Posts Tagged   St. Helena Island

October 2-3, 1863

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

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

Messrs. Editors:

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

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

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


Morris Island, S.C.,

Oct. 3, 1863.

Mr. Thomas Hamilton—Dear Friend:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G. E. Stephens.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments

August 7, 1863

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

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

Mr. Editor:

Since I wrote my last letter the startling news of the mobs, riots, incendiarism, pillage and slaughter, recently so rife in the North, particularly in New York City, has reached here. You may judge what our thoughts and feelings were as we read bulletin after bulletin depicting to the life the scenes of violence and bloodshed which rivaled and even surpassed in their horrors, those which were perpetrated in Paris, during the bloody French Revolution, for we are yet to find an instance there where the orphan was ruthlessly assailed, or women and children murdered and maltreated without cause or provocation, simply for belonging to another race or class of people.

What cause or provocation have the New York rabble for disloyalty to their country, and for their bloody, atrocious assaults on my countrymen? Are we their enemies? Have we tyrannized over them? Have we maltreated them? Have we robbed them? Are we alien enemies? And are we traitors? Has not the unrequited labor of nearly four million of our brethren added to the country’s wealth? Have we not been loyal to the country, in season and out of season, through good report and evil? And even while your mob-fiends upheld the assassin knife, and brandished the incendiary torch over the heads of our wives and children and to burn their homes, we were doing our utmost to sustain the honor of our country’s flag, to perpetuate, if possible, those civil, social, and political liberties, they, who so malig-nantly hate us, have so fully enjoyed. Oh! how causeless, senseless, outrageous, brutal, and violative of every sentiment of manhood, courage and humanity these attacks on our defenseless brethren have been!

Fearful as these mobs have been, I trust they may prove to be lessons, though fearful ones, to guide the popular and loyal masses in the country, in all times of national emergency and peril, for when the services of every citizen or denizen of the country are imperatively required to defend it against powerful and determined foes, either foreign or domestic, and there can be found a strong minority ready and willing to subvert the government by popular violence and tumult or a base submission unworthy the meanest varlet of some monarchy; much less the boasted citizens of this great and magnificent country, it will bring still more forcibly to their minds the truism that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

These mobs are the stepping-stones upon which base traitors and demagogues hope to mount into arbitrary power, and to overawe and subvert liberty and law. They seek anarchy; and despotism, they think, must succeed. First anarchy, then despotism. They make the negro the catspaw or victim; but the loyalist and the friend of law and order cannot fail to see that every blow directed against the negro is directed against them. Our relation to the government is and has been that of unflinching, unswerving loyalty. Even when the government, by its every precept and practice, conserved the interests of slavery, and slaves were hunted down by United States soldiers and surrendered to traitorous slave-masters, the conduct of the negro was marked with distinguished loyalty.

The instances are too numerous to cite of their braving the most fearful dangers to convey valuable information to the Union armies, and for this, the half yet untold, such has been our reward. Does not Milliken’s Bend and Port Hudson furnish a chapter of valor and faithful loyalty? Is there no justice in America—or are we doomed to general massacre, as Mr. Blair said we would be, in the event of the issue of the President’s Emancipation proclamation? If this be our doom let us prepare for the worst.

The siege of Charleston has not yet commenced. The preparations of Gen. Gillmore are very ample. There is no doubt that this citadel of treason will fall. Every one is impatient at the delay; but the siege of a stronghold upon which all of the engineering skill of the rebel Confederacy has been lavished, cannot be planned and matured in a day. They harass our fatigue parties considerably with their shells, but they only succeed in killing and wounding one or two men a day. These shells are very disagreeable at first, but after one is under them a while he can learn to become accustomed to them. The men sing, dance, and play cards and sleep as carelessly within range of them as if they were no more harmful than so many soap bubbles.

This Morris Island is the most desolate heap of sand-hills I ever saw. It is so barren that you cannot find so much as a gypsum weed5 growing. Our situation is almost unbearable. During the day the sun is intensely hot, and this makes the sand hot; so we are sandwiched between the hot sun and the hot sand. Happily, the evenings are cool and bracing—so much so, that woolen blankets are not uncomfortable. The bathing is most delightful. I think Morris Island beach the most magnificent on the whole Atlantic coast. Had we in the North such a bathing shore, it would soon eclipse Newport, Atlantic City or Long Branch, and the other bathing resorts. The beach at some points is at least one-third of a mile in width, descending at an almost imperceptible angle into the more refreshing breakers.

There is quite a stir in the camp of the 54th just at this moment, created by an attempt on the part of the Paymaster and Col. Littlefield of the 4th Connecticut volunteers (who has been temporarily assigned to the command of our regiment since the death of Col. Shaw, our lamented commander) to pay us off with the paltry sum of Sio per month, the amount paid to contrabands. Col. Littlefield had the men drawn up in their company streets, and addressed them in a style something like this: “Gentlemen, I know that you are in want of money. Many of you have families who are dependent on you for support. The Paymaster refuses to pay any of the colored troops more than $10 per month. I have no doubt that Congress, when it meets next December, will pay you the balance of your pay. The government, in paying you this sum, only advances you this amount—it is not considered paying you off.” Only one company consented to take this sum. The rest of the regiment are highly incensed at the idea that after they have been enlisted as Massachusetts soldiers, and been put into the active service of the United States government, they should be paid off as the drafted ex-slaves are. The non-commissioned officers are to be paid the same as the privates.

There is to be, according to the Colonel’s and Paymaster’s arrangement, no distinction. Our First Sergeants, Sergeant-Major, and other Sergeants are to be paid only $10 per month. Now, if this $10 per month is advanced by the Paymaster, and he is so confident or certain that the next Congress will vote us the pay that regularly enlisted soldiers, like the 54th, generally receive, why does he not advance the privates and non-commissioned officers their full pay? Or does he not fear that the next Congress may refuse to have anything to do with it, and conclude that if we could receive $10 and make out until then, we could make out with that amount to the end of our term? To offer our non-commissioned officers the same pay and reducing them to the level of privates, is, to say the least, insulting and degrading to them.

Then, again, if we are not placed on the same footing with other Massachusetts soldiers, we have been enlisted under false pretenses. Our enlistment itself is fraudulent. When Gov. Andrew addressed us at Readville on the presentation of our colors, he claimed us as Massachusetts soldiers. Frederick Douglass, in his address to the colored people to recruit the 54th, and who penned it by the authority of Gov. Andrew, declares that we form part of the quota of troops furnished by the State of Massachusetts. If this be the case, why make this invidious distinction? We perform the same duties of other Massachusetts troops, and even now we have to perform fatigue duty night and day, and stand in line of battle from 3 to 5 A.M. with white soldiers, and for all this, not to say anything of the many perils we necessarily encounter, we are offered $10 per month or nothing until next December or January! Why, in the name of William H. Seward, are we treated thus? Does the refusal to pay us our due pander to the proslavery Cerberus?” Negroes in the navy receive the same pay that the Irish, English, German, Spanish or Yankee race do, and take it as a matter of course. Why, sir, the State of Massachusetts has been rebuked and insulted through her colored soldiers, and she should protect us, as Gov. Andrew has pledged his word she would. Since our regiment has been in this department, an attempt has been made to substitute the dark for the light-blue pantaloons of the U. S. army. This was at St. Helena. Col. Shaw rejected them, and we continue to wear the uniform of the U.S. Infantry corps.

The ever-memorable anniversary of British West India Emancipation was observed by the non-commissioned officers of the 54th, by calling, on the 1st instant, a meeting, and passing a series of resolutions. This meeting was organized by the appointment of SergeantMajor Douglass, Chairman, and Sergt. Fletcher, Co. A, Secretary. A long list of Vice-Presidents were appointed, representing nearly every State. Commissary-Sergeant Lee represented South Carolina, Sergt. Grey, Massachusetts, Sergt. Swails, Pennsylvania. A Committee, consisting of Sergts. Francis, Stephens, Barquet, Johnson and Gambier, presented the following resolutions, which were passed:

1. Resolved, That we look with joy upon the example set by Great Britain twenty-nine years ago in liberating the slaves in her West India Islands, thereby making a long stride in the pathway of civilization, and eliciting the gratitude of enthralled millions everywhere—contributing largely to influence the people of this country to seek the overthrow of that system which has brought the nation to the verge of dissolution. We hail with more than gratification the determination of our government to follow her great and good example as evinced by that glorious instrument of January ist, 1863, proclaiming freedom to slaves of rebels in Southern States—the desire to purchase those in loyal States—the decision of Attorney-General Bates, and the calling to its aid the strong arms and loyal hearts of its black citizens.

2. Resolved, That we have another day added to our small family of holidays; we hail the 1st of January as twin-sister to the 1st of August,- and as we have met together within six miles of the birthplace of secession to commemorate this day, we trust that on the 1st day of January next, by the blessing of God on our arms, the city of Charleston will ring with the voices of free men, women and children shouting, “Truly, the day of Jubilee has come.”

3. Resolved, That while we look forward with sanguine hope for that day, and have the arms in our hands to help bring it about, we will use them, and put forth all our energies, and never cease until our ears shall hear the jubilant bell that rings the knell of slavery.

4. Resolved, That in our humble opinion the force of circumstances has compelled the loyal portion of this nation to acknowledge that man is physically the same, differing only in the circumstances under which he lives, and that action—true, manly action, only—is necessary to secure to us a full recognition of our rights as men by the controlling masses of this nation; and we see in the army, fighting for liberty and Union, the proper field for colored men, where they may win by their valor the esteem of all loyal men and women—believing that “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.”"

5. Resolved, That we recognize in the brilliant successes of the Union armies the proofs that Providence is on our side,- that His attributes cannot take sides with the oppressor.

Private John Peer, 20 Co. B, died at 6 o’clock P.M. this instant.

G. E. S.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments

July 29, 1863

Further description from Emilio ( [BBR], p.108):

…Orders came on the 26th that, owing to the few officers and lack of arms, the Fifty-fourth should only furnish fatigue details.

Quartermaster Ritchie, who was sent to Hilton Head, returned on the 29th with the officers, men, and camp equipage from St. Helena, and tents were put up the succeeding day. Some six hundred men were then present with the colors, including the sick. The number of sick in camp was very large, owing to the severe work and terrible heat. About nineteen hundred were reported on August 1 in the whole command. The sight of so many pale, enfeebled men about the hospitals and company streets was dispiriting. As an offset, some of those who had recovered from wounds returned, and Brig.-Gen. Edward A. Wild’s brigade of the First North Carolina and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, both colored, arrived and camped on Folly Island.

Tags: , ,

No Comments

July 21, 1863

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

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

Mr. Editor:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

G. E. S

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

July 7, 1863

A letter, dated the 6th, from Shaw to Brigade commander Brig. Gen. George C. Strong:

ST. HELENA ISLAND, July 6, 1863. [BBR],p.49


GENERAL, — I did not pay my respects to you before you left this post because I did not wish to disturb you when making your preparations for departure.

I desire, however, to express to you my regret that my regiment no longer forms a part of the force under your command. I was the more disappointed at being left behind, that I had been given to understand that we were to have our share in the work in this department. I feel convinced too that my men are capable of better service than mere guerilla warfare, and I hoped to remain permanently under your command.

It seems to me quite important that the colored soldiers should be associated as much as possible with the white troops, in order that they may have other witnesses besides their own officers to what they are capable of doing. I trust that the present arrangement is not permanent.

With many wishes for your success, believe me very sincerely and respectfully

Your obedient servant,


Colonel Commanding Fifty-fourth Regiment Mass. Infantry.

Tags: , , ,

No Comments

July 6, 1863

A letter from Charles Douglass to his father Frederick Douglass — Charles originally enlisted in the 54th, but transferred to the 55th Mass. as it was forming in May, and later in 1864, transferred to the 5th Massachusets Cavalry (colored), a dismounted unit; together with a long letter from Shaw to his wife:

Readville Camp Meigs
July 6th 1863

Dear Father

I have just returned to camp from Boston where I spent the fourth and fifth.  Yesterday, I went to Mr. Grimes Church and Dr. Rock read a letter that he had rec’d from his wife who is in Philadelphia [ ] and that the Rebels were sending the negroes south as fast as they advanced from our lines and that the colored people were rushing into Philadelphia and that yourself and Stephen Smith and other were doing all you could for them.  I was glad to hear that – only keep out of the hands of the rebels.

This morning as I was about to take the train for camp I saw some returned soldiers from Newbern[?] N.Y. and had just got the news that Meade had whipped the rebels and before me stood an Irishman.  I said that we had some sort of a Gen. now and that made the Irish mad and he stepped in front of me with his fist-doubled up in my face and said ain’t Mr. McLellan a good Gen. you black nigger. I don’t care if you have got the uniform on.  When he got done I was so mad that I sweat-freely and I threw my coat and went at him.  All the time there was a policeman on the opposite side watching our movements.  Just as I went at him (he was heavier than me) the policeman came and stopped me and asked what the matter was.  I told him and he marched the other fellow off and that made all the other Irish mad and I felt better.  Still I felt as though I could whip a dozen Irish. I did not care for them because I had my pistol and it was well loaded.  I’m all right for I got my mind made to shoot the first Irishman that strikes me.  They may talk but keep their paws to themselves.

We are expecting to leave here next week. The men will get their Bounty this week.  We have a full band and drum corp and a good healthy looking set of men.  I would like to see you before I go away.  The flag has not been presented yet.  If your write – direct it – to the care of

Martin Becker,

Comm. Sergeant

55 Reg. Mass Vol

I have written home twice but have received no answer from them.

Please write.

From your aff. son,




St. Helena’s Island [BCF]

July 6,1863

My Own Darling Wife,

As I wrote you last week, your long letter of June 5 th to 10th came at last, and to-day I got that of the 23d to 26th. I am so sorry you have been worrying yourself about Montgomery and my connection with him, and I hope that my later letters have put your mind at rest. . . .

When you get this, you will have been a good while without news from me, as the last mail was not allowed to go, on account of the military movements in this Department. I wrote to Father the other day that we were left here, and most of the other troops had gone to Folly Island,—at least we suppose that was their destination. There is no knowing how soon, or in what direction, we may get orders to move. It is my great desire to join the main army, and General Strong was so sorry to leave this regiment, that I think there may be a chance of his getting hold of us again.

… To-day I went on board the “Montauk,” a Monitor lying in the harbour. I met there an officer named Cushman, who took me all over the vessel, and explained everything. In port the cabins are tolerably well ventilated, though very dark; but at sea everything is closed, and in action also; so that the air in the men’s quarters becomes so foul that the lights can hardly be kept going. Forty per cent of their men are on the sick-list, and they have to send some of them home every day. Such a hideous place to live in I never saw. The officers of the navy have by no means as much confidence in the Monitors as the public at large, and say they can be of service only against other iron-clads, or wooden vessels, and brick-and-mortar work. Forts of other descriptions, such as field-works and sand-batteries, they think would get the better of them. It has been necessary to make a great many changes and improvements in them to render them fit for active service; and as this has been done by officers of the navy, they all seem very indignant that Ericsson should have all the credit. They say that, as he turned them over to the navy, they would have been useless. The officers also affirm that the Monitor class or iron-clads was invented by a New York man named Pimbey, four years before Ericsson’s was presented, and that the latter now pays him $30,000 for every Monitor he turns out. In short, they pitch into Ericsson energetically, and think he has appropriated other men’s work and inventions unsparingly. They showed us all the places where the “Montauk” was struck at Charleston, and explained how several of the vessels were disabled by one plate or bolt being forced out of place. The 11-inch gun can be fired once in 2.30 minutes, and the 15-inch not so often. This is very slow. Nevertheless, they are terrible engines, and wonderful in their strength.

I afterwards visited the “Atlanta,” or “Fingal,” the Rebel ram lately captured. She is very powerful, but roughly finished. She had four pieces; two 7-inch and two 61/2-inch rifles, marked “Tredegar Foundry.”4 They were roughly finished on the outside, but terrible-looking guns. This craft would have made great havoc in our blockading fleet, if she had got out, and it was by a piece of good fortune that we captured her. . . .

July 7th — Good morning. You will see in my letter to Mother what I said about your and her coming down here. Of course it depends entirely upon what we do. The last two weeks would have been delightful for you.

I have got you some of the moss, and send you as much as I can in a large envelope, — enough to hang over a small picture.

On Sunday, I rode six miles to the Episcopal church, but it was closed, the clergyman being ill, and I went to the Baptist. . . .

The gentleness and respect for civilized usages in this war have been wonderful, and for that reason Montgomery’s doings seem very horrible. I am not excusing them, but merely giving another side of the picture. He is not the only man who has done so. Foster destroyed three towns in North Carolina without reason, and Blufftown, in this Department, was burnt the other day by white troops. Montgomery’s previous reputation has been such that he attracts attention. Many people here blame him for having had one of his men shot without trial. According to Regulations, it was wrong; but the court-martial in this case would have been a technicality, for the man’s guilt was unquestionable, and before he could have been tried Montgomery’s regiment would have been dissolved. He had lost seventy men by desertion, in two days. Since the execution not one has gone, but thirty or forty have secretly returned in the night. Of course such a power cannot be allowed to a Colonel, as there would be murders without number under the name of execution; and I do not believe Montgomery has heard the last of it. Nevertheless, as to the right and wrong of the matter, he only violated a clause of the Regulations, and the result is extremely beneficial. I think that a Brigadier-General should have power to approve a sentence of death given by a court; but now it has to go to the Department commander.

Colonel Montgomery has told me some fearful stories of his life in Kansas. I will send you one, in order that you may know what a life he has led for ten years past. He had captured five men who had been committing depredations, — shooting men from behind, and taking their scalps. He intended to kill them, but they begged for life so hard, that he let them go, on condition they would not come into Kansas again. Instead of keeping their word, they began their old occupation again, and having captured some of his men, killed them, and took their scalps away with them. Some time after Montgomery took the same five again. This time there was no chance for them. Their courage forsook them entirely, so that they absolutely fell to the earth with fright, and begged and prayed for their lives, and said they should go to Hell, if he killed them.

When they were being taken out to be shot, seeing him somewhat moved by their entreaties, they clung to his knees and his garments, and it required the strength of three men to drag one of them away. As the first fire three were killed, and the other two only mortally wounded; these last kept on moaning, and begging in a weak voice to be allowed to live; but the sergeant in command of the squad of executioners drew his revolver, and blew their brains out!

Scenes like this were common occurences in Kansas at that time, and I wonder that Montgomery has not become a wild beast instead of a reasonable man. He commands the respect of all his superiors, and is undoubtedly a man gifted with some great qualities. You cannot talk with him long without discovering that he is in reality a tender-hearted man. This assertion would probably amuse most people, who only know him by reputation.

Don’t think I am humbugged by Montgomery. I am not often enthusiastic, and what I say of him is not of that kind. . . .

With all the love that I have,

Your attached Husband

Tags: , , , , , , ,

No Comments

July 4, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his father:

St. Helena I.[BCF]

July 4,1863

Dear Father,

All the troops, excepting the coloured Regiments, are ordered to Folly Island. There will be a grand attack on Charleston, I suppose. I feel very much disappointed at being left behind, especially after Montgomery was promised by Genl Gilmore that we should have our share in it. I write you this lest you should see mention of the movement in the papers, & think we were in it.

I have not time to write to Annie, as the mail goes directly. Please send her this, or write to her.

Your loving Son

P.s. I sent you a box with some clothes & my old sword. Enclosed is receipt.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

No Comments

July 3, 1863

A letter from Shaw to his friend and former fellow office from the 2nd Massachusetts, Charles Fessneden Morse. On this day, Morse was fighting in the Battle of Gettysburg with the 2nd Massachusetts. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on the day following. Today was the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

St. Helena’s Island, S. C. [BCF]

July 3,1863

My dear Charley,

Before I proceed to any other subject, let me ask you, if I ever sent you the $5.00 which you paid Brangle for me, & if you know of any other debts of mine in the Second. I don’t remember when I last wrote to you, but think it was just after I took dinner at your Father’s.

Since then I have seen your letters to your Brother describing the Chancellorsville fights, which I read with a great deal of interest.  Harry and I couldn’t help feeling blue, when we heard the 2d was at work again, and we away from our old posts. I was very glad to hear that you liked Slocum so much, & had such confidence in him. It will, no doubt, be one of the Division or Corps Generals who will be the great man of the war.

I wish I knew where you were now; we have had no late news from the North, and what we have had, has served mostly to confuse my mind very decidedly, as to the whereabouts of the two armies.

So the 1st Mass. Cavalry has had a regular shindy at last. I was glad to hear that Henry Hig’s wounds were not dangerous.  What a bloody-looking boy he must be, with a scar across his face.

Remember me to Curtis, if you see or write to him.

You may have heard that the passage of the 54th Mass through Boston was a great success. I never saw such a heavy turn-out there before. We came down to Hilton Head in a very nice Steamer, though a slow one, for we were six days en route.

We landed at Beaufort, and went into camp there. Hearing that Col. Montgomery the Kansas man, was going farther South, I asked permission to join him. So we remained only two days at Beaufort, and then sailed for St. Simon’s Island, on the coast of Georgia. The day after we arrived there, Montgomery started us off, up the Altamaha River, and after capturing a little schooner full of cotton & burning the town of Darien, we returned to the Island, having been absent two days.

The destruction of Darien disgusted me very much, and as soon as Montgomery told me he was going to burn it, I said I didn’t want to have anything to do with [it] and he was glad to take the responsibility. It was done by Genl Huntet’s order, however. We remained at St. Simon’s for about ten days after this.

I had a large plantation to myself & lived very comfortably in the former owner’s house—the regt being encamped in an adjacent field.

The island is very beautiful, and [is] traversed in all directions by excellent roads. We had splendid rides every day & explored the place from one end to the other. It has been uninhabited for so long, that it is completely full of birds of all kinds, and on the neighbouring Islands, there is good deer-shooting. There were a great many fine plantations & country seats there, and the people must have had a very jolly time. We found the records of a Yacht Race Club — and other signs of fun. Fanny Kemble’s husband, Pierce Butler, has a very large place, six or seven miles long, there, and another near Darien. We left St. Simon’s on the 25th & ret’d here by order of General Gillmore.

Montgomery is a strange sort of man. At first sight one would think him a parson or a school-master. He is a very quiet gentlemanlike sort of person — very careful to speak grammatically & not in the least like a Western man. He is religious, & never drinks, smokes, chews or swears. He shoots his men with perfect looseness, for a slight disobedience of orders, but is very kind & indulgent to those who behave themselves properly. The other night on board the steamer, he shot at and wounded a man for talking after taps, when he had twice ordered him to be quiet. He told me that he had intended to kill him & throw him overboard, & was much astonished at having missed his aim.

Last Sunday he caught a deserter — and had him executed without trial by Court Martial, or referring the case to any one (Strange to say the General has not taken any notice of it). Montgomery says he doesn’t like the red-tape way of doing things.

He is a very attractive man, and it is very interesting to sit & hear him relate his experiences.

Everything here indicates that there is to be another attack on Charleston. I trust we shall have a share in it — and indeed, we have been given to understand, that we should go with the army, wherever it went.

I want to hear from you, very much, Charley. Tell me as much as you can of your movements since you left Stafford C. H. this last time — and how the old regt is. I have been expecting to hear of your promotion. Good-bye, my dear fellow, for the present. I often long to be with you fellows. When you & Harry & I bunked together, from Sharpsburg to Fairfax, we hardly expected to be so far separated as we are now. I wonder where the deuce you are.

Give my love to Tom R, Jim Francis, Brown, the Foxes & Mudge.

Always your affectionate friend,

Robert G. Shaw

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments

July 2, 1863

Emilio describes the beginning of the pay controversy and quotes Shaw’s letter to Gov. Andrew on the subject ( [BBR] pp.47-48). Notably, today was the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

While at this camp the condition of the regiment was excellent, and the men in high spirits, eager for service. Drills went on incessantly. A musician of the Forty-eighth New York was instructing the band. On the 30th, the Fifty-fourth was mustered for pay. It was then first rumored that the terms of enlistment would not be adhered to by the Government. The situation is best evidenced by the following letter of Colonel Shaw: — [see below]

ST. HELENA ISLAND, S. C, July 2,1863.



— Since I last wrote you, the Fifty-fourth has left St. Simon’s Island and returned to St. Helena near Hilton Head. We are now encamped in a healthy place, close to the harbor, where we get the sea breeze. You have probably seen the order from Washington which cuts down the pay of colored troops from $13 to $10. Of course if this affects Massachusetts regiments, it will be a great piece of injustice to them, as they were enlisted on the express understanding that they were to be on precisely the same footing as all other Massachusetts troops. In my opinion they should be mustered out of the service or receive the full pay which was promised them. The paymaster here is inclined to class us with the contraband regiments, and pay the men only $10. If he does not change his mind, I shall refuse to have the regiment paid until I hear from you on the subject. And at any rate I trust you will take the matter in hand, for every pay-day we shall have the same trouble unless there is a special order to prevent it.

Another change that has been spoken of was the arming of negro troops with pikes instead of firearms. Whoever proposed it must have been looking for a means of annihilating negro troops altogether, I should think — or have never been under a heavy musketry fire, nor observed its effects. The project is now abandoned, I believe.

My men are well and in good spirits. We have only five in hospital. We are encamped near the Second South Carolina near General Strong’s brigade, and are under his immediate command. He seems anxious to do all he can for us, and if there is a fight in the Department will no doubt give the black troops a chance to show what stuff they are made of.

With many wishes for your good health and happiness, I remain,

Very sincerely and respectfully yours,


Tags: , , , , ,

No Comments

July 1, 1863

Two letters from Shaw, to his father and to his wife’s sister Clem. Notably: The Battle of Gettysburg began today.

St. Helena Island S.C.[BCF]

July 1, 1863

Dear Father,

In my last to Mother, I mentioned receipt of all your letters, and yesterday, your other two of the 22d ulto. came to hand, having gone first to Beaufort. The two boxes which, I heard, were at Hilton Head, did come in the “Arago” but are still enroute, on board of some brig. A box of Uncle George’s containing a beautiful English sword came all right.

Do you ever write to Dr. Bowditch? If so, I wish, you would mention to him that Lieutenant Reid (whom he recommended) is an excellent officer.

Do you know [four words crossed out and illegible] very well? He doesn’t strike me as being a very straightforward man.

You may have perhaps heard that the coloured troops are to receive $10 instead [of] $13 per mo. It is not yet decided that this regt comes under the order. If it does I shall refuse to allow them to be paid until I hear from Gov. Andrew. The regt ought, in that case, to be mustered out of service, as they were enlisted on the understanding that they were to be on the same footing as other Mass. Vols.

Another plan is to arm the negroes with pikes. I shall escape that, but Montgomery & Higginson, I am afraid, will have to come to it, unless the plan is given up. Of course, it will be the ruin of all spirit & courage in their men. Everyone who has been in any of our battles should know that Pikes against Minie balls is not fair play—especially in the hands of negroes whose great pride lies in being a soldier like white men. One of Col. Montgomery’s remarks is that it is folly to suppose that a race, which has been in bondage for 200 years can be as brave as freemen, and that all our energies must be devoted to making the most of them.

You will see from my letter to Mother that there is a good deal of exaggeration in the stories of Montgomery’s experience in Kansas. At any rate he says so himself.

Whom did you give those last letters (22 June) to? They had no post-mark & were sent to Beaufort.

Love to all,

Your most loving son

St. Helena’s Island, S.C. [BCF]

July 1,1863

My dear Clem.,

Yours of the 23 d reached me day before yesterday, and I read it with a great deal of pleasure. I anticipated your and Annie’s indignation at the vandal policy of Hunter. (Please always remember that Hunter began it). . . .

General Gillmore and General Strong (the latter our immediate commander) are both excellent men, I should think. The former I have not seen, but judge from what I hear.

There is a late-order from Washington, cutting down the pay of coloured troops from $13 to $10 per month. They have not yet decided here whether we come under the order or not. If we do, I shall refuse to have the regiment paid off, until I hear from Governor Andrew.

Another bit of insanity is a proposition to arm the negroes with pikes instead of muskets. They might as well go back eighteen centuries as three, and give us bows and arrows. General Strong says the regiment shall retain their rifles; but Montgomery and Higginson are in a great stew about it; and, indeed, such an act would take all the spirit and pluck out of their men, and show them that the government didn’t consider them fit to be trusted with fire-arms; they would be ridiculed by the white soldiers, and made to feel their inferiority in every respect. The folly of some of our leaders is wonder-full! I can’t imagine who started the idea. I hope the gentleman has a book of drill for the pike all ready.

There is some movement on foot in this Department. We do not know exactly what will be done yet. I don’t believe Charleston will be taken without some hard knocks.

Give my best love and a kiss to the mamma from me. I imagine you will all soon be at Lenox again, among the cool mountains. I always think of Lenox as in a haze, for during my visits there I was in a haze myself.

Always, dear Clem., most affectionately,

your Brother

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

No Comments