemence and excitement as our meetings are characterized with. It is a characteristic of Methodism in these later days to be exuberant, vehement, and boisterous; and Methodism is almost universal with the American negroes. There are more Methodists, I think statistics say, than every other sect among them unitedly.
The sutler was robbed of his goods by some five or six men in the regiment. The regiment did not rob the sutler. It is utterly impossible to get together any nine hundred or thousand men without some of them being bad enough to do almost anything. All soldiers regard sutlers as regimental Shylocks who demand their money or their lives. They have to pay them fifty cents per pound for rascally butter and twenty-five cents per pound for the blackest kind of sugar; and for everything else they pay equally exorbitant rates. There are few soldiers who think it highly penal to get the best of the sutler. Now this stealing for which the regiment is accused was perpetrated by men whose names are known, and whom Col. Littlefield intends to make pay for the small amount taken. Nor can this be called stealing but a sort of bushwacking raid.
The circumstances are as follows; Mr. De Mortie told the men in the regiment some two or three weeks ago, before he left for his home, that if they would not take the money the paymaster offered them, he would trust them. He went home, and his partners or agents refused to trust the men. The soldiers of other regiments who had been paid off came and bought the sutler’s stock out, and he replenished and sold out again, and any one of the 54th could with difficulty get accommodated. This incensed the men and five or six of the most violent tore down his tent. The sutler ran to the Colonel and he reported the circumstance and instantly sent the men off and put a guard over his tent. It was more a riot and a little spitefulness than robbery. The Colonel (Littlefield) had the whole affair quelled in less time than has been occupied in writing this account of it. How unjust to cast odium on the regiment for this act of half a dozen men. Raiding on sutlers is a most common thing in every camp. I have been the witness of many such catastrophes. I don’t dispute that the sutler is a very nice man and as just as sutlers generally can be, but I do say this, if his treatment of the men had been more conciliatory this would not have happened. His agent seems to have forgotten that he is a sutler of the 54th and should be prepared to fully accommodate their wants, as well as to make his fortune. The sutler trusted the men to two dollar checks, and compelled them to take the entire two dollars worth or nothing. He had no checks of smaller denomination than two dollars thus taking away the chance to economize. Two dollars is enough to answer the wants of a soldier from one to two months. Are we to be denounced as thieves for this?
As to yellow faces I don’t indulge in any controversy about color. I think “’tis the mind that makes the man,” not the color of his skin or any peculiarity of his hair. All I wish to know is the man just, is he humane and generous—noble-spirited—if yes, he is a man, if no, he is a slave to passion and iniquity.
I must not forget to tell you that Gov. Andrew has presented us with a new flag (State flag). In the charge on Fort Wagner, the old flag was torn asunder. In his speech to our regiment, Gov. A. told us that the State flag had never fallen into the hands of the enemy and urged if we could not save the flag, save the shreds—if we could not save the shreds save the staff, and his appeal has been heeded to the letter. When on the parapet of Fort Wagner, Corporal Peal, Co. F, who has had the honor to bear the State colors, inadvertently let the flag lean over the crest of the work, a rebel seized it, then commenced a desperate struggle between the corporal and the rebel for its possession. Unfortunately the color parted from the staff and thus by accident the flag was lost. The corporal said, “Ah you dirty rascal you did not get the staff any way,” and he brought the staff away with the spear. This flag is a facsimile of the old one, and when Col. Littlefield unfurled it the boys gave it three rousing cheers.
Trusting that health and prosperity are with you, I remain truly yours,
G. E. Stephens.
Paymaster Usher arrived in camp September 27, ready to pay the men #10 per month from enlistment, less $3 per month deducted for clothing. Upon the non-commissioned officers being assembled, they with great unanimity declined the reduced payment for themselves and their comrades. The paymaster again came on the 30th to renew his offer. It was on this date that Colonel Montgomery appeared and made the men a remarkable and characteristic address, which Sergeant Stephens of Company B has given in substance as follows: —
” Men: the paymaster is here to pay you. You must remember you have not proved yourselves soldiers. You must take notice that the Government has virtually paid you a thousand dollars apiece for setting you free. Nor should you expect to be placed on the same footing with white men. Any one listening to your shouting and singing can see how grotesquely ignorant you are. I am your friend and the friend of the negro. I was the first person in the country to employ nigger soldiers in the United States Army. I was out in Kansas. I was short of men. I had a lot of niggers and a lot of mules ; and you know a nigger and a mule go very well together. I therefore enlisted the niggers, and made teamsters of them. In refusing to take the pay offered you, and what you are only legally entitled to, you are guilty of insubordination and mutiny, and can be tried and shot by court-martial.”
Montgomery besides made some gross and invidious insinuations and reflections because the Fifty-fourth men were so light-colored, which it would be improper to repeat. The colonel seemed to be unaware that his remarks were insulting, and most of the men he addressed born free. Sergt. Henry Stewart, of Company E, a faithful soldier who had actively engaged in recruiting the regiment, died of disease September 27, and was buried with proper honors. His and other deaths, with an increased sick list, called for sanitary measures about this time. No radical change of camp was possible, as the ground available for such purposes was limited; but tents were struck so that the air and sun could reach the ground beneath, and a daily inspection of streets, sinks, and the cooked food instituted.
The Sanitary Commission furnished ice, raspberry vinegar, pickles, and other needed supplies; but there was a lack of fresh vegetables. Early in October, however, Mr. Reuben Tomlinson brought a large supply for the Fifty-fourth, — a present from the contrabands about Beaufort; and similar welcome gifts followed from the same source from time to time. Tobacco, dried apples, lime-juice, writing-paper, brushes, etc., were purchased with the company funds, as the men had no money.
Letter to President Abraham Lincoln
Morris Island [S.C.]. Sept 28th 1863.
Your Excelency will pardon the presumtion of an humble individual like myself, in addressing you. but the earnest Solicitation of my Comrades in Arms, besides the genuine interest felt by myself in the matter is my excuse, for placing before the Executive head of the Nation our Common Grievance: On the 6th of the last Month, the Paymaster of the department, informed us, that if we would decide to recieve the sum of $10 (ten dollars) per month, he would come and pay us that sum, but, that, on the sitting of Congress, the Regt would, in his opinion, be allowed the other 3 (three.) He did not give us any guarantee that this would be, as he hoped, certainly he had no authority for making any such guarantee, and we can not supose him acting in any way interested.
Now the main question is. Are we Soldiers, or are we LABOURERS. We are fully armed, and equipped, have done all the various Duties, pertaining to a Soldiers life, have conducted ourselves, to the complete satisfaction of General Officers, who, were if any, prejudiced against us, but who now accord us all the encouragement, and honour due us: have shared the perils, and Labour, of Reducing the first stronghold, that flaunted a Traitor Flag: and more, Mr President. Today, the Anglo Saxon Mother, Wife, or Sister, are not alone, in tears for departed Sons, Husbands, and Brothers. The patient Trusting Decendants of Africas Clime, have dyed the ground with blood, in defense of the Union, and Democracy.
Men too your Excellency, who know in a measure, the cruelties of the Iron heel of oppression, which in years gone by, the very Power, their blood is now being spilled to maintain, ever ground them to the dust. But When the war trumpet sounded o’er the land, when men knew not the Friend from the Traitor, the Black man laid his life at the Altar of the Nation,—and he was refused. When the arms of the Union, were beaten, in the first year of the War, And the Executive called more food. for its ravaging maw, again the black man begged, the privelege of Aiding his Country in her need, to be again refused, And now, he is in the War: and how has he conducted himself? Let their dusky forms, rise up, out the mires of James Island, and give the answer. Let the rich mould around Wagners parapets be upturned, and there will be found an Eloquent answer. Obedient and patient, and Solid as a wall are they. all we lack, is a paler hue, and a better acquaintance with the Alphabet.
Now Your Excellency, We have done a Soldiers Duty. Why cant we have a Soldiers pay? You caution the Rebel Chieftain, that the United States, knows, no distinction, in her Soldiers: She insists on having all her Soldiers, of whatever, creed or Color, to be treated, according to the usages of War. Now if the United States exacts uniformity of treatment of her Soldiers, from the Insurgents, would it not be well, and consistent, to set the example herself, by paying all her Soldiers alike? We of this Regt. were not enlisted under any “contraband” act. But we do not wish to be understood, as rating our Service, of more Value to the Government, than the service of the exslave, Their Service is undoubtedly worth much to the Nation, but Congress made express, provision touching their case, as slaves freed by military necessity, and assuming the Government, to be their temporary Gaurdian: — Not so with us — Freemen by birth, and consequently, having the advantage of thinking, and acting for ourselves, so far as the Laws would allow us. We do not consider ourselves fit subjects for the Contraband act. We appeal to You, Sir: as the Executive of the Nation, to have us Justly Dealt with. The Regt, do pray, that they be assured their service will be fairly appreciated, by paying them as american SOLDIERS, not as menial hierlings. Black men You may well know, are poor, three dollars per month, for a year, will suply their needy Wives, and little ones, with fuel. If you, as chief Magistrate of the Nation, will assure us, of our whole pay. We are content, our Patriotism, our enthusiasm will have a new impetus, to exert our energy more and more to aid Our Country. Not that our hearts ever flagged, in Devotion, spite the evident apathy displayed in our behalf, but We feel as though, our Country spurned us, now we are sworn to serve her.
Please give this a moments attention
James Henry Gooding
Source: H-133 1863, Letters Received, ser. 360, Colored Troops Division, Adjutant General’s Office, Record Group 94, National Archives.