St. Helena’s Island, S.C.[BCF]
June 28 1863
Your note of the 20th came to me on board the “Benj. DeFord” just after I had sent my last ashore—also letters from Father of the 10, 13, 15, 18, 19 Inst. & others from Annie, Effie & Harry. Some of Annie’s have been lost, however.
We did not land at Hilton Head but were ordered to this Island that same afternoon. We landed and bivouacked for the night—and since then have been engaged in transporting our stores by hand from the landing, more than a mile.
Our whole experience, so far, has been in loading 8c discharging vessels.
There is nothing said about future plans. General Strong tells me that Admiral Foote’s illness will interfere materially with them. I hope and pray that we may go to Charleston. Strong, who was one of Butler’s staff officers, is very desirous to have the negro troops take their part in whatever is done.
Montgomery did a characteristic thing this morning. His men being near their homes have deserted rapidly since we returned from St. Simon’s. He sent word by their wives & others to the deserters that those who returned of their own free will should be pardoned — that those, whom he caught, he would shoot. This morning one of my sergeants captured one. At 8 o’cl. Col. Montgomery called him up & said: “Is there any reason why you should not be shot?” “No, Sir.” “Then, be ready to die at 9:30.” At 9:15 the man sent to ask permission to see the Colonel, but it was refused, and at 9:30 he was taken out and shot. There was no Court-Martial — and the case was not referred to a superior officer. Montgomery, who just told me the story, in his low voice, but with an occasional glare in his eye (which by the bye, is very extraordinary) thinks that this prompt action was the only way to stop desertion, and it only remains to be seen whether he will be pulled up for it. I wish you could see him. You would think at first sight that he was a school-master or parson. The only thing that shows the man, is that very queer roll or glare in his eye — and a contraction of the eyebrows every now & then, which gives him rather a fierce expression. He says he never had a fight until he went to Kansas, and was a very harmless creature formerly, though never a non-resistant.
June 29 — To continue the subject of Col. Montgomery, I went over last evening, after writing the above, & sat two hours with him. He gave me his whole history, which interested me very much. I wish I could tell you all he said of his life during the last ten years. He has been in such a state of excitement all that time that he says it seems as if the whole were compressed into a few days — and he could hardly help crying when he talked of the state of utter desperation & hopelessness in which they began their fight against the Border Ruffians, and compared it with present times which seem to him bright & cheerful. He believes that nothing happens by chance & is full of faith in Providence. His account of the abject manner in which he had seen some Missourians whom he had taken prisoners, beg for their lives was very interesting. He says that without exception, under such circumstances, their manhood forsook them completely —& he compared their conduct with that of the negro, who was shot yesterday, and who never flinched from it. I said above that M. looked like a schoolmaster, & he says he did teach school in Kentucky for many years, and learnt more about managing men there, than at any other time.
He strikes me as being a very simple-minded man — and seems to be pleased at any little attention — perhaps because he has been so much abused. You will see that he is very attractive to me, and indeed I have taken a great fancy to him.
I have just got your letter of the 21 Inst. & Father’s of 23d — his other two written after receipt of mine from St. Simon’s have not yet come to hand. What you say of Montgomery’s wife amused me very much, after hearing his account of it last evening. He said his wife saw an article in the paper stating what you say, and that all the punishment he ever wishes the writer to receive, is to come within reach of her broom-stick. Then he laughed very loud & long. Besides this, he assured me that no property of his was ever touched by a Border-Ruffian, being protected by his pro-slavery neighbours, whom he held responsible for it. He also said “To give the Devil his due” that he never, during his whole experience in Kansas heard of a well-authenticated case of a Border Ruffian having offered violence to a white woman, in any way — and he thinks that courtesy towards women is characteristic of the Southerners, good & bad. His wife is the daughter of a Kentucky Slave-holder.
I see by the papers, what is thought of the destruction of Darien, and it provokes me to have it laid on Montgomery’s shoulders, when he acted under orders from Hunter. I, myself, saw Hunter’s letters referring to it. I am sorry if it is going to harm the negro troops, but I think myself it will soon be forgotten.
The two boxes Father sent arrived tonight. Mr. Pierce has been up here today. I hope Father wrote to Gov. Andrew, after receiving my late letters, about Darien, & told him that Hunter, only, was to blame. I was so sorry & provoked at getting no word from Annie tonight, that I didn’t know what to do. I have only heard from her 3 times & the latest date is the 18th. After the number of letters I have written her, I thought it was pretty “steep.”
Uncle George has sent me an English sword, & a flask, knife, fork, spoon &c. They have not yet come.
My warmest love to Father & the girls.
Always dearest Mother,
your loving son
p.s. I suppose Annie is with you by this time. If so give my love to her
Posts Tagged St. Simon’s Island
St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
Yours of the 9th came to hand last evening. At the same time we received news of the Rebel incursion into the Northern [North] and orders to embark at once for Port Royal. We are now waiting for a transport, which will hold the regiment.
The news from the North is very exciting but not entirely unexpected, for Morse wrote me, that Lee wouldn’t leave the Potomac army quiet very long.Then my theory has always been that the North must feel the war much more than they have, before it is ended. I don’t know why we are ordered to return to Beaufort, unless the troops there are going North, or another attack is to be made on Charleston or Savannah.
I thank you a thousand times for your generosity to me in money affairs, dear Father; I never imagined you were going to assume so many of my debts. If Rice has not paid you, what he owes, I wish you would take it out of my funds. I enclose to you some bills which I had in Boston, lest they should be sent to you. I also enclose the following promissory notes:
Lincoln R. Stone — $115
John Ritchie — 115
G. W. James — 115
C. B. Bridgham — 96
I will notify you as soon as they are paid. I send this off immediately as Col. Montgomery’s boats which will get away before we do, will probably catch the “Arago.”
Love to all,
Your loving son
Please drop Annie a line saying we return to Beaufort lest my letter to her should not be ready.
Mercury, July 8, 1863 [OAF]
St. Simon’s Island, Ga., June 22
—Since my last letter, there has been nothing important occurred in this department that I am aware of. In fact if anything important were to happen, in which our regiment was not concerned, you in the North would be more likely to be posted in regard to it, than we should, isolated as we are. Of course the opposition press have heard of the burning of Darien, by the “Nigger guerillas,” and commented on it, as an “act of Vandalism” and all that sort of thing; manufactured capital enough to bring “Nigger worshippers” in contempt, in the opinion of gouty “conservatives,” and wrought Wood and Co.’s followers up to that delightful point, of commanding the Powers that be to stop enlisting the “impediments to civilization” instanter. How they must have harrowed the feelings of sentimental young ladies by informing them how those “ruthless heathens,” unmoved by the entreaties of terror stricken damsels, slew their gallant lovers in cold blood; and then exhausted the vocabulary of unmentionable adjectives on the horrified maidens after their protectors were slain. Of course they made it appear to credulous people that Darien was a place rivaling New York, in commercial importance, and the peer of Rome or Athens, in historical value. But they did not intimate that one of the ships, destroyed by the rebel pirates, might possibly be worth nearly as much as the village of Darien. Oh no! what the people of the North has lost is nothing, because what the North lost was stolen by our misguided brethern.But turn the tables — say the troops here should be captured by the rebels, (of course they would hang them every one), the copperhead press would treat that as an unimportant item, or some of them would say probably, “we are glad of it — that is a cheaper way of getting rid of them, than expending money to send them to President Lincoln’s Paradise in Central America, or to colonize them at Timbuctoo or Sahara.” But we all know they must say something, or people will think they are losing ground; they must keep up the appearance of knowing considerable, if not more, as one instance will show. A man living in Pennsylvania wrote to one of the men in this regiment that things had turned out just as he had predicted months ago; that the United States had repudiated the black troops and would never pay them the first red cent; that Gov. Andrew had disbanded his second party of “Pet Lambs” and advised the men to skedaddle, as the government would not have any power to punish them; in fact such an organization as the 54th regiment Mass. vols, was not known officially by the War Department. Now don’t you think that man was hired to write such stuff as that? The object is obvious; it is to create a spirit of insubordination among the men, so that the copperheads may have a better excuse to call for the disbanding of colored regiments in the field. Oh, there are some grand rascals out of State Prison! The scamp who wrote that letter signed no full name to it; it was dated from Susquehanna Co., Pa., no town, but the postmark was Philadelphia. Whoever he is, it is evident he has played at more than one game in his life, for the receiver of the letter does not know whose handwriting it is.
We are expecting to make a movement now hourly; the regiment are only waiting for the return of the commanding officer, with his instructions. There sounds the long roll! I must close.
J. H. G.
St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
June 22 1863
We got a small mail today, but there was nothing for me. I was very much disappointed, the latest date from you, being 3d Inst. & from Annie 31 Ulto.
Col. Montgomery returned from Hilton Head, this morning, bringing us news of the capture of the Ram “Fingal.” He found General Gilmor[e] very friendly and anxious to second him in every way, with the exception of the burning business — so that is satisfactorily settled. Montgomery tells me he acted entirely under orders from Hunter, and was at first very much opposed to them himself, but finally changed his mind.
I like him very much. He is not what one would call a “Kansas Ruffian”— being very quiet and reserved, & rather consumptive-looking. His language is very good & always grammatical. He is very religious & always has services in his regiment, before starting on an expedition.
Please don’t wait for the sailing of the “Arago” to mail my letters. Gunboats and transports come here (to Hilton Head) every week from Boston, New York & Philadelphia, and usually bring a mail. We are waiting here for coal for our transports; as soon as it arrives, we shall probably be off again, for a little while. They think at the “Head” that there will soon be another attempt made on Savannah or Charleston. Gilmor[e] is certainly much more active and energetic than Hunter.
Give my love to Mother and the girls. I am impatient to hear whether the Russells arrived safely and well. The “Nelly Baker is expected from Hilton Head” tomorrow, and I hope she will bring us some letters. I sent her up there, day before yesterday.
Your loving son
St. Simon’s Island, Ga. [BCF]
My dear Charley,
I received your kind letter before I left Readville—and beg you will excuse my long delay in answering you. Besides other matters to occupy my attention, you will appreciate the fact of my having a more voluminous private correspondence than ever before. You may have heard from Effie of our doings, since we left Boston‚ — though, to be sure, I don’t know how many of my letters have reached home. We have only heard from there once.
I am totally in the dark as to what has been going on in other parts of the country for two weeks past. The last paper I saw, was of June 6. I should like to ask your opinion on a subject, which has troubled me a little lately. On a late expedition we made with Montgomery—he burnt the town of Darien about 20 miles from here. We had met with no resistance there & the only men to be seen were some horsemen at a great distance. There were a few women & darkeys in the place and a great many more had gone off in vehicles on our approach. It was never known to be a refuge for guerillas, and our gunboats have been in the habit of running by it at will & without opposition. Don’t you think that unless it is a settled policy of the Government to destroy all the property in rebeldom, the desttuction of a defenceless town, containing only a few non-combatants, is unjustifiable, and contrary to all rules of warfare?
Harry writes me that you have been transferred to Heintzelman, so I suppose there is a good chance of your remaining for some time, near Washington. Good, for Effie.
Now you are so near Headquarters, can’t you do something towards getting Barlow for us? I have just heard from him under date of May 21. He says he had just received yours of March 20 & regrets very much not having got it before. He still wishes to command a colored Brigade & I have no doubt we should do something under him.
Montgomery who seems the only active man in this Department, is enormously energetic, and devoted to the cause, but he is a bush-whacker—in his fighting, and a perfect fanatic in other respects. He never drinks, smokes or swears, & considers that praying, shooting, burning & hanging are the true means to put down the Rebellion. If he had been educated as a military man in rather a different school, I think he would accomplish a great deal, & he may yet in a certain way. He is very prompt & active, never lying idle, if he can help it, for more than three days at a time. When delayed and disappointed, he is wonderfully patient & calm, never letting a word escape him & putting through what he undertakes in spite of everything. I never met a man who impressed me as being more conscientious.
Isn’t it strange, being back at the old work again under such different circumstances. I shan’t realize until about two years after the war is over, that I am married.
I have often thought since I left, of our meetings at Harper’s Ferry, and how little I supposed then that we should be so intimately connected. I hope this war will not finish one or both of us, and that we shall live to know each other well. I had a note from Effie a week ago. I remember, at Susie’s, just after you were engaged you said to me: “Am not I a lucky fellow?” And I must say, I think you are. There are not many girls like Effie; though she is my sister, I may say it.
Hoping to hear from you occasionally, believe me, dear Charley.
Your afftc brother,
R. G. S.
St. Simon’s Island [BCF]
My Dear Effie,
I received yours of 31 May, day before yesterday. Before you receive this, you will know, from my letters to Mother and Father, our doings since we left Boston.
We are very pleasantly situated here; the island is beautiful, and my house is a very comfortable one for the climate. Fortunately, there is an excellent camping-ground for the regiment close to it; otherwise I shouldn’t have taken it. The Major and I might have half our two families here without inconvenience. The only objection is, that Montgomery never lies quiet for more than four days at a time, so we are likely to be constantly on the go, and may leave the place at any time.
In front of us is St. Simon’s River, full of alligators, and behind, a thick wood full of insects and snakes. The former make such a noise at night, that I, at first, thought it was a vessel blowing off steam. The house had a few chairs and tables left when we got here, and our late expedition supplied all deficiencies. Our most respectable acquisitions are a table-cloth, and two large maps of the United States and Georgia, which latter, hung up in the hall, give an air of solidity to the entrance.
The only troops on the island are Montgomery’s regiment and the Fifty-fourth. Montgomery being absent, I am in command of the post. Imagine me governor of an island fifteen miles long and six or seven broad. It is all that “Sancho Panza” could desire.Yesterday afternoon, in the course of a ride, the Major, Dr. Stone, and I came across a herd of cattle, and drove them in; so now we have fresh milk and meat in plenty. Some of them are very fine, and must have been the fancy stock of the former owners of the island. I am afraid we shan’t long have the island to ourselves, as there is some intention of sending more troops here, I believe.
What you say about Annie gives me a great deal of pleasure, as of course I like to hear her praised. Give my love to Charley, if you happen to be writing one of these days, and thank him for his letter to me. I shall write to him myself before long. I had a nice note from Alice Forbes yesteiday. As I have several letters to write, I must leave you here.
Ever your loving brother,