Originally published in 1869
These pages record some of the adventures of the First South
Carolina Volunteers, the first slave regiment mustered into the service of
the United States during the late civil war. It was, indeed, the
first colored regiment of any kind so mustered, except a portion of the
troops raised by Major-General Butler at New Orleans. These scarcely
belonged to the same class, however, being recruited from the free
colored population of that city, a comparatively self-reliant and educated
race. "The darkest of them," said General Butler, "were about the
complexion of the late Mr. Webster."
The First South Carolina, on the other hand, contained scarcely
a freeman, had not one mulatto in ten, and a far smaller proportion
who could read or write when enlisted. The only contemporary regiment of
a similar character was the "First Kansas Colored," which began recruiting
a little earlier, though it was not mustered in the usual basis of military
seniority till later. [See Appendix] These were the only colored regiments
recruited during the year 1862. The Second South Carolina and the
Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts followed early in 1863.
This is the way in which I came to the command of this regiment. One day
in November, 1862, I was sitting at dinner with my lieutenants, John Goodell
and Luther Bigelow, in the barracks of the Fifty-First Massachusetts, Colonel
Sprague, when the following letter was put into my hands:
BEAUFORT, S. C., November 5, 1862.
MY DEAR SIR.
I am organizing the First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers,
with every prospect of success. Your name has been spoken of, in
connection with the command of this regiment, by some friends in whose
judgment I have confidence. I take great pleasure in offering you the
position of Colonel in it, and hope that you may be induced to accept. I
shall not fill the place until I hear from you, or sufficient time shall
have passed for me to receive your reply. Should you accept, I enclose
a pass for Port Royal, of which I trust you will feel disposed to
avail yourself at once. I am, with sincere regard, yours truly,
R. SAXTON, Brig.-Genl, Mil. Gov.
Had an invitation reached me to take command of a regiment of
Kalmuck Tartars, it could hardly have been more unexpected. I had always
looked for the arming of the blacks, and had always felt a wish to
be associated with them; had read the scanty accounts of General
Hunter's abortive regiment, and had heard rumors of General Saxton's
renewed efforts. But the prevalent tone of public sentiment was still opposed
to any such attempts; the government kept very shy of the experiment,
and it did not seem possible that the time had come when it could be
For myself, I was at the head of a fine company of my own raising,
and in a regiment to which I was already much attached. It did not
seem desirable to exchange a certainty for an uncertainty; for who knew
but General Saxton might yet be thwarted in his efforts by the
pro-slavery influence that had still so much weight at head-quarters? It
would be intolerable to go out to South Carolina, and find myself, after all,
at the head of a mere plantation-guard or a day-school in uniform.
I therefore obtained from the War Department, through Governor
Andrew, permission to go and report to General Saxton, without at once
resigning my captaincy. Fortunately it took but a few days in South Carolina
to make it clear that all was right, and the return steamer took back
a resignation of a Massachusetts commission. Thenceforth my lot was
cast altogether with the black troops, except when regiments or
detachments of white soldiers were also under my command, during the two
These details would not be worth mentioning except as they show
this fact: that I did not seek the command of colored troops, but it
sought me. And this fact again is only important to my story for this
reason, that under these circumstances I naturally viewed the new
recruits rather as subjects for discipline than for philanthropy. I had
been expecting a war for six years, ever since the Kansas troubles, and
my mind had dwelt on military matters more or less during all that
time. The best Massachusetts regiments already exhibited a high standard
of drill and discipline, and unless these men could be brought
tolerably near that standard, the fact of their extreme blackness would
afford me, even as a philanthropist, no satisfaction. Fortunately, I felt
perfect confidence that they could be so trained, having happily known,
by experience, the qualities of their race, and knowing also that they
had home and household and freedom to fight for, besides that abstraction
of "the Union." Trouble might perhaps be expected from white
officials, though this turned out far less than might have been feared; but
there was no trouble to come from the men, I thought, and none ever came.
On the other hand, it was a vast experiment of indirect philanthropy,
and one on which the result of the war and the destiny of the negro
race might rest; and this was enough to tax all one's powers. I had been
an abolitionist too long, and had known and loved John Brown too well,
not to feel a thrill of joy at last on finding myself in the position
where he only wished to be.
In view of all this, it was clear that good discipline must come
first; after that, of course, the men must be helped and elevated in all
ways as much as possible.
Of discipline there was great need, that is, of order and
regular instruction. Some of the men had already been under fire, but they
were very ignorant of drill and camp duty. The officers, being appointed
from a dozen different States, and more than as many regiments,
infantry, cavalry, artillery, and engineers, had all that diversity of
methods which so confused our army in those early days. The first
need, therefore, was of an unbroken interval of training. During this
period, which fortunately lasted nearly two months, I rarely left the camp,
and got occasional leisure moments for a fragmentary journal, to send
home, recording the many odd or novel aspects of the new experience.
Camp-life was a wonderfully strange sensation to almost all volunteer
officers, and mine lay among eight hundred men suddenly transformed from
slaves into soldiers, and representing a race affectionate,
enthusiastic, grotesque, and dramatic beyond all others. Being such, they
naturally gave material for description. There is nothing like a diary
for freshness, at least so I think, and I shall keep to the diary
through the days of camp-life, and throw the later experience into another
form. Indeed, that matter takes care of itself; diaries and
letter-writing stop when field-service begins.
I am under pretty heavy bonds to tell the truth, and only the truth; for
those who look back to the newspaper correspondence of that period will see
that this particular regiment lived for months in a glare of publicity, such
as tests any regiment severely, and certainly prevents all subsequent
romancing in its historian. As the scene of the only effort on the Atlantic
coast to arm the negro, our camp attracted a continuous stream of visitors,
military and civil. A battalion of black soldiers, a spectacle since so
common, seemed then the most daring of innovations, and the whole demeanor of
this particular regiment was watched with microscopic scrutiny by friends and
foes. I felt sometimes as if we were a plant trying to take root,
but constantly pulled up to see if we were growing. The slightest
camp incidents sometimes came back to us, magnified and distorted,
in letters of anxious inquiry from remote parts of the Union. It was
no pleasant thing to live under such constant surveillance; but
it guaranteed the honesty of any success, while fearfully multiplying
the penalties had there been a failure. A single mutiny, such as
has happened in the infancy of a hundred regiments, a single
miniature Bull Run, a stampede of desertions, and it would have been all
over with us; the party of distrust would have got the upper hand,
and there might not have been, during the whole contest, another effort
to arm the negro.
I may now proceed, without farther preparation to the Diary.
CAMP SAXTON, near Beaufort, S. C., November 24, 1862.
Yesterday afternoon we were steaming over a summer sea, the deck
level as a parlor-floor, no land in sight, no sail, until at last appeared
one light-house, said to be Cape Romaine, and then a line of trees and
two distant vessels and nothing more. The sun set, a great
illuminated bubble, submerged in one vast bank of rosy suffusion; it grew
dark; after tea all were on deck, the people sang hymns; then the moon set,
a moon two days old, a curved pencil of light, reclining backwards on
a radiant couch which seemed to rise from the waves to receive it; it
sank slowly, and the last tip wavered and went down like the mast of a
vessel of the skies. Towards morning the boat stopped, and when I came on
deck, before six,
"The watch-lights glittered on the land, The ship-lights
on the sea."
Hilton Head lay on one side, the gunboats on the other; all that was raw
and bare in the low buildings of the new settlement was softened into
picturesqueness by the early light. Stars were still overhead, gulls wheeled
and shrieked, and the broad river rippled duskily towards Beaufort.
The shores were low and wooded, like any New England shore; there were
a few gunboats, twenty schooners, and some steamers, among them the
famous "Planter," which Robert Small, the slave, presented to the nation.
The river-banks were soft and graceful, though low, and as we steamed up
to Beaufort on the flood-tide this morning, it seemed almost as fair as
the smooth and lovely canals which Stedman traversed to meet his
negro soldiers in Surinam. The air was cool as at home, yet the foliage
seemed green, glimpses of stiff tropical vegetation appeared along the
banks, with great clumps of shrubs, whose pale seed-vessels looked like
tardy blossoms. Then we saw on a picturesque point an old plantation,
with stately magnolia avenue, decaying house, and tiny church amid the
woods, reminding me of Virginia; behind it stood a neat encampment of
white tents, "and there," said my companion, "is your future regiment."
Three miles farther brought us to the pretty town of Beaufort, with
its stately houses amid Southern foliage. Reporting to General Saxton, I
had the luck to encounter a company of my destined command, marched in to
be mustered into the United States service. They were unarmed, and
all looked as thoroughly black as the most faithful philanthropist
could desire; there did not seem to be so much as a mulatto among them.
Their coloring suited me, all but the legs, which were clad in a
lively scarlet, as intolerable to my eyes as if I had been a turkey. I saw
them mustered; General Saxton talked to them a little, in his direct,
manly way; they gave close attention, though their faces looked
impenetrable. Then I conversed with some of them. The first to whom I spoke
had been wounded in a small expedition after lumber, from which a party
had just returned, and in which they had been under fire and had done
very well. I said, pointing to his lame arm,
"Did you think that was more than you bargained for, my man?"
His answer came promptly and stoutly,
"I been a-tinking, Mas'r, dot's jess what I went for."
I thought this did well enough for my very first interchange of
dialogue with my recruits.
November 27, 1862.
Thanksgiving-Day; it is the first moment I have had for writing
during these three days, which have installed me into a new mode of life
so thoroughly that they seem three years. Scarcely pausing in New York
or in Beaufort, there seems to have been for me but one step from the
camp of a Massachusetts regiment to this, and that step over leagues of
It is a holiday wherever General Saxton's proclamation reaches.
The chilly sunshine and the pale blue river seems like New England,
but those alone. The air is full of noisy drumming, and of gunshots; for
the prize-shooting is our great celebration of the day, and the drumming
is chronic. My young barbarians are all at play. I look out from the
broken windows of this forlorn plantation-house, through avenues of
great live-oaks, with their hard, shining leaves, and their branches hung
with a universal drapery of soft, long moss, like fringe-trees struck
with grayness. Below, the sandy soil, scantly covered with coarse
grass, bristles with sharp palmettoes and aloes; all the vegetation is
stiff, shining, semi-tropical, with nothing soft or delicate in its
texture. Numerous plantation-buildings totter around, all slovenly
and unattractive, while the interspaces are filled with all manner of
wreck and refuse, pigs, fowls, dogs, and omnipresent Ethiopian infancy.
All this is the universal Southern panorama; but five minutes' walk
beyond the hovels and the live-oaks will bring one to something so
un-Southern that the whole Southern coast at this moment trembles at the
suggestion of such a thing, the camp of a regiment of freed slaves.
One adapts one's self so readily to new surroundings that already
the full zest of the novelty seems passing away from my perceptions, and
I write these lines in an eager effort to retain all I can. Already I
am growing used to the experience, at first so novel, of living among
five hundred men, and scarce a white face to be seen, of seeing them
go through all their daily processes, eating, frolicking, talking, just as
if they were white. Each day at dress-parade I stand with the
customary folding of the arms before a regimental line of countenances so
black that I can hardly tell whether the men stand steadily or not; black
is every hand which moves in ready cadence as I vociferate,
"Battalion! Shoulder arms!" nor is it till the line of white officers moves
forward, as parade is dismissed, that I am reminded that my own face is not
the color of coal.
The first few days on duty with a new regiment must be devoted
almost wholly to tightening reins; in this process one deals chiefly with
the officers, and I have as yet had but little personal intercourse with
the men. They concern me chiefly in bulk, as so many consumers of
rations, wearers of uniforms, bearers of muskets. But as the machine comes
into shape, I am beginning to decipher the individual parts. At first,
of course, they all looked just alike; the variety comes afterwards,
and they are just as distinguishable, the officers say, as so many
whites. Most of them are wholly raw, but there are many who have already
been for months in camp in the abortive "Hunter Regiment," yet in that
loose kind of way which, like average militia training, is a
doubtful advantage. I notice that some companies, too, look darker than
others, though all are purer African than I expected. This is said to be
partly a geographical difference between the South Carolina and Florida
men. When the Rebels evacuated this region they probably took with them
the house-servants, including most of the mixed blood, so that the
residuum seems very black. But the men brought from Fernandina the other
day average lighter in complexion, and look more intelligent, and
they certainly take wonderfully to the drill.
It needs but a few days to show the absurdity of distrusting
the military availability of these people. They have quite as much
average comprehension as whites of the need of the thing, as much courage
(I doubt not), as much previous knowledge of the gun, and, above all,
a readiness of ear and of imitation, which, for purposes of
drill, counterbalances any defect of mental training. To learn the drill,
one does not want a set of college professors; one wants a squad of
eager, active, pliant school-boys; and the more childlike these pupils
are the better. There is no trouble about the drill; they will
surpass whites in that. As to camp-life, they have little to sacrifice;
they are better fed, housed, and clothed than ever in their lives
before, and they appear to have few inconvenient vices. They are
simple, docile, and affectionate almost to the point of absurdity. The
same men who stood fire in open field with perfect coolness, on the
late expedition, have come to me blubbering in the most
irresistibly ludicrous manner on being transferred from one company in the
regiment to another.
In noticing the squad-drills I perceive that the men learn
less laboriously than whites that "double, double, toil and trouble,"
which is the elementary vexation of the drill-master, that they more
rarely mistake their left for their right, and are more grave and sedate
while under instruction. The extremes of jollity and sobriety, being
greater with them, are less liable to be intermingled; these companies can
be driven with a looser rein than my former one, for they
restrain themselves; but the moment they are dismissed from drill every
tongue is relaxed and every ivory tooth visible. This morning I wandered
about where the different companies were target-shooting, and their glee
was contagious. Such exulting shouts of "Ki! ole man," when some steady
old turkey-shooter brought his gun down for an instant's aim, and
then unerringly hit the mark; and then, when some unwary youth fired
his piece into the ground at half-cock such guffawing and delight,
such rolling over and over on the grass, such dances of ecstasy, as made
the "Ethiopian minstrelsy" of the stage appear a feeble imitation.
Evening. Better still was a scene on which I stumbled
to-night. Strolling in the cool moonlight, I was attracted by a brilliant
light beneath the trees, and cautiously approached it. A circle of thirty
or forty soldiers sat around a roaring fire, while one old uncle, Cato
by name, was narrating an interminable tale, to the insatiable delight
of his audience. I came up into the dusky background, perceived only by
a few, and he still continued. It was a narrative, dramatized to the last
degree, of his adventures in escaping from his master to the Union vessels;
and even I, who have heard the stories of Harriet Tubman, and such wonderful
slave-comedians, never witnessed such a piece of acting. When I came upon the
scene he had just come unexpectedly upon a plantation-house, and, putting a
bold face upon it, had walked up to the door.
"Den I go up to de white man, berry humble, and say, would he please
gib ole man a mouthful for eat?
"He say he must hab de valeration ob half a dollar.
"Den I look berry sorry, and turn for go away.
"Den he say I might gib him dat hatchet I had.
"Den I say" (this in a tragic vein) "dat I must hab dat hatchet
for defend myself from de dogs!"
[Immense applause, and one appreciating auditor says, chuckling,
"Dat was your arms, ole man," which brings down the house again.]
"Den he say de Yankee pickets was near by, and I must be very
"Den I say, 'Good Lord, Mas'r, am dey?'"
Words cannot express the complete dissimulation with which these
accents of terror were uttered, this being precisely the piece of information
he wished to obtain.
Then he narrated his devices to get into the house at night and
obtain some food, how a dog flew at him, how the whole household, black
and white, rose in pursuit, how he scrambled under a hedge and over a
high fence, etc., all in a style of which Gough alone among orators can
give the faintest impression, so thoroughly dramatized was every
Then he described his reaching the river-side at last, and trying
to decide whether certain vessels held friends or foes.
"Den I see guns on board, and sure sartin he Union boat, and I pop
my head up. Den I been-a-tink [think] Seceshkey hab guns too, and my
head go down again. Den I hide in de bush till morning. Den I open
my bundle, and take ole white shut and tie him on ole pole and wave
him, and ebry time de wind blow, I been-a-tremble, and drap down in
de bushes," because, being between two fires, he doubted whether friend or
foe would see his signal first. And so on, with a succession of tricks beyond
Moliere, of acts of caution, foresight, patient cunning, which were listened
to with infinite gusto and perfect comprehension by every listener.
And all this to a bivouac of negro soldiers, with the brilliant
fire lighting up their red trousers and gleaming from their shining
black faces, eyes and teeth all white with tumultuous glee. Overhead,
the mighty limbs of a great live-oak, with the weird moss swaying in
the smoke, and the high moon gleaming faintly through.
Yet to-morrow strangers will remark on the hopeless,
impenetrable stupidity in the daylight faces of many of these very men, the
solid mask under which Nature has concealed all this wealth of
mother-wit. This very comedian is one to whom one might point, as he hoed
lazily in a cotton-field, as a being the light of whose brain had utterly
gone out; and this scene seems like coming by night upon some conclave
of black beetles, and finding them engaged, with green-room
and foot-lights, in enacting "Poor Pillicoddy." This is their
university; every young Sambo before me, as he turned over the sweet potatoes
and peanuts which were roasting in the ashes, listened with reverence to
the wiles of the ancient Ulysses, and meditated the same. It is
Nature's compensation; oppression simply crushes the upper faculties of the
head, and crowds everything into the perceptive organs. Cato, thou
reasonest well! When I get into any serious scrape, in an enemy's country,
may I be lucky enough to have you at my elbow, to pull me out of itl
The men seem to have enjoyed the novel event of Thanksgiving-Day;
they have had company and regimental prize-shootings, a minimum of
speeches and a maximum of dinner. Bill of fare: two beef-cattle and a
thousand oranges. The oranges cost a cent apiece, and the cattle were
Secesh, bestowed by General Saxby, as they all call him.
December 1, 1862.
How absurd is the impression bequeathed by Slavery in regard to
these Southern blacks, that they are sluggish and inefficient in labor!
Last night, after a hard day's work (our guns and the remainder of our
tents being just issued), an order came from Beaufort that we should be
ready in the evening to unload a steamboat's cargo of boards, being some of
those captured by them a few weeks since, and now assigned for their use.
I wondered if the men would grumble at the night-work; but the
steamboat arrived by seven, and it was bright moonlight when they went at
it. Never have I beheld such a jolly scene of labor. Tugging these wet
and heavy boards over a bridge of boats ashore, then across the slimy
beach at low tide, then up a steep bank, and all in one great uproar
of merriment for two hours. Running most of the time, chattering all
the time, snatching the boards from each other's backs as if they were
some coveted treasure, getting up eager rivalries between
different companies, pouring great choruses of ridicule on the heads of
all shirkers, they made the whole scene so enlivening that I gladly
stayed out in the moonlight for the whole time to watch it. And all
this without any urging or any promised reward, but simply as the
most natural way of doing the thing. The steamboat captain declared that
they unloaded the ten thousand feet of boards quicker than any white
gang could have done it; and they felt it so little, that, when, later in
the night, I reproached one whom I found sitting by a campfire, cooking
a surreptitious opossum, telling him that he ought to be asleep after
such a job of work, he answered, with the broadest grin, "O no, Gunnel,
da's no work at all, Gunnel; dat only jess enough for stretch we."
December 2, 1862.
I believe I have not yet enumerated the probable drawbacks to
the success of this regiment, if any. We are exposed to no direct
annoyance from the white regiments, being out of their way; and we have as
yet no discomforts or privations which we do not share with them. I do not
as yet see the slightest obstacle, in the nature of the blacks, to
making them good soldiers, but rather the contrary. They take readily to
drill, and do not object to discipline; they are not especially dull
or inattentive; they seem fully to understand the importance of
the contest, and of their share in it. They show no jealousy or
suspicion towards their officers.
They do show these feelings, however, towards the Government itself; and
no one can wonder. Here lies the drawback to rapid recruiting. Were this a
wholly new regiment, it would have been full to overflowing, I am satisfied,
ere now. The trouble is in the legacy of bitter distrust bequeathed by the
abortive regiment of General Hunter, into which they were driven like cattle,
kept for several months in camp, and then turned off without a shilling, by
order of the War Department. The formation of that regiment was, on the
whole, a great injury to this one; and the men who came from it, though the
best soldiers we have in other respects, are the least sanguine and
cheerful; while those who now refuse to enlist have a great influence in
deterring others. Our soldiers are constantly twitted by their families
and friends with their prospect of risking their lives in the service,
and being paid nothing; and it is in vain that we read them the
instructions of the Secretary of War to General Saxton, promising them the
full pay of soldiers. They only half believe it.*
*With what utter humiliation were we, their officers, obliged to confess
to them, eighteen months afterwards, that it was their distrust which was
wise, and our faith in the pledges of the United States Government which was
Another drawback is that some of the white soldiers delight
in frightening the women on the plantations with doleful tales of plans
for putting us in the front rank in all battles, and such silly
talk,--the object being perhaps, to prevent our being employed on active
service at all. All these considerations they feel precisely as white men
would,--no less, no more; and it is the comparative freedom from such
unfavorable influences which makes the Florida men seem more bold and manly,
as they undoubtedly do. To-day General Saxton has returned from Fernandina
with seventy-six recruits, and the eagerness of the captains to secure
them was a sight to see. Yet they cannot deny that some of the very best
men in the regiment are South Carolinians.
December 3, 1862.--7 P.M.
What a life is this I lead! It is a dark, mild, drizzling evening,
and as the foggy air breeds sand-flies, so it calls out melodies
and strange antics from this mysterious race of grown-up children
with whom my lot is cast. All over the camp the lights glimmer in
the tents, and as I sit at my desk in the open doorway, there come
mingled sounds of stir and glee. Boys laugh and shout,--a feeble flute
stirs somewhere in some tent, not an officer's,--a drum throbs far away
in another,--wild kildeer-plover flit and wail above us, like the haunting
souls of dead slave-masters,--and from a neighboring cook-fire comes the
monotonous sound of that strange festival, half pow-wow, half prayer-meeting,
which they know only as a "shout." These fires are usually enclosed in a
little booth, made neatly of palm-leaves and covered in at top, a regular
native African hut, in short, such as is pictured in books, and such as I
once got up from dried palm-leaves for a fair at home. This hut is now
crammed with men, singing at the top of their voices, in one of their
quaint, monotonous, endless, negro-Methodist chants, with obscure
syllables recurring constantly, and slight variations interwoven,
all accompanied with a regular drumming of the feet and clapping of
the hands, like castanets. Then the excitement spreads: inside and
outside the enclosure men begin to quiver and dance, others join, a
circle forms, winding monotonously round some one in the centre; some
"heel and toe" tumultuously, others merely tremble and stagger on,
others stoop and rise, others whirl, others caper sideways, all keep
steadily circling like dervishes; spectators applaud special strokes of
skill; my approach only enlivens the scene; the circle enlarges, louder
grows the singing, rousing shouts of encouragement come in,
half bacchanalian, half devout, "Wake 'em, brudder!" "Stan' up to
'em, brudder!"--and still the ceaseless drumming and clapping, in
perfect cadence, goes steadily on. Suddenly there comes a sort of
snap, and the spell breaks, amid general sighing and laughter. And this
not rarely and occasionally, but night after night, while in other
parts of the camp the soberest prayers and exhortations are
A simple and lovable people, whose graces seem to come by nature,
and whose vices by training. Some of the best superintendents confirm
the first tales of innocence, and Dr. Zachos told me last night that
on his plantation, a sequestered one, "they had absolutely no vices."
Nor have these men of mine yet shown any worth mentioning; since I
took command I have heard of no man intoxicated, and there has been but
one small quarrel. I suppose that scarcely a white regiment in the
army shows so little swearing. Take the "Progressive Friends" and put
them in red trousers, and I verily believe they would fill a
guard-house sooner than these men. If camp regulations are violated, it seems
to be usually through heedlessness. They love passionately three
things besides their spiritual incantations; namely, sugar, home,
and tobacco. This last affection brings tears to their eyes, almost,
when they speak of their urgent need of pay; they speak of
then" last-remembered quid as if it were some deceased relative, too
early lost, and to be mourned forever. As for sugar, no white man can
drink coffee after they have sweetened it to their liking.
I see that the pride which military life creates may cause
the plantation trickeries to diminish. For instance, these men make the
most admirable sentinels. It is far harder to pass the camp lines at
night than in the camp from which I came; and I have seen none of
that disposition to connive at the offences of members of one's own
company which is so troublesome among white soldiers. Nor are they lazy,
either about work or drill; in all respects they seem better material
for soldiers than I had dared to hope.
There is one company in particular, all Florida men, which I
certainly think the finest-looking company I ever saw, white or black; they
range admirably in size, have remarkable erectness and ease of carriage,
and really march splendidly. Not a visitor but notices them; yet they
have been under drill only a fortnight, and a part only two days. They
have all been slaves, and very few are even mulattoes.
December 4, 1862.
"Dwelling in tents, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." This condition
is certainly mine,--and with a multitude of patriarchs beside, not
to mention Caesar and Pompey, Hercules and Bacchus.
A moving life, tented at night, this experience has been mine in
civil society, if society be civil before the luxurious forest fires of
Maine and the Adirondack, or upon the lonely prairies of Kansas. But
a stationary tent life, deliberately going to housekeeping under canvas,
I have never had before, though in our barrack life at "Camp Wool" I
often wished for it.
The accommodations here are about as liberal as my quarters there,
two wall-tents being placed end to end, for office and bedroom,
and separated at will by a "fly" of canvas. There is a good board floor
and mop-board, effectually excluding dampness and draughts, and
everything but sand, which on windy days penetrates everywhere. The
office furniture consists of a good desk or secretary, a very clumsy
and disastrous settee, and a remarkable chair. The desk is a bequest of
the slaveholders, and the settee of the slaves, being ecclesiastical in
its origin, and appertaining to the little old church or "praise-house,"
now used for commissary purposes. The chair is a composite structure:
I found a cane seat on a dust-heap, which a black sergeant combined
with two legs from a broken bedstead and two more from an oak-bough. I sit
on it with a pride of conscious invention, mitigated by
profound insecurity. Bedroom furniture, a couch made of gun-boxes covered
with condemned blankets, another settee, two pails, a tin cup, tin basin
(we prize any tin or wooden ware as savages prize iron), and a
valise, regulation size. Seriously considered, nothing more appears
needful, unless ambition might crave another chair for company, and,
perhaps, something for a wash-stand higher than a settee.
To-day it rains hard, and the wind quivers through the closed
canvas, and makes one feel at sea. All the talk of the camp outside is
fused into a cheerful and indistinguishable murmur, pierced through at
every moment by the wail of the hovering plover. Sometimes a face, black
or white, peers through the entrance with some message. Since the
light readily penetrates, though the rain cannot, the tent conveys a
feeling of charmed security, as if an invisible boundary checked the
pattering drops and held the moaning wind. The front tent I share, as yet,
with my adjutant; in the inner apartment I reign supreme, bounded
in a nutshell, with no bad dreams.
In all pleasant weather the outer "fly" is open, and men pass
and repass, a chattering throng. I think of Emerson's Saadi, "As
thou sittest at thy door, on the desert's yellow floor,"--for these
bare sand-plains, gray above, are always yellow when upturned, and
there seems a tinge of Orientalism in all our life.
Thrice a day we go to the plantation-houses for our
meals, camp-arrangements being yet very imperfect. The officers board
in different messes, the adjutant and I still clinging to the household
of William Washington,--William the quiet and the courteous, the pattern
of house-servants, William the noiseless, the observing,
the discriminating, who knows everything that can be got, and how to
cook it. William and his tidy, lady-like little spouse Hetty--a pair of
wedded lovers, if ever I saw one--set our table in their one room,
half-way between an un glazed window and a large wood-fire, such as is
often welcome. Thanks to the adjutant, we are provided with the
social magnificence of napkins; while (lest pride take too high a flight)
our table-cloth consists of two "New York Tribunes" and a
"Leslie's Pictorial." Every steamer brings us a clean table-cloth. Here are
we forever supplied with pork and oysters and sweet potatoes and rice
and hominy and corn-bread and milk; also mysterious griddle-cakes of
corn and pumpkin; also preserves made of pumpkin-chips, and other
fanciful productions of Ethiop art. Mr. E. promised
the plantation-superintendents who should come down here "all the
luxuries of home," and we certainly have much apparent, if little real
variety. Once William produced with some palpitation something fricasseed,
which he boldly termed chicken; it was very small, and seemed in
some undeveloped condition of ante-natal toughness. After the meal he
frankly avowed it for a squirrel.
December 5, 1862.
Give these people their tongues, their feet, and their leisure, and they
are happy. At every twilight the air is full of singing, talking, and
clapping of hands in unison. One of their favorite songs is full of plaintive
cadences; it is not, I think, a Methodist tune, and I wonder where they
obtained a chant of such beauty.
"I can't stay behind, my Lord, I can't stay behind! O, my
father is gone, my father is gone, My father is gone into heaven, my
Lord! I can't stay behind! Dere's room enough,
room enough, Room enough in de heaven for de
sojer: Can't stay behind!"
It always excites them to have us looking on, yet they sing these
songs at all times and seasons. I have heard this very song dimly droning
on near midnight, and, tracing it into the recesses of a cook-house,
have found an old fellow coiled away among the pots and provisions,
chanting away with his "Can't stay behind, sinner," till I made him leave
his song behind.
This evening, after working themselves up to the highest pitch, a party
suddenly rushed off, got a barrel, and mounted some man upon it, who said,
"Gib anoder song, boys, and I'se gib you a speech." After some hesitation and
sundry shouts of "Rise de sing, somebody," and "Stan' up for Jesus,
brud-der," irreverently put in by the juveniles, they got upon the John Brown
song, always a favorite, adding a jubilant verse which I had never before
heard,--"We'll beat Beauregard on de clare battlefield." Then came the
promised speech, and then no less than seven other speeches by as many men,
on a variety of barrels, each orator being affectionately tugged to the
pedestal and set on end by his specal constituency. Every speech was good,
without exception; with the queerest oddities of phrase and
pronunciation, there was an invariable enthusiasm, a pungency of statement,
and an understanding of the points at issue, which made them all
rather thrilling. Those long-winded slaves in "Among the Pines" seemed
rather fictitious and literary in comparison. The most eloquent, perhaps,
was Corporal Price Lambkin, just arrived from Fernandina, who
evidently had a previous reputation among them. His historical references
were very interesting. He reminded them that he had predicted this war
ever since Fremont's time, to which some of the crowd assented; he gave
a very intelligent account of that Presidential campaign, and
then described most impressively the secret anxiety of the slaves
in Florida to know all about President Lincoln's election, and told
how they all refused to work on the fourth of March, expecting
their freedom to date from that day. He finally brought out one of the
few really impressive appeals for the American flag that I have
ever heard. "Our mas'rs dey hab lib under de flag, dey got dere
wealth under it, and ebryting beautiful for dere chilen. Under it dey
hab grind us up, and put us in dere pocket for money. But de fus'
minute dey tink dat ole flag mean freedom for we colored people, dey pull
it right down, and run up de rag ob dere own." (Immense applause).
"But we'll neber desert de ole flag, boys, neber; we hab lib under it
for eighteen hundred sixty-two years, and we'll die for it now."
With which overpowering discharge of chronology-at-long-range, this
most effective of stump-speeches closed. I see already with relief
that there will be small demand in this regiment for harangues from
the officers; give the men an empty barrel for a stump, and they will
do their own exhortation.
December 11, 1862.
Haroun Alraschid, wandering in disguise through his imperial
streets, scarcely happened upon a greater variety of groups than I, in my
evening strolls among our own camp-fires.
Beside some of these fires the men are cleaning their guns or rehearsing
their drill,--beside others, smoking in silence their very scanty supply of
the beloved tobacco,--beside others, telling stories and shouting with
laughter over the broadest mimicry, in which they excel, and in which the
officers come in for a full share. The everlasting "shout" is always within
hearing, with its mixture of piety and polka, and its castanet-like clapping
of the hands. Then there are quieter prayer-meetings, with pious invocations
and slow psalms, "deaconed out" from memory by the leader, two lines at a
time, in a sort of wailing chant. Elsewhere, there are conversazioni around fires, with a woman for queen of the circle,--her
Nubian face, gay headdress, gilt necklace, and white teeth, all resplendent
in the glowing light. Sometimes the woman is spelling slow monosyllables
out of a primer, a feat which always commands all ears,--they
rightly recognizing a mighty spell, equal to the overthrowing of monarchs,
in the magic assonance of cat, hat, pat, bat, and the rest of
it. Elsewhere, it is some solitary old cook, some aged Uncle Tiff,
with enormous spectacles, who is perusing a hymn-book by the light of
a pine splinter, in his deserted cooking booth of palmetto leaves.
By another fire there is an actual dance, red-legged soldiers
doing right-and-left, and "now-lead-de-lady-ober," to the music of a
violin which is rather artistically played, and which may have guided
the steps, in other days, of Barnwells and Hugers. And yonder is
a stump-orator perched on his barrel, pouring out his exhortations
to fidelity in war and in religion. To-night for the first time I
have heard an harangue in a different strain, quite saucy, sceptical,
and defiant, appealing to them in a sort of French materialistic
style, and claiming some personal experience of warfare. "You don't
know notin' about it, boys. You tink you's brave enough; how you tink,
if you stan' clar in de open field,--here you, and dar de Secesh?
You's got to hab de right ting inside o' you. You must hab it
'served [preserved] in you, like dese yer sour plums dey 'serve in de
barr'l; you's got to harden it down inside o' you, or it's notin'." Then
he hit hard at the religionists: "When a man's got de sperit ob de Lord in
him, it weakens him all out, can't hoe de corn." He had a great deal of broad
sense in his speech; but presently some others began praying vociferously
close by, as if to drown this free-thinker, when at last he exclaimed, "I
mean to fight de war through, an' die a good sojer wid de last kick,
dat's my prayer!" and suddenly jumped off the barrel. I was quite
interested at discovering this reverse side of the temperament, the
devotional side preponderates so enormously, and the greatest scamps kneel
and groan in their prayer-meetings with such entire zest. It shows that there
is some individuality developed among them, and that they will not become too
Their love of the spelling-book is perfectly
inexhaustible,--they stumbling on by themselves, or the blind leading the
blind, with the same pathetic patience which they carry into everything. The
chaplain is getting up a schoolhouse, where he will soon teach them as
regularly as he can. But the alphabet must always be a very incidental
business in a camp.
Passages from prayers in the camp:--
"Let me so lib dat when I die I shall hab manners, dat I shall
know what to say when I see my Heabenly Lord."
"Let me lib wid de musket in one hand an' de Bible in de oder,--dat if
I die at de muzzle ob de musket, die in de water, die on de land, I
may know I hab de bressed Jesus in my hand, an' hab no fear."
"I hab lef my wife in de land o' bondage; my little ones dey say
eb'ry night, Whar is my fader? But when I die, when de bressed mornin'
rises, when I shall stan' in de glory, wid one foot on de water an' one foot
on de land, den, O Lord, I shall see my wife an' my little chil'en once
These sentences I noted down, as best I could, beside the
glimmering camp-fire last night. The same person was the hero of a
singular little contre-temps at a funeral in the afternoon. It was our
first funeral. The man had died in hospital, and we had chosen
a picturesque burial-place above the river, near the old church,
and beside a little nameless cemetery, used by generations of slaves.
It was a regular military funeral, the coffin being draped with
the American flag, the escort marching behind, and three volleys
fired over the grave. During the services there was singing, the
chaplain deaconing out the hymn in their favorite way. This ended, he
announced his text,--"This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and
delivered him out of all his trouble." Instantly, to my great amazement,
the cracked voice of the chorister was uplifted, intoning the text, as
if it were the first verse of another hymn. So calmly was it done,
so imperturbable were all the black countenances, that I half began
to conjecture that the chaplain himself intended it for a hymn, though
I could imagine no propsective rhyme for trouble unless it
were approximated by debbil, which is, indeed, a favorite reference,
both with the men and with his Reverence. But the chaplain,
peacefully awaiting, gently repeated his text after the chant, and to my
great relief the old chorister waived all further recitative, and let
the funeral discourse proceed.
Their memories are a vast bewildered chaos of Jewish history
and biography; and most of the great events of the past, down to the
period of the American Revolution, they instinctively attribute to Moses.
There is a fine bold confidence in all their citations, however, and
the record never loses piquancy in their hands, though strict accuracy
may suffer. Thus, one of my captains, last Sunday, heard a colored
exhorter at Beaufort proclaim, "Paul may plant, and may polish wid
water, but it won't do," in which the sainted Apollos would hardly
have recognized himself.
Just now one of the soldiers came to me to say that he was about to
be married to a girl in Beaufort, and would I lend him a dollar
and seventy-five cents to buy the wedding outfit? It seemed as if
matrimony on such moderate terms ought to be encouraged in these days; and so
I responded to the appeal.
To-day a young recruit appeared here, who had been the slave of
Colonel Sammis, one of the leading Florida refugees. Two white companions
came with him, who also appeared to be retainers of the Colonel, and I
asked them to dine. Being likewise refugees, they had stories to tell,
and were quite agreeable: one was English born, the other Floridian, a
dark, sallow Southerner, very well bred. After they had gone, the
Colonel himself appeared, I told him that I had been entertaining his
white friends, and after a while he quietly let out the remark,--
"Yes, one of those white friends of whom you speak is a boy raised
on one of my plantations; he has travelled with me to the North, and
passed for white, and he always keeps away from the negroes."
Certainly no such suspicion had ever crossed my mind.
I have noticed one man in the regiment who would easily pass
for white,--a little sickly drummer, aged fifty at least, with brown
eyes and reddish hair, who is said to be the son of one of our
commodores. I have seen perhaps a dozen persons as fair, or fairer, among
fugitive slaves, but they were usually young children. It touched me far
more to see this man, who had spent more than half a lifetime in this
low estate, and for whom it now seemed too late to be anything but
a "nigger." This offensive word, by the way, is almost as common with them
as at the North, and far more common than with well-bred slaveholders. They
have meekly accepted it. "Want to go out to de nigger houses, Sah," is the
universal impulse of sociability, when they wish to cross the lines. "He hab
twenty house-servants, an' two hundred head o' nigger," is a still more
degrading form of phrase, in which the epithet is limited to the field-hands,
and they estimated like so many cattle. This want of self-respect of course
interferes with the authority of the non-commissioned officers, which is
always difficult to sustain, even in white regiments. "He needn't try to
play de white man ober me," was the protest of a soldier against
his corporal the other day. To counteract this I have often to remind
them that they do not obey their officers because they are white,
but because they are their officers; and guard duty is an admirable
school for this, because they readily understand that the sergeant
or corporal of the guard has for the time more authority than
any commissioned officer who is not on duty. It is necessary also
for their superiors to treat the non-commissioned officers with
careful courtesy, and I often caution the line officers never to call
them "Sam" or "Will," nor omit the proper handle to their names. The
value of the habitual courtesies of the regular army is exceedingly
apparent with these men: an officer of polished manners can wind them round
his finger, while white soldiers seem rather to prefer a
certain roughness. The demeanor of my men to each other is very courteous,
and yet I see none of that sort of upstart conceit which is
sometimes offensive among free negroes at the North, the dandy-barber
strut. This is an agreeable surprise, for I feared that freedom
and regimentals would produce precisely that.
They seem the world's perpetual children, docile, gay, and lovable,
in the midst of this war for freedom on which they have
intelligently entered. Last night, before "taps," there was the greatest
noise in camp that I had ever heard, and I feared some riot. On going out, I
found the most tumultuous sham-fight proceeding in total darkness, two
companies playing like boys, beating tin cups for drums. When some of them
saw me they seemed a little dismayed, and came and said,
beseechingly,--"Gunnel, Sah, you hab no objection to we playin', Sah?"--which
objection I disclaimed; but soon they all subsided, rather to my regret,
and scattered merrily. Afterward I found that some other officer had
told them that I considered the affair too noisy, so that I felt a
mild self-reproach when one said, "Cunnel, wish you had let we play a
little longer, Sah." Still I was not sorry, on the whole; for these
sham-fights between companies would in some regiments lead to real ones, and
there is a latent jealousy here between the Florida and South Carolina
men, which sometimes makes me anxious.
The officers are more kind and patient with the men than I
should expect, since the former are mostly young, and drilling tries
the temper; but they are aided by hearty satisfaction in the
results already attained. I have never yet heard a doubt expressed among
the officers as to the superiority of these men to white troops
in aptitude for drill and discipline, because of their imitativeness
and docility, and the pride they take in the service. One captain said
to me to-day, "I have this afternoon taught my men to
load-in-nine-times, and they do it better than we did it in my former company
in three months." I can personally testify that one of our best lieutenants,
an Englishman, taught a part of his company the essential movements of the
"school for skirmishers" in a single lesson of two hours, so that they did
them very passably, though I feel bound to discourage such haste. However, I
"formed square" on the third battalion drill. Three fourths of drill consist
of attention, imitation, and a good ear for time; in the other fourth, which
consists of the application of principles, as, for instance, performing by
the left flank some movement before learned by the right, they are perhaps
slower than better educated men. Having belonged to five different
drill-clubs before entering the army, I certainly ought to know something of
the resources of human awkwardness, and I can honestly say that
they astonish me by the facility with which they do things. I expected
much harder work in this respect.
The habit of carrying burdens on the head gives them erectness
of figure, even where physically disabled. I have seen a woman, with
a brimming water-pail balanced on her head, or perhaps a cup, saucer,
and spoon, stop suddenly, turn round, stoop to pick up a missile,
rise again, fling it, light a pipe, and go through many evolutions
with either hand or both, without spilling a drop. The pipe, by the
way, gives an odd look to a well-dressed young girl on Sunday, but one
often sees that spectacle. The passion for tobacco among our men
continues quite absorbing, and I have piteous appeals for some arrangement
by which they can buy it on credit, as we have yet no sutler.
Their imploring, "Cunnel, we can't lib widout it, Sah," goes to my
heart; and as they cannot read, I cannot even have the melancholy
satisfaction of supplying them with the excellent anti-tobacco tracts of Mr.
Last night the water froze in the adjutant's tent, but not in
mine. To-day has been mild and beautiful. The blacks say they do not
feel the cold so much as the white officers do, and perhaps it is
so, though their health evidently suffers more from dampness. On the
other hand, while drilling on very warm days, they have seemed to
suffer more from the heat than their officers. But they dearly love fire,
and at night will always have it, if possible, even on the
minutest scale,--a mere handful of splinters, that seems hardly
more efficacious than a friction-match. Probably this is a natural
habit for the short-lived coolness of an out-door country; and then there
is something delightful in this rich pine, which burns like a
tar-barrel. It was, perhaps, encouraged by the masters, as the only cheap
luxury the slaves had at hand.
As one grows more acquainted with the men, their individualities
emerge; and I find, first their faces, then their characters, to be as
distinct as those of whites. It is very interesting the desire they show to
do their duty, and to improve as soldiers; they evidently think about
it, and see the importance of the thing; they say to me that we white
men cannot stay and be their leaders always and that they must learn
to depend on themselves, or else relapse into their former condition.
Beside the superb branch of uneatable bitter oranges which decks
my tent-pole, I have to-day hung up a long bough of finger-sponge,
which floated to the river-bank. As winter advances, butterflies
gradually disappear: one species (a Vanessa) lingers; three others have
vanished since I came. Mocking-birds are abundant, but rarely sing; once or
twice they have reminded me of the red thrush, but are inferior, as I
have always thought. The colored people all say that it will be much
cooler; but my officers do not think so, perhaps because last winter was
so unusually mild,--with only one frost, they say.
Philoprogenitiveness is an important organ for an officer of
colored troops; and I happen to be well provided with it. It seems to be
the theory of all military usages, in fact, that soldiers are to be
treated like children; and these singular persons, who never know their own
age till they are past middle life, and then choose a birthday with
such precision,--"Fifty year old, Sah, de fus' last April,"--prolong
the privilege of childhood.
I am perplexed nightly for countersigns,--their range of proper names is
so distressingly limited, and they make such amazing work of every new one.
At first, to be sure, they did not quite recognize the need of any variation:
one night some officer asked a sentinel whether he had the countersign yet,
and was indignantly answered, "Should tink I hab 'em, hab 'em for a
fortnight"; which seems a long epoch for that magic word to hold out.
To-night I thought I would have "Fredericksburg," in honor of Burnside's
reported victory, using the rumor quickly, for fear of a contradiction.
Later, in comes a captain, gets the countersign for his own use, but
presently returns, the sentinel having pronounced it incorrect. On inquiry,
it appears that the sergeant of the guard, being weak in geography, thought
best to substitute the more familiar word, "Crockery-ware"; which was,
with perfect gravity, confided to all the sentinels, and accepted
without question. O life! what is the fun of fiction beside thee?
I should think they would suffer and complain these cold nights;
but they say nothing, though there is a good deal of coughing. I
should fancy that the scarlet trousers must do something to keep them warm,
and wonder that they dislike them so much, when they are so much like
their beloved fires. They certainly multiply firelight in any case. I
often notice that an infinitesimal flame, with one soldier standing by
it, looks like quite a respectable conflagration, and it seems as if a
group of them must dispel dampness.
To a regimental commander no book can be so fascinating as
the consolidated Morning Report, which is ready about nine, and tells
how many in each company are sick, absent, on duty, and so on. It is
one's newspaper and daily mail; I never grow tired of it. If a single
recruit has come in, I am always eager to see how he looks on paper.
To-night the officers are rather depressed by rumors of Burnside's
being defeated, after all. I am fortunately equable and undepressible; and
it is very convenient that the men know too little of the events of the
war to feel excitement or fear. They know General Saxton and
me,--"de General" and "de Gunnel,"--and seem to ask no further questions. We
are the war. It saves a great deal of trouble, while it lasts,
this childlike confidence; nevertheless, it is our business to educate
them to manhood, and I see as yet no obstacle.
As for the rumor, the world will no doubt roll round, whether
Burnside is defeated or succeeds.
"We'll fight for liberty Till de Lord shall
call us home; We'll soon be free Till de Lord
shall call us home."
This is the hymn which the slaves at Georgetown, South Carolina,
were whipped for singing when President Lincoln was elected. So said a
little drummer-boy, as he sat at my tent's edge last night and told me
his story; and he showed all his white teeth as he added, "Dey tink
'de Lord' meant for say de Yankees."
Last night, at dress-parade, the adjutant read General
Saxton's Proclamation for the New Year's Celebration. I think they understood
it, for there was cheering in all the company-streets afterwards.
Christmas is the great festival of the year for this people; but, with New
Year's coming after, we could have no adequate programme for to-day, and
so celebrated Christmas Eve with pattern simplicity. We omitted,
namely, the mystic curfew which we call "taps," and let them sit up and
burn their fires, and have their little prayer-meetings as late as
they desired; and all night, as I waked at intervals, I could hear
them praying and "shouting" and clattering with hands and heels. It seemed
to make them very happy, and appeared to be at least an innocent
Christmas dissipation, as compared with some of the convivialities of
the "superior race" hereabouts.
The day passed with no greater excitement for the men
than target-shooting, which they enjoyed. I had the private delight of
the arrival of our much-desired surgeon and his nephew, the captain,
with letters and news from home. They also bring the good tidings
that General Saxton is not to be removed, as had been reported.
Two different stands of colors have arrived for us, and will
be presented at New Year's,--one from friends in New York, and the
other from a lady in Connecticut. I see that "Frank Leslie's
Illustrated Weekly" of December 20th has a highly imaginative picture of
the muster-in of our first company, and also of a skirmish on the
I must not forget the prayer overheard last night by one of
the captains: "O Lord! when I tink ob dis Kismas and las' year de
Kismas. Las' Kismas he in de Secesh, and notin' to eat but grits, and no salt
in 'em. Dis year in de camp, and too much victual!" This "too much" is
a favorite phrase out of their grateful hearts, and did not in this
case denote an excess of dinner,--as might be supposed,--but of
Our new surgeon has begun his work most efficiently: he and the
chaplain have converted an old gin-house into a comfortable hospital, with
ten nice beds and straw pallets. He is now, with a hearty
professional faith, looking round for somebody to put into it. I am afraid
the regiment will accommodate him; for, although he declares that these
men do not sham sickness, as he expected, their catarrh is an
unpleasant reality. They feel the dampness very much, and make such a
coughing at dress-parade, that I have urged him to administer a dose
of cough-mixture, all round, just before that pageant. Are the colored
race tough? is my present anxiety; and it is odd that
physical insufficiency, the only discouragement not thrown in our way by
the newspapers, is the only discouragement which finds any place in
our minds. They are used to sleeping indoors in winter, herded before
fires, and so they feel the change. Still, the regiment is as healthy as
the average, and experience will teach us something.*
* A second winter's experience removed all this solicitude, for
they learned to take care of themselves. During the first February
the sick-list averaged about ninety, during the second about thirty, this
being the worst month in the year for blacks.
On the first of January we are to have a slight collation, ten oxen
or so, barbecued,--or not properly barbecued, but roasted whole.
Touching the length of time required to "do" an ox, no two housekeepers
appear to agree. Accounts vary from two hours to twenty-four. We shall
happily have enough to try all gradations of roasting, and suit all tastes,
from Miss A.'s to mine. But fancy me proffering a spare-rib, well done,
to some fair lady! What ever are we to do for spoons and forks and
plates? Each soldier has his own, and is sternly held responsible for it
by "Army Regulations." But how provide for the multitude? Is it
customary, I ask you, to help to tenderloin with one's fingers? Fortunately,
the Major is to see to that department. Great are the advantages of
military discipline: for anything perplexing, detail a subordinate.
New Year's Eve.
My housekeeping at home is not, perhaps, on any very extravagant
scale. Buying beefsteak, I usually go to the extent of two or three pounds.
Yet when, this morning at daybreak, the quartermaster called to inquire
how many cattle I would have killed for roasting, I turned over in bed,
and answered composedly, "Ten,--and keep three to be fatted."
Fatted, quotha! Not one of the beasts at present appears to possess
an ounce of superfluous flesh. Never were seen such lean kine. As
they swing on vast spits, composed of young trees, the firelight
glimmers through their ribs, as if they were great lanterns. But no matter,
they are cooking,--nay, they are cooked.
One at least is taken off to cool, and will be replaced tomorrow to warm
up. It was roasted three hours, and well done, for I tasted it. It is so long
since I tasted fresh beef that forgetfulness is possible; but I fancied this
to be successful. I tried to imagine that I liked the Homeric repast, and
certainly the whole thing has been far more agreeable than was to be
expected. The doubt now is, whether I have made a sufficient provision for my
household. I should have roughly guessed that ten beeves would feed as many
million people, it has such a stupendous sound; but General Saxton predicts a
small social party of five thousand, and we fear that meat will run
short, unless they prefer bone. One of the cattle is so small, we are
hoping it may turn out veal.
For drink we aim at the simple luxury of molasses-and-water, a
barrel per company, ten in all. Liberal housekeepers may like to know that
for a barrel of water we allow three gallons of molasses, half a pound
of ginger, and a quart of vinegar,--this last being a new ingredient for
my untutored palate, though all the rest are amazed at my ignorance.
Hard bread, with more molasses, and a dessert of tobacco, complete
the festive repast, destined to cheer, but not inebriate.
On this last point, of inebriation, this is certainly a wonderful
camp. For us it is absolutely omitted from the list of vices. I have
never heard of a glass of liquor in the camp, nor of any effort either
to bring it in or to keep it out. A total absence of the circulating
medium might explain the abstinence,--not that it seems to have that effect
with white soldiers,--but it would not explain the silence. The craving
for tobacco is constant, and not to be allayed, like that of a mother
for her children; but I have never heard whiskey even wished for, save
on Christmas-Day, and then only by one man, and he spoke with a
hopeless ideal sighing, as one alludes to the Golden Age. I am amazed at
this total omission of the most inconvenient of all camp appetites.
It certainly is not the result of exhortation, for there has been
no occasion for any, and even the pledge would scarcely seem
efficacious where hardly anybody can write.
I do not think there is a great visible eagerness for
tomorrow's festival: it is not their way to be very jubilant over anything
this side of the New Jerusalem. They know also that those in this
Department are nominally free already, and that the practical freedom has to
be maintained, in any event, by military success. But they will enjoy
it greatly, and we shall have a multitude of people.
January 1, 1863 (evening).
A happy New Year to civilized people,--mere white folks. Our
festival has come and gone, with perfect success, and our good General has
been altogether satisfied. Last night the great fires were kept
smouldering in the pit, and the beeves were cooked more or less,
chiefly more,--during which time they had to be carefully watched, and
the great spits turned by main force. Happy were the merry fellows
who were permitted to sit up all night, and watch the glimmering
flames that threw a thousand fantastic shadows among the great gnarled
oaks. And such a chattering as I was sure to hear whenever I awoke
My first greeting to-day was from one of the most stylish sergeants,
who approached me with the following little speech, evidently the result
of some elaboration:--
"I tink myself happy, dis New Year's Day, for salute my own Cunnel.
Dis day las' year I was servant to a Gunnel ob Secesh; but now I hab
de privilege for salute my own Cunnel."
That officer, with the utmost sincerity, reciprocated the sentiment.
About ten o'clock the people began to collect by land, and also
by water,--in steamers sent by General Saxton for the purpose; and from
that time all the avenues of approach were thronged. The multitude
were chiefly colored women, with gay handkerchiefs on their heads, and
a sprinkling of men, with that peculiarly respectable look which
these people always have on Sundays and holidays. There were many
white visitors also,--ladies on horseback and in carriages, superintendents
and teachers, officers, and cavalry-men. Our companies were marched to
the neighborhood of the platform, and allowed to sit or stand, as at
the Sunday services; the platform was occupied by ladies and
dignitaries, and by the band of the Eighth Maine, which kindly volunteered
for the occasion; the colored people filled up all the vacant openings in
the beautiful grove around, and there was a cordon of mounted
visitors beyond. Above, the great live-oak branches and their trailing
moss; beyond the people, a glimpse of the blue river.
The services began at half past eleven o'clock, with prayer by
our chaplain, Mr. Fowler, who is always, on such occasions,
simple, reverential, and impressive. Then the President's Proclamation
was read by Dr. W. H. Brisbane, a thing infinitely appropriate, a
South Carolinian addressing South Carolinians; for he was reared among
these very islands, and here long since emancipated his own slaves. Then
the colors were presented to us by the Rev. Mr. French, a chaplain
who brought them from the donors in New York. All this was according
to the programme. Then followed an incident so simple, so touching,
so utterly unexpected and startling, that I can scarcely believe it
on recalling, though it gave the keynote to the whole day. The
very moment the speaker had ceased, and just as I took and waved the
flag, which now for the first time meant anything to these poor
people, there suddenly arose, close beside the platform, a strong male
voice (but rather cracked and elderly), into which two women's
voices instantly blended, singing, as if by an impulse that could no more
be repressed than the morning note of the song-sparrow.--
"My Country, 'tis of thee, Sweet land of
liberty, Of thee I sing!"
People looked at each other, and then at us on the platform, to
see whence came this interruption, not set down in the bills. Firmly
and irrepressibly the quavering voices sang on, verse after verse;
others of the colored people joined in; some whites on the platform
began, but I motioned them to silence. I never saw anything so electric;
it made all other words cheap; it seemed the choked voice of a race
at last unloosed. Nothing could be more wonderfully unconscious; art could
not have dreamed of a tribute to the day of jubilee that should be so
affecting; history will not believe it; and when I came to speak of it, after
it was ended, tears were everywhere. If you could have heard how quaint and
innocent it was! Old Tiff and his children might have sung it; and close
before me was a little slave-boy, almost white, who seemed to belong to the
party, and even he must join in. Just think of it!--the first day they had
ever had a country, the first flag they had ever seen which promised anything
to their people, and here, while mere spectators stood in silence, waiting
for my stupid words, these simple souls burst out in their lay, as if
they were by their own hearths at home! When they stopped, there
was nothing to do for it but to speak, and I went on; but the life of
the whole day was in those unknown people's song.
Receiving the flags, I gave them into the hands of two fine-looking
men, jet black, as color-guard, and they also spoke, and
very effectively,--Sergeant Prince Rivers and Corporal Robert Sutton.
The regiment sang "Marching Along," and then General Saxton spoke, in
his own simple, manly way, and Mrs. Francis D. Gage spoke very sensibly
to the women, and Judge Stickney, from Florida, added something; then
some gentleman sang an ode, and the regiment the John Brown song, and
then they went to their beef and molasses. Everything was very orderly,
and they seemed to have a very gay time. Most of the visitors had far
to go, and so dispersed before dress-parade, though the band stayed
to enliven it. In the evening we had letters from home, and General
Saxton had a reception at his house, from which I excused myself; and so
ended one of the most enthusiastic and happy gatherings I ever knew. The
day was perfect, and there was nothing but success.
I forgot to say, that, in the midst of the services, it was
announced that General Fremont was appointed Commander-in-Chief,--an
announcement which was received with immense cheering, as would have been
almost anything else, I verily believe, at that moment of high tide. It
was shouted across by the pickets above,--a way in which we often
receive news, but not always trustworthy.
January 3, 1863.
Once, and once only, thus far, the water has frozen in my tent; and the
next morning showed a dense white frost outside. We have still mocking-birds
and crickets and rosebuds, and occasional noonday baths in the river, though
the butterflies have vanished, as I remember to have observed in Fayal, after
December. I have been here nearly six weeks without a rainy day; one or two
slight showers there have been, once interrupting a drill, but never
dress-parade. For climate, by day, we might be among the isles of
Greece,--though it may be my constant familiarity with the names of her sages
which suggests that impression. For instance, a voice just now called, near
my tent,--"Cato, whar's Plato?" The men have somehow got the
impression that it is essential to the validity of a marriage that they
should come to me for permission, just as they used to go to the master;
and I rather encourage these little confidences, because it is
so entertaining to hear them. "Now, Cunnel," said a faltering swam
the other day, "I want for get me one good lady," which I
approved, especially the limitation as to number. Afterwards I asked one of
the bridegroom's friends whether he thought it a good match. "O
yes, Cunnel," said he, in all the cordiality of friendship, "John's
gwine for marry Venus." I trust the goddess will prove herself a better
lady than she appeared during her previous career upon this planet.
But this naturally suggests the isles of Greece again.
On first arriving, I found a good deal of anxiety among the officers
as to the increase of desertions, that being the rock on which the
"Hunter Regiment" split. Now this evil is very nearly stopped, and we are
every day recovering the older absentees. One of the very best things
that have happened to us was the half-accidental shooting of a man who
had escaped from the guard-house, and was wounded by a squad sent
in pursuit. He has since died; and this very eve-rung another man,
who escaped with him, came and opened the door of my tent, after being
five days in the woods, almost without food. His clothes were in rags, and
he was nearly starved, poor foolish fellow, so that we can almost
dispense with further punishment. Severe penalties would be wasted on
these people, accustomed as they have been to the most violent passions on
the part of white men; but a mild inexorableness tells on them, just as
it does on any other children. It is something utterly new to me, and it
is thus far perfectly efficacious. They have a great deal of pride
as soldiers, and a very little of severity goes a great way, if it be
firm and consistent. This is very encouraging.
The single question which I asked of some of the
plantation superintendents, on the voyage, was, "Do these people
appreciate justice?" If they did it was evident that all the rest
would be easy. When a race is degraded beyond that point it must be very hard
to deal with them; they must mistake all kindness for indulgence, all
strictness for cruelty. With these freed slaves there is no such trouble, not
a particle: let an officer be only just and firm, with a cordial,
kindly nature, and he has no sort of difficulty. The plantation
superintendents and teachers have the same experience, they say; but we have
an immense advantage in the military organization, which helps in two ways:
it increases their self-respect, and it gives us an admirable machinery
for discipline, thus improving both the fulcrum and the lever.
The wounded man died in the hospital, and the general verdict seemed
to be, "Him brought it on heself." Another soldier died of pneumonia on
the same day, and we had the funerals in the evening. It was
very impressive. A dense mist came up, with a moon behind it, and we had
only the light of pine-splinters, as the procession wound along beneath
the mighty, moss-hung branches of the ancient grove. The groups around
the grave, the dark faces, the red garments, the scattered lights, the
misty boughs, were weird and strange. The men sang one of their own
wild chants. Two crickets sang also, one on either side, and did not
cease their little monotone, even when the three volleys were fired above
the graves. Just before the coffins were lowerd, an old man whispered to
me that I must have their position altered,--the heads must be towards
the west; so it was done,--though they are in a place so veiled in woods
that either rising or setting sun will find it hard to spy them.
We have now a good regimental hospital, admirably arranged in a
deserted gin-house,--a fine well of our own digging, within the camp
lines,--a full allowance of tents, all floored,--a wooden cook-house to every
company, with sometimes a palmetto mess-house beside,--a substantial
wooden guard-house, with a fireplace five feet "in de clar," where the men
off duty can dry themselves and sleep comfortably in bunks afterwards.
We have also a great circular school-tent, made of condemned canvas,
thirty feet in diameter, and looking like some of the Indian lodges I saw
in Kansas. We now meditate a regimental bakery. Our aggregate has
increased from four hundred and ninety to seven hundred and forty, besides
a hundred recruits now waiting at St. Augustine, and we have
practised through all the main movements in battalion drill.
Affairs being thus prosperous, and yesterday having been six weeks
since my last and only visit to Beaufort, I rode in, glanced at several
camps, and dined with the General. It seemed absolutely like re-entering
the world; and I did not fully estimate my past seclusion till it
occurred to me, as a strange and novel phenomenon, that the soldiers at the
other camps were white.
This morning I went to Beaufort again, on necessary business, and
by good luck happened upon a review and drill of the white regiments.
The thing that struck me most was that same absence of uniformity, in
minor points, that I noticed at first in my own officers. The best
regiments in the Department are represented among my captains and
lieutenants, and very well represented too; yet it has cost much labor to
bring them to any uniformity in their drill. There is no need of this; for
the prescribed "Tactics" approach perfection; it is never left
discretionary in what place an officer shall stand, or in what words he shall
give his order. All variation would seem to imply negligence. Yet even West
Point occasionally varies from the "Tactics,"--as, for instance, in
requiring the line officers to face down the line, when each is giving the
order to his company. In our strictest Massachusetts regiments this is not
It needs an artist's eye to make a perfect drill-master. Yet the
small points are not merely a matter of punctilio; for, the more perfectly
a battalion is drilled on the parade-ground the more quietly it can
be handled in action. Moreover, the great need of uniformity is
this: that, in the field, soldiers of different companies, and even
of different regiments, are liable to be intermingled, and a diversity
of orders may throw everything into confusion. Confusion means Bull
I wished my men at the review to-day; for, amidst all the rattling
and noise of artillery and the galloping of cavalry, there was only
one infantry movement that we have not practised, and that was done by
only one regiment, and apparently considered quite a novelty, though it
is easily taught,
--forming square by Casey's method: forward on centre. It is really
just as easy to drill a regiment as a company,
--perhaps easier, because one has more time to think; but it is just
as essential to be sharp and decisive, perfectly clearheaded, and to
put life into the men. A regiment seems small when one has learned how
to handle it, a mere handful of men; and I have no doubt that a brigade
or a division would soon appear equally small. But to handle
either judiciously, ah, that is another affair!
So of governing; it is as easy to govern a regiment as a school or
a factory, and needs like qualities, system, promptness, patience,
tact; moreover, in a regiment one has the aid of the admirable machinery
of the army, so that I see very ordinary men who succeed very
Reports of a six months' armistice are rife here, and the thought
is deplored by all. I cannot believe it; yet sometimes one feels
very anxious about the ultimate fate of these poor people. After
the experience of Hungary, one sees that revolutions may go backward;
and the habit of injustice seems so deeply impressed upon the whites,
that it is hard to believe in the possibility of anything better. I dare
not yet hope that the promise of the President's Proclamation will be
kept. For myself I can be indifferent, for the experience here has been
its own daily and hourly reward; and the adaptedness of the freed slaves
for drill and discipline is now thoroughly demonstrated, and must soon
be universally acknowledged. But it would be terrible to see this
regiment disbanded or defrauded.
Many things glide by without time to narrate them. On Saturday we had
a mail with the President's Second Message of Emancipation, and the
next day it was read to the men. The words themselves did not stir them
very much, because they have been often told that they were free,
especially on New Year's Day, and, being unversed in politics, they do
not understand, as well as we do, the importance of each
additional guaranty. But the chaplain spoke to them afterwards very
effectively, as usual; and then I proposed to them to hold up their hands and
pledge themselves to be faithful to those still in bondage. They
entered heartily into this, and the scene was quite impressive, beneath
the great oak-branches. I heard afterwards that only one man refused
to raise his hand, saying bluntly that his wife was out of slavery
with him, and he did not care to fight. The other soldiers of his
company were very indignant, and shoved him about among them while marching
back to their quarters, calling him "Coward." I was glad of their
exhibition of feeling, though it is very possible that the one who had thus
the moral courage to stand alone among his comrades might be more
reliable, on a pinch, than some who yielded a more ready assent. But the
whole response, on their part, was very hearty, and will be a good thing
to which to hold them hereafter, at any time of discouragement
or demoralization,--which was my chief reason for proposing it. With
their simple natures it is a great thing to tie them to some
definite committal; they never forget a marked occurrence, and never
seem disposed to evade a pledge.
It is this capacity of honor and fidelity which gives me such
entire faith in them as soldiers. Without it all their
religious demonstration would be mere sentimentality. For instance, every
one who visits the camp is struck with their bearing as sentinels.
They exhibit, in this capacity, not an upstart conceit, but a
steady, conscientious devotion to duty. They would stop their idolized
General Saxton, if he attempted to cross their beat contrary to orders: I
have seen them. No feeble or incompetent race could do this. The
officers tell many amusing instances of this fidelity, but I think mine
It was very dark the other night, an unusual thing here, and the rain
fell in torrents; so I put on my India-rubber suit, and went the rounds of
the sentinels, incognito, to test them. I can only say that I shall never try
such an experiment again and have cautioned my officers against it. Tis a
wonder I escaped with life and limb,--such a charging of bayonets and
clicking of gun-locks. Sometimes I tempted them by refusing to give any
countersign, but offering them a piece of tobacco, which they could not
accept without allowing me nearer than the prescribed bayonet's distance.
Tobacco is more than gold to them, and it was touching to watch the struggle
in their minds; but they always did their duty at last, and I never could
persuade them. One man, as if wishing to crush all his inward vacillation at
one fell stroke, told me stoutly that he never used tobacco, though I found
next day that he loved it as much as any one of them. It seemed wrong thus to
tamper with their fidelity; yet it was a vital matter to me to know how far
it could be trusted, out of my sight. It was so intensely dark that not more
than one or two knew me, even after I had talked with the very next
sentinel, especially as they had never seen me in India-rubber clothing, and
I can always disguise my voice. It was easy to distinguish those who did
make the discovery; they were always conscious and simpering when their
turn came; while the others were stout and irreverent till I revealed
myself, and then rather cowed and anxious, fearing to have offended.
It rained harder and harder, and when I had nearly made the rounds I
had had enough of it, and, simply giving the countersign to the
challenging sentinel, undertook to pass within the lines.
"Halt!" exclaimed this dusky man and brother, bringing down his
bayonet, "de countersign not correck."
Now the magic word, in this case, was "Vicksburg," in honor of a rumored
victory. But as I knew that these hard names became quite transformed upon
their lips, "Carthage" being familiarized into Cartridge, and "Concord" into
Corn-cob, how could I possibly tell what shade of pronunciation my friend
might prefer for this particular proper name?
"Vicksburg," I repeated, blandly, but authoritatively, endeavoring,
as zealously as one of Christy's Minstrels, to assimilate my speech to
any supposed predilection of the Ethiop vocal organs.
"Halt dar! Countersign not correck," was the only answer.
The bayonet still maintained a position which, in a military point
of view, was impressive.
I tried persuasion, orthography, threats, tobacco, all in vain. I
could not pass in. Of course my pride was up; for was I to defer to
an untutored African on a point of pronunciation? Classic shades
of Harvard, forbid! Affecting scornful indifference, I tried to edge
away, proposing to myself to enter the camp at some other point, where
my elocution would be better appreciated. Not a step could I stir.
"Halt!" shouted my gentleman again, still holding me at his
bayonet's point, and I wincing and halting.
I explained to him the extreme absurdity of this proceeding, called
his attention to the state of the weather, which, indeed, spoke for
itself so loudly that we could hardly hear each other speak, and
requested permission to withdraw. The bayonet, with mute eloquence, refused
There flashed into my mind, with more enjoyment in the retrospect than I
had experienced at the time, an adventure on a lecturing tour in other years,
when I had spent an hour in trying to scramble into a country tavern, after
bed-time, on the coldest night of winter. On that occasion I ultimately found
myself stuck midway in the window, with my head in a temperature of 80
degrees, and my heels in a temperature of -10 degrees, with a heavy
windowsash pinioning the small of my back. However, I had got safe out of
that dilemma, and it was time to put an end to this one,
"Call the corporal of the guard," said I at last, with
dignity, unwilling to make a night of it or to yield my incognito.
"Corporal ob de guardl" he shouted, lustily,--"Post Number Two!" while
I could hear another sentinel chuckling with laughter. This last was
a special guard, placed over a tent, with a prisoner in charge.
Presently he broke silence.
"Who am dat?" he asked, in a stage whisper. "Am he a buckra [white
"Dunno whether he been a buckra or not," responded, doggedly,
my Cerberus in uniform; "but I's bound to keep him here till de corporal
ob de guard come."
Yet, when that dignitary arrived, and I revealed myself, poor Number
Two appeared utterly transfixed with terror, and seemed to look for
nothing less than immediate execution. Of course I praised his fidelity, and
the next day complimented him before the guard, and mentioned him to
his captain; and the whole affair was very good for them all. Hereafter,
if Satan himself should approach them in darkness and storm, they will
take him for "de Cunnel," and treat him with special severity.
In many ways the childish nature of this people shows itself. I
have just had to make a change of officers in a company which has
constantly complained, and with good reason, of neglect and improper
treatment. Two excellent officers have been assigned to them; and yet they
sent a deputation to me in the evening, in a state of utter wretchedness.
"We's bery grieved dis evening, Cunnel; 'pears like we couldn't bear it,
to lose de Cap'n and de Lieutenant, all two togeder." Argument was
useless; and I could only fall back on the general theory, that I knew what
was best for them, which had much more effect; and I also could cite
the instance of another company, which had been much improved by a
new captain, as they readily admitted. So with the promise that the
new officers should not be "savage to we," which was the one thing
they deprecated, I assuaged their woes. Twenty-four hours have passed, and
I hear them singing most merrily all down that company street.
I often notice how their griefs may be dispelled, like those
of children, merely by permission to utter them: if they can tell
their sorrows, they go away happy, even without asking to have anything
done about them. I observe also a peculiar dislike of all
intermediate control: they always wish to pass by the company officer, and
deal with me personally for everything. General Saxton notices the
same thing with the people on the plantations as regards himself. I
suppose this proceeds partly from the old habit of appealing to the
master against the overseer. Kind words would cost the master nothing, and
he could easily put off any non-fulfilment upon the overseer.
Moreover, the negroes have acquired such constitutional distrust of
white people, that it is perhaps as much as they can do to trust more
than one person at a tune. Meanwhile this constant personal intercourse
is out of the question in a well-ordered regiment; and the remedy for
it is to introduce by degrees more and more of system, so that
their immediate officers will become all-sufficient for the daily
It is perfectly true (as I find everybody takes for granted) that
the first essential for an officer of colored troops is to gain
their confidence. But it is equally true, though many persons do
not appreciate it, that the admirable methods and proprieties of the
regular army are equally available for all troops, and that the
sublimest philanthropist, if he does not appreciate this, is unfit to command
Another childlike attribute in these men, which is less agreeable, is
a sort of blunt insensibility to giving physical pain. If they are
cruel to animals, for instance, it always reminds me of children pulling
off flies' legs, in a sort of pitiless, untaught, experimental way. Yet
I should not fear any wanton outrage from them. After all their
wrongs, they are not really revengeful; and I would far rather enter a
captured city with them than with white troops, for they would be
more subordinate. But for mere physical suffering they would have no
fine sympathies. The cruel things they have seen and undergone have helped
to blunt them; and if I ordered them to put to death a dozen prisoners,
I think they would do it without remonstrance.
Yet their religious spirit grows more beautiful to me in living
longer with them; it is certainly far more so than at first, when it
seemed rather a matter of phrase and habit. It influences them both on
the negative and the positive side. That is, it cultivates the
feminine virtues first,--makes them patient, meek, resigned. This is
very evident in the hospital; there is nothing of the restless,
defiant habit of white invalids. Perhaps, if they had more of this,
they would resist disease better. Imbued from childhood with the habit
of submission, drinking in through every pore that other-world trust which
is the one spirit of their songs, they can endure everything. This I
expected; but I am relieved to find that their religion strengthens them on
the positive side also,--gives zeal, energy, daring. They could easily be
made fanatics, if I chose; but I do not choose. Their whole mood is
essentially Mohammedan, perhaps, in its strength and its weakness; and I feel
the same degree of sympathy that I should if I had a Turkish command,--that
is, a sort of sympathetic admiration, not tending towards agreement, but
towards co-operation. Their philosophizing is often the highest form of
mysticism; and our dear surgeon declares that they are all natural
transcendentalists. The white camps seem rough and secular, after this; and I
hear our men talk about "a religious army," "a Gospel army," in
their prayer-meetings. They are certainly evangelizing the chaplain, who
was rather a heretic at the beginning; at least, this is his
own admission. We have recruits on their way from St. Augustine, where
the negroes are chiefly Roman Catholics; and it will be interesting to
see how their type of character combines with that elder creed. It is
time for rest; and I have just looked out into the night, where the
eternal stars shut down, in concave protection, over the yet glimmering
camp, and Orion hangs above my tent-door, giving to me the sense of
strength and assurance which these simple children obtain from their Moses
and the Prophets. Yet external Nature does its share in their
training; witness that most poetic of all their songs, which always reminds
me of the "Lyke-Wake Dirge" in the "Scottish Border Minstrelsy,"--
"I know moon-rise, I know star-rise; Lay dis
body down. I walk in de moonlight, I walk in de
starlight, To lay dis body down. I'll walk in de
graveyard, I'll walk through de graveyard, To lay dis body
down. I'll lie in de grave and stretch out my
arms; Lay dis body down. I go to de Judgment in
de evening ob de day When I lay dis body down;
And my soul and your soul will meet in de day When I lay
dis body down."
In speaking of the military qualities of the blacks, I should add,
that the only point where I am disappointed is one I have never seen
raised by the most incredulous newspaper critics,--namely, then-
physical condition. To be sure they often look magnificently to
my gymnasium-trained eye; and I always like to observe them
when bathing,--such splendid muscular development, set off by that
smooth coating of adipose tissue which makes them, like the South-Sea
Islanders appear even more muscular than they are. Their skins are also of
finer grain than those of whites, the surgeons say, and certainly are
smoother and far more free from hair. But their weakness is pulmonary;
pneumonia and pleurisy are their besetting ailments; they are easily made
ill,--and easily cured, if promptly treated: childish organizations
again. Guard-duty injures them more than whites, apparently; and
double-quick movements, in choking dust, set them coughing badly. But then it
is to be remembered that this is their sickly season, from January to
March, and that their healthy season will come in summer, when the whites
break down. Still my conviction of the physical superiority of more
highly civilized races is strengthened on the whole, not weakened, by
observing them. As to availability for military drill and duty in other
respects, the only question I ever hear debated among the officers is,
whether they are equal or superior to whites. I have never heard it
suggested that they were inferior, although I expected frequently to hear
such complaints from hasty or unsuccessful officers.
Of one thing I am sure, that their best qualities will be wasted
by merely keeping them for garrison duty. They seem peculiarly fitted
for offensive operations, and especially for partisan warfare; they
have so much dash and such abundant resources, combined with such
an Indian-like knowledge of the country and its ways. These traits
have been often illustrated in expeditions sent after deserters.
For instance, I despatched one of my best lieutenants and my best
sergeant with a squad of men to search a certain plantation, where there
were two separate negro villages. They went by night, and the force
was divided. The lieutenant took one set of huts, the sergeant the
other. Before the lieutenant had reached his first house, every man in
the village was in the woods, innocent and guilty alike. But
the sergeant's mode of operation was thus described by a corporal from
a white regiment who happened to be in one of the negro houses. He
said that not a sound was heard until suddenly a red leg appeared in
the open doorway, and a voice outside said, "Rally." Going to the door,
he observed a similar pair of red legs before every hut, and not a
person was allowed to go out, until the quarters had been
thoroughly searched, and the three deserters found. This was managed by
Sergeant Prince Rivers, our color-sergeant, who is provost-sergeant also,
and has entire charge of the prisoners and of the daily policing of
the camp. He is a man of distinguished appearance, and in old times
was the crack coachman of Beaufort, in which capacity he once
drove Beauregard from this plantation to Charleston, I believe. They tell
me that he was once allowed to present a petition to the Governor of South
Carolina in behalf of slaves, for the redress of certain grievances; and that
a placard, offering two thousand dollars for his recapture, is still to be
seen by the wayside between here and Charleston. He was a sergeant in the old
"Hunter Regiment," and was taken by General Hunter to New York last spring,
where the chevrons on his arm brought a mob upon him in Broadway, whom he
kept off till the police interfered. There is not a white officer in this
regiment who has more administrative ability, or more absolute authority
over the men; they do not love him, but his mere presence has
controlling power over them. He writes well enough to prepare for me a
daily report of his duties in the camp; if his education reached a
higher point, I see no reason why he should not command the Army of
the Potomac. He is jet-black, or rather, I should say, wine-black;
his complexion, like that of others of my darkest men, having a sort
of rich, clear depth, without a trace of sootiness, and to my eye
very handsome. His features are tolerably regular, and full of command,
and his figure superior to that of any of our white officers,--being
six feet high, perfectly proportioned, and of apparently
inexhaustible strength and activity. His gait is like a panther's; I never
saw such a tread. No anti-slavery novel has described a man of such
marked ability. He makes Toussaint perfectly intelligible; and if
there should ever be a black monarchy in South Carolina, he will be
This morning is like May. Yesterday I saw bluebirds and a butterfly;
so this whiter of a fortnight is over. I fancy there is a trifle
less coughing in the camp. We hear of other stations in the Department
where the mortality, chiefly from yellow fever, has been frightful. Dr. ----
is rubbing his hands professionally over the fearful tales of the
surgeon of a New York regiment, just from Key West, who has had two
hundred cases of the fever. "I suppose he is a skilful, highly educated
man," said I. "Yes," he responded with enthusiasm. "Why, he had
seventy deaths!"--as if that proved his superiority past question.
"And first, sitting proud as a lung on his throne, At the head of
them all rode Sir Richard Tyrone."
But I fancy that Sir Richard felt not much better satisfied with
his following than I to-day. J. R. L. said once that nothing was quite
so good as turtle-soup, except mock-turtle; and I have heard
officers declare that nothing was so stirring as real war, except some
exciting parade. To-day, for the first time, I marched the whole
regiment through Beaufort and back,--the first appearance of such a novelty
on any stage. They did march splendidly; this all admit.
M----'s prediction was fulfilled: "Will not ---- be in bliss? A thousand
men, every one as black as a coal!" I confess it. To look back on
twenty broad double-ranks of men (for they marched by
platoons),--every polished musket having a black face beside it, and every
face set steadily to the front,--a regiment of freed slaves marching on
into the future,--it was something to remember; and when they
returned through the same streets, marching by the flank, with guns at
a "support," and each man covering his file-leader handsomely, the effect
on the eye was almost as fine. The band of the Eighth Maine joined us at the
entrance of the town, and escorted us in. Sergeant Rivers said ecstatically
afterwards, in describing the affair, "And when dat band wheel in before us,
and march on,--my God! I quit dis world altogeder." I wonder if he pictured
to himself the many dusky regiments, now unformed, which I seemed to see
marching up behind us, gathering shape out of the dim air.
I had cautioned the men, before leaving camp, not to be staring
about them as they marched, but to look straight to the front, every man;
and they did it with their accustomed fidelity, aided by the sort
of spontaneous eye-for-effect which is in all their melodramatic
natures. One of them was heard to say exultingly afterwards, "We didn't look
to de right nor to de leff. I didn't see notin' in Beaufort. Eb'ry step
was worth a half a dollar." And they all marched as if it were so. They
knew well that they were marching through throngs of officers and
soldiers who had drilled as many months as we had drilled weeks, and whose
eyes would readily spy out every defect. And I must say, that, on the
whole, with a few trivial exceptions, those spectators behaved in a manly
and courteous manner, and I do not care to write down all the
handsome things that were said. Whether said or not, they were deserved;
and there is no danger that our men will not take sufficient satisfaction
in their good appearance. I was especially amused at one of our
recruits, who did not march in the ranks, and who said, after watching
the astonishment of some white soldiers, "De buckra sojers look like a
man who been-a-steal a sheep,"--that is, I suppose, sheepish.
After passing and repassing through the town, we marched to
the parade-ground, and went through an hour's drill, forming squares
and reducing them, and doing other things which look hard on paper,
and are perfectly easy in fact; and we were to have been reviewed
by General Saxton, but he had been unexpectedly called to Ladies
Island, and did not see us at all, which was the only thing to mar the
men's enjoyment. Then we marched back to camp (three miles), the men
singing the "John Brown Song," and all manner of things,--as happy
creatures as one can well conceive.
It is worth mentioning, before I close, that we have just received
an article about "Negro Troops," from the London Spectator, which is
so admirably true to our experience that it seems as if written by one
of us. I am confident that there never has been, in any American
newspaper, a treatment of the subject so discriminating and so wise.
To-day brought a visit from Major-General Hunter and his staff,
by General Saxton's invitation,--the former having just arrived in
the Department. I expected them at dress-parade, but they came
during battalion drill, rather to my dismay, and we were caught in our
old clothes. It was our first review, and I dare say we did tolerably;
but of course it seemed to me that the men never appeared so ill
before,-- just as one always thinks a party at one's own house a failure,
even if the guests seem to enjoy it, because one is so keenly sensitive to
every little thing that goes wrong. After review and drill, General
Hunter made the men a little speech, at my request, and told them that
he wished there were fifty thousand of them. General Saxton spoke to
them afterwards, and said that fifty thousand muskets were on their way
for colored troops. The men cheered both the generals lustily; and they
were complimentary afterwards, though I knew that the regiment could not
have appeared nearly so well as on its visit to Beaufort. I suppose I
felt like some anxious mamma whose children have accidentally appeared
at dancing-school in their old clothes.
General Hunter promises us all we want,--pay when the funds
arrive, Springfield rifled muskets, and blue trousers. Moreover, he
has graciously consented that we should go on an expedition along
the coast, to pick up cotton, lumber, and, above all, recruits. I
declined an offer like this just after my arrival, because the regiment was
not drilled or disciplined, not even the officers; but it is all we
wish for now.
"What care I how black I be? Forty pounds will marry
quoth Mother Goose. Forty rounds will marry us to the American
Army, past divorcing, if we can only use them well. Our success or failure
may make or mar the prospects of colored troops. But it is well to
remember in advance that military success is really less satisfatory than
any other, because it may depend on a moment's turn of events, and that
may be determined by some trivial thing, neither to be anticipated
nor controlled. Napoleon ought to have won at Waterloo by all
reasonable calculations; but who cares? All that one can expect is, to do
one's best, and to take with equanimity the fortune of war.
Chapter 3 Up the St. Mary's
If Sergeant Rivers was a natural king among my dusky soldiers,
Corporal Robert Sutton was the natural prime-minister. If not in all respects
the ablest, he was the wisest man in our ranks. As large, as powerful,
and as black as our good-looking Color-Sergeant, but more heavily built
and with less personal beauty, he had a more massive brain and a far
more meditative and systematic intellect. Not yet grounded even in
the spelling-book, his modes of thought were nevertheless strong, lucid,
and accurate; and he yearned and pined for intellectual companionship
beyond all ignorant men whom I have ever met. I believe that he would
have talked all day and all night, for days together, to any officer
who could instruct him, until his companions, at least, fell
asleep exhausted. His comprehension of the whole problem of Slavery was
more thorough and far-reaching than that of any Abolitionist, so far as
its social and military aspects went; in that direction I could teach
him nothing, and he taught me much. But it was his methods of thought
which always impressed me chiefly: superficial brilliancy he left to
others, and grasped at the solid truth.
Of course his interest in the war and in the regiment was unbounded; he
did not take to drill with especial readiness, but he was insatiable of it,
and grudged every moment of relaxation. Indeed, he never had any such
moments; his mind was at work all the time, even when he was singing hymns,
of which he had endless store. He was not, however, one of our leading
religionists, but his moral code was solid and reliable, like his mental
processes. Ignorant as he was, the "years that bring the philosophic mind"
had yet been his, and most of my young officers seemed boys beside him. He
was a Florida man, and had been chiefly employed in lumbering and piloting on
the St. Mary's River, which divides Florida from Georgia. Down this stream he
had escaped in a "dug-out," and after thus finding the way, had
returned (as had not a few of my men in other cases) to bring away wife
and child. "I wouldn't have left my child, Cunnel," he said, with
an emphasis that sounded the depths of his strong nature. And up this same
river he was always imploring to be allowed to guide an expedition.
Many other men had rival propositions to urge, for they
gained self-confidence from drill and guard-duty, and were growing impatient
of inaction. "Ought to go to work, Sa,--don't believe in we lyin' in
camp eatin' up de perwisions." Such were the quaint complaints, which I
heard with joy. Looking over my note-books of that period, I find them
filled with topographical memoranda, jotted down by a flickering candle,
from the evening talk of the men,--notes of vulnerable points along the
coast, charts of rivers, locations of pickets. I prized these conversations
not more for what I thus learned of the country than for what I learned
of the men. One could thus measure their various degrees of accuracy
and their average military instinct; and I must say that in every
respect, save the accurate estimate of distances, they stood the test well.
But no project took my fancy so much, after all, as that of the
delegate from the St. Mary's River.
The best peg on which to hang an expedition in the Department of
the South, in those days, was the promise of lumber. Dwelling in the
very land of Southern pine, the Department authorities had to send
North for it, at a vast expense. There was reported to be plenty in
the enemy's country, but somehow the colored soldiers were the only
ones who had been lucky enough to obtain any, thus far, and the
supply brought in by our men, after flooring the tents of the white
regiments and our own, was running low. An expedition of white troops,
four companies, with two steamers and two schooners, had lately
returned empty-handed, after a week's foraging; and now it was our turn.
They said the mills were all burned; but should we go up the St.
Mary's, Corporal Sutton was prepared to offer more lumber than we
had transportation to carry. This made the crowning charm of
his suggestion. But there is never any danger of erring on the side
of secrecy, in a military department; and I resolved to avoid all
undue publicity for our plans, by not finally deciding on any until
we should get outside the bar. This was happily approved by my
superior officers, Major-General Hunter and Brigadier-General Saxton; and I
was accordingly permitted to take three steamers, with four hundred
and sixty. two officers and men, and two or three invited guests, and
go down the coast on my own responsibility. We were, in short, to win
our spurs; and if, as among the Araucanians, our spurs were made
of lumber, so much the better. The whole history of the Department of
the South had been defined as "a military picnic," and now we were to
take our share of the entertainment.
It seemed a pleasant share, when, after the usual vexations and delays,
we found ourselves (January 23, 1863) gliding down the full waters of
Beaufort River, the three vessels having sailed at different hours, with
orders to rendezvous at St. Simon's Island, on the coast of Georgia.
Until then, the flagship, so to speak, was to be the "Ben De Ford," Captain
Hallet,--this being by far the largest vessel, and carrying most of the men.
Major Strong was in command upon the "John Adams," an army gunboat, carrying
a thirty-pound Parrott gun, two ten-pound Parrotts, and an eight-inch
howitzer. Captain Trowbridge (since promoted Lieutenant-Colonel of the
regiment) had charge of the famous "Planter," brought away from the Rebels by
Robert Small; she carried a ten-pound Parrott gun, and two howitzers. The
John Adams was our main reliance. She was an old East Boston
ferry-boat, a "double-ender," admirable for river-work, but unfit for
sea-service. She drew seven feet of water; the Planter drew only four; but
the latter was very slow, and being obliged to go to St. Simon's by
an inner passage, would delay us from the beginning. She delayed us
so much, before the end, that we virtually parted company, and her
career was almost entirely separated from our own.
From boyhood I have had a fancy for boats, and have seldom been
without a share, usually more or less fractional, in a rather
indeterminate number of punts and wherries. But when, for the first time, I
found myself at sea as Commodore of a fleet of armed steamers,--for even
the Ben De Ford boasted a six-pounder or so,--it seemed rather an
unexpected promotion. But it is a characteristic of army life, that one
adapts one's self, as coolly as in a dream, to the most novel
responsibilities. One sits on court-martial, for instance, and decides on the
life of a fellow-creature, without being asked any inconvenient questions as
to previous knowledge of Blackstone; and after such an experience,
shall one shrink from wrecking a steamer or two in the cause of the nation?
So I placidly accepted my naval establishment, as if it were a new form
of boat-club, and looked over the charts, balancing between one river
and another, as if deciding whether to pull up or down Lake Quinsigamond.
If military life ever contemplated the exercise of the virtue of
humility under any circumstances this would perhaps have been a good
opportunity to begin its practice. But as the "Regulations" clearly
contemplated nothing of the kind, and as I had never met with any precedent
which looked in that direction, I had learned to check promptly all such
Captain Hallett proved the most frank and manly of sailors, and
did everything for our comfort. He was soon warm in his praises of
the demeanor of our men, which was very pleasant to hear, as this was
the first time that colored soldiers in any number had been conveyed
on board a transport, and I know of no place where a white
volunteer appears to so much disadvantage. His mind craves occupation, his
body is intensely uncomfortable, the daily emergency is not great enough
to call out his heroic qualities, and he is apt to be surly, discontented,
and impatient even of sanitary rules. The Southern black soldier, on the
other hand, is seldom sea-sick (at least, such is my experience), and, if
properly managed, is equally contented, whether idle or busy; he is,
moreover, so docile that all needful rules are executed with cheerful
acquiescence, and the quarters can therefore be kept clean and wholesome.
Very forlorn faces were soon visible among the officers in the cabin, but I
rarely saw such among the men.
Pleasant still seemed our enterprise, as we anchored at early morning
in the quiet waters of St. Simon's Sound, and saw the light fall softly
on the beach and the low bluffs, on the picturesque plantation-houses
which nestled there, and the graceful naval vessels that lay at anchor
before us. When we afterwards landed the air had that peculiar
Mediterranean translucency which Southern islands wear; and the plantation we
visited had the loveliest tropical garden, though tangled and desolate, which
I have ever seen in the South. The deserted house was embowered In
great blossoming shrubs, and filled with hyacinthine odors, among
which predominated that of the little Chickasaw roses which everywhere
bloomed and trailed around. There were fig-trees and date-palms,
crape-myrtles and wax-myrtles, Mexican agaves and English ivies, japonicas,
bananas, oranges, lemons, oleanders, jonquils, great cactuses, and wild
Florida lilies. This was not the plantation which Mrs. Kemble has since
made historic, although that was on the same island; and I could not
waste much sentiment over it, for it had belonged to a Northern
renegade, Thomas Butler King. Yet I felt then, as I have felt a hundred
times since, an emotion of heart-sickness at this desecration of
a homestead,--and especially when, looking from a bare upper window of
the empty house upon a range of broad, flat, sunny roofs, such as
children love to play on, I thought how that place might have been loved by
yet Innocent hearts, and I mourned anew the sacrilege of war.
I had visited the flag-ship Wabash ere we left Port Royal Harbor,
and had obtained a very kind letter of introduction from Admiral
Dupont, that stately and courtly potentate, elegant as one's ideal
French marquis; and under these credentials I received polite attention
from the naval officers at St. Simon's,--Acting Volunteer Lieutenant
Budd, of the gunboat Potomska, and Acting Master Moses, of the
barque Fernandina. They made valuable suggestions in regard to the
different rivers along the coast, and gave vivid descriptions of the
last previous trip up the St. Mary's undertaken by Captain Stevens,
U.S.N., in the gunboat Ottawa, when he had to fight his way past
batteries at every bluff in descending the narrow and rapid stream. I was
warned that no resistance would be offered to the ascent, but only to
our return; and was further cautioned against the mistake, then common,
of underrating the courage of the Rebels. "It proved impossible
to dislodge those fellows from the banks," my informant said; "they
had dug rifle-pits, and swarmed like hornets, and when fairly silenced
in one direction they were sure to open upon us from another." All
this sounded alarming, but it was nine months since the event had
happened; and although nothing had gone up the river meanwhile, I counted
on less resistance now. And something must be risked anywhere.
We were delayed all that day in waiting for our consort, and
improved our time by verifying certain rumors about a quantity of
new railroad-iron which was said to be concealed in the abandoned
Rebel forts on St. Simon's and Jekyll Islands, and which would have
much value at Port Royal, if we could unearth it. Some of our men
had worked upon these very batteries, so that they could easily guide
us; and by the additional discovery of a large flat-boat we were
enabled to go to work in earnest upon the removal of the treasure. These
iron bars, surmounted by a dozen feet of sand, formed an invulnerable
roof for the magazines and bomb-proofs of the fort, and the men
enjoyed demolishing them far more than they had relished their
construction. Though the day was the 24th of January, 1863, the sun was
very oppressive upon the sands; but all were in the highest spirits,
and worked with the greatest zeal. The men seemed to regard these
massive bars as their first trophies; and if the rails had been wreathed
with roses, they could not have been got out in more holiday style.
Nearly a hundred were obtained that day, besides a quantity of
five-inch plank with which to barricade the very conspicuous pilot-houses of
the John Adams. Still another day we were delayed, and could still keep
at this work, not neglecting some foraging on the island from
which horses, cattle, and agricultural implements were to be removed,
and the few remaining colored families transferred to Fernandina. I
had now become quite anxious about the missing steamboat, as the
inner passage, by which alone she could arrive, was exposed at
certain points to fire from Rebel batteries, and it would have been
unpleasant to begin with a disaster. I remember that, as I stood on deck, in
the still and misty evening, listening with strained senses for some
sound of approach, I heard a low continuous noise from the distance,
more wild and desolate than anything in my memory can parallel. It
came from within the vast girdle of mist, and seemed like the cry of
a myriad of lost souls upon the horizon's verge; it was Dante
become audible: and yet it was but the accumulated cries of
innumerable seafowl at the entrance of the outer bay.
Late that night the Planter arrived. We left St. Simon's on
the following morning, reached Fort Clinch by four o'clock, and
there transferring two hundred men to the very scanty quarters of the
John Adams, allowed the larger transport to go into Fernandina, while the
two other vessels were to ascend the St. Mary's River, unless (as
proved inevitable in the end) the defects in the boiler of the Planter
should oblige her to remain behind. That night I proposed to make a sort
of trial-trip up stream, as far as Township landing, some fifteen
miles, there to pay our respects to Captain Clark's company of cavalry,
whose camp was reported to lie near by. This was included in Corporal
Sutton's programme, and seemed to me more inviting, and far more useful to
the men, than any amount of mere foraging. The thing really
desirable appeared to be to get them under fire as soon as possible, and to
teach them, by a few small successes, the application of what they had
learned in camp-.
I had ascertained that the camp of this company lay five miles from the
landing, and was accessible by two roads, one of which was a lumber-path, not
commonly used, but which Corporal Sutton had helped to construct, and along
which he could easily guide us. The plan was to go by night, surround the
house and negro cabins at the landing (to prevent an alarm from being given),
then to take the side path, and if all went well, to surprise the camp; but
if they got notice of our approach, through their pickets, we should, at
worst, have a fight, in which the best man must win.
The moon was bright, and the river swift, but easy of navigation
thus far. Just below Township I landed a small advance force, to surround
the houses silently. With them went Corporal Sutton; and when,
after rounding the point, I went on shore with a larger body of men, he met
me with a silent chuckle of delight, and with the information that
there was a negro in a neighboring cabin who had just come from the
Rebel camp, and could give the latest information. While he hunted up
this valuable auxiliary, I mustered my detachment, winnowing out the men
who had coughs (not a few), and sending them ignominiously on board again:
a process I had regularly to perform, during this first season of
catarrh, on all occasions where quiet was needed. The only exception
tolerated at this time was in the case of one man who offered a solemn
pledge, that, if unable to restrain his cough, he would lie down on the
ground, scrape a little hole, and cough into it unheard. The ingenuity of
this proposition was irresistible, and the eager patient was allowed to
It was after midnight when we set off upon our excursion. I had about a
hundred men, marching by the flank, with a small advanced guard, and also a
few flankers, where the ground permitted. I put my Florida company at the
head of the column, and had by my side Captain Metcalf, an excellent officer,
and Sergeant Mclntyre, his first sergeant. We plunged presently in pine
woods, whose resinous smell I can still remember. Corporal Sutton marched
near me, with his captured negro guide, whose first fear and sullenness had
yielded to the magic news of the President's Proclamation, then just issued,
of which Governor Andrew had sent me a large printed supply;--we seldom found
men who could read it, but they all seemed to feel more secure when they
held it in their hands. We marched on through the woods, with no sound
but the peeping of the frogs in a neighboring marsh, and the
occasional yelping of a dog, as we passed the hut of some "cracker." This
yelping always made Corporal Sutton uneasy; dogs are the detective officers
of Slavery's police.
We had halted once or twice to close up the ranks, and had marched
some two miles, seeing and hearing nothing more. I had got all I could out
of our new guide, and was striding on, rapt in pleasing contemplation.
All had gone so smoothly that I had merely to fancy the rest as
being equally smooth. Already I fancied our little detachment bursting out
of the woods, in swift surprise, upon the Rebel quarters,--already
the opposing commander, after hastily firing a charge or two from
his revolver (of course above my head), had yielded at discretion, and
was gracefully tendering, in a stage attitude, his unavailing
There was a trampling of feet among the advanced guard as they
came confusedly to a halt, and almost at the same instant a more
ominous sound, as of galloping horses in the path before us. The
moonlight outside the woods gave that dimness of atmosphere within which is
more bewildering than darkness, because the eyes cannot adapt themselves
to it so well. Yet I fancied, and others aver, that they saw the leader of
an approaching party mounted on a white horse and reining up in the pathway;
others, again, declare that he drew a pistol from the holster and took aim;
others heard the words, "Charge in upon them! Surround them!" But all this
was confused by the opening rifle-shots of our advanced guard, and, as clear
observation was impossible, I made the .men fix their bayonets and kneel in
the cover on each side the pathway, and I saw with delight the brave fellows,
with Sergeant Mclntyre at their head, settling down in the grass as coolly
and warily as if wild turkeys were the only game. Perhaps at the
first shot a man fell at my elbow. I felt it no more than if a tree
had fallen,--I was so busy watching my own men and the enemy, and
planning what to do next. Some of our soldiers, misunderstanding the
order, "Fix bayonets," were actually charging with them, dashing off
into the dim woods, with nothing to charge at but the vanishing tail of
an imaginary horse,--for we could really see nothing. This zeal I
noted with pleasure, and also with anxiety, as our greatest danger was
from confusion and scattering; and for infantry to pursue cavalry would
be a novel enterprise. Captain Metcalf stood by me well in keeping the men
steady, as did Assistant Surgeon Minor, and Lieutenant, now Captain, Jackson.
How the men in the rear were behaving I could not tell,--not so coolly, I
afterwards found, because they were more entirely bewildered, supposing,
until the shots came, that the column had simply halted for a moment's rest,
as had been done once or twice before. They did not know who or where their
assailants might be, and the fall of the man beside me created a hasty rumor
that I was killed, so that it was on the whole an alarming experience for
them. They kept together very tolerably, however, while our assailants,
dividing, rode along on each side through the open pine-barren, firing into
our ranks, but mostly over the heads of the men. My soldiers in turn
fired rapidly,--too rapidly, being yet beginners,--and it was evident
that, dim as it was, both sides had opportunity to do some execution.
I could hardly tell whether the fight had lasted ten minutes or an
hour, when, as the enemy's fire had evidently ceased or slackened, I gave
the order to cease firing. But it was very difficult at first to make
them desist: the taste of gunpowder was too intoxicating. One of them
was heard to mutter, indignantly, "Why de Cunnel order Cease firing,
when de Secesh blazin' away at de rate ob ten dollar a day?" Every
incidental occurrence seemed somehow to engrave itself upon my perceptions,
without interrupting the main course of thought. Thus I know, that, in one
of the pauses of the affair, there came wailing through the woods a
cracked female voice, as if calling back some stray husband who had run out
to join in the affray, "John, John, are you going to leave me, John?
Are you going to let me and the children be killed, John?" I suppose
the poor thing's fears of gunpowder were very genuine; but it was such
a wailing squeak, and so infinitely ludicrous, and John was
probably ensconced so very safely in some hollow tree, that I could see some
of the men showing all their white teeth in the very midst of the
fight. But soon this sound, with all others, had ceased, and left us
in peaceful possession of the field.
I have made the more of this little affair because it was the
first stand-up fight in which my men had been engaged, though they had
been under fire, in an irregular way, in their small early expeditions. To
me personally the event was of the greatest value: it had given us all
an opportunity to test each other, and our abstract surmises were
changed into positive knowledge. Hereafter it was of small importance
what nonsense might be talked or written about colored troops; so long
as mine did not flinch, it made no difference to me. My brave
young officers, themselves mostly new to danger, viewed the matter much as
I did; and yet we were under bonds of life and death to form a
correct opinion, which was more than could be said of the Northern editors,
and our verdict was proportionately of greater value.
I was convinced from appearances that we had been victorious, so
far, though I could not suppose that this would be the last of it. We
knew neither the numbers of the enemy, nor their plans, nor their
present condition: whether they had surprised us or whether we had
surprised them was all a mystery. Corporal Sutton was urgent to go on and
complete the enterprise. All my impulses said the same thing; but then I had
the most explicit injunctions from General Saxton to risk as little
as possible in this first enterprise, because of the fatal effect on
public sentiment of even an honorable defeat. We had now an honorable
victory, so far as it went; the officers and men around me were in good
spirits, but the rest of the column might be nervous; and it seemed so
important to make the first fight an entire success, that I thought it wiser
to let well alone; nor have I ever changed this opinion. For one's
self, Montrose's verse may be well applied, "To win or lose it all." But
one has no right to deal thus lightly with the fortunes of a race, and
that was the weight which I always felt as resting on our action. If my
raw infantry force had stood unflinchingly a night-surprise from "de
boss cavalry," as they reverentially termed them, I felt that a
good beginning had been made. All hope of surprising the enemy's camp was
now at an end; I was willing and ready to fight the cavalry over again,
but it seemed wiser that we, not they, should select the ground.
Attending to the wounded, therefore, and making as we best
could stretchers for those who were to be carried, including the remains
of the man killed at the first discharge (Private William Parsons
of Company G), and others who seemed at the point of death, we
marched through the woods to the landing,--expecting at every moment to
be involved in another fight. This not occurring, I was more than
ever satisfied that we had won a victory; for it was obvious that a
mounted force would not allow a detachment of infantry to march two
miles through open woods by night without renewing the fight, unless
they themselves had suffered a good deal. On arrival at the landing,
seeing that there was to be no immediate affray, I sent most of the men
on board, and called for volunteers to remain on shore with me and hold
the plantation-house till morning. They eagerly offered; and I was glad
to see them, when posted as sentinels by Lieutenants Hyde and Jackson,
who stayed with me, pace their beats as steadily and challenge as coolly
as veterans, though of course there was some powder wasted on
imaginary foes. Greatly to my surprise, however, we had no other enemies
to encounter. We did not yet know that we had killed the first
lieutenant of the cavalry, and that our opponents had retreated to the woods
in dismay, without daring to return to their camp. This at least was
the account we heard from prisoners afterwards, and was evidently the
tale current in the neighborhood, though the statements published in
Southern newspapers did not correspond. Admitting the death of Lieutenant
Jones, the Tallahassee Floridian of February 14th stated that "Captain
Clark, finding the enemy in strong force, fell back with his command to
camp, and removed his ordnance and commissary and other stores, with
twelve negroes on their way to the enemy, captured on that day."
In the morning, my invaluable surgeon, Dr. Rogers, sent me his report of
killed and wounded; and I have been since permitted to make the following
extracts from his notes: "One man killed instantly by ball through the heart,
and seven wounded, one of whom will die. Braver men never lived. One man with
two bullet-holes through the large muscles of the shoulders and neck brought
off from the scene of action, two miles distant, two muskets; and not a
murmur has escaped his lips. Another, Robert Sutton, with three wounds,--one
of which, being on the skull, may cost him his life,--would not report
himself till compelled to do so by his officers. While dressing his wounds,
he quietly talked of what they had done, and of what they yet could do.
Today I have had the Colonel order him to obey me. He is perfectly quiet
and cool, but takes this whole affair with the religious bearing of a
man who realizes that freedom is sweeter than life. Yet another
soldier did not report himself at all, but remained all night on guard,
and possibly I should not have known of his having had a buck-shot in
his shoulder, if some duty requiring a sound shoulder had not
been required of him to-day." This last, it may be added, had persuaded
a comrade to dig out the buck-shot, for fear of being ordered on
the sick-list. And one of those who were carried to the vessel--a
man wounded through the lungs--asked only if I were safe, the
contrary having been reported. An officer may be pardoned some enthusiasm
for such men as these.
The anxious night having passed away without an attack, another problem
opened with the morning. For the first time, my officers and men found
themselves in possession of an enemy's abode; and though there was but little
temptation to plunder, I knew that I must here begin to draw the line. I had
long since resolved to prohibit absolutely all indiscriminate pilfering and
wanton outrage, and to allow nothing to be taken or destroyed but by proper
authority. The men, to my great satisfaction, entered into this view at once,
and so did (perhaps a shade less readily, in some cases) the officers.
The greatest trouble was with the steamboat hands, and I resolved to
let them go ashore as little as possible. Most articles of furniture
were already, however, before our visit, gone from the
plantation-house, which was now used only as a picket-station. The only
valuable article was a pianoforte, for which a regular packing-box lay
invitingly ready outside. I had made up my mind, in accordance with the
orders given to naval commanders in that department,* to burn all
picket-stations, and all villages from which I should be covertly attacked,
and nothing else; and as this house was destined to the flames, I should have
left the piano in it, but for the seductions of that box. With such
a receptacle all ready, even to the cover, it would have seemed
like flying in the face of Providence not to put the piano in. I ordered
it removed, therefore, and afterwards presented it to the school
for colored children at Fernandina. This I mention because it was the
only article of property I ever took, or knowingly suffered to be taken,
in the enemy's country, save for legitimate military uses, from first
to last; nor would I have taken this, but for the thought of the
school, and, as aforesaid, the temptation of the box. If any other officer
has been more rigid, with equal opportunities, let him cast the
* "It is my desire to avoid the destruction of private property,
unless used for picket or guard-stations, or for other military purposes,
by the enemy. ... Of course, if fired upon from any place, it is your duty,
if possible, to destroy it." Letter of ADMIRAL DUPONT, commanding South
Atlantic Squadron, to LIEUTENANT-COMMANDER HUGHES of United States Gunboat
Mohawk, Fernandina Harbor.
I think the zest with which the men finally set fire to the house at
my order was enhanced by this previous abstemiousness; but there is
a fearful fascination in the use of fire, which every child knows in
the abstract, and which I found to hold true in the practice. On our
way down river we had opportunity to test this again.
The ruined town of St. Mary's had at that time a bad reputation,
among both naval and military men. Lying but a short distance
above Fernandina, on the Georgia side, it was occasionally visited by
our gunboats. I was informed that the only residents of the town were
three old women, who were apparently kept there as spies,--that, on
our approach, the aged crones would come out and wave
white handkerchiefs,--that they would receive us hospitably, profess to
be profoundly loyal, and exhibit a portrait of Washington,--that they
would solemnly assure us that no Rebel pickets had been there for
many weeks,--but that in the adjoining yard we should find fresh
horse-tracks, and that we should be fired upon by guerillas the moment we
left the wharf. My officers had been much excited by these tales; and I
had assured them that, if this programme were literally carried out,
we would straightway return and burn the town, or what was left of it,
for our share. It was essential to show my officers and men that,
while rigid against irregular outrage, we could still be inexorable
against the enemy.
We had previously planned to stop at this town, on our way down
river, for some valuable lumber which we had espied on a wharf; and
gliding down the swift current, shelling a few bluffs as we passed, we
soon reached it. Punctual as the figures in a panorama appeared the
old ladies with their white handkerchiefs. Taking possession of the
town, much of which had previously been destroyed by the gunboats,
and stationing the color-guard, to their infinite delight, in the cupola
of the most conspicuous house, I deployed skirmishers along the
exposed suburb, and set a detail of men at work on the lumber. After a
stately and decorous interview with the queens of society of St. Mary's,--is
it Scott who says that nothing improves the manners like
piracy?--I peacefully withdrew the men when the work was done. There were
faces of disappointment among the officers,--for all felt a spirit of
mischief after the last night's adventure,--when, just as we had fairly swung
out into the stream and were under way, there came, like the sudden burst
of a tropical tornado, a regular little hail-storm of bullets into the
open end of the boat, driving every gunner in an instant from his post,
and surprising even those who were looking to be surprised. The shock
was but for a second; and though the bullets had pattered precisely like
the sound of hail upon the iron cannon, yet nobody was hurt. With
very respectable promptness, order was restored, our own shells were
flying into the woods from which the attack proceeded, and we were steaming
up to the wharf again, according to promise.
Who shall describe the theatrical attitudes assumed by the old ladies as
they reappeared at the front-door,--being luckily out of direct range,--and
set the handkerchiefs in wilder motion than ever? They brandished them, they
twirled them after the manner of the domestic mop, they clasped their hands,
handkerchiefs included. Meanwhile their friends in the wood popped away
steadily at us, with small effect; and occasionally an invisible field-piece
thundered feebly from another quarter, with equally invisible results.
Reaching the wharf, one company, under Lieutenant (now Captain) Danil-son,
was promptly deployed in search of our assailants, who soon grew silent. Not
so the old ladies, when I announced to them my purpose, and added,
with extreme regret, that, as the wind was high, I should burn only
that half of the town which lay to leeward of their house, which did
not, after all, amount to much. Between gratitude for this degree
of mercy, and imploring appeals for greater, the treacherous old
ladies manoeuvred with clasped hands and demonstrative handkerchiefs
around me, impairing the effect of their eloquence by constantly
addressing me as "Mr. Captain"; for I have observed, that, while the
sternest officer is greatly propitiated by attributing to him a rank a
little higher than his own, yet no one is ever mollified by an error in
the opposite direction. I tried, however, to disregard such
low considerations, and to strike the correct mean between the
sublime patriot and the unsanctified incendiary, while I could find no
refuge from weak contrition save in greater and greater depths of
courtesy; and so melodramatic became our interview that some of the
soldiers still maintain that "dem dar ole Secesh women been a-gwine for kiss
de Cunnel," before we ended. But of this monstrous accusation I wish
to register an explicit denial, once for all.
Dropping down to Fernandina unmolested after this affair, we were kindly
received by the military and naval commanders,--Colonel Hawley, of the
Seventh Connecticut (now Brigadier-General Hawley), and Lieutenant-Commander
Hughes, of the gunboat Mohawk. It turned out very opportunely that both of
these officers had special errands to suggest still farther up the St.
Mary's, and precisely in the region where I wished to go. Colonel Hawley
showed me a letter from the War Department, requesting him to ascertain the
possibility of obtaining a supply of brick for Fort Clinch from the brickyard
which had furnished the original materials, but which had not been visited
since the perilous river-trip of the Ottawa. Lieutenant Hughes wished to
obtain information for the Admiral respecting a Rebel
steamer,--the Berosa,--said to be lying somewhere up the river, and awaiting
her chance to run the blockade. I jumped at the opportunity. Berosa
and brickyard,--both were near Wood-stock, the former home of
Corporal Sutton; he was ready and eager to pilot us up the river; the
moon would be just right that evening, setting at 3h. 19m. A.M.; and
our boat was precisely the one to undertake the expedition.
Its double-headed shape was just what was needed in that swift and
crooked stream; the exposed pilot-houses had been tolerably barricaded
with the thick planks from St. Simon's; and we further obtained
some sand-bags from Fort Clinch, through the aid of Captain Sears,
the officer in charge, who had originally suggested the expedition
after brick. In return for this aid, the Planter was sent back to the
wharf at St. Mary's, to bring away a considerable supply of the
same precious article, which we had observed near the wharf. Meanwhile
the John Adams was coaling from naval supplies, through the kindness
of Lieutenant Hughes; and the Ben De Ford was taking in the lumber
which we had yesterday brought down. It was a great disappointment to
be unable to take the latter vessel up the river; but I was
unwillingly convinced that, though the depth of water might be sufficient,
yet her length would be unmanageable in the swift current and sharp turns.
The Planter must also be sent on a separate cruise, as her weak
and disabled machinery made her useless for my purpose. Two hundred
men were therefore transferred, as before, to the narrow hold of the
John Adams, in addition to the company permanently stationed on board
to work the guns. At seven o'clock on the evening of January 29th, beneath
a lovely moon, we steamed up the river.
Never shall I forget the mystery and excitement of that night. I
know nothing in life more fascinating than the nocturnal ascent of
an unknown river, leading far into an enemy's country, where one glides in
the dim moonlight between dark hills and meadows, each turn of the channel
making it seem like an inland lake, and cutting you off as by a barrier from
all behind,--with no sign of human life, but an occasional picket-fire left
glimmering beneath the bank, or the yelp of a dog from some low-lying
plantation. On such occasions every nerve is strained to its utmost tension;
all dreams of romance appear to promise immediate fulfilment; all lights on
board the vessel are obscured, loud voices are hushed; you fancy a thousand
men on shore, and yet see nothing; the lonely river, unaccustomed to
furrowing keels, lapses by the vessel with a treacherous sound; and all
the senses are merged in a sort of anxious trance. Three tunes I have
had in full perfection this fascinating experience; but that night was
the first, and its zest was the keenest. It will come back to me
in dreams, if I live a thousand years.
I feared no attack during our ascent,--that danger was for our
return; but I feared the intricate navigation of the river, though I did
not fully know, till the actual experience, how dangerous it was. We
passed without trouble far above the scene of our first fight,--the Battle
of the Hundred Pines, as my officers had baptized it; and ever, as
we ascended, the banks grew steeper, the current swifter, the channel
more tortuous and more encumbered with projecting branches and drifting
wood. No piloting less skilful than that of Corporal Sutton and his
mate, James Bezzard, could have carried us through, I thought; and
no side-wheel steamer less strong than a ferry-boat could have borne
the crash and force with which we struck the wooded banks of the river.
But the powerful paddles, built to break the Northern ice, could crush
the Southern pine as well; and we came safely out of entanglements that
at first seemed formidable. We had the tide with us, which makes
steering far more difficult; and, in the sharp angles of the river, there
was often no resource but to run the bow boldly on shore, let the
stern swing round, and then reverse the motion. As the reversing machinery
was generally out of order, the engineer stupid or frightened, and
the captain excited, this involved moments of tolerably
concentrated anxiety. Eight times we grounded in the upper waters, and once
lay aground for half an hour; but at last we dropped anchor before
the little town of Woodstock, after moonset and an hour before
daybreak, just as I had planned, and so quietly that scarcely a dog barked,
and not a soul in the town, as we afterwards found, knew of our
As silently as possible, the great flat-boat which we had brought
from St. Simon's was filled with men. Major Strong was sent on shore with
two companies,--those of Captain James and Captain Metcalf,--with
instructions to surround the town quietly, allow no one to leave it, molest
no one, and hold as temporary prisoners every man whom he found. I watched
them push off into the darkness, got the remaining force ready to land,
and then paced the deck for an hour in silent watchfulness, waiting
for rifle-shots. Not a sound came from the shore, save the barking of
dogs and the morning crow of cocks; the time seemed interminable; but
when daylight came, I landed, and found a pair of scarlet trousers pacing
on their beat before every house in the village, and a small squad
of prisoners, stunted and forlorn as Falstaff's ragged regiment, already
hi hand. I observed with delight the good demeanor of my men towards
these forlorn Anglo-Saxons, and towards the more tumultuous women. Even
one soldier, who threatened to throw an old termagant into the river,
took care to append the courteous epithet "Madam."
I took a survey of the premises. The chief house, a pretty one
with picturesque outbuildings, was that of Mrs. A., who owned the mills
and lumber-wharves adjoining. The wealth of these wharves had not
been exaggerated. There was lumber enough to freight half a dozen
steamers, and I half regretted that I had agreed to take down a freight of
bricks instead. Further researches made me grateful that I had
already explained to my men the difference between public foraging and
private plunder. Along the river-bank I found building after building
crowded with costly furniture, all neatly packed, just as it was sent up
from St. Mary's when that town was abandoned. Pianos were a drug;
china, glass-ware, mahogany, pictures, all were here. And here were my men,
who knew that their own labor had earned for their masters these
luxuries, or such as these; their own wives and children were still sleeping
on the floor, perhaps, at Beaufort or Fernandina; and yet they
submitted, almost without a murmur, to the enforced abstinence. Bed and
bedding for our hospitals they might take from those store-rooms,--such as
the surgeon selected,--also an old flag which we found in a corner, and an
old field-piece (which the regiment still possesses),--but after this the
doors were closed and left unmolested. It cost a struggle to some of the men,
whose wives were destitute, I know; but their pride was very easily touched,
and when this abstinence was once recognized as a rule, they claimed it as an
honor, in this and all succeeding expeditions. I flatter myself that, if they
had once been set upon wholesale plundering, they would have done it as
thoroughly as their betters; but I have always been infinitely grateful, both
for the credit and for the discipline of the regiment,--as well as for the
men's subsequent lives,--that the opposite method was adopted.
When the morning was a little advanced, I called on Mrs. A.,
who received me in quite a stately way at her own door with "To what am
I indebted for the honor of this visit, Sir?" The foreign name of
the family, and the tropical look of the buildings, made it seem
(as, indeed, did all the rest of the adventure) like a chapter out of
"Amyas Leigh"; but as I had happened to hear that the lady herself was
a Philadel-phian, and her deceased husband a New-Yorker, I could not
feel even that modicum of reverence due to sincere Southerners. However,
I wished to present my credentials; so, calling up my companion, I
said that I believed she had been previously acquainted with Corporal
Robert Sutton? I never saw a finer bit of unutterable indignation than
came over the face of my hostess, as she slowly recognized him. She
drew herself up, and dropped out the monosyllables of her answer as if
they were so many drops of nitric acid. "Ah," quoth my lady, "we called
It was a group for a painter. The whole drama of the war seemed
to reverse itself in an instant, and my tall, well-dressed,
imposing, philosophic Corporal dropped down the immeasurable depth into a
mere plantation "Bob" again. So at least in my imagination; not to
that person himself. Too essentially dignified in his nature to be moved
by words where substantial realities were in question, he simply
turned from the lady, touched his hat to me, and asked if I would wish to
see the slave-jail, as he had the keys in his possession.
If he fancied that I was in danger of being overcome by blandishments,
and needed to be recalled to realities, it was a master-stroke.
I must say that, when the door of that villanous edifice was thrown
open before me, I felt glad that my main interview with its lady
proprietor had passed before I saw it. It was a small building, like a
Northern corn-barn, and seemed to have as prominent and as legitimate a
place among the outbuildings of the establishment. In the middle of the
door was a large staple with a rusty chain, like an ox-chain, for fastening
a victim down. When the door had been opened after the death of the
late proprietor, my informant said, a man was found padlocked in that
chain. We found also three pairs of stocks of various construction, two
of which had smaller as well as larger holes, evidently for the feet
of women or children. In a building near by we found something far
more complicated, which was perfectly unintelligible till the men
explained all its parts: a machine so contrived that a person once imprisoned
in it could neither sit, stand, nor lie, but must support the body
half raised, in a position scarcely endurable. I have since
bitterly reproached myself for leaving this piece of ingenuity behind; but
it would have cost much labor to remove it, and to bring away the
other trophies seemed then enough. I remember the unutterable loathing
with which I leaned against the door of that prison-house; I had
thought myself seasoned to any conceivable horrors of Slavery, but it seemed
as if the visible presence of that den of sin would choke me. Of course
it would have been burned to the ground by us, but that this would
have involved the sacrifice of every other building and all the piles
of lumber, and for the moment it seemed as if the sacrifice would
be righteous. But I forbore, and only took as trophies the instruments
of torture and the keys of the jail.
We found but few colored people in this vicinity; some we brought
away with us, and an old man and woman preferred to remain. All the
white males whom we found I took as hostages, in order to shield us,
if possible, from attack on our way down river, explaining to them
that they would be put on shore when the dangerous points were passed. I
knew that their wives could easily send notice of this fact to the Rebel
forces along the river. My hostages were a forlorn-looking set of "crackers,"
far inferior to our soldiers in physique, and yet quite equal, the latter
declared, to the average material of the Southern armies. None were in
uniform, but this proved nothing as to their being soldiers. One of them, a
mere boy, was captured at his own door, with gun in hand. It was a
fowling-piece, which he used only, as his mother plaintively assured me, "to
shoot little birds with." As the guileless youth had for this purpose loaded
the gun with eighteen buck-shot, we thought it justifiable to confiscate both
the weapon and the owner, in mercy to the birds.
We took from this place, for the use of the army, a flock of some
thirty sheep, forty bushels of rice, some other provisions, tools, oars, and
a little lumber, leaving all possible space for the bricks which
we expected to obtain just below. I should have gone farther up the
river, but for a dangerous boom which kept back a great number of logs in
a large brook that here fell into the St. Mary's; the stream ran
with force, and if the Rebels had wit enough to do it, they might in
ten minutes so choke the river with drift-wood as infinitely to enhance
our troubles. So we dropped down stream a mile or two, found the
very brickyard from which Fort Clinch had been constructed,--still stored
with bricks, and seemingly unprotected. Here Sergeant Rivers again
planted his standard, and the men toiled eagerly, for several hours, in
loading our boat to the utmost with the bricks. Meanwhile we questioned
black and white witnesses, and learned for the first tune that the
Rebels admitted a repulse at Township Landing, and that Lieutenant Jones
and ten of their number were killed,--though this I fancy to have been
an exaggeration. They also declared that the mysterious steamer Berosa
was lying at the head of the river, but was a broken-down and
worthless affair, and would never get to sea. The result has since proved
this; for the vessel subsequently ran the blockade and foundered near
shore, the crew barely escaping with their lives. I had the pleasure, as
it happened, of being the first person to forward this information
to Admiral Dupont, when it came through the pickets, many
months after,--thus concluding my report on the Berosa.
Before the work at the yard was over the pickets reported mounted men
in the woods near by, as had previously been the report at Woodstock.
This admonished us to lose no time; and as we left the wharf,
immediate arrangements were made to have the gun crews all in readiness, and
to keep the rest of the men below, since their musketry would be of
little use now, and I did not propose to risk a life unnecessarily. The
chief obstacle to this was their own eagerness; penned down on one side,
they popped up on the other; their officers, too, were eager to see what
was going on, and were almost as hard to cork down as the men. Add to
this, that the vessel was now very crowded, and that I had to be chiefly
on the hurricane-deck with the pilots. Captain Clifton, master of
the vessel, was brave to excess, and as much excited as the men; he could
no more be kept in the little pilot-house than they below; and when we
had passed one or two bluffs, with no sign of an enemy, he grew more
and more irrepressible, and exposed himself conspicuously on the upper
deck. Perhaps we all were a little lulled by apparent safety; for myself,
I lay down for a moment on a settee in a state-room, having been on
my feet, almost without cessation, for twenty-four hours.
Suddenly there swept down from a bluff above us, on the Georgia side, a
mingling of shout and roar and rattle as of a tornado let loose; and as a
storm of bullets came pelting against the sides of the vessel, and through a
window, there went up a shrill answering shout from our own men. It took but
an instant for me to reach the gun-deck. After all my efforts the men had
swarmed once more from below, and already, crowding at both ends of the boat,
were loading and firing with inconceivable rapidity, shouting to each other,
"Nebber gib it up!" and of course having no steady aim, as the vessel glided
and whirled in the swift current. Meanwhile the officers in charge of the
large guns had their crews in order, and our shells began to fly over
the bluffs, which, as we now saw, should have been shelled in
advance, only that we had to economize ammunition. The other soldiers I
drove below, almost by main force, with the aid of their officers,
who behaved exceedingly well, giving the men leave to fire from the
open port-holes which lined the lower deck, almost at the water's level.
In the very midst of the melee Major Strong came from the upper
deck, with a face of horror, and whispered to me, "Captain Clifton
was killed at the first shot by my side."
If he had said that the vessel was on fire the shock would hardly
have been greater. Of course, the military commander on board a steamer
is almost as helpless as an unarmed man, so far as the risks of water go.
A seaman must command there. In the hazardous voyage of last night, I
had learned, though unjustly, to distrust every official on board
the steamboat except this excitable, brave, warm-hearted sailor; and
now, among these added dangers, to lose him! The responsibility for his
life also thrilled me; he was not among my soldiers, and yet he was killed.
I thought of his wife and children, of whom he had spoken; but one
learns to think rapidly in war, and, cautioning the Major to silence, I went
up to the hurricane-deck and drew in the helpless body, that it should
be safe from further desecration, and then looked to see where we were.
We were now gliding past a safe reach of marsh, while our
assailants were riding by cross-paths to attack us at the next bluff. It was
Reed's Bluff where we were first attacked, and Scrubby Bluff, I think,
was next. They were shelled in advance, but swarmed manfully to the
banks again as we swept round one of the sharp angles of the stream
beneath their fire. My men were now pretty well imprisoned below in the hot
and crowded hold, and actually fought each other, the officers
afterwards said, for places at the open port-holes, from which to aim.
Others implored to be landed, exclaiming that they "supposed de Cunnel
knew best," but it was "mighty mean" to be shut up down below, when
they might be "fightin' de Secesh in de clar field." This clear field,
and no favor, was what they thenceforward sighed for. But in such
difficult navigation it would have been madness to think of landing, although
one daring Rebel actually sprang upon the large boat which we towed
astern, where he was shot down by one of our sergeants. This boat was soon
after swamped and abandoned, then taken and repaired by the Rebels at
a later date, and finally, by a piece of dramatic completeness, was
seized by a party of fugitive slaves, who escaped in it to our lines, and
some of whom enlisted in my own regiment.
It has always been rather a mystery to me why the Rebels did not fell
a few trees across the stream at some of the many sharp angles where
we might so easily have been thus imprisoned. This, however, they did
not attempt, and with the skilful pilotage of our
trusty Corporal,--philosophic as Socrates through all the din, and
occasionally relieving his mind by taking a shot with his rifle through the
high portholes of the pilot-house,--we glided safely on. The steamer did
not ground once on the descent, and the mate in command, Mr. Smith, did
his duty very well. The plank sheathing of the pilot-house was penetrated
by few bullets, though struck by so many outside that it was visited as
a curiosity after our return; and even among the gun-crews, though
they had no protection, not a man was hurt. As we approached some
wooded bluff, usually on the Georgia side, we could see galloping along
the hillside what seemed a regiment of mounted riflemen, and could see
our shell scatter them ere we approached. Shelling did not, however,
prevent a rather fierce fusilade from our old friends of Captain dark's
company at Waterman's Bluff, near Township Landing; but even this did no
serious damage, and this was the last.
It was of course impossible, while thus running the gauntlet, to put our
hostages ashore, and I could only explain to them that they must thank their
own friends for their inevitable detention. I was by no means proud of their
forlorn appearance, and besought Colonel Hawley to take them off my hands;
but he was sending no flags of truce at that time, and liked their looks no
better than I did. So I took them to Port Royal, where they were afterwards
sent safely across the lines. Our men were pleased at taking them back with
us, as they had already said, regretfully, "S'pose we leave dem Secesh at
Fernandina, General Saxby won't see 'em,"--as if they were some new
natural curiosity, which indeed they were. One soldier further suggested
the expediency of keeping them permanently in camp, to be used as
marks for the guns of the relieved guard every morning. But this was
rather an ebullition of fancy than a sober proposition.
Against these levities I must put a piece of more tragic
eloquence, which I took down by night on the steamer's deck from the
thrilling harangue of Corporal Adam Allston, one of our most gifted
prophets, whose influence over the men was unbounded. "When I heard," he
said, "de bombshell a-screamin' troo de woods like de Judgment Day, I said
to myself, 'If my head was took off to-night, dey couldn't put my soul
in de torments, perceps [except] God was my enemy!' And when
de rifle-bullets came whizzin' across de deck, I cried aloud, 'God help
my congregation! Boys, load and fire!'"
I must pass briefly over the few remaining days of our cruise.
At Fernandina we met the Planter, which had been successful on her
separate expedition, and had destroyed extensive salt-works at Crooked
River, under charge of the energetic Captain Trowbridge, efficiently aided
by Captain Rogers. Our commodities being in part delivered at
Fernandina, our decks being full, coal nearly out, and time up, we called
once more at St. Simon's Sound, bringing away the remainder of our
railroad-iron, with some which the naval officers had previously disinterred,
and then steamed back to Beaufort. Arriving there at sunrise (February 2,
1863), I made my way with Dr. Rogers to General Saxton's bedroom, and
laid before him the keys and shackles of the slave-prison, with my report
of the good conduct of the men,--as Dr. Rogers remarked, a message
from heaven and another from hell.
Slight as this expedition now seems among the vast events of the
war, the future student of the newspapers of that day will find that
it occupied no little space in their columns, so intense was the
interest which then attached to the novel experiment of employing black
troops. So obvious, too, was the value, during this raid, of their
local knowledge and their enthusiasm, that it was impossible not to find
in its successes new suggestions for the war. Certainly I would not
have consented to repeat the enterprise with the bravest white
troops, leaving Corporal Sutton and his mates behind, for I should
have expected to fail. For a year after our raid the Upper St.
Mary's remained unvisited, till in 1864 the large force with which we
held Florida secured peace upon its banks; then Mrs. A. took the oath
of allegiance, the Government bought her remaining lumber, and the
John Adams again ascended with a detachment of my men under
Lieutenant Parker, and brought a portion of it to Fernandina. By a strange
turn of fortune, Corporal Sutton (now Sergeant) was at this time in jail
at Hilton Head, under sentence of court-martial for an alleged act
of mutiny,--an affair in which the general voice of our officers sustained
him and condemned his accusers, so that he soon received a full pardon, and
was restored in honor to his place in the regiment, which he has ever since
Nothing can ever exaggerate the fascinations of war, whether on
the largest or smallest scale. When we settled down into camp-life
again, it seemed like a butterfly's folding its wings to re-enter
the chrysalis. None of us could listen to the crack of a gun
without recalling instantly the sharp shots that spilled down from the
bluffs of the St. Mary's, or hear a sudden trampling of horsemen by
night without recalling the sounds which startled us on the Field of
the Hundred Pines. The memory of our raid was preserved in the camp
by many legends of adventure, growing vaster and more incredible as
time wore on,--and by the morning appeals to the surgeon of some
veteran invalids, who could now cut off all reproofs and suspicions
with "Doctor, I's been a sickly pusson eber since de expeditious." But
to me the most vivid remembrancer was the flock of sheep which we
had "lifted." The Post Quartermaster discreetly gave us the charge
of them, and they rilled a gap in the landscape and in the larder,-- which
last had before presented one unvaried round of impenetrable beef. Mr.
Obabiah Oldbuck, when he decided to adopt a pastoral life, and assumed the
provisional name of Thyrsis, never looked upon his flocks and herds with more
unalloyed contentment than I upon that fleecy family. I had been familiar, in
Kansas, with the metaphor by which the sentiments of an owner were credited
to his property, and had heard of a proslavery colt and an antislavery cow.
The fact that these sheep were but recently converted from "Se-cesh"
sentiments was their crowning charm. Methought they frisked and fattened in
the joy of their deliverance from the shadow of Mrs. A.'s slave-jail,
and gladly contemplated translation into mutton-broth for sick or
wounded soldiers. The very slaves who once, perchance, were sold at
auction with yon aged patriarch of the flock, had now asserted their
humanity, and would devour him as hospital rations. Meanwhile our shepherd
bore a sharp bayonet without a crook, and I felt myself a peer of
Ulysses and Rob Roy,--those sheep-stealers of less elevated aims,--when I
met in my daily rides these wandering trophies of our wider wanderings.
Chapter 4 Up the St. John's
There was not much stirring in the Department of the South early
in 1863, and the St. Mary's expedition had afforded a new sensation.
Of course the few officers of colored troops, and a larger number
who wished to become such, were urgent for further experiments in the
same line; and the Florida tax-commissioners were urgent likewise. I
well remember the morning when, after some preliminary correspondence,
I steamed down from Beaufort, S. C., to Hilton Head, with General
Saxton, Judge S., and one or two others, to have an interview on the matter
with Major-General Hunter, then commanding the Department.
Hilton Head, in those days, seemed always like some foreign
military station in the tropics. The long, low, white buildings, with
piazzas and verandas on the water-side; the general impression of heat
and lassitude, existence appearing to pulsate only with the
sea-breeze; the sandy, almost impassable streets; and the firm, level beach,
on which everybody walked who could get there: all these suggested Jamaica
or the East Indies. Then the head-quarters at the end of the beach, the
Zouave sentinels, the successive anterooms, the lounging aids, the
good-natured and easy General,--easy by habit and energetic by impulse,--all
had a certain air of Southern languor, rather picturesque, but perhaps not
altogether bracing. General Hunter received us, that day, with his usual
kindliness; there was a good deal of pleasant chat; Miles O'Reilly was called
in to read his latest verses; and then we came to the matter in hand.
Jacksonville, on the St. John's River, in Florida, had been
already twice taken and twice evacuated; having been occupied
by Brigadier-General Wright, in March, 1862, and by
Brigadier-General Brannan, in October of the same year. The second evacuation
was by Major-General Hunter's own order, on the avowed ground that a
garrison of five thousand was needed to hold the place, and that this force
could not be spared. The present proposition was to take and hold it with
a brigade of less than a thousand men, carrying, however, arms and
uniforms for twice that number, and a month's rations. The claim was, that
there were fewer rebel troops in the Department than formerly, and that
the St. Mary's expedition had shown the advantage possessed by
colored troops, in local knowledge, and in the confidence of the loyal
blacks. It was also urged, that it was worth while to risk something, in
the effort to hold Florida, and perhaps bring it back into the Union.
My chief aim in the negotiation was to get the men into action, and that
of the Florida Commissioners to get them into Florida. Thus far coinciding,
we could heartily co-operate; and though General Hunter made some reasonable
objections, they were yielded more readily than I had feared; and finally,
before half our logical ammunition was exhausted, the desired permission was
given, and the thing might be considered as done.
We were now to leave, as we supposed forever, the camp which had
thus far been our home. Our vast amount of surplus baggage made a heavy
job in the loading, inasmuch as we had no wharf, and everything had to
be put on board by means of flat-boats. It was completed by
twenty-four hours of steady work; and after some of the usual uncomfortable
delays which wait on military expeditions, we were at last afloat.
I had tried to keep the plan as secret as possible, and had requested
to have no definite orders, until we should be on board ship. But
this larger expedition was less within my own hands than was the St.
Mary's affair, and the great reliance for concealment was on certain
counter reports, ingeniously set afloat by some of the Florida men.
These reports rapidly swelled into the most enormous tales, and by the
time they reached the New York newspapers, the expedition was "a
great volcano about bursting, whose lava will burn, flow, and destroy,"
"the sudden appearance in arms of no less than five thousand negroes,"
"a liberating host," "not the phantom, but the reality, of
servile insurrection." What the undertaking actually was may be best seen in
the instructions which guided it.*
* HEAD-QUARTERS, BEAUFORT, S. C.,
March 5, 1863.
COLONEL,--You will please proceed with your command, the First and
Second Regiments South Carolina Volunteers, which are now embarked upon
the steamers John Adams, Boston, and Burn-side, to Fernandina, Florida.
Relying upon your military skill and judgment. I shall give you
no special directions as to your procedure after you leave Fernandina.
I expect, however, that you will occupy Jacksonville, Florida,
and intrench yourselves there.
The main objects of your expedition are to carry the proclamation
of freedom to the enslaved; to call all loyal men into the service of
the United States; to occupy as much of the State of Florida as
possible with the forces under your command; and to neglect no means
consistent with the usages of civilized warfare to weaken, harass, and annoy
those who are in rebellion against the Government of the United States.
Trusting that the blessing of our Heavenly Father will rest upon
your noble enterprise,
I am yours, sincerely,
Brig.-Gen., Mil. Gov. Dept. of the South. Colonel Higginson,
Comdg. Expeditionary Corps.
In due time, after touching at Fernandina, we reached the
difficult bar of the St. John's, and were piloted safely over. Admiral
Dupont had furnished a courteous letter of introduction.* and we
were cordially received by Commander Duncan of the Norwich, and
Lieutenant Watson, commanding the Uncas. Like all officers on blockade duty,
they were impatient of their enforced inaction, and gladly seized
the opportunity for a different service. It was some time since they
had ascended as high as Jacksonville, for their orders were strict,
one vessel's coal was low, the other was in infirm condition, and
there were rumors of cotton-clads and torpedoes. But they gladly agreed
to escort us up the river, so soon as our own armed gunboat, the
John Adams, should arrive,--she being unaccountably delayed.
FLAG SHIP WABASH,
PORT ROYAL HARBOR, S. C., March 6, 1863. SIR,--I am informed
by Major-General Hunter that he is sending Colonel Higginson on
an important mission in the southerly part of his Department.
I have not been made acquainted with the objects of this mission,
but any assistance that you can offer Colonel Higginson, which will
not interfere with your other duties, you are authorized to give.
Respectfully your obedient servant,
S. F. DUPONT, Rear-Adm. Comdg. S. Atl. Block. Squad.
To the Senior Officer at the different Blockading Stations on the
Coast of Georgia and Florida.
We waited twenty-four hours for her, at the sultry mouth of that
glassy river, watching the great pelicans which floated lazily on its tide,
or sometimes shooting one, to admire the great pouch, into which one of
the soldiers could insert his foot, as into a boot. "He hold one
quart," said the admiring experimentalist. "Hi! boy," retorted another
quickly, "neber you bring dat quart measure in my peck o' corn." The
protest came very promptly, and was certainly fair; for the strange
receptacle would have held nearly a gallon.
We went on shore, too, and were shown a rather pathetic little
garden, which the naval officers had laid out, indulging a dream of
vegetables. They lingered over the little microscopic sprouts, pointing them
out tenderly, as if they were cradled babies. I have often noticed
this touching weakness, in gentlemen of that profession, on lonely
We wandered among the bluffs, too, in the little deserted hamlet called
"Pilot Town." The ever-shifting sand had in some cases almost buried the
small houses, and had swept around others a circular drift, at a few yards'
distance, overtopping then: eaves, and leaving each the untouched citadel of
this natural redoubt. There was also a dismantled lighthouse, an object which
always seems the most dreary symbol of the barbarism of war, when one
considers the national beneficence which reared and kindled it. Despite the
service rendered by this once brilliant light, there were many wrecks which
had been strown upon the beach, victims of the most formidable of the
Southern river-bars. As I stood with my foot on the half-buried ribs of one
of these vessels,--so distinctly traced that one might almost fancy
them human,--the old pilot, my companion, told me the story of the wreck.
The vessel had formerly been in the Cuba trade; and her owner, an
American merchant residing in Havana, had christened her for his young
daughter. I asked the name, and was startled to recognize that of a favorite
young cousin of mine, besides the bones of whose representative I was
thus strangely standing, upon this lonely shore.
It was well to have something to relieve the anxiety naturally felt
at the delay of the John Adams,--anxiety both for her safety and for
the success of our enterprise, The Rebels had repeatedly threatened to
burn the whole of Jacksonville, in case of another attack, as they
had previously burned its mills and its great hotel. It seemed as if
the news of our arrival must surely have travelled thirty miles by
this time. All day we watched every smoke that rose among the wooded
hills, and consulted the compass and the map, to see if that sign announced
the doom of our expected home. At the very last moment of the tide, just
in time to cross the bar that day, the missing vessel arrived;
all anxieties vanished; I transferred my quarters on board, and at two
the next morning we steamed up the river.
Again there was the dreamy delight of ascending an unknown
stream, beneath a sinking moon, into a region where peril made
fascination. Since the time of the first explorers, I suppose that those
Southern waters have known no sensations so dreamy and so bewitching as
those which this war has brought forth. I recall, in this case, the
faintest sensations of our voyage, as Ponce de Leon may have recalled those
of his wandering search, in the same soft zone, for the secret of
the mystic fountain. I remember how, during that night, I looked for
the first time through a powerful night-glass. It had always seemed
a thing wholly inconceivable, that a mere lens could change darkness into
light; and as I turned the instrument on the preceding gunboat, and actually
discerned the man at the wheel and the others standing about him,--all
relapsing into vague gloom again at the withdrawal of the glass,--it gave a
feeling of childish delight. Yet it seemed only in keeping with the whole
enchantment of the scene; and had I been some Aladdin, convoyed by genii or
giants, I could hardly have felt more wholly a denizen of some world of
But the river was of difficult navigation; and we began to
feel sometimes, beneath the keel, that ominous, sliding, grating,
treacherous arrest of motion which makes the heart shudder, as the vessel
does. There was some solicitude about torpedoes, also,--a peril which became
a formidable thing, one year later, in the very channel where we
found none. Soon one of our consorts grounded, then another, every
vessel taking its turn, I believe, and then in turn getting off, until
the Norwich lay hopelessly stranded, for that tide at least, a few
miles below Jacksonville, and out of sight of the city, so that she could
not even add to our dignity by her visible presence from afar.
This was rather a serious matter, as the Norwich was our main
naval reliance, the Uncas being a small steamer of less than two
hundred tons, and in such poor condition that Commander Duncan, on
finding himself aground, at first quite declined to trust his consort
any farther alone. But, having got thus far, it was plainly my duty
to risk the remainder with or without naval assistance; and this being so,
the courageous officer did not long object, but allowed his dashing
subordinate to steam up with us to the city. This left us one naval and one
army gunboat; and, fortunately, the Burn-side, being a black propeller,
always passed for an armed vessel among the Rebels, and we rather encouraged
that pleasing illusion.
We had aimed to reach Jacksonville at daybreak; but these
mishaps delayed us, and we had several hours of fresh, early
sunshine, lighting up the green shores of that lovely river, wooded to
the water's edge, with sometimes an emerald meadow, opening a vista
to some picturesque house,--all utterly unlike anything we had yet seen in
the South, and suggesting rather the Penobscot or Kennebec. Here and there we
glided by the ruins of some saw-mill burned by the Rebels on General Wright's
approach; but nothing else spoke of war, except, perhaps, the silence.
It was a delicious day, and a scene of fascination. Our Florida men were wild
with delight; and when we rounded the point below the city, and saw from afar
its long streets, its brick warehouses, its white cottages, and its
overshadowing trees,--all peaceful and undisturbed by flames,--it seemed, in
the men's favorite phrase, "too much good," and all discipline was
merged, for the moment, in a buzz of ecstasy.
The city was still there for us, at any rate; though none knew
what perils might be concealed behind those quiet buildings. Yet there
were children playing on the wharves; careless men, here and there,
lounged down to look at us, hands in pockets; a few women came to their
doors, and gazed listlessly upon us, shading their eyes with their hands.
We drew momently nearer, in silence and with breathless attention.
The gunners were at their posts, and the men in line. It was
eight o'clock. We were now directly opposite the town: yet no sign
of danger was seen; not a rifle-shot was heard; not a shell rose
hissing in the air. The Uncas rounded to, and dropped anchor in the stream;
by previous agreement, I steamed to an upper pier of the town,
Colonel Montgomery to a lower one; the little boat-howitzers were run out
upon the wharves, and presently to the angles of the chief streets; and
the pretty town was our own without a shot. In spite of our detention,
the surprise had been complete, and not a soul in Jacksonville had
dreamed of our coming.
The day passed quickly, in eager preparations for defence; the
people could or would give us no definite information about the Rebel
camp, which was, however, known to be near, and our force did not permit
our going out to surprise it. The night following was the most anxious
I ever spent. We were all tired out; the companies were under arms,
in various parts of the town, to be ready for an attack at any moment.
My temporary quarters were beneath the loveliest grove of
linden-trees, and as I reclined, half-dozing, the mocking-birds sang all
night like nightingales,--their notes seeming to trickle down through the
sweet air from amid the blossoming boughs. Day brought relief and the
sense of due possession, and we could see what we had won.
Jacksonville was now a United States post again: the only post on
the main-land in the Department of the South. Before the war it had
three or four thousand inhabitants, and a rapidly growing lumber-trade,
for which abundant facilities were evidently provided. The wharves
were capacious, and the blocks of brick warehouses along the lower
street were utterly unlike anything we had yet seen in that region, as
were the neatness and thrift everywhere visible. It had been built up
by Northern enterprise, and much of the property was owned by loyal
men. It had been a great resort for invalids, though the Rebels had
burned the large hotel which once accommodated them. Mills had also
been burned; but the dwelling-houses were almost all in good condition.
The quarters for the men were admirable; and I took official possession
of the handsome brick house of Colonel Sunder-land, the
established head-quarters through every occupation, whose accommodating
flag-staff had literally and repeatedly changed its colors. The seceded
Colonel, reputed author of the State ordinance of Secession, was a
New-Yorker by birth, and we found his law-card, issued when in practice
in Easton, Washington County, New York. He certainly had good taste
in planning the inside of a house, though time had impaired its condition.
There was a neat office with ample bookcases and no books, a billiard-table
with no balls, gas-fixtures without gas, and a bathing-room without water.
There was a separate building for servants' quarters, and a kitchen with
every convenience, even to a few jars of lingering pickles. On the whole,
there was an air of substance and comfort about the town, quite alien from
the picturesque decadence of Beaufort.
The town rose gradually from the river, and was bounded on the rear by
a long, sluggish creek, beyond which lay a stretch of woods, affording
an excellent covert for the enemy, but without great facilities for
attack, as there were but two or three fords and bridges. This brook
could easily be held against a small force, but could at any time and
at almost any point be readily crossed by a large one. North of the
town the land rose a little, between the river and the sources of the
brook, and then sank to a plain, which had been partially cleared by a
previous garrison. For so small a force as ours, however, this clearing must
be extended nearer to the town; otherwise our lines would be too long
for our numbers.
This deficiency in numbers at once became a source of serious
anxiety. While planning the expedition, it had seemed so important to get the
men a foothold in Florida that I was willing to risk everything for it.
But this important post once in our possession, it began to show
some analogies to the proverbial elephant in the lottery. To hold
it permanently with nine hundred men was not, perhaps, impossible, with
the aid of a gunboat (I had left many of my own regiment sick and on duty
in Beaufort, and Colonel Montgomery had as yet less than one hundred
and fifty); but to hold it, and also to make forays up the river,
certainly required a larger number. We came in part to recruit, but had
found scarcely an able-bodied negro in the city; all had been removed
farther up, and we must certainly contrive to follow them. I was very
unwilling to have, as yet, any white troops under my command, with the
blacks. Finally, however, being informed by Judge S. of a conversation
with Colonel Hawley, commanding at Fernandina, in which the latter
had offered to send four companies and a light battery to swell our
force, --in view of the aid given to his position by this more advanced post,
I decided to authorize the energetic Judge to go back to Fernandina
and renew the negotiation, as the John Adams must go thither at any rate
Meanwhile all definite display of our force was avoided;
dress-parades were omitted; the companies were so distributed as to tell for
the utmost; and judicious use was made, here and there, of empty
tents. The gunboats and transports moved impressively up and down the
river, from time to time. The disposition of pickets was varied each night
to perplex the enemy, and some advantage taken of his distrust,
which might be assumed as equalling our own. The citizens were
duly impressed by our supply of ammunition, which was really enormous,
and all these things soon took effect. A loyal woman, who came into
town, said that the Rebel scouts, stopping at her house, reported that
there were "sixteen hundred negroes all over the woods, and the town full
of them besides." "It was of no use to go in. General Finnegan had
driven them into a bad place once, and should not do it again." "They
had lost their captain and their best surgeon in the first skirmish,
and if the Savannah people wanted the negroes driven away, they might
come and do it themselves." Unfortunately, we knew that they could
easily come from Savannah at any time, as there was railroad
communication nearly all the way; and every time we heard the steam-whistle,
the men were convinced of their arrival. Thus we never could approach to
any certainty as to their numbers, while they could observe, from
the bluffs, every steamboat that ascended the river.
To render our weak force still more available, we barricaded
the approaches to the chief streets by constructing barriers or
felling trees. It went to my heart to sacrifice, for this purpose, several of
my beautiful lindens; but it was no time for aesthetics. As the giants
lay on the ground, still scenting the air with their abundant bloom, I
used to rein up my horse and watch the children playing hide-and-seek
amongst their branches, or some quiet cow grazing at the foliage.
Nothing impresses the mind in war like some occasional object or
association that belongs apparently to peace alone.
Among all these solicitudes, it was a great thing that one
particular anxiety vanished in a day. On the former expedition the men were
upon trial as to their courage; now they were to endure another test, as
to their demeanor as victors. Here were five hundred citizens, nearly
all white, at the mercy of their former slaves. To some of these whites
it was the last crowning humiliation, and they were, or professed to
be, in perpetual fear. On the other hand, the most intelligent
and lady-like woman I saw, the wife of a Rebel captain, rather
surprised me by saying that it seemed pleasanter to have these men
stationed there, whom they had known all their lives, and who had
generally borne a good character, than to be in the power of entire
strangers. Certainly the men deserved the confidence, for there was scarcely
an exception to their good behavior. I think they thoroughly felt
that their honor and dignity were concerned in the matter, and took
too much pride in their character as soldiers,--to say nothing of
higher motives,--to tarnish it by any misdeeds. They watched their
officers vigilantly and even suspiciously, to detect any disposition
towards compromise; and so long as we pursued a just course it was
evident that they could be relied on. Yet the spot was pointed out to me
where two of our leading men had seen their brothers hanged by Lynch
law; many of them had private wrongs to avenge; and they all had
utter disbelief in all pretended loyalty, especially on the part of
One citizen alone was brought to me in a sort of escort of honor
by Corporal Prince Lambkin,--one of the color-guard, and one of our
ablest men,--the same who had once made a speech in camp, reminding his
hearers that they had lived under the American flag for eighteen hundred
and sixty-two years, and ought to live and die under it. Corporal
Lambkin now introduced his man, a German, with the highest compliment in
his power, "He hab true colored-man heart." Surrounded by mean,
cajoling, insinuating white men and women who were all that and worse, I was
quite ready to appreciate the quality he thus proclaimed. A colored-man
heart, in the Rebel States, is a fair synonyme for a loyal heart, and it
is about the only such synonyme. In this case, I found afterwards that
the man in question, a small grocer, had been an object of suspicion to
the whites from his readiness to lend money to the negroes, or sell to
them on credit; in which, perhaps, there may have been some mixture
of self-interest with benevolence.
I resort to a note-book of that period, well thumbed and
pocket-worn, which sometimes received a fragment of the day's
"March 16, 1863.
"Of course, droll things are constantly occurring. Every white
man, woman, and child is flattering, seductive, and professes
Union sentiment; every black ditto believes that every white ditto is
a scoundrel, and ought to be shot, but for good order and
military discipline. The Provost Marshal and I steer between them as blandly
as we can. Such scenes as succeed each other! Rush of indignant
Africans. A white man, in woman's clothes, has been seen to enter a
certain house,--undoubtedly a spy. Further evidence discloses the
Roman Catholic priest, a peaceful little Frenchman, in his
professional apparel.--Anxious female enters. Some sentinel has shot her cow
by mistake for a Rebel. The United States cannot think of paying
the desired thirty dollars. Let her go to the Post-Quartermaster
and select a cow from his herd. If there is none to suit her (and,
indeed, not one of them gave a drop of milk,--neither did hers), let her
wait till the next lot comes in,--that is all.--Yesterday's operations
gave the following total yield: Thirty 'contrabands,' eighteen
horses, eleven cattle, ten saddles and bridles, and one new army-wagon.
At this rate we shall soon be self-supporting cavalry.
"Where complaints are made of the soldiers, it almost always turns
out that the women have insulted them most grossly, swearing at them,
and the like. One unpleasant old Dutch woman came in, bursting with
wrath, and told the whole narrative of her blameless life, diversified
"'Last January I ran off two of my black people from St. Mary's
to Fernandina,' (sob,)--'then I moved down there myself, and at Lake
City I lost six women and a boy,' (sob,)--'then I stopped at Baldwin
for one of the wenches to be confined,' (sob,)--'then I brought them
all here to live in a Christian country' (sob, sob). "Then the
blockheads' [blockades, that is, gunboats] 'came, and they all ran off with
the blockheads,' (sob, sob, sob,) 'and left me, an old lady of
forty-six, obliged to work for a living.' (Chaos of sobs, without
"But when I found what the old sinner had said to the soldiers I
rather wondered at their self-control in not throttling her."
Meanwhile skirmishing went on daily in the outskirts of the town.
There was a fight on the very first day, when our men killed, as
before hinted, a Rebel surgeon, which was oddly metamorphosed in the
Southern newspapers into their killing one of ours, which certainly
never happened. Every day, after this, they appeared in small mounted
squads in the neighborhood, and exchanged shots with our pickets, to which
the gunboats would contribute their louder share, their aim being
rather embarrassed by the woods and hills. We made reconnoissances, too,
to learn the country in different directions, and were apt to be fired
upon during these. Along the farther side of what we called the
"Debatable Land" there was a line of cottages, hardly superior to negro huts,
and almost all empty, where the Rebel pickets resorted, and from
whose windows they fired. By degrees all these nests were broken up
and destroyed, though it cost some trouble to do it, and the
hottest skirmishing usually took place around them.
Among these little affairs was one which we called "Company
K's Skirmish," because it brought out the fact that this company, which
was composed entirely of South Carolina men, and had never shone in drill
or discipline, stood near the head of the regiment for coolness
and courage,--the defect of discipline showing itself only in their
extreme unwillingness to halt when once let loose. It was at this time that
the small comedy of the Goose occurred,--an anecdote which Wendell
Phillips has since made his own.
One of the advancing line of skirmishers, usually an active
fellow enough, was observed to move clumsily and irregularly. It
soon appeared that he had encountered a fine specimen of the
domestic goose, which had surrendered at discretion. Not wishing to lose it,
he could yet find no way to hold it but between his legs; and so he
went on, loading, firing, advancing, halting, always with the
goose writhing and struggling and hissing in this natural pair of
stocks. Both happily came off unwounded, and retired in good order at
the signal, or some time after it; but I have hardly a cooler thing to
put on record.
Meanwhile, another fellow left the field less exultingly; for, after
a thoroughly courageous share in the skirmish, he came blubbering to
his captain, and said,--"Cappen, make Caesar gib me my cane." It
seemed that, during some interval of the fighting, he had helped himself to
an armful of Rebel sugar-cane, such as they all delighted in chewing.
The Roman hero, during another pause, had confiscated the treasure;
whence these tears of the returning warrior. I never could accustom myself
to these extraordinary interminglings of manly and childish attributes.
Our most untiring scout during this period was the chaplain of
my regiment,--the most restless and daring spirit we had, and now
exulting in full liberty of action. He it was who was daily permitted to
stray singly where no other officer would have been allowed to go,
so irresistible was his appeal, "You know I am only a chaplain." Methinks
I see our regimental saint, with pistols in belt and a Ballard rifle
slung on shoulder, putting spurs to his steed, and cantering away down
some questionable wood-path, or returning with some tale of Rebel
haunt discovered, or store of foraging. He would track an enemy like
an Indian, or exhort him, when apprehended, like an early Christian.
Some of our devout soldiers shook their heads sometimes over the
chaplain's little eccentricities. "Woffor Mr. Chapman made a preacher for?"
said one of them, as usual transforming his title into a patronymic.
"He's de fightingest more Yankee I eber see in all my days."
And the criticism was very natural, though they could not deny
that, when the hour for Sunday service came, Mr. F. commanded the respect
and attention of all. That hour never came, however, on our first Sunday
in Jacksonville; we were too busy and the men too scattered; so
the chaplain made his accustomed foray beyond the lines instead.
"Is it not Sunday?" slyly asked an unregenerate lieutenant. "Nay,"
quoth his Reverence, waxing fervid; "it is the Day of Judgment"
This reminds me of a raid up the river, conducted by one of our
senior captains, an enthusiast whose gray beard and prophetic manner
always took me back to the Fifth-Monarchy men. He was most successful that
day, bringing back horses, cattle, provisions, and prisoners; and one of
the latter complained bitterly to me of being held, stating that Captain
R. had promised him speedy liberty. But that doughty official spurned
the imputation of such weak blandishments, in this day of
"Promise him!" said he, "I promised him nothing but the Day of
Judgment and Periods of Damnation!"
Often since have I rolled beneath my tongue this savory and
solemn sentence, and I do not believe that since the days of the
Long Parliament there has been a more resounding anathema.
In Colonel Montgomery's hands these up-river raids reached the
dignity of a fine art. His conceptions of foraging were rather more Western
and liberal than mine, and on these excursions he fully indemnified
himself for any undue abstinence demanded of him when in camp. I remember
being on the wharf, with some naval officers, when he came down from his
first trip. The steamer seemed an animated hen-coop. Live poultry hung
from the foremast shrouds, dead ones from the mainmast, geese hissed from
the binnacle, a pig paced the quarter-deck, and a duck's wings were
seen fluttering from a line which was wont to sustain duck trousers.
The naval heroes, mindful of their own short rations, and taking high
views of one's duties in a conquered country, looked at me reproachfully,
as who should say, "Shall these things be?" In a moment or two
the returning foragers had landed.
"Captain ----," said Montgomery, courteously, "would you allow me
to send a remarkably fine turkey for your use on board ship?"
"Lieutenant ----," said Major Corwin, "may I ask your acceptance of
a pair of ducks for your mess?"
Never did I behold more cordial relations between army and navy
than sprang into existence at those sentences. So true it is, as
Charles Lamb says, that a single present of game may diffuse kindly
sentiments through a whole community. These little trips were called
"rest"; there was no other rest during those ten days. An immense
amount of picket and fatigue duty had to be done. Two redoubts were to be
built to command the Northern Valley; all the intervening grove, which
now afforded lurking-ground for a daring enemy, must be cleared away;
and a few houses must be reluctantly razed for the same purpose. The
fort on the left was named Fort Higginson, and that built by my
own regiment, in return, Fort Montgomery. The former was necessarily
a hasty work, and is now, I believe, in ruins; the latter was far
more elaborately constructed, on lines well traced by the Fourth
New Hampshire during the previous occupation. It did great credit
to Captain Trowbridge, of my regiment (formerly of the New York
Volunteer Engineers), who had charge of its construction.
How like a dream seems now that period of daily skirmishes and
nightly watchfulness! The fatigue was so constant that the days hurried by.
I felt the need of some occasional change of ideas, and having
just received from the North Mr. Brook's beautiful translation of
Jean Paul's "Titan," I used to retire to my bedroom for some ten
minutes every afternoon, and read a chapter or two. It was more
refreshing than a nap, and will always be to me one of the most fascinating
books in the world, with this added association. After all, what
concerned me was not so much the fear of an attempt to drive us out and
retake the city,--for that would be against the whole policy of the Rebels
in that region,--as of an effort to fulfil their threats and burn it,
by some nocturnal dash. The most valuable buildings belonged to Union men,
and the upper part of the town, built chiefly of resinous pine, was
combustible to the last degree. In case of fire, if the wind blew towards the
river, we might lose steamers and all. I remember regulating my degree of
disrobing by the direction of the wind; if it blew from the river, it was
safe to make one's self quite comfortable; if otherwise, it was best to
conform to Suwarrow's idea of luxury, and take off one spur.
So passed our busy life for ten days. There were no tidings
of reinforcements, and I hardly knew whether I wished for
them,--or rather, I desired them as a choice of evils; for our men were
giving out from overwork, and the recruiting excursions, for which we
had mainly come, were hardly possible. At the utmost, I had asked for
the addition of four companies and a light battery. Judge of my
surprise when two infantry regiments successively arrived! I must resort to
a scrap from the diary. Perhaps diaries are apt to be thought tedious; but
I would rather read a page of one, whatever the events described, than any
more deliberate narrative,--it gives glimpses so much more real and
March 20, 1863, Midnight.
"For the last twenty-four hours we have been sending women and
children out of town, in answer to a demand by flag of truce, with a threat
of bombardment. [N. B. I advised them not to go, and the majority
declined doing so.] It was designed, no doubt, to intimidate; and in
our ignorance of the force actually outside, we have had to recognize
the possibility of danger, and work hard at our defences. At any time,
by going into the outskirts, we can have a skirmish, which is nothing
but fun; but when night closes in over a small and weary garrison,
there sometimes steals into my mind, like a chill, that most sickening of
all sensations, the anxiety of a commander. This was the night generally
set for an attack, if any, though I am pretty well satisfied that they
have not strength to dare it, and the worst they could probably do is to
burn the town. But to-night, instead of enemies, appear friends,--our
devoted civic ally, Judge S., and a whole Connecticut regiment, the Sixth,
under Major Meeker; and though the latter are aground, twelve miles below,
yet they enable one to breathe more freely. I only wish they were black;
but now I have to show, not only that blacks can fight, but that they
and white soldiers can act in harmony together."
That evening the enemy came up for a reconnoissance, in the
deepest darkness, and there were alarms all night. The next day the
Sixth Connecticut got afloat, and came up the river; and two days after,
to my continued amazement, arrived a part of the Eighth Maine,
under Lieutenant-Colonel Twichell. This increased my command to
four regiments, or parts of regiments, half white and half
black. Skirmishing had almost ceased,--our defences being tolerably
complete, and looking from without much more effective than they really were.
We were safe from any attack by a small force, and hoped that the
enemy could not spare a large one from Charleston or Savannah. All
looked bright without, and gave leisure for some small anxieties
It was the first time in the war (so far as I know) that white and
black soldiers had served together on regular duty. Jealousy was still
felt towards even the officers of colored regiments, and any
difficult contingency would be apt to bring it out. The white soldiers, just
from ship-board, felt a natural desire to stray about the town; and no
attack from an enemy would be so disastrous as the slightest collision
between them and the black provost-guard. I shudder, even now, to think of
the train of consequences, bearing on the whole course of
subsequent national events, which one such mishap might then have produced.
It is almost impossible for us now to remember in what a delicate balance
then hung the whole question of negro enlistments, and consequently
of Slavery. Fortunately for my own serenity, I had great faith in
the intrinsic power of military discipline, and also knew that a
common service would soon produce mutual respect among good soldiers; and so
it proved. But the first twelve hours of this mixed command were to me
a more anxious period than any outward alarms had created.
Let us resort to the note-book again.
"JACKSONVILLE, March 22, 1863.
"It is Sunday; the bell is ringing for church, and Rev. Mr. F.,
from Beaufort, is to preach. This afternoon our good
quartermaster establishes a Sunday-school for our little colony of
'contrabands,' now numbering seventy.
"Sunday Afternoon. "The bewildering report is confirmed; and in addition
to the Sixth Connecticut, which came yesterday, appears part of the Eighth
Maine. The remainder, with its colonel, will be here to-morrow, and, report
says, Major-General Hunter. Now my hope is that we may go to some point
higher up the river, which we can hold for ourselves. There are two other
points [Magnolia and Pilatka], which, in themselves, are as favorable as
this, and, for getting recruits, better. So I shall hope to be allowed to go.
To take posts, and then let white troops garrison them,--that is my
"What makes the thing more puzzling is, that the Eighth Maine has
only brought ten days' rations, so that they evidently are not to stay
here; and yet where they go, or why they come, is a puzzle. Meanwhile we
can sleep sound o' nights; and if the black and white babies do not
quarrel and pull hair, we shall do very well."
Colonel Rust, on arriving, said frankly that he knew nothing of
the plans prevailing in the Department, but that General Hunter
was certainly coming soon to act for himself; that it had been reported
at the North, and even at Port Royal, that we had all been captured
and shot (and, indeed, I had afterwards the pleasure of reading my
own obituary in a Northern Democratic journal), and that we certainly
needed reinforcements; that he himself had been sent with orders to carry
out, so far as possible, the original plans of the expedition; that
he regarded himself as only a visitor, and should remain chiefly
on shipboard,--which he did. He would relieve the black provost-guard by
a white one, if I approved,--which I certainly did. But he said that
he felt bound to give the chief opportunities of action to the
colored troops,--which I also approved, and which he carried out, not quite
to the satisfaction of his own eager and daring officers.
I recall one of these enterprises, out of which we extracted a good deal
of amusement; it was baptized the Battle of the Clothes-Lines. A white
company was out scouting in the woods behind the town, with one of my best
Florida men for a guide; and the captain sent back a message that he had
discovered a Rebel camp with twenty-two tents, beyond a creek, about four
miles away; the officers and men had been distinctly seen, and it would be
quite possible to capture it. Colonel Rust at once sent me out with two
hundred men to do the work, recalling the original scouts, and disregarding
the appeals of his own eager officers. We marched through the open pine
woods, on a delightful afternoon, and met the returning party. Poor fellows!
I never shall forget the longing eyes they cast on us, as we marched forth
to the field of glory, from which they were debarred. We went three or four
miles out, sometimes halting to send forward a scout, while I made all the
men lie down in the long, thin grass and beside the fallen trees, till one
could not imagine that there was a person there. I remember how picturesque
the effect was, when, at the signal, all rose again, like Roderick Dhu's men,
and the green wood appeared suddenly populous with armed life. At a certain
point forces were divided, and a detachment was sent round the head of the
creek, to flank the unsuspecting enemy; while we of the main body, stealing
with caution nearer and nearer, through ever denser woods, swooped down
at last in triumph upon a solitary farmhouse,--where the
family-washing had been hung out to dry! This was the "Rebel camp"!
It is due to Sergeant Greene, my invaluable guide, to say that he
had from the beginning discouraged any high hopes of a crossing
of bayonets. He had early explained that it was not he who claimed
to have seen the tents and the Rebel soldiers, but one of
the officers,--and had pointed out that our undisturbed approach
was hardly reconcilable with the existence of a hostile camp so near.
This impression had also pressed more and more upon my own mind, but it
was our business to put the thing beyond a doubt. Probably the place
may have been occasionally used for a picket-station, and we found
fresh horse-tracks in the vicinity, and there was a quantity of
iron bridle-bits in the house, of which no clear explanation could
be given; so that the armed men may not have been wholly imaginary.
But camp there was none. After enjoying to the utmost the fun of
the thing, therefore, we borrowed the only horse on the premises, hung
all the bits over his neck, and as I rode him back to camp, they
clanked like broken chains. We were joined on the way by our dear and
devoted surgeon, whom I had left behind as an invalid, but who had mounted
his horse and ridden out alone to attend to our wounded, his green
sash looking quite in harmony with the early spring verdure of those
lovely woods. So came we back in triumph, enjoying the joke all the
more because some one else was responsible. We mystified the
little community at first, but soon let out the secret, and
witticisms abounded for a day or two, the mildest of which was the assertion
that the author of the alarm must have been "three sheets in the wind."
Another expedition was of more exciting character. For several
days before the arrival of Colonel Rust a reconnois-sance had been planned
in the direction of the enemy's camp, and he finally consented to its
being carried out. By the energy of Major Corwin, of the Second South
Carolina Volunteers, aided by Mr. Holden, then a gunner on the Paul Jones,
and afterwards made captain of the same regiment, one of the
ten-pound Parrott guns had been mounted on a hand-car, for use on the
railway. This it was now proposed to bring into service. I took a large
detail of men from the two white regiments and from my own, and had
instructions to march as far as the four-mile station on the railway, if
possible, examine the country, and ascertain if the Rebel camp had been
removed, as was reported, beyond that distance. I was forbidden going any
farther from camp, or attacking the Rebel camp, as my force comprised half
our garrison, and should the town meanwhile be attacked from some
other direction, it would be in great danger.
I never shall forget the delight of that march through the open
pine barren, with occasional patches of uncertain swamp. The Eighth
Maine, under Lieutenant-Colonel Twich-ell, was on the right, the
Sixth Connecticut, under Major Meeker, on the left, and my own men,
under Major Strong, in the centre, having in charge the cannon, to
which they had been trained. Mr. Heron, from the John Adams, acted
as gunner. The mounted Rebel pickets retired before us through the
woods, keeping usually beyond range of the skirmishers, who in a
long line--white, black, white--were deployed transversely. For the
first time I saw the two colors fairly alternate on the military
chessboard; it had been the object of much labor and many dreams, and I liked
the pattern at last. Nothing was said about the novel fact by
anybody,--it all seemed to come as matter-of-course; there appeared to be no
mutual distrust among the men, and as for the officers, doubtless "each
crow thought its own young the whitest,"--I certainly did, although
doing full justice to the eager courage of the Northern portion of
my command. Especially I watched with pleasure the fresh delight of
the Maine men, who had not, like the rest, been previously in action,
and who strode rapidly on with their long legs, irresistibly recalling,
as their gaunt, athletic frames and sunburnt faces appeared here and there
among the pines, the lumber regions of their native State, with which I was
We passed through a former camp of the Rebels, from which everything
had been lately removed; but when the utmost permitted limits of
our reconnoissance were reached, there were still no signs of any
other camp, and the Rebel cavalry still kept provokingly before us.
Their evident object was to lure us on to their own stronghold, and had
we fallen into the trap, it would perhaps have resembled, on a
smaller scale, the Olustee of the following year. With a good deal
of reluctance, however, I caused the recall to be sounded, and, after
a slight halt, we began to retrace our steps.
Straining our eyes to look along the reach of level railway
which stretched away through the pine barren, we began to see
certain ominous puffs of smoke, which might indeed proceed from some fire
in the woods, but were at once set down by the men as coming from
the mysterious locomotive battery which the Rebels were said to
have constructed. Gradually the smoke grew denser, and appeared to
be moving up along the track, keeping pace with our motion, and about
two miles distant. I watched it steadily through a field-glass from
our own slowly moving battery: it seemed to move when we moved and to
halt when we halted. Sometimes in the dun smoke I caught a glimpse
of something blacker, raised high in the air like the threatening head
of some great gliding serpent. Suddenly there came a sharp puff of lighter
smoke that seemed like a forked tongue, and then a hollow report, and we
could see a great black projectile hurled into the air, and falling a quarter
of a mile away from us, in the woods. I did not at once learn that this first
shot killed two of the Maine men, and wounded two more. This was fired wide,
but the numerous shots which followed were admirably aimed, and seldom failed
to fall or explode close to our own smaller battery.
It was the first time that the men had been seriously exposed
to artillery fire,--a danger more exciting to the ignorant mind than
any other, as this very war has shown.* So I watched them
anxiously. Fortunately there were deep trenches on each side the railway,
with many stout, projecting roots, forming very tolerable bomb-proofs for
those who happened to be near them. The enemy's gun was a
sixty-four-pound Blakely, as we afterward found, whose enormous projectile
moved very slowly and gave ample time to cover,--insomuch, that, while
the fragments of shell fell all around and amongst us, not a man was
hurt. This soon gave the men the most buoyant confidence, and they
shouted with childish delight over every explosion.
*Take this for example: "The effect was electrical. The Rebels were
the best men in Ford's command, being Lieutenant-Colonel
Showalter's Californians, and they are brave men. They had dismounted and
sent their horses to the rear, and were undoubtedly determined upon a
desperate fight, and their superior numbers made them confident of success.
But they never fought with artillery, and a cannon has more terror for
them than ten thousand rifles and all the wild Camanches on the plains
of Texas. At first glimpse of the shining brass monsters there was
a visible wavering in the determined front of the enemy, and as the
shells came screaming over their heads the scare was complete. They
broke ranks, fled for their horses, scrambled on the first that came to
hand, and skedaddled in the direction of Brownsville." New York Evening
Post, September 25, 1864.
The moment a shell had burst or fallen unburst, our little gun
was invariably fired in return, and that with some precision, so far as
we could judge, its range also being nearly as great. For some reason
they showed no disposition to overtake us, in which attempt their
locomotive would have given them an immense advantage over our heavy
hand-car, and their cavalry force over our infantry. Nevertheless, I rather
hoped that they would attempt it, for then an effort might have been made to
cut them off in the rear by taking up some rails. As it was, this was out
of the question, though they moved slowly, as we moved, keeping
always about two miles away. When they finally ceased firing we took up
the rails beyond us before withdrawing, and thus kept the enemy
from approaching so near the city again. But I shall never forget
that Dantean monster, rearing its black head amid the distant smoke, nor
the solicitude with which I watched for the puff which meant danger,
and looked round to see if my chickens were all under cover. The
greatest peril, after all, was from the possible dismounting of our gun, in
which case we should have been very apt to lose it, if the enemy had
showed any dash. There may be other such tilts of railway artillery on
record during the war; but if so, I have not happened to read of them, and
so have dwelt the longer on this.
This was doubtless the same locomotive battery which had
previously fired more than once upon the town,--running up within two miles
and then withdrawing, while it was deemed inexpedient to destroy the
railroad, on our part, lest it might be needed by ourselves in turn. One
night, too, the Rebel threat had been fulfilled, and they had shelled the
town with the same battery. They had the range well, and every shot fell near
the post headquarters. It was exciting to see the great Blakely
shell, showing a light as it rose, and moving slowly towards us like a
comet, then exploding and scattering its formidable fragments. Yet, strange
to say, no serious harm was done to life or limb, and the most
formidable casualty was that of a citizen who complained that a shell had
passed through the wall of his bedroom, and carried off his mosquito curtain
in its transit.
Little knew we how soon these small entertainments would be
over. Colonel Montgomery had gone up the river with his two
companies, perhaps to remain permanently; and I was soon to follow. On
Friday, March 27th, I wrote home: "The Burnside has gone to Beaufort
for rations, and the John Adams to Fernandina for coal; we expect
both back by Sunday, and on Monday I hope to get the regiment off to
a point farther up,--Magnolia, thirty-five miles, or
Pilatka, seventy-five,--either of which would be a good post for us.
General Hunter is expected every day, and it is strange he has not come."
The very next day came an official order recalling the whole
expedition, and for the third time evacuating Jacksonville.
A council of military and naval officers was at once called
(though there was but one thing to be done), and the latter were even
more disappointed and amazed than the former. This was especially the
case with the senior naval officer, Captain Steedman, a South-Carolinian
by birth, but who had proved himself as patriotic as he was courteous
and able, and whose presence and advice had been of the greatest value
to me. He and all of us felt keenly the wrongfulness of breaking
the pledges which we had been authorized to make to these people, and
of leaving them to the mercy of the Rebels once more. Most of the
people themselves took the same view, and eagerly begged to accompany us on
our departure. They were allowed to bring their clothing and furniture
also, and at once developed that insane mania for aged and valueless
trumpery which always seizes upon the human race, I believe, in moments
of danger. With the greatest difficulty we selected between the
essential and the non-essential, and our few transports were at length loaded
to the very water's edge on the morning of March 29th,--Colonel
Montgomery having by this time returned from up-river, with sixteen
prisoners, and the fruits of foraging in plenty.
And upon that last morning occurred an act on the part of some of
the garrison most deeply to be regretted, and not to be excused by
the natural indignation at then- recall,--an act which, through
the unfortunate eloquence of one newspaper correspondent, rang through
the nation,--the attempt to burn the town. I fortunately need not
dwell much upon it, as I was not at the time in command of the post,--as
the white soldiers frankly took upon themselves the
whole responsibility,--and as all the fires were made in the wooden part
of the city, which was occupied by them, while none were made in the brick
part, where the colored soldiers were quartered. It was fortunate for our
reputation that the newspaper accounts generally agreed in exculpating us
from all share in the matter;* and the single exception, which one
correspondent asserted, I could never verify, and do not believe to have
existed. It was stated by Colonel Rust, in his official report, that some
twenty-five buildings in all were burned, and I doubt if the actual number
was greater; but this was probably owing in part to a change of wind, and did
not diminish the discredit of the transaction. It made our sorrow at
departure no less, though it infinitely enhanced the impressiveness of the
*"The colored regiments had nothing at all to do with it; they
behaved with propriety throughout" Boston Journal Correspondence.
"The negro troops took no part whatever in the perpetration of
this Vandalism." New York Tribune Correspondence. ("N. P.")
"We know not whether we are most rejoiced or saddened to observe, by
the general concurrence of accounts, that the negro soldiers had nothing
to do with the barbarous act" Boston Journal Editorial, April 10,
The excitement of the departure was intense. The embarkation was
so laborious that it seemed as if the flames must be upon us before
we could get on board, and it was also generally expected that the
Rebel skirmishers would be down among the houses, wherever practicable,
to annoy us to the utmost, as had been the case at the previous
evacuation. They were, indeed, there, as we afterwards heard, but did not
venture to molest us. The sight and roar of the flames, and the rolling
clouds of smoke, brought home to the impressible minds of the black soldiers
all their favorite imagery of the Judgment-Day; and those who were not
too much depressed by disappointment were excited by the spectacle, and
sang and exhorted without ceasing.
With heavy hearts their officers floated down the lovely river, which
we had ascended with hopes so buoyant; and from that day to this,
the reasons for our recall have never been made public. It was
commonly attributed to proslavery advisers, acting on the rather impulsive
nature of Major-General Hunter, with a view to cut short the career of
the colored troops, and stop their recruiting. But it may have been
simply the scarcity of troops in the Department, and the renewed conviction
at head-quarters that we were too few to hold the post alone. The
latter theory was strengthened by the fact that, when General
Seymour reoccupied Jacksonville, the following year, he took with him
twenty thousand men instead of one thousand,--and the sanguinary battle
of Olustee found him with too few.
One can hardly imagine a body of men more disconsolate than a
regiment suddenly transferred from an adventurous life in the enemy's
country to the quiet of a sheltered camp, on safe and familiar ground. The
men under my command were deeply dejected when, on a most
appropriate day,--the First of April, 1863,--they found themselves
unaccountably recalled from Florida, that region of delights which had seemed
theirs by the right of conquest. My dusky soldiers, who based their
whole walk and conversation strictly on the ancient Israelites, felt
that the prophecies were all set at naught, and that they were on the
wrong side of the Red Sea; indeed, I fear they regarded even me as a sort
of reversed Moses, whose Pisgah fronted in the wrong direction. Had
they foreseen how the next occupation of the Promised Land was destined
to result, they might have acquiesced with more of their
wonted cheerfulness. As it was, we were very glad to receive, after a
few days of discontented repose on the very ground where we had once
been so happy, an order to go out on picket at Port Royal Ferry, with
the understanding that we might remain there for some time. This
picket station was regarded as a sort of military picnic by the
regiments stationed at Beaufort, South Carolina; it meant blackberries
and oysters, wild roses and magnolias, flowery lanes instead of
sandy barrens, and a sort of guerilla existence in place of the
camp routine. To the colored soldiers especially, with their love
of country life, and their extensive personal acquaintance on
the plantations, it seemed quite like a Christmas festival. Besides,
they would be in sight of the enemy, and who knew but there might, by
the blessing of Providence, be a raid or a skirmish? If they could
not remain on the St. John's River, it was something to dwell on
the Coosaw. In the end they enjoyed it as much as they expected,
and though we "went out" several times subsequently, until it became
an old story, the enjoyment never waned. And as even the march from
the camp to the picket lines was something that could not possibly
have been the same for any white regiment in the service, it is worth
while to begin at the beginning and describe it.
A regiment ordered on picket was expected to have reveille at
daybreak, and to be in line for departure by sunrise. This delighted our men,
who always took a childlike pleasure in being out of bed at any
unreasonable hour; and by the time I had emerged, the tents were nearly all
struck, and the great wagons were lumbering into camp to receive them,
with whatever else was to be transported. The first rays of the sun must
fall upon the line of these wagons, moving away across the
wide parade-ground, followed by the column of men, who would soon
outstrip them. But on the occasion which I especially describe the sun
was shrouded, and, when once upon the sandy plain, neither camp nor town
nor river could be seen in the dimness; and when I rode forward and
looked back there was only visible the long, moving, shadowy column,
seeming rather awful in its snake-like advance. There was a swaying of flags
and multitudinous weapons that might have been camels' necks for all
one could see, and the whole thing might have been a caravan upon
the desert. Soon we debouched upon the "Shell Road," the wagon-train drew
on one side into the fog, and by the time the sun appeared the
music ceased, the men took the "route step," and the fun began.
The "route step" is an abandonment of all military strictness,
and nothing is required of the men but to keep four abreast, and not
lag behind. They are not required to keep step, though, with the
rhythmical ear of our soldiers, they almost always instinctively did so;
talking and singing are allowed, and of this privilege, at least, they
eagerly availed themselves. On this day they were at the top of
exhilaration. There was one broad grin from one end of the column to the
other; it might soon have been a caravan of elephants instead of camels, for
the ivory and the blackness; the chatter and the laughter almost drowned
the tramp of feet and the clatter of equipments. At cross-roads
and plantation gates the colored people thronged to see us pass; every
one found a friend and a greeting. "How you do, aunty?" "Huddy (how
d'ye), Budder Benjamin?" "How you find yourself dis mor-nin', Tittawisa
(Sister Louisa)?" Such saluations rang out to everybody, known or unknown.
In return, venerable, kerchiefed matrons courtesied laboriously to
every one, with an unfailing "Bress de Lord, budder." Grave little
boys, blacker than ink, shook hands with our laughing and utterly
unmanageable drummers, who greeted them with this sure word of prophecy,
"Dem's de drummers for de nex' war!" Pretty mulatto girls ogled and
coquetted, and made eyes, as Thackeray would say, at half the young fellows
in the battalion. Meantime the singing was brisk along the whole column,
and when I sometimes reined up to see them pass, the chant of each
company, entering my ear, drove out from the other ear the strain of
the preceding. Such an odd mixture of things, military and missionary,
as the successive waves of song drifted byl First, "John Brown," of
course; then, "What make old Satan for follow me so?" then, "Marching
Along"; then, "Hold your light on Canaan's shore"; then, "When this cruel war
is over" (a new favorite, sung by a few); yielding presently to a
grand burst of the favorite marching song among them all, and one at
which every step instinctively quickened, so light and jubilant its
"All true children gwine in de wilderness, Gwine in de
wilderness, gwine in de wilderness, True believers gwine in de
wilderness, To take away de sins ob de world,"--
ending in a "Hoigh!" after each verse,--a sort of Irish yell. For
all the songs, but especially for their own wild hymns, they
constantly improvised simple verses, with the same odd mingling,--the
little facts of to-day's march being interwoven with the depths
of theological gloom, and the same jubilant chorus annexed to
"We're gwin to de Ferry, De bell done
ringing; Gwine to de landing, De bell done
ringing; Trust, believer O, de bell done
ringing; Satan's behind me, De bell done
ringing; 'T is a misty morning, De bell done
ringing; O de road am sandy, De bell done
ringing; Hell been open, De bell done
and so on indefinitely.
The little drum-corps kept in advance, a jolly crew, their drums
slung on their backs, and the drum-sticks perhaps balanced on their
heads. With them went the officers' servant-boys, more uproarious
still, always ready to lend their shrill treble to any song. At the head
of the whole force there walked, by some self-imposed pre-eminence,
a respectable elderly female, one of the company laundresses,
whose vigorous stride we never could quite overtake, and who had an
enormous bundle balanced on her head, while she waved in her hand, like
a sword, a long-handled tin dipper. Such a picturesque medley of fun, war,
and music I believe no white regiment in the service could have shown; and
yet there was no straggling, and a single tap of the drum would at any moment
bring order out of this seeming chaos. So we marched our seven miles out upon
the smooth and shaded road,--beneath jasmine clusters, and great pine-cones
dropping, and great bunches of misletoe still in bloom among the branches.
Arrived at the station, the scene soon became busy and more confused; wagons
were being unloaded, tents pitched, water brought, wood cut, fires made,
while the "field and staff" could take possession of the abandoned
quarters of their predecessors, and we could look round in the lovely
summer morning to "survey our empire and behold our home."
The only thoroughfare by land between Beaufort and Charleston is
the "Shell Road," a beautiful avenue, which, about nine miles from
Beaufort, strikes a ferry across the Coosaw River. War abolished the ferry,
and made the river the permanent barrier between the opposing picket
lines. For ten miles, right and left, these lines extended, marked by
well-worn footpaths, following the endless windings of the stream; and they
never varied until nearly the end of the war. Upon their maintenance
depended our whole foothold on the Sea Islands; and upon that again
finally depended the whole campaign of Sherman. But for the services of
the colored troops, which finally formed the main garrison of the
Department of the South, the Great March would never have been
There was thus a region ten or twelve miles square of which I
had exclusive military command. It was level, but otherwise broken
and bewildering to the last degree. No road traversed it,
properly speaking, but the Shell Road. All the rest was a wild medley
of cypress swamp, pine barren, muddy creek, and cultivated
plantation, intersected by interminable lanes and bridle-paths, through which
we must ride day and night, and which our horses soon knew better
than ourselves. The regiment was distributed at different stations,
the main force being under my immediate command, at a plantation close
by the Shell Road, two miles from the ferry, and seven miles
from Beaufort. Our first picket duty was just at the time of the
first attack on Charleston, under Dupont and Hunter; and it was
generally supposed that the Confederates would make an effort to recapture
the Sea Islands. My orders were to watch the enemy closely, keep
informed as to his position and movements, attempt no advance, and, in case
any were attempted from the other side, to delay it as long as
possible, sending instant notice to head-quarters. As to the delay, that
could be easily guaranteed. There were causeways on the Shell Road which
a single battery could hold against a large force; and the
plantations were everywhere so intersected by hedges and dikes that they
seemed expressly planned for defence. Although creeks wound in and
out everywhere, yet these were only navigable at high tide, and at
all other times were impassable marshes. There were but few posts
where the enemy were within rifle range, and their occasional attacks
at those points were soon stopped by our enforcement of a pithy order from
General Hunter, "Give them as good as they send." So that, with every
opportunity for being kept on the alert, there was small prospect of serious
danger; and all promised an easy life, with only enough of care to make it
pleasant. The picket station was therefore always a coveted post among the
regiments, combining some undeniable importance with a kind of relaxation;
and as we were there three months on our first tour of duty, and returned
there several times afterwards, we got well acquainted with it. The whole
region always reminded me of the descriptions of La Vende'e, and I always
expected to meet Henri Larochejaquelein riding in the woods.
How can I ever describe the charm and picturesqueness of that
summer life? Our house possessed four spacious rooms and a piazza;
around it were grouped sheds and tents; the camp was a little way off on
one side, the negro-quarters of the plantation on the other; and all
was immersed in a dense mass of waving and murmuring locust-blossoms.
The spring days were always lovely, while the evenings were
always conveniently damp; so that we never shut the windows by day,
nor omitted our cheerful fire by night. Indoors, the main
head-quarters seemed like the camp of some party of young engineers in time
of peace, only with a little female society added, and a good many martial
associations thrown in. A large, low, dilapidated room, with an immense
fireplace, and with window-panes chiefly broken, so that the sashes were
still open even when closed,--such was our home. The walls were scrawled with
capital charcoal sketches by R. of the Fourth New Hampshire, and with a good
map of the island and its wood-paths by C. of the First Massachusetts
Cavalry. The room had the picturesqueness which comes everywhere from the
natural grouping of articles of daily use,--swords, belts, pistols, rifles,
field-glasses, spurs, canteens, gauntlets,--while wreaths of gray moss above
the windows, and a pelican's wing three feet long over the
high mantel-piece, indicated more deliberate decoration. This, and
the whole atmosphere of the place, spoke of the refining presence
of agreeable women; and it was pleasant when they held their little
court in the evening, and pleasant all day, with the different visitors
who were always streaming in and out,--officers and soldiers on
various business; turbaned women from the plantations, coming with
complaints or questionings; fugitives from the main-land to be
interrogated; visitors riding up on horseback, their hands full of jasmine
and wild roses; and the sweet sunny air all perfumed with magnolias and
the Southern pine. From the neighboring camp there was a perpetual
low hum. Louder voices and laughter re-echoed, amid the sharp sounds
of the axe, from the pine woods; and sometimes, when the relieved
pickets were discharging their pieces, there came the hollow sound of
dropping rifle-shots, as in skirmishing,--perhaps the most unmistakable
and fascinating association that war bequeaths to the memory of the
Our domestic arrangements were of the oddest description. From the time
when we began housekeeping by taking down the front-door to complete
therewith a little office for the surgeon on the piazza, everything seemed
upside down. I slept on a shelf in the corner of the parlor, bequeathed me by
Major F., my jovial predecessor, and, if I waked at any time, could put my
head through the broken window, arouse my orderly, and ride off to see if I
could catch a picket asleep. We used to spell the word picquet, because
that was understood to be the correct thing, in that Department at least; and
they used to say at post head-quarters that as soon as the officer in command
of the outposts grew negligent, and was guilty of a k, he was ordered
in immediately. Then the arrangements for ablution were peculiar.
We fitted up a bathing-place in a brook, which somehow got appropriated at
once by the company laundresses; but I had my revenge, for I took to bathing
in the family washtub. After all, however, the kitchen department had the
advantage, for they used my solitary napkin to wipe the mess-table. As for
food, we found it impossible to get chickens, save in the immature shape of
eggs; fresh pork was prohibited by the surgeon, and other fresh meat came
rarely. We could, indeed, hunt for wild turkeys, and even deer, but such
hunting was found only to increase the appetite, without corresponding
supply. Still we had our luxuries,--large, delicious drum-fish, and
alligator steaks,--like a more substantial fried halibut,--which might have
afforded the theme for Charles Lamb's dissertation on Roast Pig, and by whose
aid "for the first time in our lives we tested crackling." The post
bakery yielded admirable bread; and for vegetables and fruit we had very
poor sweet potatoes, and (in their season) an unlimited supply of
the largest blackberries. For beverage, we had the vapid milk of
that region, in which, if you let it stand, the water sinks instead of
the cream's rising; and the delicious sugar-cane syrup, which we
had brought from Florida, and which we drank at all hours. Old
Floridians say that no one is justified in drinking whiskey, while he can
get cane-juice; it is sweet and spirited, without cloying, foams like
ale, and there were little spots on the ceiling of the dining-room
where our lively beverage had popped out its cork. We kept it in
a whiskey-bottle; and as whiskey itself was absolutely prohibited
among us, it was amusing to see the surprise of our military visitors
when this innocent substitute was brought in. They usually liked it in
the end, but, like the old Frenchwoman over her glass of water,
wished that it were a sin to give it a relish. As the foaming beakers
of molasses and water were handed round, the guests would make with
them the courteous little gestures of polite imbiding, and would then
quaff the beverage, some with gusto, others with a slight afterlook
of dismay. But it was a delicious and cooling drink while it lasted; and
at all events was the best and the worst we had.
We used to have reveille at six, and breakfast about seven; then
the mounted couriers began to arrive from half a dozen
different directions, with written reports of what had happened during
the night,--a boat seen, a picket fired upon, a battery erecting.
These must be consolidated and forwarded to head-quarters, with the
daily report of the command,--so many sick, so many on detached service,
and all the rest. This was our morning newspaper, our Herald and
Tribune; I never got tired of it. Then the couriers must be furnished
with countersign and instructions, and sent off again. Then we scattered
to our various rides, all disguised as duty; one to inspect pickets,
one to visit a sick soldier, one to build a bridge or clear a road,
and still another to head-quarters for ammunition or commissary
stores. Galloping through green lanes, miles of triumphal arches of
wild roses,--roses pale and large and fragrant, mingled with great
boughs of the white cornel, fantastic masses, snowy surprises,--such were
our rides, ranging from eight to fifteen and even twenty miles. Back to
a late dinner with our various experiences, and perhaps specimens
to match,--a thunder-snake, eight feet long; a live opossum, with a
young clinging to the natural pouch; an armful of great white,
scentless pond-lilies. After dinner, to the tangled garden for rosebuds or
early magnolias, whose cloying fragrance will always bring back to me
the full zest of those summer days; then dress-parade and a little
drill as the day grew cool. In the evening, tea; and then the piazza or
the fireside, as the case might be,--chess, cards,--perhaps a little music
by aid of the assistant surgeon's melodeon, a few pages of Jean Paul's
"Titan," almost my only book, and carefully husbanded,--perhaps a mail, with
its infinite felicities. Such was our day.
Night brought its own fascinations, more solitary and profound.
The darker they were, the more clearly it was our duty to visit the
pickets. The paths that had grown so familiar by day seemed a wholly
new labyrinth by night; and every added shade of darkness seemed to
shift and complicate them all anew, till at last man's skill grew
utterly baffled, and the clew must be left to the instinct of the horse.
Riding beneath the solemn starlight, or soft, gray mist, or densest
blackness, the frogs croaking, the strange "chuckwuts-widow" droning his
ominous note above my head, the mocking-bird dreaming in music, the
great Southern fireflies rising to the tree-tops, or hovering close to
the ground like glowworms, till the horse raised his hoofs to avoid
them; through pine woods and cypress swamps, or past sullen brooks, or
white tents, or the dimly seen huts of sleeping negroes; down to
the glimmering shore, where black statues leaned against trees or
stood alert in the pathways;--never, in all the days of my life, shall I
forget the magic of those haunted nights.
We had nocturnal boat service, too, for it was a part of
our instructions to obtain all possible information about the
enemy's position; and we accordingly, as usual in such cases, incurred a
great many risks that harmed nobody, and picked up much information which
did nobody any good. The centre of these nightly reconnoissances, for a
long time, was the wreck of the George Washington, the story of
whose disaster is perhaps worth telling.
Till about the time when we went on picket, it had been the
occasional habit of the smaller gunboats to make the circuit of Port
Royal Island,--a practice which was deemed very essential to the safety
of our position, but which the Rebels effectually stopped, a few
days after our arrival, by destroying the army gunboat George
Washington with a single shot from a light battery. I was roused soon
after daybreak by the firing, and a courier soon came dashing in with
the particulars. Forwarding these hastily to Beaufort (for we had then
no telegraph), I was soon at the scene of action, five miles
away. Approaching, I met on the picket paths man after man who had
escaped from the wreck across a half-mile of almost impassable marsh.
Never did I see such objects,--some stripped to their shirts, some
fully clothed, but all having every garment literally pasted to then-
bodies with mud. Across the river, the Rebels were retiring, having
done their work, but were still shelling, from greater and
greater distances, the wood through which I rode. Arrived at the spot
nearest the wreck (a point opposite to what we called the Brickyard
Station), I saw the burning vessel aground beyond a long stretch of marsh,
out of which the forlorn creatures were still floundering. Here and
there in the mud and reeds we could see the laboring heads,
slowly advancing, and could hear excruciating cries from wounded men in
the more distant depths. It was the strangest mixture of war and Dante
and Robinson Crusoe. Our energetic chaplain coming up, I sent him
with four men, under a flag of truce, to the place whence the worst
cries proceeded, while I went to another part of the marsh. During
that morning we got them all out, our last achievement being the rescue
of the pilot, an immense negro with a wooden leg,--an article
so particularly unavailable for mud travelling, that it would have
almost seemed better, as one of the men suggested, to cut the traces,
and leave it behind.
A naval gunboat, too, which had originally accompanied this vessel,
and should never have left it, now came back and took off the
survivors, though there had been several deaths from scalding and shell. It
proved that the wreck was not aground after all, but at anchor,
having foolishly lingered till after daybreak, and having thus given time
for the enemy to bring down then: guns. The first shot had struck
the boiler, and set the vessel on fire; after which the officer in
command had raised a white flag, and then escaped with his men to our shore;
and it was for this flight in the wrong direction that they were shelled
in the marshes by the Rebels. The case furnished in this respect
some parallel to that of the Kearsage and Alabama, and it was
afterwards cited, I believe, officially or unofficially, to show that the
Rebels had claimed the right to punish, in this case, the course of
action which they approved in Semmes. I know that they always
asserted thenceforward that the detachment on board the George Washington
had become rightful prisoners of war, and were justly fired upon when
they tried to escape.
This was at the tune of the first attack on Charleston, and the noise
of this cannonading spread rapidly thither, and brought four regiments
to reinforce Beaufort in a hurry, under the impression that the town
was already taken, and that they must save what remnants they could.
General Saxton, too, had made such capital plans for defending the post
that he could not bear not to have it attacked; so, while the Rebels brought
down a force to keep us from taking the guns off the wreck, I was also
supplied with a section or two of regular artillery, and some additional
infantry, with which to keep them from it; and we tried to "make believe very
hard," and rival the Charleston expedition on our own island. Indeed, our
affair came to about as much,--nearly nothing,--and lasted decidedly longer;
for both sides nibbled away at the guns, by night, for weeks afterward,
though I believe the mud finally got them,--at least, we did not. We tried in
vain to get the use of a steamboat or floating derrick of any kind; for it
needed more mechanical ingenuity than we possessed to transfer anything so
heavy to our small boats by night, while by day we did not go near the wreck
in anything larger than a "dug-out."
One of these nocturnal visits to the wreck I recall with peculiar gusto,
because it brought back that contest with catarrh and coughing among my own
warriors which had so ludicrously beset me in Florida. It was always
fascinating to be on those forbidden waters by night, stealing out with
muffled oars through the creeks and reeds, our eyes always strained for other
voyagers, our ears listening breathlessly to all the marsh sounds,--blackflsh
splashing, and little wakened reed-birds that fled wailing away over the dim
river, equally safe on either side. But it always appeared to the watchful
senses that we were making noise enough to be heard at Fort Sumter; and
somehow the victims of catarrh seemed always the most eager for any
enterprise requiring peculiar caution. In this case I thought I had sifted
them before-hand; but as soon as we were afloat, one poor boy near me
began to wheeze, and I turned upon him in exasperation. He saw his
danger, and meekly said, "I won't cough, Gunnel!" and he kept his word.
For two mortal hours he sat grasping his gun, with never a chirrup.
But two unfortunates in the bow of the boat developed symptoms which
I could not suppress; so, putting in at a picket station, with some risk I
dumped them in mud knee-deep, and embarked a substitute, who after the first
five minutes absolutely coughed louder than both the others united.
Handkerchiefs, blankets, over-coats, suffocation in its direst forms, were
tried in vain, but apparently the Rebel pickets slept through it all, and we
exploded the wreck in safety. I think they were asleep, for certainly across
the level marshes there came a nasal sound, as of the "Con-thieveracy" in its
slumbers. It may have been a bull-frog, but it sounded like a human
Picket life was of course the place to feel the charm of natural
beauty on the Sea Islands. We had a world of profuse and tangled
vegetation around us, such as would have been a dream of delight to me, but
for the constant sense of responsibility and care which came between. Amid
this preoccupation, Nature seemed but a mirage, and not the close
and intimate associate I had before known. I pressed no flowers,
collected no insects or birds' eggs, made no notes on natural objects,
reversing in these respects all previous habits. Yet now, in the retrospect,
there seems to have been infused into me through every pore the
voluptuous charm of the season and the place; and the slightest corresponding
sound or odor now calls back the memory of those delicious days.
Being afterwards on picket at almost every season, I tasted the sensations
of all; and though I hardly then thought of such a result, the
associations of beauty will remain forever.
In February, for instance,--though this was during a later period
of picket service,--the woods were usually draped with that "net
of shining haze" which marks our Northern May; and the house was embowered
in wild-plum-blossoms, small, white, profuse, and tenanted by murmuring bees.
There were peach-blossoms, too, and the yellow jasmine was opening its
multitudinous buds, climbing over tall trees, and waving from bough to bough.
There were fresh young ferns and white bloodroot in the edges of woods,
matched by snowdrops in the garden, beneath budded myrtle and Petisporum.
In this wilderness the birds were busy; the two main songsters being the
mocking-bird and the cardinal-grosbeak, which monopolized all the parts of
our more varied Northern orchestra save the tender and liquid notes, which in
South Carolina seemed unattempted except by some stray blue-bird. Jays
were as loud and busy as at the North in autumn; there were sparrows
and wrens; and sometimes I noticed the shy and whimsical chewink.
From this early spring-time onward, there seemed no great difference
in atmospheric sensations, and only a succession of bloom. After two
months one's notions of the season grew bewildered, just as very early
rising bewilders the day. In the army one is perhaps roused after a
bivouac, marches before daybreak, halts, fights, somebody is killed, a long
day's life has been lived, and after all it is not seven o'clock,
and breakfast is not ready. So when we had lived in summer so long as
hardly to remember winter, it suddenly occurred to us that it was not yet
June. One escapes at the South that mixture of hunger and avarice which
is felt in the Northern summer, counting each hour's joy with the
sad consciousness that an hour is gone. The compensating loss is in
missing those soft, sweet, liquid sensations of the Northern spring, that
burst of life and joy, those days of heaven that even April brings; and
this absence of childhood in the year creates a feeling of hardness in
the season, like that I have suggested in the melody of the Southern
birds. It seemed to me also that the woods had not those pure, clean,
innocent odors which so abound in the New England forest in early spring;
but there was something luscious, voluptuous, almost oppressively
fragrant about the magnolias, as if they belonged not to Hebe, but to
Such immense and lustrous butterflies I had never seen but in
dreams; and not even dreams had prepared me for sand-flies. Almost too small
to be seen, they inflicted a bite which appeared larger than
themselves,--a positive wound, more torturing than that of a mosquito, and
leaving more annoyance behind. These tormentors elevated dress-parade into
the dignity of a military engagement. I had to stand motionless, with
my head a mere nebula of winged atoms, while tears rolled profusely down
my face, from mere muscular irritation. Had I stirred a finger, the
whole battalion would have been slapping its cheeks. Such enemies
were, however, a valuable aid to discipline, on the whole, as
they abounded in the guard-house, and made that institution an object
of unusual abhorrence among the men.
The presence of ladies and the homelike air of everything, made
the picket station a very popular resort while we were there. It was the
one agreeable ride from Beaufort, and we often had a dozen
people unexpectedly to dinner. On such occasions there was sometimes
mounting in hot haste, and an eager search among the outlying plantations
for additional chickens and eggs, or through the company kitchens for
some of those villanous tin cans which everywhere marked the progress of
our army. In those cans, so far as my observation went, all fruits
relapsed into a common acidulation, and all meats into a similarity
of tastelessness; while the "condensed milk" was best described by the
men, who often unconsciously stumbled on a better joke than they knew,
and always spoke of it as condemned milk.
We had our own excursions too,--to the Barnwell plantations, with
their beautiful avenues and great live-oaks, the perfection of
Southern beauty,--to Hall's Island, debatable ground, close under the
enemy's fire, where half-wild cattle were to be shot, under
military precautions, like Scottish moss-trooping,--or to the ferry, where it
was fascinating to the female mind to scan the Rebel pickets through
a field-glass. Our horses liked the by-ways far better than the
level hardness of the Shell Road, especially those we had brought
from Florida, which enjoyed the wilderness as if they had belonged
to Marion's men. They delighted to feel the long sedge brush their
flanks, or to gallop down the narrow wood-paths, leaping the fallen trees,
and scaring the bright little lizards which shot across our track like
live rays broken from the sunbeams. We had an abundance of horses,
mostly captured and left in our hands by some convenient delay of the
post quartermaster. We had also two side-saddles, which, not being
munitions of war, could not properly (as we explained) be transferred like
other captured articles to the general stock; otherwise the P. Q. M.
(a married man) would have showed no unnecessary delay in their case.
For miscellaneous accommodation was there not an ambulance,--that
most inestimable of army conveniences, equally ready to carry the merry to
a feast or the wounded from a fray. "Ambulance" was one of those
words, rather numerous, which Ethiopian lips were not framed by Nature
to articulate. Only the highest stages of colored culture could compass
it; on the tongue of the many it was transformed mystically as "amulet,"
or ambitiously as "epaulet," or in culinary fashion as "omelet." But it
was our experience that an ambulance under any name jolted equally
Besides these divertisements, we had more laborious vocations,--a
good deal of fatigue, and genuine though small alarms. The men went on
duty every third day at furthest, and the officers nearly as often,--most
of the tours of duty lasting twenty-four hours, though the stream
was considered to watch itself tolerably well by daylight. This kind
of responsibility suited the men; and we had already found, as the
whole army afterwards acknowledged, that the constitutional watchfulness
and distrustfulness of the colored race made them admirable sentinels.
Soon after we went on picket, the commanding general sent an aid, with
a cavalry escort, to visit all the stations, without my knowledge.
They spent the whole night, and the officer reported that he could not
get within thirty yards of any post without a challenge. This was a
pleasant assurance for me; since our position seemed so secure, compared
with Jacksonville, that I had feared some relaxation of vigilance, while
yet the safety of all depended on our thorough discharge of duty.
Jacksonville had also seasoned the men so well that they were no longer
nervous, and did not waste much powder on false alarms. The Rebels made no
formal attacks, and rarely attempted to capture pickets. Sometimes they came
stealing through the creeks in "dugouts," as we did on their side of the
water, and occasionally an officer of ours was fired upon while making his
rounds by night. Often some boat or scow would go adrift, and sometimes a
mere dark mass of river-weed would be floated by the tide past the successive
stations, eliciting a challenge and perhaps a shot from each. I remember the
vivid way in which one of the men stated to his officer the manner in which
a faithful picket should do his duty, after challenging, in case a
boat came in sight. "Fus' ting I shoot, and den I shoot, and den I
shoot again. Den I creep-creep up near de boat, and see who dey in 'em;
and s'pose anybody pop up he head, den I shoot again. S'pose I fire
my forty rounds. I tink he hear at de camp and send more
mans,"--which seemed a reasonable presumption. This soldier's name was Paul
Jones, a daring fellow, quite worthy of his namesake.
In time, however, they learned quieter methods, and would wade far
out in the water, there standing motionless at last, hoping to surround
and capture these floating boats, though, to their great disappointment,
the prize usually proved empty. On one occasion they tried a
still profounder strategy; for an officer visiting the pickets after
midnight, and hearing in the stillness a portentous snore from the end of
the causeway (our most important station), straightway hurried to the
point of danger, with wrath in his soul. But the sergeant of the squad
came out to meet him, imploring silence, and explaining that they had seen
or suspected a boat hovering near, and were feigning sleep in order to
lure and capture those who would entrap them.
The one military performance at the picket station of which my men
were utterly intolerant was an occasional flag of truce, for which this
was the appointed locality. These farces, for which it was our duty
to furnish the stock actors, always struck them as being
utterly despicable, and unworthy the serious business of war. They felt,
I suppose, what Mr. Pickwick felt, when he heard his counsel remark to
the counsel for the plaintiff, that it was a very fine morning. It
goaded their souls to see the young officers from the two opposing
armies salute each other courteously, and interchange cigars. They despised
the object of such negotiations, which was usually to send over to the
enemy some family of Rebel women who had made themselves quite intolerable
on our side, but were not above collecting a subscription among the
Union officers, before departure, to replenish their wardrobes. The men
never showed disrespect to these women by word or deed, but they hated
them from the bottom of their souls. Besides, there was a grievance
behind all this.
The Rebel order remained unrevoked which consigned the new
colored troops and their officers to a felon's death, if captured; and we
all felt that we fought with ropes round our necks. "Dere's no flags
ob truce for us," the men would contemptuously say. "When de Secesh
fight de Fus' Souf" (First South Carolina), "he fight in earnest." Indeed,
I myself took it as rather a compliment when the commander on the
other side--though an old acquaintance of mine in Massachusetts and
in Kansas--at first refused to negotiate through me or my
officers,--a refusal which was kept up, greatly to the enemy's inconvenience,
until our men finally captured some of the opposing pickets, and their
friends had to waive all scruples in order to send them supplies. After
this there was no trouble, and I think that the first Rebel officer in
South Carolina who officially met any officer of colored troops under a
flag of truce was Captain John C. Calhoun. In Florida we had been
so recognized long before; but that was when they wished to frighten us
out of Jacksonville.
Such was our life on picket at Port Royal,--a thing whose memory is
now fast melting into such stuff as dreams are made of. We stayed there
more than two months at that tune; the first attack on Charleston
exploded with one puff, and had its end; General Hunter was ordered North,
and the busy Gilmore reigned in his stead; and in June, when
the blackberries were all eaten, we were summoned, nothing loath, to
other scenes and encampments new.
Chapter 6 A Night in the Water
Yes, that was a pleasant life on picket, in the delicious early
summer of the South, and among the endless flowery forests of that
blossoming isle. In the retrospect I seem to see myself adrift upon a horse's
back amid a sea of roses. The various outposts were within a six-mile
radius, and it was one long, delightful gallop, day and night. I have a
faint impression that the moon shone steadily every night for two months;
and yet I remember certain periods of such dense darkness that in
riding through the wood-paths it was really unsafe to go beyond a walk,
for fear of branches above and roots below; and one of my officers was
once shot at by a Rebel scout who stood unperceived at his horse's
To those doing outpost-duty on an island, however large, the
main-land has all the fascination of forbidden fruit, and on a scale
bounded only by the horizon. Emerson says that every house looks ideal
until we enter it,--and it is certainly so, if it be just the other side
of the hostile lines. Every grove in that blue distance appears
enchanted ground, and yonder loitering gray-back leading his horse to water
in the farthest distance, makes one thrill with a desire to hail him,
to shoot at him, to capture him, to do anything to bridge this
inexorable dumb space that lies between. A boyish feeling, no doubt, and one
that time diminishes, without effacing; yet it is a feeling which lies
at the bottom of many rash actions in war, and of some brilliant ones. For
one, I could never quite outgrow it, though restricted by duty from doing
many foolish things in consequence, and also restrained by reverence for
certain confidential advisers whom I had always at hand, and who considered
it their mission to keep me always on short rations of personal adventure.
Indeed, most of that sort of entertainment in the army devolves upon scouts
detailed for the purpose, volunteer aides-de-camp and
newspaper-reporters,--other officers being expected to be about business more
All the excitements of war are quadrupled by darkness; and as I
rode along our outer lines at night, and watched the glimmering flames
which at regular intervals starred the opposite river-shore, the longing
was irresistible to cross the barrier of dusk, and see whether it were
men or ghosts who hovered round those dying embers. I had yielded to
these impulses in boat-adventures by night,--for it was a part of
my instructions to obtain all possible information about the
Rebel outposts,--and fascinating indeed it was to glide along,
noiselessly paddling, with a dusky guide, through the endless intricacies of
those Southern marshes, scaring the reed-birds, which wailed and fled
away into the darkness, and penetrating several miles into the
ulterior, between hostile fires, where discovery might be death. Yet there
were drawbacks as to these enterprises, since it is not easy for a boat
to cross still water, even on the darkest night, without being seen
by watchful eyes; and, moreover, the extremes of high and low
tide transform so completely the whole condition of those rivers that
it needs very nice calculation to do one's work at precisely the
right tune. To vary the experiment, I had often thought of trying a
personal reconnoissance by swimming, at a certain point, whenever
circumstances should make it an object.
The oportunity at last arrived, and I shall never forget the glee
with which, after several postponements, I finally rode forth, a
little before midnight, on a night which seemed made for the purpose. I
had, of course, kept my own secret, and was entirely alone. The
great Southern fireflies were out, not haunting the low ground merely,
like ours, but rising to the loftiest tree-tops with weird
illumination, and anon hovering so low that my horse often stepped the higher
to avoid them. The dewy Cherokee roses brushed my face, the
solemn "Chuckwill's-widow" croaked her incantation, and the rabbits
raced phantom-like across the shadowy road. Slowly in the darkness
I followed the well-known path to the spot where our most
advanced outposts were stationed, holding a causeway which thrust itself
far out across the separating river,--thus fronting a similar causeway
on the other side, while a channel of perhaps three hundred yards,
once traversed by a ferry-boat, rolled between. At low tide this
channel was the whole river, with broad, oozy marshes on each side; at
high tide the marshes were submerged, and the stream was a mile wide.
This was the point which I had selected. To ascertain the numbers
and position of the picket on the opposite causeway was my first
object, as it was a matter on which no two of our officers agreed.
To this point, therefore, I rode, and dismounting, after being
duly challenged by the sentinel at the causeway-head, walked down the
long and lonely path. The tide was well up, though still on the flood, as
I desired; and each visible tuft of marsh-grass might, but for
its motionlessness, have been a prowling boat. Dark as the night
had appeared, the water was pale, smooth, and phosphorescent, and I
remember that the phrase "wan water," so familiar in the Scottish
ballards, struck me just then as peculiarly appropriate, though its real
meaning is quite different. A gentle breeze, from which I had hoped for
a ripple, had utterly died away, and it was a warm, breathless
Southern night. There was no sound but the famt swash of the coming tide,
the noises of the reed-birds in the marshes, and the occasional leap of
a fish; and it seemed to my overstrained ear as if every footstep of
my own must be heard for miles. However, I could have no
more postponements, and the thing must be tried now or never.
Reaching the farther end of the causeway, I found my men couched,
like black statues, behind the slight earthwork there constructed.
I expected that my proposed immersion would rather bewilder them, but knew
that they would say nothing, as usual. As for the lieutenant on that post, he
was a steady, matter-of-fact, perfectly disciplined Englishman, who wore a
Crimean medal, and never asked a superfluous question in his life. If I had
casually remarked to him, "Mr. Hooper, the General has ordered me on a brief
personal reconnoissance to the Planet Jupiter, and I wish you to take care of
my watch, lest it should be damaged by the Precession of the Equinoxes," he
would have responded with a brief "All right, Sir," and a quick military
gesture, and have put the thing in his pocket. As it was, I simply gave him
the watch, and remarked that I was going to take a swim.
I do not remember ever to have experienced a greater sense
of exhilaration than when I slipped noiselessly into the placid water,
and struck out into the smooth, eddying current for the opposite shore.
The night was so still and lovely, my black statues looked so dream-like
at their posts behind the low earthwork, the opposite arm of the
causeway stretched so invitingly from the Rebel main, the horizon glimmered
so low around me,--for it always appears lower to a swimmer than even to
an oarsman,--that I seemed floating in some concave globe, some
magic crystal, of which I was the enchanted centre. With each little ripple
of my steady progress all things hovered and changed; the stars danced
and nodded above; where the stars ended the great Southern fireflies
began; and closer than the fireflies, there clung round me a halo
of phosphorescent sparkles from the soft salt water.
Had I told any one of my purpose, I should have had warnings
and remonstrances enough. The few negroes who did not believe
in alligators believed in sharks; the sceptics as to sharks were
orthodox in respect to alligators; while those who rejected both had
private prejudices as to snapping-turtles. The surgeon would have
threatened intermittent fever, the first assistant rheumatism, and the
second assistant congestive chills; non-swimmers would have
predicted exhaustion, and swimmers cramp; and all this before coming
within bullet-range of any hospitalities on the other shore. But I knew
the folly of most alarms about reptiles and fishes; man's
imagination peoples the water with many things which do not belong there,
or prefer to keep out of his way, if they do; fevers and congestions
were the surgeon's business, and I always kept people to their
own department; cramp and exhaustion were dangers I could measure, as
I had often done; bullets were a more substantial danger, and I must take
the chance,--if a loon could dive at the flash, why not I? If I were once
ashore, I should have to cope with the Rebels on their own ground, which they
knew better than I; but the water was my ground, where I, too, had been at
home from boyhood.
I swam as swiftly and softly as I could, although it seemed as if
water never had been so still before. It appeared impossible that
anything uncanny should hide beneath that lovely mirror; and yet when
some floating wisp of reeds suddenly coiled itself around my neck, or
some unknown thing, drifting deeper, coldly touched my foot, it caused
that undefinable shudder which every swimmer knows, and which
especially comes over one by night. Sometimes a slight sip of brackish water
would enter my lips,--for I naturally tried to swim as low as
possible,--and then would follow a slight gasping and contest against
chocking, that seemed to me a perfect convulsion; for I suppose the tendency
to choke and sneeze is always enhanced by the circumstance that one's life
may depend on keeping still, just as yawning becomes irresistible where
to yawn would be social ruin, and just as one is sure to sleep in
church, if one sits in a conspicuous pew. At other times, some unguarded
motion would create a splashing which seemed, in the tension of my senses,
to be loud enough to be heard at Richmond, although it really mattered
not, since there are fishes in those rivers which make as much noise
on special occasions as if they were misguided young whales.
As I drew near the opposite shore, the dark causeway projected more
and more distinctly, to my fancy at least, and I swam more softly
still, utterly uncertain as to how far, in the stillness of air and water,
my phosphorescent course could be traced by eye or ear. A slight
ripple would have saved me from observation, I was more than ever sure,
and I would have whistled for a fair wind as eagerly as any sailor, but
that my breath was worth to me more than anything it was likely to bring.
The water became smoother and smoother, and nothing broke the dim
surface except a few clumps of rushes and my unfortunate head. The outside
of this member gradually assumed to its inside a gigantic magnitude; it
had always annoyed me at the hatter's from a merely animal bigness, with
no commensurate contents to show for it, and now I detested it more
than ever. A physical feeling of turgescence and congestion in that
region, such as swimmers often feel, probably increased the impression.
I thought with envy of the Aztec children, of the headless horseman
of Sleepy Hollow, of Saint Somebody with his head tucked under his
arm. Plotinus was less ashamed of his whole body than I of this
inconsiderate and stupid appendage. To be sure, I might swim for a certain
distance under water. But that accomplishment I had reserved for a retreat,
for I knew that the longer I stayed down the more surely I should have
to snort like a walrus when I came up again, and to approach an enemy
with such a demonstration was not to be thought of.
Suddenly a dog barked. We had certain information that a pack of
hounds was kept at a Rebel station a few miles off, on purpose to
hunt runaways, and I had heard from the negroes almost fabulous accounts
of the instinct of these animals. I knew that, although water baffled
their scent, they yet could recognize in some manner the approach of
any person across water as readily as by land; and of the vigilance of
all dogs by night every traveller among Southern plantations has
ample demonstration. I was now so near that I could dimly see the figures
of men moving to and fro upon the end of the causeway, and could hear
the dull knock, when one struck his foot against a piece of limber.
As my first object was to ascertain whether there were sentinels at that
time at that precise point, I saw that I was approaching the end of my
experiment Could I have once reached the causeway unnoticed, I could have
lurked in the water beneath its projecting timbers, and perhaps made my way
along the main shore, as I had known fugitive slaves to do, while coming from
that side. Or had there been any ripple on the water, to confuse the aroused
and watchful eyes, I could have made a circuit and approached the causeway at
another point, though I had already satisfied myself that there was only a
narrow channel on each side of it, even at high tide, and not, as on
our side, a broad expanse of water. Indeed, this knowledge alone was
worth all the trouble I had taken, and to attempt much more than this,
in the face of a curiosity already roused, would have been a waste
of future opportunities. I could try again, with the benefit of this
new knowledge, on a point where the statements of the negroes had
always been contradictory.
Resolving, however, to continue the observation a very little
longer, since the water felt much warmer than I had expected, and there was
no sense of chill or fatigue, I grasped at some wisps of straw or
rushes that floated near, gathering them round my face a little, and
then drifting nearer the wharf in what seemed a sort of eddy was
able, without creating further alarm, to make some additional observations
on points which it is not best now to particularize. Then, turning my
back upon the mysterious shore which had thus far lured me, I sank
softly below the surface, and swam as far as I could under water.
During this unseen retreat, I heard, of course, all manner of
gurglings and hollow reverberations, and could fancy as many rifle-shots as
I pleased. But on rising to the surface all seemed quiet, and even I
did not create as much noise as I should have expected. I was now at a
safe distance, since the enemy were always chary of showing their boats,
and always tried to convince us they had none. What with absorbed
attention first, and this submersion afterwards, I had lost all my bearings
but the stars, having been long out of sight of my original point
of departure. However, the difficulties of the return were nothing;
making a slight allowance for the floodtide, which could not yet have turned,
I should soon regain the place I had left. So I struck out freshly
against the smooth water, feeling just a little stiffened by the
exertion, and with an occasional chill running up the back of the neck, but
with no nips from sharks, no nudges from alligators, and not a symptom
Time I could not, of course, measure,--one never can in a novel
position; but, after a reasonable amount of swimming, I began to look, with
a natural interest, for the pier which I had quitted. I noticed, with
some solicitude, that the woods along the friendly shore made one
continuous shadow, and that the line of low bushes on the long causeway
could scarcely be relieved against them, yet I knew where they ought to
be, and the more doubtful I felt about it, the more I put down my doubts,
as if they were unreasonable children. One can scarcely conceive of
the alteration made in familiar objects by bringing the eye as low as
the horizon, especially by night; to distinguish foreshortening
is impossible, and every low near object is equivalent to one higher
and more remote. Still I had the stars; and soon my eye, more practised,
was enabled to select one precise line of bushes as that which marked
the causeway, and for which I must direct my course.
As I swam steadily, but with some sense of fatigue, towards
this phantom-line, I found it difficult to keep my faith steady and
my progress true; everything appeared to shift and waver, in the
uncertain light. The distant trees seemed not trees, but bushes, and the
bushes seemed not exactly bushes, but might, after all, be distant trees.
Could I be so confident that, out of all that low stretch of shore, I
could select the one precise point where the friendly causeway stretched
its long arm to receive me from the water? How easily (some
tempter whispered at my ear) might one swerve a little, on either side, and
be compelled to flounder over half a mile of oozy marsh on an ebbing
tide, before reaching our own shore and that hospitable volley of bullets
with which it would probably greet me! Had I not already (thus the
tempter continued) been swimming rather unaccountably far, supposing me on
a straight track for that inviting spot where my sentinels and my
drapery were awaiting my return?
Suddenly I felt a sensation as of fine ribbons drawn softly across my
person, and I found myself among some rushes. But what business had rushes
there, or I among them? I knew that there was not a solitary spot of shoal in
the deep channel where I supposed myself swimming, and it was plain in an
instant that I had somehow missed my course, and must be getting among the
marshes. I felt confident, to be sure, that I could not have widely erred,
but was guiding my course for the proper side of tie river. But whether I had
drifted above or below the causeway I had not the slightest clew to
I pushed steadily forward, with some increasing sense of
lassitude, passing one marshy islet after another, all seeming strangely out
of place, and sometimes just reaching with my foot a soft tremulous
shoal which gave scarce the shadow of a support, though even that
shadow rested my feet. At one of these moments of stillness it
suddenly occurred to my perception (what nothing but this slight contact
could have assured me, in the darkness) that I was in a powerful current,
and that this current set the wrong way. Instantly a flood of
new intelligence came. Either I had unconsciously turned and was
rapidly nearing the Rebel shore,--a suspicion which a glance at the
stars corrected,--or else it was the tide itself which had turned, and
which was sweeping me down the river with all its force, and was also
sucking away at every moment the narrowing water from that treacherous
expanse of mud out of whose horrible miry embrace I had lately helped to
rescue a shipwrecked crew.
Either alternative was rather formidable. I can distinctly remember that
for about one half-minute the whole vast universe appeared to swim in the
same watery uncertainty in which I floated. I began to doubt everything, to
distrust the stars, the line of low bushes for which I was wearily striving,
the very land on which they grew, if such visionary things could be rooted
anywhere. Doubts trembled in my mind like the weltering water, and that awful
sensation of having one's feet unsupported, which benumbs the spent swimmer's
heart, seemed to clutch at mine, though not yet to enter it. I was
more absorbed in that singular sensation of nightmare, such as one may
feel equally when lost by land or by water, as if one's own position
were all right, but the place looked for had somehow been
preternaturally abolished out of the universe. At best, might not a man in
the water lose all his power of direction, and so move in an endless
circle until he sank exhausted? It required a deliberate and conscious
effort to keep my brain quite cool. I have not the reputation of being of
an excitable temperament, but the contrary; yet I could at that moment see
my way to a condition in which one might become insane in an instant. It was
as if a fissure opened somewhere, and I saw my way into a mad-house; then it
closed, and everything went on as before. Once in my life I had obtained a
slight glimpse of the same sensation, and then, too, strangely enough, while
swimming,--in the mightiest ocean-surge into which I had ever dared plunge my
mortal body. Keats hints at the same sudden emotion, in a wild poem
written among the Scottish mountains. It was not the distinctive sensation
which drowning men are said to have, that spasmodic passing in review
of one's whole personal history. I had no well-defined anxiety, felt
no fear, was moved to no prayer, did not give a thought to home
or friends; only it swept over me, as with a sudden tempest, that, if
I meant to get back to my own camp, I must keep my wits about me. I
must not dwell on any other alternative, any more than a boy who climbs
a precipice must look down. Imagination had no business here. That
way madness lay. There was a shore somewhere before me, and I must get
to it, by the ordinary means, before the ebb laid bare the flats, or swept
me below the lower bends of the stream. That was all.
Suddenly a light gleamed for an instant before me, as if from a house
in a grove of great trees upon a bank; and I knew that it came from
the window of a ruined plantation-building, where our most advanced
outposts had their headquarters. The flash revealed to me every point of
the situation. I saw at once where I was, and how I got there: that the
tide had turned while I was swimming, and with a much briefer interval
of slack-water than I had been led to suppose,--that I had been swept
a good way down stream, and was far beyond all possibility of
regaining the point I had left.
Could I, however, retain my strength to swim one or two hundred
yards farther, of which I had no doubt,--and if the water did not ebb
too rapidly, of which I had more fear,--then I was quite safe. Every
stroke took me more and more out of the power of the current, and there
might even be an eddy to aid me. I could not afford to be carried down
much farther, for there the channel made a sweep toward the wrong side of
the river; but there was now no reason why I should not reach land. I
could dismiss all fear, indeed, except that of being fired upon by our
own sentinels, many of whom were then new recruits, and with the
usual disposition to shoot first and investigate afterwards.
I found myself swimming in shallow and shallower water, and the
flats seemed almost bare when I neared the shore, where the great
gnarled branches of the liveoaks hung far over the muddy bank. Floating on
my back for noiselessness, I paddled rapidly in with my hands,
expecting momentarily to hear the challenge of the picket, and the ominous
click so likely to follow. I knew that some one should be pacing to and
fro, along that beat, but could not tell at what point he might be at
that precise moment. Besides, there was a faint possibility that some
chatty corporal might have carried the news of my bath thus far along the
line, and they might be partially prepared for this unexpected
visitor. Suddenly, like another flash, came the quick, quaint
"Halt! Who's go dar?"
"F-f-friend with the c-c-countersign," retorted I, with chilly,
but conciliatory energy, rising at full length out of the shallow water,
to show myself a man and a brother.
"Ac-vance, friend, and give de countersign," responded the
literal soldier, who at such a tune would have accosted : a spirit of light
or goblin damned with no other formula.
I advanced and gave it, he recognized my voice at once. | And then
and there, as I stood, a dripping ghost, beneath the f trees before him,
the unconscionable fellow, wishing to exhaust upon me the utmost resources
of military hospitality, deliberately presented arms!
Now a soldier on picket, or at night, usually presents arms to
nobody; but a sentinel on camp-guard by day is expected to perform
that ceremony to anything in human shape that has two rows of buttons.
Here was a human shape, but so utterly buttonless that it exhibited
not even a rag to which a button could by any earthly possibility
be appended, button-less even potentially; and my blameless
Ethiopian presented arms to even this. Where, then, are the theories of
Carlyle, the axioms of "Sartor Resartus," the inability of humanity to
conceive "a naked Duke of Windlestraw addressing a naked House of
Lords"? Cautioning my adherent, however, as to the proprieties suitable
for such occasions thenceforward, I left him watching the river
with renewed vigilance, and awaiting the next merman who should
Finding my way to the building, I hunted up a sergeant and a
blanket, got a fire kindled in the dismantled chimney, and sat before it in
my single garment, like a moist but undismayed Choctaw, until horse
and clothing could be brought round from the causeway. It seemed
strange that the morning had not yet dawned, after the uncounted periods
that must have elapsed; but when the wardrobe arrived I looked at my
watch and found that my night in the water had lasted precisely one
Galloping home, I turned in with alacrity, and without a drop
of whiskey, and waked a few hours after in excellent condition. The
rapid changes of which that Department has seen so many--and, perhaps, to
so little purpose--soon transferred us to a different scene. I have been
on other scouts since then, and by various processes, but never with a
zest so novel as was afforded by that night's experience. The thing soon
got wind in the regiment, and led to only one ill consequence, so far as
I know. It rather suppressed a way I had of lecturing the officers on
the importance of reducing their personal baggage to a minimum. They got
a trick of congratulating me, very respectfully, on the thoroughness
with which I had once conformed my practice to my precepts.
In reading military history, one finds the main interest to
lie, undoubtedly, in the great campaigns, where a man, a regiment, a
brigade, is but a pawn in the game. But there is a charm also in the more
free and adventurous life of partisan warfare, where, if the total sphere
be humbler, yet the individual has more relative importance, and the
sense of action is more personal and keen. This is the reason given by
the eccentric Revolutionary biographer, Weems, for writing the Life
of Washington first, and then that of Marion. And there were, certainly,
hi the early adventures of the colored troops in the Department of
the South, some of the same elements of picturesqueness that belonged
to Marion's band, on the same soil, with the added feature that the
blacks were fighting for then- personal liberties, of which Marion had
helped to deprive them.
It is stated by Major-General Gillmore, in his "Siege of Charleston," as
one of the three points in his preliminary strategy, that an expedition was
sent up the Edisto River to destroy a bridge on the Charleston and Savannah
Railway. As one of the early raids of the colored troops, this expedition may
deserve narration, though it was, in a strategic point of view, a
disappointment. It has already been told, briefly and on the whole with
truth, by Greeley and others, but I will venture on a more complete
The project dated back earlier than General Gillmore's siege, and
had originally no connection with that movement. It had been formed
by Captain Trowbridge and myself in camp, and was based on facts
learned from the men. General Saxton and Colonel W. W. H. Davis, the
successive post-commanders, had both favored it. It had been also approved
by General Hunter, before his sudden removal, though he regarded the
bridge as a secondary affair, because there was another railway
communication between the two cities. But as my main object was to obtain
permission to go, I tried to make the most of all results which might follow,
while it was very clear that the raid would harass and confuse the
enemy, and be the means of bringing away many of the slaves. General
Hunter had, therefore, accepted the project mainly as a stroke for freedom
and black recruits; and General Gillmore, because anything that
looked toward action found favor in his eyes, and because it would
be convenient to him at that time to effect a diversion, if nothing
It must be remembered that, after the first capture of Port Royal,
the outlying plantations along the whole Southern coast were abandoned,
and the slaves withdrawn into the interior. It was necessary to ascend
some river for thirty miles in order to reach the black population at
all. This ascent could only be made by night, as it was a slow process,
and the smoke of a steamboat could be seen for a great distance. The
streams were usually shallow, winding, and muddy, and the difficulties
of navigation were such as to require a full moon and a flood tide. It
was really no easy matter to bring everything to bear, especially as
every projected raid must be kept a secret so far as possible. However,
we were now somewhat familiar with such undertakings, half military,
half naval, and the thing to be done on the Edisto was precisely what we
had proved to be practicable on the St. Mary's and the St. John's,--to
drop anchor before the enemy's door some morning at daybreak, without
his having dreamed of our approach.
Since a raid made by Colonel Montgomery up the Combahee, two
months before, the vigilance of the Rebels had increased. But we
had information that upon the South Edisto, or Pon-Pon River, the
rice plantations were still being actively worked by a large number
of negroes, in reliance on obstructions placed at the mouth of that narrow
stream, where it joins the main river, some twenty miles from the
coast. This point was known to be further protected by a battery of
unknown strength, at Wiltown Bluff, a commanding and defensible situation.
The obstructions consisted of a row of strong wooden piles across the river;
but we convinced ourselves that these must now be much decayed, and that
Captain Trowbridge, an excellent engineer officer, could remove them by the
proper apparatus. Our proposition was to man the John Adams, an armed
ferry-boat, which had before done us much service,--and which has now
reverted to the pursuits of peace, it is said, on the East Boston line,--to
ascend in this to Wiltown Bluff, silence the battery, and clear a passage
through the obstructions. Leaving the John Adams to protect this point, we
could then ascend the smaller stream with two light-draft boats, and
perhaps burn the bridge, which was ten miles higher, before the enemy
could bring sufficient force to make our position at Wiltown
The expedition was organized essentially upon this plan. The
smaller boats were the Enoch Dean,--a river steamboat, which carried a
ten-pound Parrott gun, and a small howitzer,--and a little mosquito of a tug,
the Governor Milton, upon which, with the greatest difficulty, we found
room for two twelve-pound Armstrong guns, with their gunners, forming
a section of the First Connecticut Battery, under Lieutenant
Clinton, aided by a squad from my own regiment, under Captain James. The
John Adams carried, I if I remember rightly, two Parrott guns (of twenty
and ten | pounds calibre) and a howitzer or two. The whole force of men
did not exceed two hundred and fifty.
We left Beaufort, S. C., on the afternoon of July 9th, 1863. In
former narrations I have sufficiently described the charm of a
moonlight ascent into a hostile country, upon an unknown stream, the dark
and silent banks, the rippling water, the wail of the reed-birds,
the anxious watch, the breathless listening, the veiled lights,
the whispered orders. To this was now to be added the vexation of
an insufficient pilotage, for our negro guide knew only the upper
river, and, as it finally proved, not even that, while, to take us over
the bar which obstructed the main stream, we must borrow a pilot
from Captain Dutch, whose gunboat blockaded that point. This active
naval officer, however, whose boat expeditions had penetrated all the
lower branches of those rivers, could supply our want, and we borrowed
from him not only a pilot, but a surgeon, to replace our own, who had
been prevented by an accident from coming with us. Thus accompanied,
we steamed over the bar in safety, had a peaceful ascent, passed
the island of Jehossee,--the fine estate of Governor Aiken, then
left undisturbed by both sides,--and fired our first shell into the camp
at Wiltown Bluff at four o'clock in the morning.
The battery--whether fixed or movable we knew not--met us with
a promptness that proved very shortlived. After three shots it was silent,
but we could not tell why. The bluff was wooded, and we could see but little.
The only course was to land, under cover of the guns. As the firing ceased
and the smoke cleared away, I looked across the rice-fields which lay beneath
the bluff. The first sunbeams glowed upon their emerald levels, and on the
blossoming hedges along the rectangular dikes. What were those black dots
which everywhere appeared? Those moist meadows had become alive with human
heads, and along each narrow path came a straggling file of men and women,
all on a run for the river-side. I went ashore with a boat-load of troops
at once. The landing was difficult and marshy. The astonished
negroes tugged us up the bank, and gazed on us as if we had been Cortez
and Columbus. They kept arriving by land much faster than we could come
by water; every moment increased the crowd, the jostling, the
mutual clinging, on that miry foothold. What a scene it was! With the
wild faces, eager figures, strange garments, it seemed, as one of the
poor things reverently suggested, "like notin' but de judgment
day." Presently they began to come from the houses also, with their
little bundles on their heads; then with larger bundles. Old women,
trotting on the narrow paths, would kneel to pray a little prayer,
still balancing the bundle; and then would suddenly spring up, urged by
the accumulating procession behind, and would move on till
irresistibly compelled by thankfulness to dip down for another
Reaching us, every human being must grasp our hands, amid
exclamations of "Bress you, mas'r," and "Bress de Lord," at the rate of four
of the latter ascriptions to one of the former.
Women brought children on their shoulders; small black boys learned
on their back little brothers equally inky, and, gravely depositing
them, shook hands. Never had I seen human beings so clad, or rather
so unclad, in such amazing squalid-ness and destitution of garments.
I recall one small urchin without a rag of clothing save the basque waist
of a lady's dress, bristling with whalebones, and worn wrong side before,
beneath which his smooth ebony legs emerged like those of an ostrich from its
plumage. How weak is imagination, how cold is memory, that I ever cease, for
a day of my life, to see before me the picture of that astounding
Yet at the time we were perforce a little impatient of all this
piety, protestation, and hand-pressing; for the vital thing was to
ascertain what force had been stationed at the bluff, and whether it was
yet withdrawn. The slaves, on the other hand, were too much absorbed
in their prospective freedom to aid us in taking any further steps
to secure it. Captain Trowbridge, who had by this time landed at
a different point, got quite into despair over the seeming deafness of
the people to all questions. "How many soldiers are there on the bluff?"
he asked of the first-comer.
"Mas'r," said the man, stuttering terribly, "I c-c-c--"
"Tell me how many soldiers there are!" roared Trowbridge, in his
mighty voice, and all but shaking the poor old thing, in his thirst
"O mas'r," recommenced in terror the incapacitated wit-ness,
"I c-c-carpenter!" holding up eagerly a little stump of a hatchet,
his sole treasure, as if his profession ought to excuse from all
I wish that it were possible to present all this scene from the point of
view of the slaves themselves. It can be most nearly done, perhaps, by
quoting the description given of a similar scene on the Combahee River, by a
very aged man, who had been brought down on the previous raid, already
mentioned. I wrote it down in tent, long after, while the old man recited the
tale, with much gesticulation, at the door; and it is by far the best glimpse
I have ever had, through a negro's eyes, at these wonderful birthdays of
"De people was all a hoein', mas'r," said the old man. "Dey was a
hoein' in the rice-field, when de gunboats come. Den ebry man drap dem hoe,
and leff de rice. De mas'r he stand and call, 'Run to de wood for
hide! Yankee come, sell you to Cuba! run for hide!' Ebry man he run, and,
my God! run all toder way!
"Mas'r stand in de wood, peep, peep, faid for truss [afraid to
trust]. He say, 'Run to de wood!' and ebry man run by him, straight to de
"De brack sojer so presumptious, dey come right ashore, hold up
dere head. Fus' ting I know, dere was a barn, ten tousand bushel rough
rice, all in a blaze, den mas'r's great house, all cracklin' up de
roof. Didn't I keer for see 'em blaze? Lor, mas'r, didn't care notin' at
all, was gwine to de boat."
Dore's Don Quixote could not surpass the sublime absorption in which
the gaunt old man, with arm uplifted, described this stage of affairs,
till he ended in a shrewd chuckle, worthy of Sancho Panza. Then he
"De brack sojers so presumptious!" This he repeated three times,
slowly shaking his head in an ectasy of admiration. It flashed upon me that
the apparition of a black soldier must amaze those still in bondage, much
as a butterfly just from the chrysalis might astound his fellow-grubs.
I inwardly vowed that my soldiers, at least, should be as
"presumptious" as I could make them. Then he went on.
"Ole woman and I go down to de boat; den dey say behind us,
'Rebels comin'l Rebels comin'!' Ole woman say, 'Come ahead, come
plenty ahead!' I hab notin' on but my shirt and pantaloon; ole woman
one single frock he hab on, and one handkerchief on he head; I
leff all-two my blanket and run for de Rebel come, and den dey didn't
come, didn't truss for come.
"Ise eighty-eight year old, mas'r. My ole Mas'r Lowndes keep all de
ages in a big book, and when we come to age ob sense we mark em down
ebry year, so I know. Too ole for come? Mas'r joking. Neber too ole for
leave de land o' bondage. I old, but great good for chil'en, gib tousand
tank ebry day. Young people can go through, force [forcibly], mas'r, but
de ole folk mus' go slow."
Such emotions as these, no doubt, were inspired by our arrival, but
we could only hear their hasty utterance in passing; our duty being,
with the small force already landed, to take possession of the
bluff. Ascending, with proper precautions, the wooded hill, we soon
found ourselves in the deserted camp of a light battery, amid
scattered equipments and suggestions of a very unattractive breakfast. As
soon as possible, skirmishers were thrown out through the woods to the
farther edge of the bluff, while a party searched the houses, finding the
usual large supply of furniture and pictures,--brought up for safety
from below,--but no soldiers. Captain Trowbridge then got the John
Adams beside the row of piles, and went to work for their removal.
Again I had the exciting sensation of being within the
hostile lines,--the eager explorations, the doubts, the watchfulness,
the listening for every sound of coming hoofs. Presently a horse's
tread was heard in earnest, but it was a squad of our own men bringing
in two captured cavalry soldiers. One of these, a sturdy fellow, submitted
quietly to his lot, only begging that, whenever we should evacuate the bluff,
a note should be left behind stating that he was a prisoner. The other, a
very young man, and a member of the "Rebel Troop," a sort of Cadet corps
among the Charleston youths, came to me in great wrath, complaining that the
corporal of our squad had kicked him after he had surrendered. His air of
offended pride was very rueful, and it did indeed seem a pathetic reversal of
fortunes for the two races. To be sure, the youth was a scion of one of the
foremost families of South Carolina, and when I considered the wrongs which
the black race had encountered from those of his blood, first and last,
it seemed as if the most scrupulous Recording Angel might tolerate
one final kick to square the account. But I reproved the corporal,
who respectfully disclaimed the charge, and said the kick was an
incident of the scuffle. It certainly was not their habit to show such
poor malice; they thought too well of themselves.
His demeanor seemed less lofty, but rather piteous, when he implored
me not to put him on board any vessel which was to ascend the upper
stream, and hinted, by awful implications, the danger of such ascent. This
meant torpedoes, a peril which we treated, in those days, with rather
mistaken contempt. But we found none on the Edisto, and it may be that it
was only a foolish attempt to alarm us.
Meanwhile, Trowbridge was toiling away at the row of piles, which
proved easier to draw out than to saw asunder, either work being hard
enough. It took far longer than we had hoped, and we saw noon approach and
the tide rapidly fall, taking with it, inch by inch, our hopes of
effecting a surprise at the bridge. During this time, and indeed all day,
the detachments on shore, under Captains Whitney and Sampson, were
having occasional skirmishes with the enemy, while the colored people
were swarming to the shore, or running to and fro like ants, with the
poor treasures of their houses. Our busy Quartermaster, Mr. Bingham--who
died afterwards from the overwork of that sultry day--was transporting
the refugees on board the steamer, or hunting up bales of cotton,
or directing the burning of rice-houses, in accordance with our orders.
No dwelling-houses were destroyed or plundered by our
men,--Sherman's "bummers" not having yet arrived,--though I asked no
questions as to what the plantation negroes might bring in their great
bundles. One piece of property, I must admit, seemed a lawful capture,--a
United States dress-sword, of the old pattern, which had belonged to the
Rebel general who afterwards gave the order to bury Colonel Shaw "with his
niggers." That I have retained, not without some satisfaction, to this
A passage having been cleared at last, and the tide having turned
by noon, we lost no time in attempting the ascent, leaving the bluff to be
held by the John Adams, and by the small force on shore. We were scarcely
above the obstructions, however, when the little tug went aground, and the
Enoch Dean, ascending a mile farther, had an encounter with a battery on the
right,--perhaps our old enemy,--and drove it back. Soon after, she also ran
aground, a misfortune of which our opponent strangely took no advantage; and,
on getting off, I thought it best to drop down to the bluff again, as the
tide was still hoplessly low. None can tell, save those who have tried them,
the vexations of those muddy Southern streams, navigable only during a
few hours of flood-tide.
After waiting an hour, the two small vessels again tried the ascent.
The enemy on the right had disappeared; but we could now see, far off on
our left, another light battery moving parallel with the river,
apparently to meet us at some upper bend. But for the present we were safe,
with the low rice-fields on each side of us; and the scene was so
peaceful, it seemed as if all danger were done. For the first time, we saw
in South Carolina blossoming river-banks and low emerald meadows,
that seemed like New England. Everywhere there were the same
rectangular fields, smooth canals, and bushy dikes. A few negroes stole out
to us in dugouts, and breathlessly told us how others had been hurried away
by the overseers. We glided safely on, mile after mile. The day
was unutterably hot, but all else seemed propitious. The men had
their combustibles all ready to fire the bridge, and our hopes were
But by degrees the channel grew more tortuous and difficult, and
while the little Milton glided smoothly over everything, the Enoch Dean,
my own boat, repeatedly grounded. On every occasion of especial need, too,
something went wrong in her machinery,--her engine being constructed on some
wholly new patent, of which, I should hope, this trial would prove entirely
sufficient. The black pilot, who was not a soldier, grew more and more
bewildered, and declared that it was the channel, not his brain, which had
gone wrong; the captain, a little elderly man, sat wringing his hands in the
pilot-box; and the engineer appeared to be mingling his groans with those of
the diseased engine. Meanwhile I, in equal ignorance of machinery and
channel, had to give orders only justified by minute acquaintance with both.
So I navigated on general principles, until they grounded us on a mud-bank,
just below a wooded point, and some two miles from the bridge of
our destination. It was with a pang that I waved to Major Strong, who
was on the other side of the channel in a tug, not to risk approaching
us, but to steam on and finish the work, if he could.
Short was his triumph. Gliding round the point, he found
himself instantly engaged with a light battery of four or six guns,
doubtless the same we had seen in the distance. The Milton was within two
hundred and fifty yards. The Connecticut men fought then: guns well, aided
by the blacks, and it was exasperating for us to hear the shots, while
we could see nothing and do nothing. The scanty ammunition of our bow
gun was exhausted, and the gun in the stern was useless, from the
position in which we lay. In vain we moved the men from side to side, rocking
the vessel, to dislodge it. The heat was terrific that August afternoon;
I remember I found myself constantly changing places, on the
scorched deck, to keep my feet from being blistered. At last the officer
in charge of the gun, a hardy lumberman from Maine, got the stern of
the vessel so far round that he obtained the range of the battery
through the cabin windows, "but it would be necessary," he cooly added,
on reporting to me this fact, "to shoot away the corner of the cabin."
I knew that this apartment was newly painted and gilded, and the idol
of the poor captain's heart; but it was plain that even the thought of
his own upholstery could not make the poor soul more wretched than he
was. So I bade Captain Dolly blaze away, and thus we took our hand in
the little game, though at a sacrifice.
It was of no use. Down drifted out little consort round the point,
her engine disabled and her engineer killed, as we afterwards found,
though then we could only look and wonder. Still pluckily firing, she
floated by upon the tide, which had now just turned; and when, with a
last desperate effort, we got off, our engine had one of its
impracticable fits, and we could only follow her. The day was waning, and all
its range of possibility had lain within the limits of that one tide.
All our previous expeditions had been so successful it now seemed
hard to turn back; the river-banks and rice-fields, so beautiful
before, seemed only a vexation now. But the swift current bore us on, and
after our Parthian shots had died away, a new discharge of artillery
opened upon us, from our first antagonist of the morning, which still kept
the other side of the stream. It had taken up a strong position on
another bluff, almost out of range of the John Adams, but within easy range
of us. The sharpest contest of the day was before us. Happily the
engine and engineer were now behaving well, and we were steering in a
channel already traversed, and of which the dangerous points were known. But
we had a long, straight reach of river before us, heading directly
toward the battery, which, having once got our range, had only to keep
it, while we could do nothing in return. The Rebels certainly served
then: guns well. For the first time I discovered that there were
certain compensating advantages in a slightly built craft, as compared with
one more substantial; the missiles never lodged in the vessel, but
crashed through some thin partition as if it were paper, to explode beyond
us, or fall harmless in the water. Splintering, the chief source of
wounds and death in wooden ships, was thus entirely avoided; the danger
was that our machinery might be disabled, or that shots might strike
below the water-line and sink us.
This, however, did not happen. Fifteen projectiles, as we
afterwards computed, passed through the vessel or cut the rigging. Yet
few casualties occurred, and those instantly fatal. As my orderly
stood leaning on a comrade's shoulder, the head of the latter was shot off.
At last I myself felt a sudden blow in the side, as if from
some prize-fighter, doubling me up for a moment, while I sank upon a seat.
It proved afterwards to have been produced by the grazing of a ball,
which, without tearing a garment, had yet made a large part of my side
black and blue, leaving a sensation of paralysis which made it difficult
to stand. Supporting myself on Captain Rogers, I tried to comprehend
what had happened, and I remember being impressed by an odd feeling that
I had now got my share, and should henceforth be a great deal safer than
any of the rest. I am told that this often follows one's first experience of
But this immediate contest, sharp as it was, proved brief; a turn in
the river enabled us to use our stern gun, and we soon glided into
the comparative shelter of Wiltown Bluff. There, however, we were
to encounter the danger of shipwreck, superadded to that of fight. When
the passage through the piles was first cleared, it had been marked
by stakes, lest the rising tide should cover the remaining piles, and
make it difficult to run the passage. But when we again reached it,
the stakes had somehow been knocked away, the piles were just covered by
the swift current, and the little tug-boat was aground upon them. She
came off easily, however, with our aid, and, when we in turn essayed
the passage, we grounded also, but more firmly. We getting off at last,
and making the passage, the tug again became lodged, when nearly
past danger, and all our efforts proved powerless to pull her through.
I therefore dropped down below, and sent the John Adams to her aid,
while I superintended the final recall of the pickets, and the embarkation
of the remaining refugees.
While thus engaged, I felt little solicitude about the boats above.
It was certain that the John Adams could safely go close to the piles
on the lower side, that she was very strong, and that the other was
very light. Still, it was natural to cast some anxious glances up the
river, and it was with surprise that I presently saw a canoe descending,
which contained Major Strong. Coming on board, he told me with some
excitement that the tug could not possibly be got off, and he wished for
It was no time to consider whether it was not his place to have
given orders, instead of going half a mile to seek them. I was by this
time so far exhausted that everything seemed to pass by me as by one in
a dream; but I got into a boat, pushed up stream, met presently the
John Adams returning, and was informed by the officer in charge of
the Connecticut battery that he had abandoned the tug, and--worse news
yet --that his guns had been thrown overboard. It seemed to me then,
and has always seemed, that this sacrifice was utterly needless,
because, although the captain of the John Adams had refused to risk his
vessel by going near enough to receive the guns, he should have
been compelled to do so. Though the thing was done without my
knowledge, and beyond my reach, yet, as commander of the expedition, I
was technically responsible. It was hard to blame a lieutenant when
his senior had shrunk from a decision, and left him alone; nor was it
easy to blame Major Strong, whom I knew to be a man of personal
courage though without much decision of character. He was subsequently
tried by court-martial and acquitted, after which he resigned, and was
lost at sea on his way home.
The tug, being thus abandoned, must of course be burned to prevent
her falling into the enemy's hands. Major Strong went with
prompt fearlessness to do this, at my order; after which he remained on
the Enoch Dean, and I went on board the John Adams, being compelled
to succumb at last, and transfer all remaining responsibility to
Captain Trowbridge. Exhausted as I was, I could still observe, in a vague
way, the scene around me. Every available corner of the boat seemed like
some vast auction-room of second-hand goods. Great piles of bedding
and bundles lay on every side, with black heads emerging and black
forms reclining in every stage of squalidness. Some seemed ill, or wounded,
or asleep, others were chattering eagerly among themselves,
singing, praying, or soliloquizing on joys to come. "Bress de Lord," I heard
one woman say, "I spec' I got salt victual now,--notin' but fresh
victual dese six months, but Ise get salt victual now,"--thus reversing,
under pressure of the salt-embargo, the usual anticipations of
Trowbridge told me, long after, that, on seeking a fan for my
benefit, he could find but one on board. That was in the hands of a fat
old "aunty," who had just embarked, and sat on an enormous bundle of
her goods, in everybody's way, fanning herself vehemently, and
ejaculating, as her gasping breath would permit, "Oh! Do, Jesus! Oh! Do,
Jesus!" when the captain abruptly disarmed her of the fan, and left her
continuing her pious exercises.
Thus we glided down the river in the waning light. Once more
we encountered a battery, making five in all; I could hear the guns of the
assailants, and could not distinguish the explosion of their shells from the
answering throb of our own guns. The kind Quartermaster kept bringing me news
of what occurred, like Rebecca in Front-de-Bceuf s castle, but discreetly
withholding any actual casualties. Then all faded into safety and sleep; and
we reached Beaufort in the morning, after thirty-six hours of absence. A
kind friend, who acted in South Carolina a nobler part amid tragedies
than in any of her early stage triumphs, met us with an ambulance at
the wharf, and the prisoners, the wounded, and the dead were
The reader will not care for any personal record of
convalescence; though, among the general military laudations of whiskey, it
is worth while to say that one life was saved, in the opinion of my surgeons,
by an habitual abstinence from it, leaving no food for
peritoneal inflammation to feed upon. The able-bodied men who had joined us
were, sent to aid General Gillmore in the trenches, while their families
were established in huts and tents on St. Helena Island. A year
after, greatly to the delight of the regiment, in taking possession of
a battery which they had helped to capture on James Island, they found
in their hands the selfsame guns which they had seen thrown overboard
from the Governor Milton. They then felt that their account with the
enemy was squared, and could proceed to further operations.
Before the war, how great a thing seemed the rescue of even one man
from slavery; and since the war has emancipated all, how little seems
the liberation of two hundred! But no one then knew how the contest
might end; and when I think of that morning sunlight, those emerald
fields, those thronging numbers, the old women with then- prayers, and
the little boys with then: living burdens, I know that the day was worth
all it cost, and more.
Chapter 8 The Baby of the Regiment
We were in our winter camp on Port Royal Island. It was a
lovely November morning, soft and spring-like; the mocking-birds were
singing, and the cotton-fields still white with fleecy pods. Morning drill
was over, the men were cleaning their guns and singing very happily;
the officers were in their tents, reading still more happily their
letters just arrived from home. Suddenly I heard a knock at my tent-door,
and the latch clicked. It was the only latch in camp, and I was very
proud of it, and the officers always clicked it as loudly as possible,
in order to gratify my feelings. The door opened, and the
Quartermaster thrust in the most beaming face I ever saw.
"Colonel," said he, "there are great news for the regiment. My wife
and baby are coming by the next steamer!"
"Baby!" said I, in amazement. "Q. M., you are beside yourself."
(We always called the Quartermaster Q. M. for shortness.) "There was a
pass sent to your wife, but nothing was ever said about a baby. Baby
"But the baby was included in the pass," replied the
triumphant father-of-a-family. "You don't suppose my wife would come down
here without her baby! Besides, the pass itself permits her to
bring necessary baggage, and is not a baby six months old necessary
"But, my dear fellow," said I, rather anxiously, "how can you make
the little thing comfortable in a tent, amidst these rigors of a
South Carolina winter, when it is uncomfortably hot for drill at noon, and
ice forms by your bedside at night?"
"Trust me for that," said the delighted papa, and went off whistling.
I could hear him telling the same news to three others, at least,
before he got to his own tent.
That day the preparations began, and soon his abode was a wonder
of comfort. There were posts and rafters, and a raised floor, and a
great chimney, and a door with hinges,--every luxury except a latch, and
that he could not have, for mine was the last that could be purchased. One
of the regimental carpenters was employed to make a cradle, and another
to make a bedstead high enough for the cradle to go under. Then there
must be a bit of red carpet beside the bedstead, and thus the progress
of splendor went on. The wife of one of the colored sergeants was
engaged to act as nursery-maid. She was a very respectable young woman; the
only objection to her being that she smoked a pipe. But we thought
that perhaps Baby might not dislike tobacco; and if she did, she would
have excellent opportunities to break the pipe in pieces.
In due time the steamer arrived, and Baby and her mother were among the
passengers. The little recruit was soon settled in her new cradle, and slept
in it as if she had never known any other. The sergeant's wife soon had her
on exhibition through the neighborhood, and from that time forward she was
quite a queen among us. She had sweet blue eyes and pretty brown hair, with
round, dimpled cheeks, and that perfect dignity which is so beautiful in a
baby. She hardly ever cried, and was not at all timid. She would go to
anybody, and yet did not encourage any romping from any but the most intimate
friends. She always wore a warm long-sleeved scarlet cloak with a hood, and
in this costume was carried or "toted," as the soldiers said, all about
the camp. At "guard-mounting" in the morning, when the men who are to
go on guard duty for the day are drawn up to be inspected, Baby was always
there, to help inspect them. She did not say much, but she eyed them very
closely, and seemed fully to appreciate their bright buttons. Then the
Officer-of-the-Day, who appears at guard-mounting with his sword and sash,
and comes afterwards to the Colonel's tent for orders, would come and speak
to Baby on his way, and receive her orders first. When the time came for
drill she was usually present to watch the troops; and when the drum beat for
dinner she liked to see the long row of men in each company march up to the
cookhouse, in single file, each with tin cup and plate.
During the day, in pleasant weather, she might be seen in her
nurse's arms, about the company streets, the centre of an admiring circle,
her scarlet costume looking very pretty amidst the shining black cheeks
and neat blue uniforms of the soldiers. At "dress-parade," just
before sunset, she was always an attendant. As I stood before the regiment,
I could see the little spot of red out of the corner of my eye, at one
end of the long line of men; and I looked with so much interest for
her small person, that, instead of saying at the proper time,
"Attention, Battalion! Shoulder arms!--it is a wonder that I did not say,
Our little lady was very impartial, and distributed her kind looks
to everybody. She had not the slightest prejudice against color, and
did not care in the least whether her particular friends were black
or white. Her especial favorites, I think, were the drummer-boys, who
were not my favorites by any means, for they were a roguish set of
scamps, and gave more trouble than all the grown men in the regiment. I
think Annie liked them because they were small, and made a noise, and had
red caps like her hood, and red facings on their jackets, and also
because they occasionally stood on their heads for her amusement.
After dress-parade the whole drum-corps would march to the great
flag-staff, and wait till just sunset-time, when they would beat "the
retreat," and then the flag would be hauled down,--a great festival for
Annie. Sometimes the Sergeant-Major would wrap her in the great folds of
the flag, after it was taken down, and she would peep out very prettily
from amidst the stars and stripes, like a new-born Goddess of Liberty.
About once a month, some inspecting officer was sent to the camp by
the general in command, to see to the condition of everything in
the regiment, from bayonets to buttons. It was usually a long and
tiresome process, and, when everything else was done, I used to tell the
officer that I had one thing more for him to inspect, which was peculiar to
our regiment. Then I would send for Baby to be exhibited, and I never saw
an inspecting officer, old or young, who did not look pleased at the
sudden appearance of the little, fresh, smiling creature,--a flower in the
midst of war. And Annie in her turn would look at them, with the true
baby dignity La her face,--that deep, earnest look which babies often
have, and which people think so wonderful when Raphael paints it,
although they might often see just the same expression in the faces of their
own darlings at home.
Meanwhile Annie seemed to like the camp style of housekeeping very
much. Her father's tent was double, and he used the front apartment for
his office, and the inner room for parlor and bedroom; while the nurse had
a separate tent and wash-room behind all. I remember that, the first
time I went there in the evening, it was to borrow some writing-paper;
and while Baby's mother was hunting for it in the front tent, I heard
a great cooing and murmuring in the inner room. I asked if Annie was
still awake, and her mother told me to go in and see. Pushing aside the
canvas door, I entered. No sign of anybody was to be seen; but a variety
of soft little happy noises seemed to come from some unseen corner. Mrs.
C. came quietly in, pulled away the counterpane of her own bed, and
drew out the rough cradle where lay the little damsel, perfectly happy,
and wider awake than anything but a baby possibly can be. She looked as
if the seclusion of a dozen family bedsteads would not be enough
to discourage her spirits, and I saw that camp life was likely to suit
her very well.
A tent can be kept very warm, for it is merely a house with a
thinner wall than usual; and I do not think that Baby felt the cold much
more than if she had been at home that winter. The great trouble is, that
a tent-chimney, not being built very high, is apt to smoke when the
wind is in a certain direction; and when that happens it is hardly
possible to stay inside. So we used to build the chimneys of some tents
on the east side, and those of others on the west, and thus some of the
tents were always comfortable. I have seen Baby's mother running in a
hard rain, with little Red-Riding-Hood in her arms, to take refuge with
the Adjutant's wife, when every other abode was full of smoke; and I
must admit that there were one or two windy days that season when
nobody could really keep warm, and Annie had to remain ignomini-ously in
her cradle, with as many clothes on as possible, for almost the
The Quartermaster's tent was very attractive to us in the evening.
I remember that once, on passing near it after nightfall, I heard
our Major's fine voice singing Methodist hymns within, and Mrs. C.'s
sweet tones chiming in. So I peeped through the outer door. The fire
was burning very pleasantly in the inner tent, and the scrap of new
red carpet made the floor look quite magnificent. The Major sat on a
box, our surgeon on a stool; "Q. M." and his wife, and the Adjutant's
wife, and one of the captains, were all sitting on the bed, singing as well
as they knew how; and the baby was under the bed. Baby had retired for
the night, was overshadowed, suppressed, sat upon; the singing went on,
and she had wandered away into her own land of dreams, nearer to
heaven, perhaps, than any pitch their voices could attain. I went in, and
joined the party. Presently the music stopped, and another officer was
sent for, to sing some particular song. At this pause the invisible
innocent waked a little, and began to cluck and coo.
"It's the kitten," exclaimed somebody.
"It's my baby!" exclaimed Mrs. C. triumphantly, in that tone
of unfailing personal pride which belongs to young mothers.
The people all got up from the bed for a moment, while Annie was pulled
from beneath, wide awake and placid as usual; and she sat in one lap or
another during the rest of the concert, sometimes winking at the candle, but
usually listening to the songs, with a calm and critical expression, as if
she could make as much noise as any of them, whenever she saw fit to try. Not
a sound did she make, however, except one little soft sneeze, which led to an
immediate flood-tide of red shawl, covering every part of her but the
forehead. But I soon hinted that the concert had better be ended, because I
knew from observation that the small damsel had Carefully watched a
regimental inspection and a brigade drill on that day, and that an interval
of repose was certainly necessary.
Annie did not long remain the only baby in camp. One day, on going
out to the stables to look at a horse, I heard a sound of
baby-talk, addressed by some man to a child near by, and, looking round the
corner of a tent, I saw that one of the hostlers had something black and
round, lying on the sloping side of a tent, with which he was playing
very eagerly. It proved to be his baby, a plump, shiny thing, younger
than Annie; and I never saw a merrier picture than the happy
father frolicking with his child, while the mother stood quietly by. This
was Baby Number Two, and she stayed in camp several weeks, the two
innocents meeting each other every day, in the placid indifference that
belonged to their years; both were happy little healthy things, and it
never seemed to cross their minds that there was any difference in
their complexions. As I said before, Annie was not troubled by any
prejudice in regard to color, nor do I suppose that the other little maiden
Annie enjoyed the tent-life very much; but when we were Sent out
on picket soon after, she enjoyed it still more. Our head-quarters were at
a deserted plantation house, with one large parlor, a dining-room, and a few
bedrooms. Baby's father and mother had a room up stairs, with a stove whose
pipe went straight out at the window. This was quite comfortable, though half
the windows were broken, and there was no glass and no glazier to mend them.
The windows of the large parlor were in much the same condition, though we
had an immense fireplace, where we had a bright fire whenever it was cold,
and always in the evening. The walls of this room were very dirty, and it
took our ladies several days to cover all the unsightly places with wreaths
and hangings of evergreen. In the performance Baby took an active
part. Her duties consisted in sitting in a great nest of evergreen,
pulling and fingering the fragrant leaves, and occasionally giving a
little cry of glee when she had accomplished some piece of decided
There was less entertainment to be found in the camp itself at
this time; but the household at head-quarters was larger than Baby had
been accustomed to. We had a great deal of company, moreover, and she
had quite a gay life of it. She usually made her appearance in the
large parlor soon after breakfast; and to dance her for a few moments in
our arms was one of the first daily duties of each one. Then the
morning reports began to arrive from the different outposts,--a mounted
officer or courier coming in from each place, dismounting at the door,
and clattering in with jingling arms and spurs, each a new excitement
for Annie. She usually got some attention from any officer who
came, receiving with her wonted dignity any daring caress. When the
messengers had ceased to be interesting, there were always the horses to look
at, held or tethered under the trees beside the sunny piazza. After
the various couriers had been received, other messengers would be
despatched to the town, seven miles away, and Baby had all the excitement of
their mounting and departure. Her father was often one of the riders,
and would sometimes seize Annie for a good-by kiss, place her on the
saddle before him, gallop her round the house once or twice, and then give
her back to her nurse's arms again. She was perfectly fearless, and
such boisterous attentions never frightened her, nor did they ever
interfere with her sweet, infantine self-possession.
After the riding-parties had gone, there was the piazza still
for entertainment, with a sentinel pacing up and down before it; but
Annie did not enjoy the sentinel, though his breastplate and buttons
shone like gold, so much as the hammock which always hung swinging
between the pillars. It was a pretty hammock, with great open meshes; and
she delighted to lie in it, and have the netting closed above her, so
that she could only be seen through the apertures. I can see her now,
the fresh little rosy thing, in her blue and scarlet wrappings, with
one round and dimpled arm thrust forth through the netting, and the
other grasping an armful of blushing roses and fragrant magnolias.
She looked like those pretty French bas-reliefs of Cupids imprisoned
in baskets, and peeping through. That hammock was a very useful appendage;
it was a couch for us, a cradle for Baby, a nest for the kittens; and we had,
moreover, a little hen, which tried to roost there every night.
When the mornings were colder, and the stove up stairs smoked the
wrong way, Baby was brought down in a very incomplete state of toilet,
and finished her dressing by the great fire. We found her bare
shoulders very becoming, and she was very much interested in her own little
pink toes. After a very slow dressing, she had a still slower breakfast
out of a tin cup of warm milk, of which she generally spilt a good deal,
as she had much to do in watching everybody who came into the room,
and seeing that there was no mischief done. Then she would be placed on
the floor, on our only piece of carpet, and the kittens would be brought
in for her to play with.
We had, at different times, a variety of pets, of whom Annie did
not take much notice. Sometimes we had young partridges, caught by
the drummer-boys in trap-cages. The children called them "Bob and
Chloe," because the first notes of the male and female sound like those
names. One day I brought home an opossum, with her blind bare little
young clinging to the droll pouch where their mothers keep them. Sometimes
we had pretty green lizards, their color darkening or deepening, like
that of chameleons, in light or shade. But the only pets that took
Baby's fancy were the kittens. They perfectly delighted her, from the
first moment she saw them; they were the only things younger than herself
that she had ever beheld, and the only things softer than themselves that
her small hands had grasped. It was astonishing to see how much the
kittens would endure from her. They could scarcely be touched by any one
else without mewing; but when Annie seized one by the head and the other
by the tail, and rubbed them violently together, they did not make a
sound. I suppose that a baby's grasp is really soft, even if it
seems ferocious, and so it gives less pain than one would think. At any
rate, the little animals had the best of it very soon; for they
entirely outstripped Annie in learning to walk, and they could soon scramble
away beyond her reach, while she sat in a sort of dumb despair, unable
to comprehend why anything so much smaller than herself should be so
much nimbler. Meanwhile, the kittens would sit up and look at her with
the most provoking indifference, just out of arm's length, until some of
us would take pity on the young lady, and toss her furry playthings back
to her again. "Little baby," she learned to call them; and these were
the very first words she spoke.
Baby had evidently a natural turn for war, further cultivated by
an intimate knowledge of drills and parades. The nearer she came to
actual conflict the better she seemed to like it, peaceful as her own
little ways might be. Twice, at least, while she was with us on picket, we
had alarms from the Rebel troops, who would bring down cannon to
the opposite side of the Ferry, about two miles beyond us, and throw
shot and shell over upon our side. Then the officer at the Ferry would
think that there was to be an attack made, and couriers would be sent,
riding to and fro, and the men would all be called to arms in a hurry, and
the ladies at headquarters would all put on their best bonnets and come
down stairs, and the ambulance would be made ready to carry them to a
place of safety before the expected fight. On such occasions Baby was in
all her glory. She shouted with delight at being suddenly uncribbed
and thrust into her little scarlet cloak, and brought down stairs, at
an utterly unusual and improper hour, to a piazza with lights and
people and horses and general excitement. She crowed and gurgled and
made gestures with her little fists, and screamed out what seemed to be
her advice on the military situation, as freely as if she had been
a newspaper editor. Except that it was rather difficult to understand
her precise direction, I do not know but the whole Rebel force might
have been captured through her plans. And at any rate, I should much
rather obey her orders than those of some generals whom I have known; for
she at least meant no harm, and would lead one into no mischief.
However, at last the danger, such as it was, would be all over, and the
ladies would be induced to go peacefully to bed again; and Annie would
retreat with them to her ignoble cradle, very much disappointed, and looking
vainly back at the more martial scene below. The next morning she would seem
to have forgotten all about it, and would spill her bread and milk by the
fire as if nothing had happened.
I suppose we hardly knew, at the time, how large a part of the
sunshine of our daily lives was contributed by dear little Annie. Yet, when I
now look back on that pleasant Southern home, she seems as essential a
part of it as the mocking-birds or the magnolias, and I cannot
convince myself that in returning to it I should not find her there. But
Annie went back, with the spring, to her Northern birthplace, and then
passed away from this earth before her little feet had fairly learned to
tread its paths; and when I meet her next it must be in some world where
there is triumph without armies, and where innocence is trained in scenes
of peace. I know, however, that her little life, short as it seemed, was
a blessing to us all, giving a perpetual image of serenity and
sweetness, recalling the lovely atmosphere of far-off homes, and holding us
by unsuspected ties to whatsoever things were pure.
Chapter 9 Negro Spirituals
The war brought to some of us, besides its direct experiences, many
a strange fulfilment of dreams of other days. For instance, the
present writer had been a faithful student of the Scottish ballads, and
had always envied Sir Walter the delight of tracing them out amid their
own heather, and of writing them down piecemeal from the lips of
aged crones. It was a strange enjoyment, therefore, to be suddenly
brought into the midst of a kindred world of unwritten songs, as simple
and indigenous as the Border Minstrelsy, more uniformly plaintive,
almost always more quaint, and often as essentially poetic.
This interest was rather increased by the fact that I had for many
years heard of this class of songs under the name of "Negro Spirituals,"
and had even heard some of them sung by friends from South Carolina. I
could now gather on their own soil these strange plants, which I had
before seen as in museums alone. True, the individual songs rarely
coincided; there was a line here, a chorus there,--just enough to fix the
class, but this was unmistakable. It was not strange that they differed, for
the range seemed almost endless, and South Carolina, Georgia, and
Florida seemed to have nothing but the generic character in common, until
all were mingled in the united stock of camp-melodies.
Often in the starlit evening, I have returned from some lonely ride
by the swift river, or on the plover-haunted barrens, and, entering
the camp, have silently approached some glimmering fire, round which
the dusky figures moved in the rhythmical barbaric dance the negroes call
a "shout," chanting, often harshly, but always in the most perfect
time, some monotonous refrain. Writing down in the darkness, as I
best could,--perhaps with my hand in the safe covert of my pocket,--the
words of the song, I have afterwards carried it to my tent, like some
captured bird or insect, and then, after examination, put it by. Or,
summoning one of the men at some period of leisure,--Corporal Robert Sutton,
for instance, whose iron memory held all the details of a song as if it
were a ford or a forest,--I have completed the new specimen by supplying
the absent parts. The music I could only retain by ear, and though the
more common strains were repeated often enough to fix their impression,
there were others that occurred only once or twice.
The words will be here given, as nearly as possible, in the
original dialect; and if the spelling seems sometimes inconsistent, or
the misspelling insufficient, it is because I could get no nearer. I
wished to avoid what seems to me the only error of Lowell's "Biglow Papers"
in respect to dialect, the occasional use of an extreme misspelling,
which merely confuses the eye, without taking us any closer to the
peculiarity of sound.
The favorite song in camp was the following, sung with no
accompaniment but the measured clapping of hands and the clatter of many
feet. It was sung perhaps twice as often as any other. This was partly due to
the fact that it properly consisted of a chorus alone, with which the
verses of other songs might be combined at random.
I. HOLD YOUR LIGHT.
"Hold your light, Brudder Robert, Hold your
light, Hold your light on Canaan's shore. "What make ole
Satan for follow me so? Satan ain't got notin' for do wid
me. Hold your light, Hold your
light, Hold your light on Canaan's shore."
This would be sung for half an hour at a time, perhaps each
person present being named in turn. It seemed the simplest primitive type
of "spiritual." The next in popularity was almost as elementary, and,
like this, named successively each one of the circle. It was, however,
much more resounding and convivial in its music.
II. BOUND TO GO.
"Jordan River, I'm bound to go, Bound to go,
bound to go,-- Jordan River, I'm bound to go,
And bid 'em fare ye well.
"My Brudder Robert, I'm bound to go, Bound to
"My Sister Lucy, I'm bound to go, Bound to
Sometimes it was "tink 'em" (think them) "fare ye well." The ye was so
detached that I thought at first it was "very" or "vary well."
Another picturesque song, which seemed immensely popular, was at
first very bewildering to me. I could not make out the first words of
the chorus, and called it the "Roman-dar," being reminded of some
Romaic song which I had formerly heard. That association quite fell in with
the Orientalism of the new tent-life.
III. ROOM IN THERE.
"O, my mudder is gone! my mudder is gone! My mudder is
gone into heaven, my Lord! I can't stay behind!
Dere's room in dar, room in dar, Room in dar, in de heaven, my
Lord! I can't stay behind! Can't stay behind, my
dear, I can't stay behind!
"O, my fader is gone!" &c.
"O, de angels are gone!" &c.
"O, I'se been on de road! I'se been on de road! I'se been
on de road into heaven, my Lord! I can't stay
behind! O, room in dar, room in dar, Room in dar, in de
heaven, my Lord! I can't stay behind!
By this time every man within hearing, from oldest to youngest, would
be wriggling and shuffling, as if through some magic piper's
bewitchment; for even those who at first affected contemptuous indifference
would be drawn into the vortex erelong.
Next to these in popularity ranked a class of songs
belonging emphatically to the Church Militant, and available for camp
purposes with very little strain upon their symbolism. This, for instance,
had a true companion-in-arms heartiness about it, not impaired by the
feminine invocation at the end.
IV. HAIL MARY.
"One more valiant soldier here, One more
valiant soldier here, One more valiant soldier
here, To help me bear de cross. O hail, Mary,
hail! Hail, Mary, hail! Hail, Mary,
hail! To help me bear de cross."
I fancied that the original reading might have been "soul," instead
of "soldier,"--with some other syllable inserted to fill out
the metre,--and that the "Hail, Mary," might denote a Roman
Catholic origin, as I had several men from St. Augustine who held in a dim
way to that faith. It was a very ringing song, though not so
grandly jubilant as the next, which was really impressive as the
singers pealed it out, when marching or rowing or embarking.
V. MY ARMY CROSS OVER.
"My army cross over, My army cross over, O,
Pharaoh's army drowndedl My army cross over.
"We'll cross de mighty river, My army cross
over; We'll cross de river Jordan, My army cross
over; We'll cross de danger water, My army cross
over; We'll cross de mighty Myo, My army cross
over. (Thrice.) O, Pharaoh's army
drowndedl My army cross over."
I could get no explanation of the "mighty Myo," except that one of
the old men thought it meant the river of death. Perhaps it is an
African word. In the Cameroon dialect, "Mawa" signifies "to die."
The next also has a military ring about it, and the first line is
well matched by the music. The rest is conglomerate, and one or two
lines show a more Northern origin. "Done" is a Virginia shibboleth,
quite distinct from the "been" which replaces it in South Carolina. Yet one
of their best choruses, without any fixed words, was, "De bell
done ringing," for which, in proper South Carolina dialect, would have
been substituted, "De bell been a-ring." This refrain may have gone
South with our army.
VI. RIDE IN, KIND SAVIOUR.
"Ride in, kind Saviour! No man can hinder
me. O, Jesus is a mighty man! No man,
&c. We're marching through Virginny fields.
No man, &c. O, Satan is a busy man, No man,
&c. And he has his sword and shield, No man,
&c. O, old Secesh done come and gone! No man
can hinder me."
Sometimes they substituted "binder we," which was more spicy to
the ear, and more in keeping with the usual head-over-heels arrangement
of their pronouns.
Almost all their songs were thoroughly religious in their tone,
however quaint then: expression, and were in a minor key, both as to words
and music. The attitude is always the same, and, as a commentary on the
life of the race, is infinitely pathetic. Nothing but patience for
this life,--nothing but triumph in the next. Sometimes the
present predominates, sometimes the future; but the combination is
always implied. In the following, for instance, we hear simply the
VII. THIS WORLD ALMOST DONE.
"Brudder, keep your lamp trimmin' and a-burnin', Keep your
lamp trimmin' and a-burnin', Keep your lamp trimmin' and
a-burnin', For dis world most done. So keep your
lamp, &c. Dis world most done."
But in the next, the final reward of patience is proclaimed
VIII. I WANT TO GO HOME.
"Dere's no rain to wet you, O, yes, I want to
go home. Dere's no sun to burn you, O, yes, I
want to go home; O, push along, believers, O,
yes, &c. Dere's no hard trials, O, yes,
&c. Dere's no whips a-crackin', O, yes,
&c. My brudder on de wayside, O, yes,
&c. O, push along, my brudder, O, yes,
&c. Where dere's no stormy weather, O, yes,
&c. Dere's no tribulation, O, yes,
This next was a boat-song, and timed well with the tug of the oar.
IX. THE COMING DAY
"I want to go to Canaan, I want to go to Canaan,
I want to go to Canaan, To meet 'em at de comin'
day. O, remember, let me go to Canaan,
(Thrice.) To meet "em, &c. O brudder, let
me go to Canaan, (Thrice.) To meet 'em,
&c. My brudder, you--oh!--remember,
(Thrice.) To meet 'em at de comin' day."
The following begins with a startling affirmation, yet the last
line quite outdoes the first. This, too, was a capital boat-song.
X. ONE MORE RIVER.
"O, Jordan bank was a great old bank, Dere
ain't but one more river to cross. We have some valiant soldier
here, Dere ain't, &c. O, Jordan stream will
never run dry, Dere ain't, &c. Dere's a hill
on my leff, and he catch on my right, Dere ain't but one
more river to cross."
I could get no explanation of this last riddle, except, "Dat mean,
if you go on de leff, go to 'struction, and if you go on de right, go
to God, for sure."
In others, more of spiritual conflict is implied, as in this next
XI. O THE DYING LAMB!
"I wants to go where Moses trod, O de dying
Lamb! For Moses gone to de promised land, O de
dying Lamb! To drink from springs dat never run
dry, O, &c. Cry O my
Lord! O, &c. Before I'll stay in hell one
day, O, &c. I'm in hopes to pray my sins
away, O, &c. Cry O my
Lord! 0,&c. Brudder Moses promised for be
dar too, O, &c. To drink from streams dat
never run dry, O de dying Lamb!"
In the next, the conflict is at its height, and the lurid imagery of
the Apocalypse is brought to bear. This book, with the books of
Moses, constituted their Bible; all that lay between, even the narratives
of the life of Jesus, they hardly cared to read or to hear.
XII. DOWN IN THE VALLEY.
"We'll run and never tire, We'll run and never
tire, We'll run and never tire, Jesus set poor
sinners free. Way down in de valley, Who will
rise and go with me? You've heern talk of Jesus,
Who set poor sinners free.
"De lightnin' and de flashin' De lightnin' and de
flashin', De lightnin' and de flashin', Jesus
set poor shiners free. I can't stand the fire.
(Thrice.) Jesus set poor sinners free, De
green trees a-flamin'. (Thrice.) Jesus set poor shiners
free, Way down in de
valley, Who will rise and go with
me? You've heern talk of
Jesus Who set poor shiners
"De valley" and "de lonesome valley" were familiar words in
their religious experience. To descend into that region implied the
same process with the "anxious-seat" of the camp-meeting. When a young
girl was supposed to enter it, she bound a handkerchief by a peculiar
knot over her head, and made it a point of honor not to change a
single garment till the day of her baptism, so that she was sure of being
in physical readiness for the cleansing rite, whatever her spiritual
mood might be. More than once, in noticing a damsel thus
mystically kerchiefed, I have asked some dusky attendant its meaning, and
have received the unfailing answer,--framed with their usual
indifference to the genders of pronouns--"He in de lonesome valley,
The next gives the same dramatic conflict, while its detached
and impersonal refrain gives it strikingly the character of the Scotch
and Scandinavian ballads.
XIII. CRY HOLY.
"Cry holy, holy! Look at de people dat is born
of God. And I run down de valley, and I run down to
pray, Says, look at de people dat is born of
God. When I get dar, Cappen Satan was dar, Says,
look at, &c. Says, young man, young man, dere's no use for
pray, Says, look at, &c. For Jesus is dead,
and God gone away, Says, look at, &c. And I
made him out a liar, and I went my way, Says, look at,
&c. Sing holy, holy!
"O, Mary was a woman, and he had a one Son,
Says, look at, &c. And de Jews and de Romans had him
hung, Says, look at, &c. Cry holy, holy!
"And I tell you, sinner, you had better had
pray, Says, look at, &c. For hell is a dark
and dismal place, Says, look at, &c.
And I tell you, sinner, and I wouldn't go dar!
Says, look at, &c. Cry holy, holy!"
Here is an infinitely quaint description of the length of the
XIV. O'ER THE CROSSING.
"Vender's my old mudder, Been a-waggin' at de
hill so long. It's about time she'll cross over;
Get home bimeby. Keep prayin', I do believe
We're a long time waggin' o'er de crossin'. Keep prayin', I do
believe We'll get home to heaven bimeby.
"Hear dat mournful thunder Roll from door to
door, Calling home God's children; Get home
bimeby. Little chil'en, I do believe We're a
long time, &c. Little chil'en, I do believe
We'll get home, &c.
"See dat forked lightnin' Flash from tree to
tree, Callin' home God's chil'en; Get home
bimeby. True believer, I do believe We're a long
time, &c. O brudders, I do believe, We'll
get home to heaven bimeby."
One of the most singular pictures of future joys, and with fine
flavor of hospitality about it, was this:--
XV. WALK 'EM EASY.
"O, walk 'em easy round de heaven, Walk 'em easy round de
heaven, Walk 'em easy round de heaven, Dat all
de people may join de band. Walk 'em easy round de heaven.
(Thrice.) O, shout glory till 'em join dat band!"
The chorus was usually the greater part of the song, and often came
in paradoxically, thus:--
XVI. O YES, LORD.
"O, must I be like de foolish mans? O yes,
Lord! Will build de house on de sandy hill. O
yes, Lord! I'll build my house on Zion hill, O
yes, Lord! No wind nor rain can blow me down, O
The next is very graceful and lyrical, and with more variety of
rhythm than usual:--
XVII. BOW LOW, MARY.
"Bow low, Mary, bow low, Martha, For Jesus
come and lock de door, And carry de keys away.
Sail, sail, over yonder, And view de promised
land. For Jesus come, &c. Weep, O Mary, bow
low, Martha, For Jesus come, &c. Sail, sail,
my true believer; Sail, sail, over yonder; Mary, bow low,
Martha, bow low, For Jesus come and lock de
door And carry de keys away."
But of all the "spirituals" that which surprised me the most,
I think,--perhaps because it was that in which external nature furnished
the images most directly,--was this. With all my experience of their ideal
ways of speech, I was startled when first I came on such a flower of poetry
in that dark soil.
XVIH. I KNOW MOON-RISE.
"I know moon-rise, I know star-rise, Lay dis
body down. I walk in de moonlight, I walk in de
starlight, To lay dis body down. I'll walk in de
graveyard, I'll walk through de graveyard, To lay dis body
down. I'll lie in de grave and stretch out my
arms; Lay dis body down. I go to de judgment in
de evenin' of de day, When I lay dis body down;
And my soul and your soul will meet in de day When I lay
dis body down."
"I'll lie in de grave and stretch out my arms." Never, it seems to
me, since man first lived and suffered, was his infinite longing for
peace uttered more plaintively than in that line.
The next is one of the wildest and most striking of the whole
series: there is a mystical effect and a passionate striving throughout
the whole. The Scriptural struggle between Jacob and the angel, which
is only dimly expressed in the words, seems all uttered in the music.
I think it impressed my imagination more powerfully than any other
of these songs.
XIX. WRESTLING JACOB.
"O wrestlin' Jacob, Jacob, day's a-breakin'; I
will not let thee go! O wrestlin' Jacob, Jacob, day's
a-breakin'; He will not let me go! O, I hold my
brudder wid a tremblin' hand I would not let him
go! I hold my sister wid a tremblin' hand; I
would not let her go!
"O, Jacob do hang from a tremblin' limb, He
would not let him go! O, Jacob do hang from a tremblin'
limb; De Lord will bless my soul. O wrestlin'
Jacob, Jacob," &c.
Of "occasional hymns," properly so called, I noticed but one, a
funeral hymn for an infant, which is sung plaintively over and over,
without variety of words.
XX. THE BABY GONE HOME.
"De little baby gone home, De little baby gone
home, De little baby gone along, For to climb up
Jacob's ladder. And I wish I'd been dar, I wish I'd been
dar, I wish I'd been dar, my Lord, For to climb
up Jacob's ladder."
Still simpler is this, which is yet quite sweet and touching.
XXI. JESUS WITH US.
"He have been wid us, Jesus He still wid us,
Jesus, He will be wid us, Jesus, Be wid us to
The next seemed to be a favorite about Christmas time, when
meditations on "de rollin' year" were frequent among them.
XXII. LORD, REMEMBER ME.
"O do, Lord, remember me! O do, Lord, remember
me! O, do remember me, until de year roll round!
Do, Lord, remember me!
"If you want to die like Jesus died, Lay in de
grave, You would fold your arms and close your
eyes And die wid a free good will.
"For Death is a simple ting, And he go from
door to door, And he knock down some, and he cripple op
some, And he leave some here to pray.
"O do, Lord remember me! O do, Lord, remember
me! My old fader's gone till de year roll round;
Do, Lord, remember me!"
The next was sung in such an operatic and rollicking way that it
was quite hard to fancy it a religious performance, which, however, it
was. I heard it but once.
XXIH. EARLY IN THE MORNING.
"I meet little Rosa early in de mornin', O
Jerusalem! early in de mornin'; And I ax her, How you do, my
darter? O Jerusalem! early in de mornin'.
"I meet my mudder early in de mornin', O
Jerusalem! &c. And I ax her, How you do, my
mudder? O Jerusalem! &c.
"I meet Brudder Robert early in de mornin', O
Jerusalem! &c. And I ax him, How you do, my
sonny? O Jerusalem! &c.
"I meet Tittawisa early in de mornin', O
Jerusalem! &c. And I ax her, How you do, my
darter? O Jerusalem!" &c.
"Tittawisa" means "Sister Louisa." In songs of this class the name
of every person present successively appears.
Their best marching song, and one which was invaluable to lift
their feet along, as they expressed it, was the following. There was a kind
of spring and lilt to it, quite indescribable by words.
XXIV. GO IN THE WILDERNESS.
"Jesus call you. Go in de wilderness, Go in de
wilderness, go in de wilderness, Jesus call you. Go in de
wilderness To wait upon de Lord. Go wait upon de
Lord, Go wait upon de Lord, Go wait upon de Lord, my
God, He take away de sins of de world.
"Jesus a-waitin'. Go in de wilderness, Go,
&c. All dem chil'en go in de wilderness To
wait upon de Lord."
The next was one of those which I had heard in boyish days,
brought North from Charleston. But the chorus alone was identical; the
words were mainly different, and those here given are quaint enough.
XXV. BLOW YOUR TRUMPET, GABRIEL.
"O, blow your trumpet, Gabriel, Blow your
trumpet louder; And I want dat trumpet to blow me
home To my new Jerusalem.
"De prettiest ting dat ever I done Was to serve de Lord
when I was young. So blow your trumpet, Gabriel,
"O, Satan is a liar, and he conjure too, And if you don't
mind, he'll conjure you. So blow your trumpet, Gabriel,
"O, I was lost in de wilderness. King Jesus hand me de
candle down. So blow your trumpet, Gabriel," &c.
The following contains one of those odd transformations of proper
names with which their Scriptural citations were often enriched. It
rivals their text, "Paul may plant, and may polish wid water," which I
have elsewhere quoted, and in which the sainted Apollos would hardly
have recognized himself.
XXVI. IN THE MORNING.
"In de mornin', In de mornin', Chil'en? Yes, my
Lord! Don't you hear de trumpet sound? If I had
a-died when I was young, I never would had de race for
run. Don't you hear de trumpet sound?
"O Sam and Peter was fishin' in de sea, And dey drop de
net and follow my Lord. Don't you hear de trumpet
"Dere's a silver spade for to dig my grave And a golden
chain for to let me down. Don't you hear de trumpet sound?
In de mornin', In de mornin', Chil'en? Yes, my
Lord! Don't you hear de trumpet sound?"
These golden and silver fancies remind one of the King of
Spain's daughter in "Mother Goose," and the golden apple, and the silver
pear, which are doubtless themselves but the vestiges of some simple
early composition like this. The next has a humbler and more domestic style
XXVII. FARE YE WELL.
"My true believers, fare ye well, Fare ye well, fare ye
well, Fare ye well, by de grace of God, For I'm
Massa Jesus give me a little broom For to sweep my heart
clean, And I will try, by de grace of God, To
win my way home."
Among the songs not available for marching, but requiring
the concentrated enthusiasm of the camp, was "The Ship of Zion," of
which they had three wholly distinct versions, all quite exuberant
XXVHI. THE SHIP OF ZION.
"Come along, come along, And let us go
home, O, glory, hallelujah? Dis de ole ship o'
Zion, Halleloo! Halleloo! Dis de ole ship o'
"She has landed many a tousand, She can land as many
more. O, glory, hallelujah! &c.
"Do you tink she will be able For to take us all
home? O, glory, hallelujah! &c.
"You can tell 'em I'm a comin', Halleloo!
Halleloo! You can tell 'em I'm a comin',
Hallelujah! Come along, come along," &c.
XXIX. THE SHIP OF ZION. (Second version.)
"Dis de good ole ship o' Zion, Dis de good ole ship o'
Zion, Dis de good ole ship o' Zion, And she's
makin' for de Promise Land. She hab angels for de sailors,
(Thrice.) And she's, &c. And how you know
dey's angels? (Thrice.) And she's, &c.
Good Lord, Shall I be one? (Thrice.) And she's,
"Dat ship is out a-sailin', sailin', sailin',
And she's, &c. She's a-sailin' mighty steady, steady,
steady, And she's, &c. She'll neither reel
nor totter, totter, totter, And she's, &c.
She's a-sailin' away cold Jordan, Jordan, Jordan, And
she's, &c. King Jesus is de captain, captain,
captain, And she's makin' for de Promise Land."
XXX. THE SHIP OF ZION. (Third version.)
"De Gospel ship is sailin',
Hosann--sann. O, Jesus is de captain,
Hosann--sann. De angels are de sailors,
Hosann--sann. O, is your bundle ready?
Hosann--sann. O, have you got your ticket?
This abbreviated chorus is given with unspeakable unction.
The three just given are modifications of an old camp-meeting
melody; and the same may be true of the three following, although I cannot
find them in the Methodist hymn-books. Each, however, has its
characteristic modifications, which make it well worth giving. In the second
verse of this next, for instance, "Saviour" evidently has become
XXXI. SWEET MUSIC
"Sweet music in heaven, Just beginning for to
roll. Don't you love God? Glory,
"Yes, late I heard my soldier say, Come, heavy
soul, I am de way. Don't you love God? Glory,
"I'll go and tell to sinners round What a kind
Saviour I have found. Don't you love God? Glory,
"My grief my burden long has been, Because I
was not cease from sin. Don't you love God?
XXXII. GOOD NEWS.
"O, good news! O, good news! De angels brought de tidings
down, Just comin' from de trone.
"As grief from out my soul shall fly, Just
comin' from de trone; I'll shout salvation when I
die, Good news, O, good news! Just
comin' from de trone.
"Lord, I want to go to heaven when I die, Good
news, O, good news! &c.
"De white folks call us a noisy crew, Good
news, O, good news! But dis I know, we are happy
too, Just comin' from de trone."
XXXIII. THE HEAVENLY ROAD.
"You may talk of my name as much as you
please, And carry my name abroad, But I really
do believe I'm a child of God As I walk in de heavenly
road. O, won't you go wid me? (Thrice.) For to
keep our garments clean.
"O Satan is a mighty busy ole man, And roll
rocks in my way; But Jesus is my bosom friend,
And roll 'em out of de way. O, won't you go wid me?
(Thrice.) For to keep our garments clean.
"Come, my brudder, if you never did pray, I
hope you may pray to-night; For I really believe I'm a child of
God As I walk in de heavenly road. O, won't
Some of the songs had played an historic part during the war.
For singing the next, for instance, the negroes had been put in jail
in Georgetown, S. C., at the outbreak of the Rebellion. "We'll soon
be free" was too dangerous an assertion; and though the chant was an
old one, it was no doubt sung with redoubled emphasis during the new
events. "De Lord will call us home," was evidently thought to be a
symbolical verse; for, as a little drummer-boy explained to me, showing all
his white teeth as he sat in the moonlight by the door of my tent, "Dey
tink de Lord mean for say de Yankees."
XXXIV. WE'LL SOON BE FREE.
"We'll soon be free, We'll soon be free, We'll
soon be free, When de Lord will call us home. My
brudder, how long, My brudder, how long, My brudder, how
long, 'Fore we done sufferin' here? It won't be
long (Thrice.) 'Fore de Lord will call us
home. We'll walk de miry road (Thrice.) Where
pleasure never dies. We'll walk de golden street
(Thrice.) Where pleasure never dies. My
brudder, how long (Thrice.) 'Fore we done sufferin'
here? We'll soon be free (Thrice.) When Jesus
sets me free. We'll fight for liberty
(Thrice.) When de Lord will call us home."
The suspicion in this case was unfounded, but they had another song
to which the Rebellion had actually given rise. This was composed by
nobody knew whom,--though it was the most recent, doubtless, of all
these "spirituals,"--and had been sung in secret to avoid detection. It
is certainly plaintive enough. The peck of corn and pint of salt
were slavery's rations.
XXXV. MANY THOUSAND GO.
"No more peck o' corn for me, No more, no
more,-- No more peck o' corn for me, Many
"No more driver's lash for me, (Twice.) No
"No more pint o' salt for me, (Twice.) No
"No more hundred lash for me, (Twice.) No
"No more mistress' call for me, No more, no
more,-- No more mistress' call for me, Many
Even of this last composition, however, we have only the
approximate date and know nothing of the mode of composition. Allan Ramsay
says of the Scotch songs, that, no matter who made them, they were
soon attributed to the minister of the parish whence they sprang. And
I always wondered, about these, whether they had always a conscious
and definite origin in some leading mind, or whether they grew by
gradual accretion, in an almost unconscious way. On this point I could get
no information, though I asked many questions, until at last, one day when
I was being rowed across from Beaufort to Ladies' Island, I found myself,
with delight, on the actual trail of a song. One of the oarsmen, a brisk
young fellow, not a soldier, on being asked for his theory of the matter,
dropped out a coy confession. "Some good sperituals," he said, "are start
jess out o' curiosity. I been a-raise a sing, myself, once."
My dream was fulfilled, and I had traced out, not the poem alone,
but the poet. I implored him to proceed.
"Once we boys," he said, "went for tote some rice and de
nigger-driver he keep a-callin' on us; and I say, 'O, de ole nigger-driver!'
Den anudder said, 'Fust ting my mammy tole me was, notin' so bad
as nigger-driver.' Den I made a sing, just puttin' a word, and den
Then he began singing, and the men, after listening a moment, joined
in the chorus, as if it were an old acquaintance, though they evidently
had never heard it before. I saw how easily a new "sing" took root among
XXXVI. THE DRIVER.
"O, de ole nigger-driver! O, gwine
away! Fust ting my mammy tell me, O, gwine
away! Tell me 'bout de nigger-driver, O, gwine
away! Nigger-driver second devil, O, gwine
away! Best ting for do he driver, O, gwine
away! Knock he down and spoil he labor, O, gwine
It will be observed that, although this song is quite secular in
its character, yet its author called it a "spiritual." I heard but two
songs among them, at any time, to which they would not, perhaps, have
given this generic name. One of these consisted simply in the
endless repetition--after the manner of certain college songs--of the
"Rain fall and wet Becky Lawton."
But who Becky Lawton was, and why she should or should not be wet,
and whether the dryness was a reward or a penalty, none could say. I got
the impression that, in either case, the event was posthumous, and
that there was some tradition of grass not growing over the grave of
a sinner; but even this was vague, and all else vaguer.
The other song I heard but once, on a morning when a squad of men
came in from picket duty, and chanted it in the most rousing way. It had
been a stormy and comfortless night, and the picket station was very
exposed. It still rained in the morning when I strolled to the edge of the
camp, looking out for the men, and wondering how they had stood it.
Presently they came striding along the road, at a great pace, with their
shining rubber blankets worn as cloaks around them, the rain streaming
from these and from then- equally shining faces, which were almost all
upon the broad grin, as they pealed out this remarkable ditty:--
"O, dey call me Hangman Johnny! O, ho! O,
ho! But I never hang nobody, O, hang, boys,
hang! O dey, call me Hangman Johnny! O, ho! O,
ho! But we'll all hang togedder, O, hang, boys,
My presence apparently checked the performance of another
verse, beginning, "De buckra 'list for money," apparently in reference to
the controversy about the pay-question, then just beginning, and to the
more mercenary aims they attributed to the white soldiers. But
"Hangman Johnny" remained always a myth as inscrutable as "Becky
As they learned all their songs by ear, they often strayed into
wholly new versions, which sometimes became popular, and entirely banished
the others. This was amusingly the case, for instance, with one phrase
in the popular camp-song of "Marching Along," which was entirely new
to them until our quartermaster taught it to them, at my request.
The words, "Gird on the armor," were to them a stumbling-block, and
no wonder, until some ingenious ear substituted, "Guide on de army,"
which was at once accepted, and became universal.
"We'll guide on de army, and be marching along"
is now the established version on the Sea Islands.
These quaint religious songs were to the men more than a source
of relaxation; they were a stimulus to courage and a tie to heaven.
I never overheard in camp a profane or vulgar song. With the
trifling exceptions given, all had a religious motive, while the most
secular melody could not have been more exciting. A few youths from
Savannah, who were comparatively men of the world, had learned some of
the "Ethiopian Minstrel" ditties, imported from the North. These took
no hold upon the mass; and, on the other hand, they sang reluctantly, even
on Sunday, the long and short metres of the hymn-books, always gladly
yielding to the more potent excitement of their own "spirituals." By these
they could sing themselves, as had their fathers before them, out of the
contemplation of their own low estate, into the sublime scenery of the
Apocalypse. I remember that this minor-keyed pathos used to seem to me almost
too sad to dwell upon, while slavery seemed destined to last for generations;
but now that their patience has had its perfect work, history cannot afford
to lose this portion of its record. There is no parallel instance of
an oppressed race thus sustained by the religious sentiment alone.
These songs are but the vocal expression of the simplicity of their
faith and the sublimity of their long resignation.
Chapter 10 Life at Camp Shaw
The Edisto expedition cost me the health and strength of several
years. I could say, long after, in the words of one of the men, "I'se been
a sickly person, eber since de expeditious." Justice to a
strong constitution and good habits compels me, however, to say that, up to
the time of my injury, I was almost the only officer in the regiment who
had not once been off duty from illness. But at last I had to yield,
and went North for a month.
We heard much said, during the war, of wounded officers who
stayed unreasonably long at home. I think there were more instances of
those who went back too soon. Such at least was my case. On returning to
the regiment I found a great accumulation of unfinished business;
every member of the field and staff was prostrated by illness or absent
on detailed service; two companies had been sent to Hilton Head on fatigue
duty, and kept there unexpectedly long: and there was a visible
demoralization among the rest, especially from the fact that their pay had
just been cut down, in violation of the express pledges of the government. A
few weeks of steady sway made all right again; and during those weeks I felt
a perfect exhilaration of health, followed by a month or two of complete
prostration, when the work was done. This passing, I returned to duty, buoyed
up by the fallacious hope that the winter months would set me right
We had a new camp on Port Royal Island, very pleasantly situated,
just out of Beaufort. It stretched nearly to the edge of a shelving
bluff, fringed with pines and overlooking the river; below the bluff was
a hard, narrow beach, where one might gallop a mile and bathe at
the farther end. We could look up and down the curving stream, and watch
the few vessels that came and went. Our first encampment had been lower
down that same river, and we felt at home.
The new camp was named Camp Shaw, in honor of the noble young
officer who had lately fallen at Fort Wagner, under circumstances which
had endeared him to all the men. As it happened, they had never seen
him, nor was my regiment ever placed within immediate reach of
the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts. This I always regretted, feeling
very desirous to compare the military qualities of the Northern and
Southern blacks. As it was, the Southern regiments with which the
Massachusetts troops were brigaded were hardly a fair specimen of their kind,
having been raised chiefly by drafting, and, for this and other causes,
being afflicted with perpetual discontent and desertion.
We had, of course, looked forward with great interest to the arrival
of these new colored regiments, and I had ridden in from the
picket-station to see the Fifty-Fourth. Apart from the peculiarity of its
material, it was fresh from my own State, and I had relatives and
acquaintances among its officers. Governor Andrew, who had formed it, was an
old friend, and had begged me, on departure from Massachusetts, to keep him
informed as to our experiment I had good reason to believe that my reports
had helped to prepare the way for this new battalion, and I had sent him,
at his request, some hints as to its formation.*
*COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS, Executive Department,
Boston, February 5, 1863.
To COL. T. W. HIGGINSON, Commanding 1st Regt. S. C. Vols.,
Port Royal Id., S. C.
COLONEL,--I am under obligations to you for your very interesting letter
of January 19th, which I considered to be too important in its testimony to
the efficiency of colored troops to be allowed to remain hidden on my files.
I therefore placed some portions of it in the hands of Hon. Stephen M.
Weld, of Jamaica Plain, for publication, and you will find enclosed the
newspaper slip from the "Journal" of February 3d, in which it appeared.
During a recent visit at Washington I have obtained permission from the
Department of War to enlist colored troops as part of the Massachusetts
quota, and I am about to begin to organize a colored infantry regiment, to be
numbered the "54th Massachusetts Volunteers."
I shall be greatly obliged by any suggestions which your experience
may afford concerning it, and I am determined that it shall serve as
a model, in the high character of its officers and the thorough
discipline of its men, for all subsequent corps of the like material.
Please present to General Saxton the assurances of my respectful
I have the honor to be, respectfuly and obediently yours,
JOHN A. ANDREW, Governor of Massachusetts.
In the streets of Beaufort I had met Colonel Shaw, riding with
his lieutenant-colonel and successor, Edward Hallowell, and had gone
back with them to share their first meal in camp. I should have known
Shaw anywhere by his resemblance to his kindred, nor did it take long
to perceive that he shared their habitual truthfulness and
courage. Moreover, he and Hallowell had already got beyond the commonplaces
of inexperience, in regard to colored troops, and, for a wonder, asked
only sensible questions. For instance, he admitted the mere matter of
courage to be settled, as regarded the colored troops, and his whole
solicitude bore on this point, Would they do as well in line-of-battle
as they had already done in more irregular service, and on picket and guard
duty? Of this I had, of course, no doubt, nor, I think, had he; though I
remember his saying something about the possibility of putting them between
two fires in case of need, and so cutting off their retreat. I should
never have thought of such a project, but I could not have expected bun
to trust them as I did, until he had been actually under fire with
them. That, doubtless, removed all his anxieties, if he really had any.
This interview had occurred on the 4th of June. Shaw and his
regiment had very soon been ordered to Georgia, then to Morris Island;
Fort Wagner had been assaulted, and he had been killed. Most of the
men knew about the circumstances of his death, and many of them
had subscribed towards a monument for him,--a project which
originated with General Saxton, and which was finally embodied in the
"Shaw School-house" at Charleston. So it gave us all pleasure to name
this camp for him, as its predecessor had been named for General
The new camp was soon brought into good order. The men had
great ingenuity in building screens and shelters of light poles, filled
in with the gray moss from the live-oaks. The officers had vestibules
built in this way, before all their tents; the cooking-places were
walled round in the same fashion; and some of the wide company-streets
had sheltered sidewalks down the whole line of tents. The sergeant on
duty at the entrance of the camp had a similar bower, and the
architecture culminated in a "Praise-House" for school and prayer-meetings,
some thirty feet in diameter. As for chimneys and flooring, they
were provided with that magic and invisible facility which marks the
second year of a regiment's life.
That officer is happy who, besides a constitutional love of
adventure, has also a love for the details of camp life, and likes to bring
them to perfection. Nothing but a hen with her chickens about her can
symbolize the content I felt on getting my scattered companies together,
after some temporary separation on picket or fatigue duty. Then we went
to work upon the nest. The only way to keep a camp in order is to set
about everything as if you expected to stay there forever; if you stay,
you get the comfort of it; if ordered away in twenty-four hours, you
forget all wasted labor in the excitement of departure. Thus viewed, a camp
is a sort of model farm or bit of landscape gardening; there is always
some small improvement to be made, a trench, a well, more shade against
the sun, an increased vigilance in sweeping. Then it is pleasant to
take care of the men, to see them happy, to hear them purr.
Then the duties of inspection and drill, suspended during
active service, resume their importance with a month or two of quiet.
It really costs unceasing labor to keep a regiment in perfect
condition and ready for service. The work is made up of minute and
endless details, like a bird's pruning her feathers or a cat's licking
her kittens into their proper toilet. Here are eight hundred men,
every one of whom, every Sunday morning at farthest, must be
perfectly soigne in all personal proprieties; he must exhibit himself
provided with every article of clothing, buttons, shoe-strings, hooks and
eyes, company letter, regimental number, rifle, bayonet,
bayonet-scabbard, cap-pouch, cartridge-box, cartridge-box belt,
cartridge-box belt-plate, gun-sling, canteen, haversack, knapsack, packed
according to rule, forty cartridges, forty percussion caps; and every one
of these articles polished to the highest brightness or blackness as
the case may be, and moreover hung or slung or tied or carried
in precisely the correct manner.
What a vast and formidable housekeeping is here, my patriotic
sisters! Consider, too, that every corner of the camp is to be kept
absolutely clean and ready for exhibition at the shortest notice;
hospital, stables, guard-house, cook-houses, company tents, must all be
brought to perfection, and every square inch of this "farm of four acres"
must look as smooth as an English lawn, twice a day. All this, beside
the discipline and the drill and the regimental and company books,
which must keep rigid account of all these details; consider all this,
and then wonder no more that officers and men rejoice in being ordered
on active service, where a few strokes of the pen will dispose of all
this multiplicity of trappings as "expended in action" or "lost in
For one, the longer I remained in service, the better I appreciated
the good sense of most of the regular army niceties. True, these things
must all vanish when the time of action comes, but it is these things
that have prepared you for action. Of course, if you dwell on them
only, military life becomes millinery life alone. Kinglake says that
the Russian Grand-Duke Constantine, contemplating his
beautiful toy-regiments, said that he dreaded war, for he knew that it would
spoil the troops. The simple fact is, that a soldier is like the weapon
he carries; service implies soiling, but you must have it clean in
advance, that when soiled it may be of some use.
The men had that year a Christmas present which they enjoyed to
the utmost,--furnishing the detail, every other day, for
provost-guard duty in Beaufort. It was the only military service which they
had ever shared within the town, and it moreover gave a sense of
self-respect to be keeping the peace of their own streets. I enjoyed seeing
them put on duty those mornings; there was such a twinkle of delight
in their eyes, though their features were immovable. As the "reliefs" went
round, posting the guard, under charge of a corporal, one could watch the
black sentinels successively dropped and the whites picked up,--gradually
changing the complexion, like Lord Somebody's black stockings which became
white stockings,--till at last there was only a squad of white soldiers
obeying the "Support Arms! Forward, March!" of a black corporal.
Then, when once posted, they glorified their office, you may be
sure. Discipline had grown rather free-and-easy in the town about that
time, and it is said that the guard-house never was so full within
human memory as after their first tour of duty. I remember hearing that
one young reprobate, son of a leading Northern philanthropist in
those parts, was much aggrieved at being taken to the lock-up merely
because he was found drunk in the streets. "Why," said he, "the white
corporals always showed me the way home." And I can testify that, after an
evening party, some weeks later, I beard with pleasure the officers
asking eagerly for the countersign. "Who has the countersign?" said they.
"The darkeys are on guard to-night, and we must look out for our lives."
Even after a Christmas party at General Saxton's, the guard at the door
very properly refused to let the ambulance be brought round from the
stable for the ladies because the driver had not the countersign.
One of the sergeants of the guard, on one of these occasions, made
to one who questioned his authority an answer that could hardly have
been improved. The questioner had just been arrested for some offence.
"Know what dat mean?" said the indignant sergeant, pointing to
the chevrons on his own sleeve. "Dat mean Guv'ment." Volumes could
not have said more, and the victim collapsed. The thing soon
settled itself, and nobody remembered to notice whether the face beside
the musket of a sentinel were white or black. It meant Government, all
The men were also indulged with several raids on the mainland, under
the direction of Captain J. E. Bryant, of the Eighth Maine, the
most experienced scout in that region, who was endeavoring to raise
by enlistment a regiment of colored troops. On one occasion
Captains Whitney and Heasley, with their companies, penetrated nearly
to Pocataligo, capturing some pickets and bringing away all the slaves of
a plantation,--the latter operation being entirely under the charge
of Sergeant Harry Williams (Co. K), without the presence of any white
man. The whole command was attacked on the return by a rebel force,
which turned out to be what was called in those regions a
"dog-company," consisting of mounted riflemen with half a dozen trained
bloodhounds. The men met these dogs with their bayonets, killed four or five
of their old tormentors with great relish, and brought away the carcass of
one. I had the creature skinned, and sent the skin to New York to be
stuffed and mounted, meaning to exhibit it at the Sanitary Commission Fair
hi Boston; but it spoiled on the passage. These quadruped allies were
not originally intended as "dogs of war," but simply to detect
fugitive slaves, and the men were delighted at this confirmation of their
tales of dog-companies, which some of the officers had always
Captain Bryant, during his scouting adventures, had learned to
outwit these bloodhounds, and used his skill in eluding escape,
during another expedition of the same kind. He was sent with
Captain Metcalf's company far up the Combahee River to cut the
telegraphic wires and intercept despatches. Our adventurous chaplain and
a telegraphic operator went with the party. They ascended the river,
cut the wires, and read the despatches for an hour or two.
Unfortunately, the attached wire was too conspicuously hung, and was seen by
a passenger on the railway train in passing. The train was stopped and
a swift stampede followed; a squad of cavalry was sent in pursuit, and our
chaplain, with Lieutenant Osborn, of Bryant's projected regiment, were
captured; also one private,--the first of our men who had ever been taken
prisoners. In spite of an agreement at Washington to the contrary, our
chaplain was held as prisoner of war, the only spiritual adviser in uniform,
so far as I know, who had that honor. I do not know but his reverence would
have agreed with Scott's pirate-lieutenant, that it was better to live as
plain Jack Bunce than die as Frederick Altamont; but I am very sure that he
would rather have been kept prisoner to the close of the war, as a combatant,
than have been released on parole as a non-resistant.
After his return, I remember, he gave the most animated accounts of
the whole adventure, of which he had enjoyed every instant, from the
first entrance on the enemy's soil to the final capture. I suppose we
should all like to tap the telegraphic wires anywhere and read our
neighbor's messages, if we could only throw round this process the dignity of
a Sacred Cause. This was what our good chaplain had done, with the
same conscientious zest with which he had conducted his Sunday foraging
in Florida. But he told me that nothing so impressed him on the whole
trip as the sudden transformation in the black soldier who was taken
prisoner with him. The chaplain at once adopted the policy, natural to him,
of talking boldly and even defiantly to his captors, and commanding
instead of beseeching. He pursued the same policy always and gained by it,
he thought. But the negro adopted the diametrically opposite policy,
also congenial to his crushed race,--all the force seemed to go out of
him, and he surrendered himself like a tortoise to be kicked and trodden
upon at their will. This manly, well-trained soldier at once became a
slave again, asked no questions, and, if any were asked, made meek
and conciliatory answers. He did not know, nor did any of us know,
whether he would be treated as a prisoner of war, or shot, or sent to
a rice-plantation. He simply acted according to the traditions of
his race, as did the chaplain on his side. In the end the soldier's
cunning was vindicated by the result; he escaped, and rejoined us in six
months, while the chaplain was imprisoned for a year.
The men came back very much exhausted from this expedition, and
those who were in the chaplain's squad narrowly escaped with their
lives. One brave fellow had actually not a morsel to eat for four days,
and then could keep nothing on his stomach for two days more, so that
his life was despaired of; and yet he brought all his equipments safe
into camp. Some of these men had led such wandering lives, in woods
and swamps, that to hunt them was like hunting an otter; shyness
and concealment had grown to be their second nature.
After these little episodes came two months of peace. We were
clean, comfortable, quiet, and consequently discontented. It was therefore
with eagerness that we listened to a rumor of a new Florida expedition,
in which we might possibly take a hand.
Chapter 11 Florida Again?
Let me revert once more to my diary, for a specimen of the sharp
changes and sudden disappointments that may come to troops in service. But
for a case or two of varioloid in the regiment, we should have taken part
in the battle of Olustee, and should have had (as was reported) the
right of the line. At any rate we should have shared the hard knocks and
the glory, which were distributed pretty freely to the colored troops
then and there. The diary will give, better than can any
continuous narrative, our ups and down of expectation in those days.
"CAMP SHAW, BEAUFORT, S. C.,
February 7, 1864.
"Great are the uncertainties of military orders! Since our recall
from Jacksonville we have had no such surprises as came to us on
Wednesday night. It was our third day of a new tour of duty at the
picket station. We had just got nicely settled,--men well tented, with
good floors, and in high spirits, officers at out-stations all happy,
Mrs. ---- coming to stay with her husband, we at head-quarters just
in order, house cleaned, moss-garlands up, camellias and jessamines in the
tin wash-basins, baby in bliss;--our usual run of visitors had just set in,
two Beaufort captains and a surgeon had just risen from a late dinner after a
flag of truce, General Saxton and his wife had driven away but an hour or two
before, we were all sitting about busy, with a great fire blazing, Mrs. D.
had just remarked triumphantly, 'Last time I had but a mouthful here, and now
I shall be here three weeks'--when--
"In dropped, like a bombshell, a despatch announcing that we were to
be relieved by the Eighth Maine, the next morning, as General Gillmore
had sent an order that we should be ready for departure from Beaufort at
"Conjectures, orders, packing, sending couriers to out-stations,
were the employments of the evening; the men received the news with
cheers, and we all came in next morning."
"February 11, 1864.
"For three days we have watched the river, and every little
steamboat that comes up for coal brings out spy-glasses and conjectures,
and 'Dar's de Fourf New Hampshire,'--for when that comes, it is said, we
go. Meanwhile we hear stirring news from Florida, and the men are
very impatient to be off. It is remarkable how much more thoroughly they
look at things as soldiers than last year, and how much less as
home-bound men,--the South-Carolinians, I mean, for of course the Floridians
would naturally wish to go to Florida.
"But in every way I see the gradual change in them, sometimes with
a sigh, as parents watch their children growing up and miss the
droll speeches and the confiding ignorance of childhood. Sometimes it
comes over me with a pang that they are growing more like white
men,--less naive and less grotesque. Still, I think there is enough of it to
last, and that their joyous buoyancy, at least, will hold out while life
"As for our destination, our greatest fear is of finding
ourselves posted at Hilton Head and going no farther. As a dashing Irish
officer remarked the other day, 'If we are ordered away anywhere, I hope it
will be either to go to Florida or else stay here!'"
"Sublime uncertainties again!
"After being ordered in from picket, under marching orders; after
the subsequent ten days of uncertainty; after watching every steamboat
that came up the river, to see if the Fourth New Hampshire was on
board,--at last the regiment came.
"Then followed another break; there was no transportation to take us.
At last a boat was notified.
"Then General Saxton, as anxious to keep us as was the regiment to
go, played his last card in small-pox, telegraphing to
department head-quarters that we had it dangerously in the regiment. (N. B.
All varioloid, light at that, and besides, we always have it.)
"Then the order came to leave behind the sick and those who had
been peculiarly exposed, and embark the rest next day.
"Great was the jubilee! The men were up, I verily believe, by three
in the morning, and by eight the whole camp was demolished or put
in wagons, and we were on our way. The soldiers of the Fourth New
Hampshire swarmed in; every board was swept away by them; there had been a
time when colored boards (if I may delicately so express myself)
were repudiated by white soldiers, but that epoch had long since passed.
I gave my new tent-frame, even the latch, to Colonel Bell;
ditto Lieutenant-Colonel to Lieutenant-Colonel.
"Down we marched, the men singing 'John Brown' and 'Marching Along' and
'Gwine in de Wilderness'; women in tears and smiles lined the way. We halted
opposite the dear General's; we cheered, he speeched, I speeched, we all
embraced symbolically, and cheered some more. Then we went to work at the
wharf; vast wagon-loads of tents, rations, ordnance, and what-not disappeared
in the capacious maw of the Delaware. In the midst of it all came riding down
General Saxton with a despatch from Hilton Head:--
"'If you think the amount of small-pox in the First South
Carolina Volunteers sufficient, the order will be countermanded.'
"'What shall I say?' quoth the guilty General, perceiving
how preposterously too late the negotiation was reopened.
"'Say, sir?' quoth I. 'Say that we are on board already and
the small-pox left behind. Say we had only thirteen cases,
chiefly varioloid, and ten almost well.'
"Our blood was up with a tremendous morning's work done, and,
rather than turn back, we felt ready to hold down Major-General
Gillmore, commanding department, and all his staff upon the wharf, and
vaccinate them by main force.
"So General Saxton rode away, and we worked away. Just as the
last wagon-load but one was being transferred to the omnivorous depths of
the Delaware,--which I should think would have been filled ten times
over with what we had put into it,--down rode the General with a fiendish
joy in his bright eyes and held out a paper,--one of the familiar
rescripts from headquarters.
"'The marching orders of the First South Carolina Volunteers are
"'Major Trowbridge,' said I, 'will you give my compliments to Lieutenant
Hooper, somewhere in the hold of that steamer, and direct him to set his men
at work to bring out every individual article which they have carried hi.'
And I sat down on a pile of boards.
"'You will return to your old camping-ground, Colonel,' said
the General, placidly. 'Now,' he added with serene satisfaction, 'we
will have some brigade drills!'
"Brigade drills! Since Mr. Pickwick, with his heartless tomato-sauce
and warming-pans, there had been nothing so aggravating as to try to
solace us, who were as good as on board ship and under way,--nay, in
imagination as far up the St. John's as Pilatka at least,--with brigade
drills! It was very kind and flattering in him to wish to keep us. But
unhappily we had made up our minds to go.
"Never did officer ride at the head of a battalion of more
wobegone, spiritless wretches than I led back from Beaufort that day. 'When
I march down to de landin',' said one of the men afterwards, 'my
knapsack full of feathers. Comin' back, he lead!' And the lead, instead of
the feathers, rested on the heart of every one.
"As if the disappointment itself were not sufficient, we had to
return to our pretty camp, accustomed to its drawing-room order, and find it
a desert. Every board gone from the floors, the screens torn down from
the poles, all the little conveniences scattered, and, to crown all, a
cold breeze such as we had not known since New-Year's Day blowing across
the camp and flooding everything with dust. I sincerely hope the
regiment would never behave after a defeat as they behaved then. Every man
seemed crushed, officers and soldiers alike; when they broke ranks, they
went and lay down like sheep where their tents used to be, or
wandered disconsolately about, looking for their stray belongings. The scene
was so infinitely dolorous that it gradually put me in the highest
spirits; the ludicrousness of the whole affair was so complete, there was
nothing to do but laugh. The horrible dust blew till every officer had
some black spot on his nose which paralyzed pathos. Of course the only
way was to set them all at work as soon as possible; and work them we
did,--I at the camp and the Major at the wharf,--loading and unloading wagons
and just reversing all which the morning had done.
"The New Hampshire men were very considerate, and gave back most of
what they had taken, though many of our men were really too delicate or
proud to ask or even take what they had once given to soldiers or to
the colored people. I had no such delicacy about my tent-frame, and by
night things had resumed something of their old aspect, and cheerfulness
was in part restored. Yet long after this I found one first
sergeant absolutely in tears,--a Florida man, most of whose kindred were up
the St. John's. It was very natural that the men from that region
should feel thus bitterly, but it shows how much of the habit of soldiers
they have all acquired, that the South Carolina men, who were leaving
the neighborhood of their families for an indefinite time, were just
as eager to go, and not one deserted, though they knew it for a
week beforehand. No doubt my precarious health makes it now easier for
me personally to remain here--easier on reflection at least--than for
the others. At the same time Florida is fascinating, and offers not
only adventure, but the command of a brigade. Certainly at the last moment
there was not a sacrifice I would not have made rather than wrench myself
and others away from the expedition. We are, of course, thrown back into
the old uncertainty, and if the small-pox subsides (and it is
really diminishing decidedly) we may yet come in at the wrong end of
the Florida affair."
"Not a bit of it! This morning the General has ridden up radiant,
has seen General Gillmore, who has decided not to order us to Florida
at all, nor withdraw any of this garrison. Moreover, he says that all
which is intended in Florida is done,--that there will be no advance
to Tallahassee, and General Seymour will establish a camp of instruction
in Jacksonville. Well, if that is all, it is a lucky escape."
We little dreamed that on that very day the march toward Olustee
was beginning. The battle took place next day, and I add one more extract
to show how the news reached Beaufort.
"February 23, 1864.
"There was the sound of revelry by night at a ball in Beaufort
last night, in a new large building beautifully decorated. All the
collected flags of the garrison hung round and over us, as if the stars
and stripes were devised for an ornament alone. The array of uniforms
was such that a civilian became a distinguished object, much more a
lady. All would have gone according to the proverbial marriage-bell,
I suppose, had there not been a slight palpable shadow over all of us
from hearing vague stories of a lost battle in Florida, and from the
thought that perhaps the very ambulances in which we rode to the ball were
ours only until the wounded or the dead might tenant them.
"General Gillmore only came, I supposed, to put a good face upon
the matter. He went away soon, and General Saxton went; then came a
rumor that the Cosmopolitan had actually arrived with wounded, but still
the dance went on. There was nothing unfeeling about it,--one gets used
to things,--when suddenly, in the midst of the 'Lancers,' there came
a perfect hush, the music ceasing, a few surgeons went hastily to and fro,
as if conscience-stricken (I should think they might have been),--then there
'waved a mighty shadow in,' as in Uhland's 'Black Knight,' and as we all
stood wondering we were 'ware of General Saxton, who strode hastily down the
hall, his pale face very resolute, and looking almost sick with anxiety. He
had just been on board the steamer; there were two hundred and fifty wounded
men just arrived, and the ball must end. Not that there was anything for us
to do; but the revel was mistimed, and must be ended; it was wicked to
be dancing, with such a scene of suffering near by.
"Of course the ball was instantly broken up, though with some
murrmurings and some longings of appetite, on the part of some, toward the
"Later, I went on board the boat. Among the long lines of wounded,
black and white intermingled, there was the wonderful quiet which
usually prevails on such occasions. Not a sob nor a groan, except from
those undergoing removal. It is not self-control, but chiefly the shock to
the system produced by severe wounds, especially gunshot wounds, and
which usually keeps the patient stiller at first than any later time.
"A company from my regiment waited on the wharf, in their
accustomed dusky silence, and I longed to ask them what they thought of our
Florida disappointment now? In view of what they saw, did they still wish we
had been there? I confess that in presence of all that human suffering,
I could not wish it. But I would not have suggested any such thought to
"I found our kind-hearted ladies, Mrs. Chamberlin and Mrs. Dewhurst,
on board the steamer, but there was nothing for them to do, and we
walked back to camp in the radiant moonlight; Mrs. Chamberlin more than
ever strengthened in her blushing woman's philosophy, 'I don't care who
wins the laurels, provided we don't!' "
"But for a few trivial cases of varioloid, we should certainly have been
in that disastrous fight. We were confidently expected for several days at
Jacksonville, and the commanding general told Colonel Hallowell that we,
being the oldest colored regiment, would have the right of the line. This was
certainly to miss danger and glory very closely."
Chapter 12 The Negro as a Soldier
There was in our regiment a very young recruit, named Sam Roberts,
of whom Trowbridge used to tell this story. Early in the war Trowbridge
had been once sent to Amelia Island with a squad of men, under direction
of Commodore Goldsborough, to remove the negroes from the island. As
the officers stood on the beach, talking to some of the older freedmen,
they saw this urchin peeping at them from front and rear in a
scrutinizing way, for which his father at last called him to account, as
"Hi! Sammy, what you's doin', chile?"
"Daddy," said the inquisitive youth, "don't you know mas'r tell
us Yankee hab tail? I don't see no tail, daddy!"
There were many who went to Port Royal during the war, in civil
or military positions, whose previous impressions of the colored race were
about as intelligent as Sam's view of themselves. But, for once, I had always
had so much to do with fugitive slaves, and had studied the whole subject
with such interest, that I found not much to learn or unlearn as to this one
point. Their courage I had before seen tested; their docile and lovable
qualities I had known; and the only real surprise that experience brought me
was in finding them so little demoralized. I had not allowed for the extreme
remoteness and seclusion of their lives, especially among the Sea Islands.
Many of them had literally spent their whole existence on some lonely
island or remote plantation, where the master never came, and the
overseer only once or twice a week. With these exceptions, such persons
had never seen a white face, and of the excitements or sins of
larger communities they had not a conception. My friend Colonel
Hallo-well, of the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts, told me that he had among his
men some of the worst reprobates of Northern cities. While I had some
men who were unprincipled and troublesome, there was not one whom I
could call a hardened villain. I was constantly expecting to find
male Topsies, with no notions of good and plenty of evil. But I never
found one. Among the most ignorant there was very often a childlike
absence of vices, which was rather to be classed as inexperience than
as innocence, but which had some of the advantages of both.
Apart from this, they were very much like other men. General
Saxton, examining with some impatience a long list of questions from
some philanthropic Commission at the North, respecting the traits and
habits of the freedmen, bade some staff-officer answer them all in
two words,--"Intensely human." We all admitted that it was a striking
and comprehensive description.
For instance, as to courage. So far as I have seen, the mass of men are
naturally courageous up to a certain point. A man seldom runs away from
danger which he ought to face, unless others run; each is apt to keep with
the mass, and colored soldiers have more than usual of this gregariousness.
In almost every regiment, black or white, there are a score or two of men who
are naturally daring, who really hunger after dangerous adventures, and are
happiest when allowed to seek them. Every commander gradually finds out who
these men are, and habitually uses them; certainly I had such, and I remember
with delight their bearing, their coolness, and their dash. Some of them were
negroes, some mulattoes. One of them would have passed for white, with
brown hair and blue eyes, while others were so black you could hardly
see their features. These picked men varied in other respects too;
some were neat and well-drilled soldiers, while others were
slovenly, heedless fellows,--the despair of their officers at inspection,
their pride on a raid. They were the natural scouts and rangers of
the regiment; they had the two-o'clock-in-the-morning courage,
which Napoleon thought so rare. The mass of the regiment rose to the
same level under excitement, and were more excitable, I think, than
whites, but neither more nor less courageous.
Perhaps the best proof of a good average of courage among them was
in the readiness they always showed for any special enterprise. I do
not remember ever to have had the slightest difficulty in
obtaining volunteers, but rather in keeping down the number. The previous
pages include many illustrations of this, as well as of then: endurance
of pain and discomfort. For instance, one of my lieutenants, a very
daring Irishman, who had served for eight years as a sergeant of
regular artillery in Texas, Utah, and South Carolina, said he had never
been engaged in anything so risky as our raid up the St. Mary's. But in
truth it seems to me a mere absurdity to deliberately argue the question
of courage, as applied to men among whom I waked and slept, day and
night, for so many months together. As well might he who has been wandering
for years upon the desert, with a Bedouin escort, discuss the courage of
the men whose tents have been his shelter and whose spears his guard.
We, their officers, did not go there to teach lessons, but to receive
them. There were more than a hundred men in the ranks who had voluntarily
met more dangers in then" escape from slavery than any of my young
captains had incurred in all their lives.
There was a family named Wilson, I remember, of which we had
several representatives. Three or four brothers had planned an escape from
the interior to our lines; they finally decided that the youngest
should stay and take care of the old mother; the rest, with their sister
and her children, came in a "dug-out" down one of the rivers. They
were fired upon, again and again, by the pickets along the banks,
until finally every man on board was wounded; and still they got
safely through. When the bullets began to fly about them, the woman
shed tears, and her little girl of nine said to her, "Don't cry,
mother, Jesus will help you," and then the child began praying as the
wounded men still urged the boat along. This the mother told me, but I
had previously heard it from on officer who was on the gunboat that
picked them up,--a big, rough man, whose voice fairly broke as he
described their appearance. He said that the mother and child had been hid
for nine months in the woods before attempting their escape, and the
child would speak to no one,--indeed, she hardly would when she came to
our camp. She was almost white, and this officer wished to adopt her,
but the mother said, "I would do anything but that for oonah,"
this being a sort of Indian formation of the second-person-plural, such
as they sometimes use. This same officer afterwards saw a reward
offered for this family in a Savannah paper.
I used to think that I should not care to read "Uncle Tom's Cabin"
hi our camp; it would have seemed tame. Any group of men in a tent
would have had more exciting tales to tell. I needed no fiction when I
had Fanny Wright, for instance, daily passing to and fro before my
tent, with her shy little girl clinging to her skirts. Fanny was a
modest little mulatto woman, a soldier's wife, and a company laundress. She
had escaped from the main-land in a boat, with that child and another.
Her baby was shot dead in her arms, and she reached our lines with one
child safe on earth and the other in heaven. I never found it needful to
give any elementary instructions in courage to Fanny's husband, you may be
There was another family of brothers in the regiment named Miller.
Their grandmother, a fine-looking old woman, nearly seventy, I should
think, but erect as a pine-tree, used sometimes to come and visit them. She
and her husband had once tried to escape from a plantation near
Savannah. They had failed, and had been brought back; the husband had
received five hundred lashes, and while the white men on the plantation
were viewing the punishment, she was collecting her children
and grandchildren, to the number of twenty-two, in a neighboring
marsh, preparatory to another attempt that night. They found a flat-boat
which had been rejected as unseaworthy, got on board,--still under the
old woman's orders,--and drifted forty miles down the river to our
lines. Trowbridge happened to be on board the gunboat which picked them up,
and he said that when the "flat" touched the side of the vessel,
the grandmother rose to her full height, with her youngest grandchild in
her arms, and said only, "My God! are we free?" By one of those
coincidences of which life is full, her husband escaped also, after his
punishment, and was taken up by the same gunboat.
I hardly need point out that my young lieutenants did not have to
teach the principles of courage to this woman's grandchildren.
I often asked myself why it was that, with this capacity of daring
and endurance, they had not kept the land in a perpetual flame
of insurrection; why, especially since the opening of the war, they
had kept so still. The answer was to be found in the peculiar temperament
of the races, in their religious faith, and in the habit of patience
that centuries had fortified. The shrewder men all said substantially
the same thing. What was the use of insurrection, where everything
was against them? They had no knowledge, no money, no arms, no drill,
no organization,--above all, no mutual confidence. It was the
tradition among them that all insurrections were always betrayed by somebody.
They had no mountain passes to defend like the Maroons of
Jamaica,--no unpenetrable swamps, like the Maroons of Surinam. Where they had
these, even on a small scale, they had used them,--as in certain swamps
round Savannah and in the everglades of Florida, where they united with
the Indians, and would stand fire--so I was told by General Saxton, who
had fought them there--when the Indians would retreat.
It always seemed to me that, had I been a slave, my life would have
been one long scheme of insurrection. But I learned to respect the
patient self-control of those who had waited till the course of events
should open a better way. When it came they accepted it. Insurrection on
their part would at once have divided the Northern sentiment; and a large
part of our army would have joined with the Southern army to hunt them
down. By their waiting till we needed them, their freedom was secured.
Two things chiefly surprised me in their feeling toward their
former masters,--the absence of affection and the absence of revenge.
I expected to find a good deal of the patriarchal feeling. It
always seemed to me a very ill-applied emotion, as connected with the
facts and laws of American slavery,--still I expected to find it. I
suppose that my men and their families and visitors may have had as much of
it as the mass of freed slaves; but certainly they had not a particle.
I never could cajole one of them, in his most discontented moment,
into regretting "ole mas'r time" for a single instant. I never heard
one speak of the masters except as natural enemies. Yet they
were perfectly discriminating as to individuals; many of them claimed
to have had kind owners, and some expressed great gratitude to them
for particular favors received. It was not the individuals, but
the ownership, of which they complained. That they saw to be a wrong
which no special kindnesses could right. On this, as on all points
connected with slavery, they understood the matter as clearly as Garrison
or Phillips; the wisest philosophy could teach them nothing as to
that, nor could any false philosophy befog them. After all,
personal experience is the best logician.
Certainly this indifference did not proceed from any want of
personal affection, for they were the most affectionate people among whom I
had ever lived. They attached themselves to every officer who deserved
love, and to some who did not; and if they failed to show it to their
masters, it proved the wrongfulness of the mastery. On the other hand,
they rarely showed one gleam of revenge, and I shall never forget
the self-control with which one of our best sergeants pointed out to me,
at Jacksonville, the very place where one of his brothers had been
hanged by the whites for leading a party of fugitive slaves. He spoke of it
as a historic matter, without any bearing on the present issue.
But side by side with this faculty of patience, there was a
certain tropical element in the men, a sort of fiery ecstasy when
aroused, which seemed to link them by blood with the French Turcos, and
made them really resemble their natural enemies, the Celts, far more
than the Anglo-Saxon temperament. To balance this there were
great individual resources when alone,--a sort of Indian wiliness
and subtlety of resource. Their gregariousness and love of drill made
them more easy to keep in hand than white American troops, who rather
like to straggle or go in little squads, looking out for
themselves, without being bothered with officers. The blacks prefer
The point of inferiority that I always feared, though I never
had occasion to prove it, was that they might show less fibre, less
tough and dogged resistance, than whites, during a prolonged trial,--a
long, disastrous march, for instance, or the hopeless defence of a
besieged town. I should not be afraid of their mutinying or running away, but
of their drooping and dying. It might not turn out so; but I mention it
for the sake of fairness, and to avoid overstating the merits of
these troops. As to the simple general fact of courage and reliability I
think no officer in our camp ever thought of there being any
difference between black and white. And certainly the opinions of these
officers, who for years risked their lives every moment on the fidelity of
their men, were worth more than those of all the world beside.
No doubt there were reasons why this particular war was an
especially favorable test of the colored soldiers. They had more to fight for
than the whites. Besides the flag and the Union, they had home and wife
and child. They fought with ropes round their necks, and when orders
were issued that the officers of colored troops should be put to death
on capture, they took a grim satisfaction. It helped their esprit de
corps immensely. With us, at least, there was to be no play-soldier.
Though they had begun with a slight feeling of inferiority to the white
troops, this compliment substituted a peculiar sense of self-respect. And
even when the new colored regiments began to arrive from the North my
men still pointed out this difference,--that in case of ultimate defeat,
the Northern troops, black or white, would go home, while the First
South Carolina must fight it out or be re-enslaved. This was one thing
that made the St. John's River so attractive to them and even to me;--it
was so much nearer the everglades. I used seriously to ponder, during
the darker periods of the war, whether I might not end my days as
an outlaw,--a leader of Maroons.
Meanwhile, I used to try to make some capital for the Northern
troops, in their estimate, by pointing out that it was a disinterested thing
in these men from the free States, to come down there and fight, that
the slaves might be free. But they were apt keenly to reply, that many
of the white soldiers disavowed this object, and said that that was not
the object of the war, nor even likely to be its end. Some of them
even repeated Mr. Seward's unfortunate words to Mr. Adams, which some
general had been heard to quote. So, on the whole, I took nothing by the
motion, as was apt to be the case with those who spoke a good word for
our Government, in those vacillating and half proslavery days.
At any rate, this ungenerous discouragement had this good effect,
that it touched their pride; they would deserve justice, even if they did
not obtain it. This pride was afterwards severely tested during
the disgraceful period when the party of repudiation in Congress
temporarily deprived them of their promised pay. In my regiment the men
never mutinied, nor even threatened mutiny; they seemed to make it a matter
of honor to do then: part, even if the Government proved a defaulter;
but one third of them, including the best men in the regiment,
quietly refused to take a dollar's pay, at the reduced price. "We'se gib
our sogerin' to de Guv'ment, Gunnel," they said, "but we won't
'spise ourselves so much for take de seben dollar." They even made
a contemptuous ballad, of which I once caught a snatch.
"Ten dollar a month! Tree ob dat for
clothin'l Go to Washington Fight for Linkum's
This "Lincoln's daughter" stood for the Goddess of Liberty, it
would seem. They would be true to her, but they would not take the
half-pay. This was contrary to my advice, and to that of other officers; but
I now think it was wise. Nothing less than this would have called
the attention of the American people to this outrageous fraud.*
* See Appendix.
The same slow forecast had often marked their action in other ways.
One of our ablest sergeants, Henry Mclntyre, who had earned two dollars
and a half per day as a master-carpenter in Florida, and paid one dollar
and a half to his master, told me that he had deliberately refrained
from learning to read, because that knowledge exposed the slaves to so
much more watching and suspicion. This man and a few others had built
on contract the greater part of the town of Micanopy in Florida, and was
a thriving man when his accustomed discretion failed for once, and he
lost all. He named his child William Lincoln, and it brought upon him
such suspicion that he had to make his escape.
I cannot conceive what people at the North mean by speaking of
the negroes as a bestial or brutal race. Except in some insensibility
to animal pain, I never knew of an act in my regiment which I should
call brutal. In reading Kay's "Condition of the English Peasantry" I
was constantly struck with the unlikeness of my men to those
therein described. This could not proceed from my prejudices as an
abolitionist, for they would have led me the other way, and indeed I had once
written a little essay to show the brutalizing influences of slavery. I
learned to think that we abolitionists had underrated the suffering produced
by slavery among the negroes, but had overrated the demoralization.
Or rather, we did not know how the religious temperament of the negroes
had checked the demoralization. Yet again, it must be admitted that
this temperament, born of sorrow and oppression, is far more marked in
the slave than in the native African.
Theorize as we may, there was certainly in our camp an average tone
of propriety which all visitors noticed, and which was not created,
but only preserved by discipline. I was always struck, not merely by
the courtesy of the men, but also by a certain sober decency of
language. If a man had to report to me any disagreeable fact, for instance,
he was sure to do it with gravity and decorum, and not blurt it out in
an offensive way. And it certainly was a significant fact that the
ladies of our camp, when we were so fortunate as to have such guests,
the young wives, especially, of the adjutant and quartermaster, used to
go among the tents when the men were off duty, in order to hear their
big pupils read and spell, without the slightest fear of annoyance. I
do not mean direct annoyance or insult, for no man who valued his
life would have ventured that in presence of the others, but I mean
the annoyance of accidentally seeing or hearing improprieties not
intended for them. They both declared that they would not have moved about
with anything like the same freedom in any white camp they had
ever entered, and it always roused their indignation to hear the negro
race called brutal or depraved.
This came partly from natural good manners, partly from the habit
of deference, partly from ignorance of the refined and ingenious evil
which is learned in large towns; but a large part came from their
strongly religious temperament. Their comparative freedom from swearing,
for instance,--an abstinence which I fear military life did not
strengthen,-- was partly a matter of principle. Once I heard one of them say
to another, in a transport of indignation, "Ha-a-a, boy, s'pose I no be
a Christian, I cuss you sol"--which was certainly drawing pretty hard
upon the bridle. "Cuss," however, was a generic term for all manner of
evil speaking; they would say, "He cuss me fool," or "He cuss me coward,"
as if the essence of propriety were in harsh and angry speech,--which
I take to be good ethics. But certainly, if Uncle Toby could
have recruited his army in Flanders from our ranks, their swearing would
have ceased to be historic.
It used to seem to me that never, since Cromwell's time, had there been
soldiers in whom the religious element held such a place. "A religious army,"
"a gospel army," were their frequent phrases. In their prayer-meetings there
was always a mingling, often quaint enough, of the warlike and the pious. "If
each one of us was a praying man," said Corporal Thomas Long in a sermon, "it
appears to me that we could fight as well with prayers as with bullets,--for
the Lord has said that if you have faith even as a grain of mustard-seed cut
into four parts, you can say to the sycamore-tree, Arise, and it will
come up." And though Corporal Long may have got a little perplexed in
his botany, his faith proved itself by works, for he volunteered and
went many miles on a solitary scouting expedition into the enemy's
country in Florida, and got back safe, after I had given him up for
The extremes of religious enthusiasm I did not venture to encourage,
for I could not do it honestly; neither did I discourage them, but
simply treated them with respect, and let them have their way, so long as
they did not interfere with discipline. In general they promoted it.
The mischievous little drummer-boys, whose scrapes and quarrels were
the torment of my existence, might be seen kneeling together in their
tents to say their prayers at night, and I could hope that their slumbers
were blessed by some spirit of peace, such as certainly did not rule
over their waking. The most reckless and daring fellows in the regiment
were perfect fatalists in theur confidence that God would watch over
them, and that if they died, it would be because theur time had come.
This almost excessive faith, and the love of freedom and of their
families, all co-operated with their pride as soldiers to make them do their
duty. I could not have spared any of these incentives. Those of our
officers who were personally the least influenced by such considerations,
still saw the need of encouraging them among the men.
I am bound to say that this strongly devotional turn was not
always accompanied by the practical virtues; but neither was it
strikingly divorced from them. A few men, I remember, who belonged to the
ancient order of hypocrites, but not many. Old Jim Cushman was our
favorite representative scamp. He used to vex his righteous soul over
the admission of the unregenerate to prayer-meetings, and went off
once shaking his head and muttering, "Too much goat shout wid de sheep."
But he who objected to this profane admixture used to get our mess-funds
far more hopelessly mixed with his own, when he went out to buy
chickens. And I remember that, on being asked by our Major, in that
semi-Ethiopian dialect into which we sometimes slid, "How much wife you got,
Jim?" the veteran replied, with a sort of penitence for lost opportunities,
"On'y but four, Sahl"
Another man of somewhat similar quality went among us by the name
of Henry Ward Beecher, from a remarkable resemblance in face and figure to
that sturdy divine. I always felt a sort of admiration for this worthy,
because of the thoroughness with which he outwitted me, and the sublime
impudence in which he culminated. He got a series of passes from me, every
week or two, to go and see his wife on a neighboring plantation, and finally,
when this resource seemed exhausted, he came boldly for one more pass, that
he might go and be married.
We used to quote him a good deal, also, as a sample of a
certain Shakespearian boldness of personification in which the men
sometimes indulged. Once, I remember, his captain had given him a
fowling-piece to clean. Henry Ward had left it in the captain's tent, and the
latter, finding it, had transferred the job to some one else.
Then came a confession, in this precise form, with many
"Cappen! I took dat gun, and I put bun in Cappen tent. Den I look,
and de gun not dar! Den Conscience say, Cappen mus' hab gib dat gun
to somebody else for clean. Den I say, Conscience, you reason correck."
Compare Lancelot Gobbo's soliloquy in the "Two Gentlemen of Verona"!
Still, I maintain that, as a whole, the men were remarkably free
from inconvenient vices. There was no more lying and stealing than in
average white regiments. The surgeon was not much troubled by shamming
sickness, and there were not a great many complaints of theft. There was
less quarrelling than among white soldiers, and scarcely ever an instance
of drunkenness. Perhaps the influence of their officers had something to
do with this; for not a ration of whiskey was ever issued to the men,
nor did I ever touch it, while in the army, nor approve a requisition
for any of the officers, without which it could not easily be obtained.
In this respect our surgeons fortunately agreed with me, and we never
had reason to regret it. I believe the use of ardent spirits to be
as useless and injurious in the army as on board ship, and among
the colored troops, especially, who had never been accustomed to it, I
think that it did only harm.
The point of greatest laxity in their moral habits--the want of a
high standard of chastity--was not one which affected their camp life
to any great extent, and it therefore came less under my observation.
But I found to my relief that, whatever their deficiency in this
respect, it was modified by the general quality of their temperament,
and indicated rather a softening and relaxation than a hardening
and brutalizing of their moral natures. Any insult or violence in
this direction was a thing unknown. I never heard of an instance. It
was not uncommon for men to have two or three wives in
different plantations,--the second, or remoter, partner being called a
"'broad wife,"--i.e. wife abroad. But the whole tendency was toward
marriage, and this state of things was only regarded as a bequest from
I knew a great deal about their marriages, for they often consulted
me, and took my counsel as lovers are wont to do,--that is, when it
pleased their fancy. Sometimes they would consult their captains first, and
then come to me in despairing appeal. "Cap'n Scroby [Trowbridge] he acvise
me not for marry dis lady, 'cause she hab seben cbil'en. What for
use? Cap'n Scroby can't lub for me. I mus' lub for myself, and I lub he."
I remember that on this occasion "he" stood by, a most unattractive
woman, jet black, with an old pink muslin dress, torn white cotton gloves,
and a very flowery bonnet, that must have descended through generations
of tawdry mistresses.
I felt myself compelled to reaffirm the decision of the inferior
court. The result was as usual. They were married the next day, and I
believe that she proved an excellent wife, though she had seven children,
whose father was also in the regiment. If she did not, I know many others
who did, and certainly I have never seen more faithful or more
happy marriages than among that people.
The question was often asked, whether the Southern slaves or
the Northern free blacks made the best soldiers. It was a compliment
to both classes that each officer usually preferred those whom he
had personally commanded. I preferred those who had been slaves, for
their greater docility and affectionateness, for the powerful
stimulus which their new freedom gave, and for the fact that they
were fighting, in a manner, for their own homes and firesides. Every one
of these considerations afforded a special aid to discipline, and cemented
a peculiar tie of sympathy between them and their officers. They seemed like
clansmen, and had a more confiding and filial relation to us than seemed to
me to exist in the Northern colored regiments.
So far as the mere habits of slavery went, they were a poor
preparation for military duty. Inexperienced officers often assumed that,
because these men had been slaves before enlistment, they would bear to
be treated as such afterwards. Experience proved the contrary. The
more strongly we marked the difference between the slave and the soldier,
the better for the regiment. One half of military duty lies in
obedience, the other half in self-respect. A soldier without self-respect
is worthless. Consequently there were no regiments in which it was
so important to observe the courtesies and proprieties of military life
as in these. I had to caution the officers to be more than
usually particular in returning the salutations of the men; to be very
careful in their dealings with those on picket or guard-duty; and on no
account to omit the titles of the non-commissioned officers. So, in dealing
out punishments, we had carefully to avoid all that was brutal
and arbitrary, all that savored of the overseer. Any such dealing found
them as obstinate and contemptuous as was Topsy when Miss Ophelia
undertook to chastise her. A system of light punishments, rigidly
administered according to the prescribed military forms, had more weight with
them than any amount of angry severity. To make them feel as remote
as possible from the plantation, this was essential. By adhering to
this, and constantly appealing to their pride as soldiers and their sense
of duty, we were able to maintain a high standard of discipline,--so,
at least, the inspecting officers said,--and to get rid, almost entirely,
of the more degrading class of punishments,--standing on barrels, tying
up by the thumbs, and the ball and chain.
In all ways we had to educate their self-respect. For instance, at first
they disliked to obey their own non-commissioned officers. "I don't want him
to play de white man ober me," was a sincere objection. They had been so
impressed with a sense of inferiority that the distinction extended to the
very principles of honor. "I ain't got colored-man principles," said Corporal
London Simmons, indignantly defending himself from some charge before me.
"I'se got white-gemman principles. I'se do my best. If Cap'n tell me to take
a man, s'pose de man be as big as a house, I'll clam hold on him till I die,
inception [excepting] I'm sick."
But it was plain that this feeling was a bequest of slavery,
which military life would wear off. We impressed it upon them that they
did not obey their officers because they were white, but because they
were their officers, just as the Captain must obey me, and I the
General; that we were all subject to military law, and protected by it in
turn. Then we taught them to take pride in having good material
for noncommissioned officers among themselves, and in obeying them. On
my arrival there was one white first sergeant, and it was a
question whether to appoint others. This I prevented, but left that one,
hoping the men themselves would at last petition for his removal, which
at length they did. He was at once detailed on other duty.
The picturesqueness of the regiment suffered, for he was very tall and
fair, and I liked to see him step forward in the centre when the line of
first sergeants came together at dress-parade. But it was a help to
discipline to eliminate the Saxon, for it recognized a principle.
Afterwards I had excellent battalion-drills without a single
white officer, by way of experiment; putting each company under a
sergeant, and going through the most difficult movements, such
as division-columns and oblique-squares. And as to actual discipline,
it is doing no injustice to the line-officers of the regiment to say
that none of them received from the men more implicit obedience
than Color-Sergeant Rivers. I should have tried to obtain commissions
for him and several others before I left the regiment, had their
literary education been sufficient; and such an attempt was finally made
by Lieutenant-Colonel Trowbridge, my successor in immediate command,
but it proved unsuccessful. It always seemed to me an insult to
those brave men to have novices put over their heads, on the ground of
color alone; and the men felt it the more keenly as they remained longer
in service. There were more than seven hundred enlisted men in
the regiment, when mustered out after more than three years' service.
The ranks had been kept full by enlistment, but there were only
fourteen line-officers instead of the full thirty. The men who should
have filled those vacancies were doing duty as sergeants in the ranks.
In what respect were the colored troops a source of disappointment?
To me in one respect only,--that of health. Their health improved,
indeed, as they grew more familiar with military life; but I think that
neither their physical nor moral temperament gave them that toughness,
that obstinate purpose of living, which sustains the more
materialistic Anglo-Saxon. They had not, to be sure, the same predominant
diseases, suffering in the pulmonary, not in the digestive organs; but
they suffered a good deal. They felt malaria less, but they were more
easily choked by dust and made ill by dampness. On the other hand,
they submitted more readily to sanitary measures than whites, and,
with efficient officers, were more easily kept clean. They were
injured throughout the army by an undue share of fatigue duty, which is not
only exhausting but demoralizing to a soldier; by the un-suitableness of
the rations, which gave them salt meat instead of rice and hominy; and
by the lack of good medical attendance. Their childlike
constitutions peculiarly needed prompt and efficient surgical care; but
almost all the colored troops were enlisted late in the war, when it was hard
to get good surgeons for any regiments, and especially for these. In
this respect I had nothing to complain of, since there were no surgeons
in the army for whom I would have exchanged my own.
And this late arrival on the scene affected not only the
medical supervision of the colored troops, but their opportunity for a
career. It is not my province to write their history, nor to vindicate
them, nor to follow them upon those larger fields compared with which
the adventures of my regiment appear but a partisan warfare. Yet this,
at least, may be said. The operations on the South Atlantic coast,
which long seemed a merely subordinate and incidental part of the
great contest, proved to be one of the final pivots on which it turned.
All now admit that the fate of the Confederacy was decided by
Sherman's march to the sea. Port Royal was the objective point to which
he marched, and he found the Department of the South, when he reached
it, held almost exclusively by colored troops. Next to the merit of
those who made the march was that of those who held open the door.
That service will always remain among the laurels of the black
My personal forebodings proved to be correct, and so were the threats
of the surgeons. In May, 1864, I went home invalided, was compelled
to resign in October from the same cause, and never saw the First
South Carolina again. Nor did any one else see it under that appellation,
for about that time its name was changed to the Thirty-Third United
States Colored Troops, "a most vague and heartless baptism," as the man in
the story says. It was one of those instances of injudicious sacrifice
of esprit de corps which were so frequent in our army. All the pride
of my men was centred in "de Fus' Souf"; the very words were a
recognition of the loyal South as against the disloyal. To make the matter
worse, it had been originally designed to apply the new numbering only to the
new regiments, and so the early numbers were all taken up before the
older regiments came in. The governors of States, by especial effort,
saved their colored troops from this chagrin; but we found here, as more
than once before, the disadvantage of having no governor to stand by
us. "It's a far cry to Loch Awe," said the Highland proverb. We knew to
our cost that it was a far cry to Washington in those days, unless
an officer left his duty and stayed there all the time.
In June, 1864, the regiment was ordered to Folly Island, and
remained there and on Cole's Island till the siege of Charleston was done.
It took part in the battle of Honey Hill, and in the capture of a fort
on James Island, of which Corporal Robert Vendross wrote triumphantly in
a letter, "When we took the pieces we found that we recapt our own
pieces back that we lost on Willtown Revear (River) and thank the Lord did
not lose but seven men out of our regiment."
In February, 1865, the regiment was ordered to Charleston to do
provost and guard duty, in March to Savannah, in June to Hamburg and Aiken,
in September to Charleston and its neighborhood, and was finally
mustered out of service--after being detained beyond its three years, so
great was the scarcity of troops--on the 9th of February, 1866. With
dramatic fitness this muster-out took place at Fort Wagner, above the graves
of Shaw and his men. I give in the Appendix the farewell address
of Lieutenant-Colonel Trowbridge, who commanded the regiment from the
time I left it. Brevet Brigadier-General W. T. Bennett, of the One
Hundred and Second United States Colored Troops, who was assigned to
the command, never actually held it, being always in charge of a
The officers and men are scattered far and wide. One of our captains was
a member of the South Carolina Constitutional Convention, and is now State
Treasurer; three of our sergeants were in that Convention, including Sergeant
Prince Rivers; and he and Sergeant Henry Hayne are still members of the State
Legislature. Both in that State and hi Florida the former members of the
regiment are generally prospering, so far as I can hear. The increased
self-respect of army life fitted them to do the duties of civil life. It is
not in nature that the jealousy of race should die out in this generation,
but I trust they will not see the fulfilment of Corporal Simon Cram's
prediction. Simon was one of the shrewdest old fellows in the regiment, and
he said to me once, as he was jogging out of Beaufort behind me, on the
Shell Road, "I'se goin' to leave de Souf, Cunnel, when de war is over.
I'se made up my mind dat dese yere Secesh will neber be cibilized in
The only member of the regiment whom I have seen since leaving it is
a young man, Cyrus Wiggins, who was brought off from the main-land in
a dug-out, in broad day, before the very eyes of the rebel pickets,
by Captain James S. Rogers, of my regiment. It was one of the most
daring acts I ever saw, and as it happened under my own observation I was
glad when the Captain took home with him this "captive of his bow and
spear" to be educated under his eye in Massachusetts. Cyrus has done credit
to his friends, and will be satisfied with nothing short of
a college-training at Howard University. I have letters from the men,
very quaint in handwriting and spelling; but he is the only one whom I
have seen. Some time I hope to revisit those scenes, and shall feel,
no doubt, like a bewildered Rip Van Winkle who once wore uniform.
We who served with the black troops have this peculiar
satisfaction, that, whatever dignity or sacredness the memories of the war
may have to others, they have more to us. In that contest all the ordinary
ties of patriotism were the same, of course, to us as to the rest; they had
no motives which we had not, as they have now no memories which are
not also ours. But the peculiar privilege of associating with an
outcast race, of training it to defend its rights and to perform its
duties, this was our especial meed. The vacillating policy of the
Government sometimes filled other officers with doubt and shame; until the
negro had justice, they were but defending liberty with one hand and
crushing it with the other. From this inconsistency we were free. Whatever
the Government did, we at least were working in the right direction.
If this was not recognized on our side of the lines, we knew that it
was admitted on the other. Fighting with ropes round our necks, denied
the ordinary courtesies of war till we ourselves compelled then:
concession, we could at least turn this outlawry into a compliment. We had
touched the pivot of the war. Whether this vast and dusky mass should prove
the weakness of the nation or its strength, must depend in great measure,
we knew, upon our efforts. Till the blacks were armed, there was
no guaranty of their freedom. It was their demeanor under arms that
shamed the nation into recognizing them as men.
Roster of Officers
FIRST SOUTH CAROLINA VOLUNTEERS,
Afterwards Thirty-Third United States Colored Troops.
T. W. HIGGINSON, 51st Mass. Vols., Nov. 10, 1862; Resigned,
Oct. 27, 1864. WM. T. BENNETT, 102d U. S. C. T., Dec. 18, 1864; Mustered
LIBERTY BILLINGS, Civil Life, Nov. 1, 1862; Dismissed by
Examining Board, July 28, 1863.
JOHN D. STRONG, Promotion, July 28, 1863; Resigned, Aug. 15, 1864.
CHAS. T. TROWBRIDGE, Promotion, Dec. 9, 1864; Mustered out, &c.
JOHN D. STRONG, Civil Life, Oct. 21, 1862; Lt-Col., July 28, 1863.
T. TROWBRIDGE, Promotion, Aug. 11, 1863; Lt.-Col., Dec. 9, 1864.
H. A. WHTTNEY, Promotion, Dec. 9, 1864; Mustered out, &c.
SETH ROGERS, Civil Life, Dec. 2, 1862; Resigned, Dec. 21, 1863.
WM. B. CRANDALL, 29th Ct, June 8, 1864; Mustered out, &c.
J. M. HAWKS, Civil Life, Oct 20, 1862; Surgeon 3d S. C. Vols.,
Oct. 29, 1863.
THOS. T. MINOR, 7th Ct., Jan. 8, 1863; Resigned, Nov. 21, 1864.
E. S. STUARD, Civil Life, Sept. 4, 1865; Mustered out, &c.
JAS. H. FOWLER, Civil Life, Oct. 24, 1862; Mustered out, &c.
CHAS. T. TROWBRIDGE, N. Y. Vol. Eng., Oct. 13, 1862; Major, Aug. 11,
WM. JAMES, 100th Pa., Oct. 13, 1862; Mustered out, &c.
W. J. RANDOLPH, 100th Pa., Oct. 13, 1862; Resigned, Jan. 29, 1864.
H. A. WHITNEY, 8th Me., Oct. 13, 1862; Major, Dec. 9, 1864.
ALEX. HEASLEY, 100th Pa., Oct 13, 1862; Killed at Augusta, Ga., Sept. 6,
GEORGE DOLLY, 8th Me., Nov. 1, 1862; Resigned, Oct. 30, 1863.
L. W. METCALF, 8th Me., Nov. 11, 1862; Mustered out, &c.
JAS. H. TONKING, N. Y. Vol. Eng., Nov. 17, 1862; Resigned,
July 28, 1863.
JAS. S. ROGERS, 51st Mass., Dec. 6, 1862; Resigned, Oct. 20, 1863.
J. H. THIBADEAU, Promotion, Jan. 10, 1863; Mustered out,
GEORGE D. WALKER, Promotion, July 28, 1863; Resigned, Sept 1,
WM. H. DANILSON, Promotion, July 28, 1863; Major 128th U. S. C. T., May,
1865 [now 1st Lt 40th U. S. Infantry].
WM. W. SAMPSON, Promotion, Nov. 5, 1863; Mustered out, &c.
JOHN M. THOMPSON, Promotion, Nov. 7, 1863; Mustered out, &c. [Now
1st Lt. and Bvt Capt. 38th U. S. Infy.]
ABR. W. JACKSON, Promotion, April 30, 1864; Resigned, Aug. 15, 1865.
NILES G. PARKER, Promotion, Feb., 1865; Mustered out, &c.
CHAS. W. HOOPER, Promotion, Sept, 1865; Mustered out, &c.
E. C. MERMAM, Promotion, Sept., 1865; Resigned, Dec. 4, 1865.
E. W. ROBBINS, Promotion, Nov. 1, 1865; Mustered out, &c.
N. S. WHITE, Promotion, Nov. 18, 1865; Mustered out, &c.
G. W. DEWHURST (Adjutant), Civil Life, Oct 20, 1862; Resigned, Aug. 31,
J. M. BINOHAM (Quartermaster), Civil Life, Oct. 20, 1862; Died from
effect of exhaustion on a military expedition, July 20, 1863.
G. M. CHAMBERUN (Quartermaster), llth Mass. Battery, Aug. 29, 1863;
Mustered out, &c.
GEO. D. WALKER, N. Y. VoL Eng., Oct 13, 1862; Captain, Aug. 11,
W. H. DANILSON, 48th N. Y., Oct 13, 1862; Captain, July 26, 1863.
J. H. THTBADEAU, 8th Me., Oct 13, 1862; Captain, Jan. 10, 1863.
EPHRAIM P. WHITE, 8th Me., Nov. 14, 1862; Resigned, March 9, 1864.
JAS. POMEROY, 100th Pa., Oct 13,1862; Resigned, Feb. 9, 1863.
JAS. F. JOHNSTON, 100th Pa., Oct 13, 1862; Resigned, March
JESSE FISHER, 48th N. Y., Oct 13, 1862; Resigned, Jan. 26, 1863.
CHAS. I. DAVIS, 8th Me., Oct 13, 1862; Resigned, Feb. 28, 1863.
WM. STOCKDALE, 8th Me., Oct 13, 1862; Resigned, May 2, 1863.
JAS. B. O'NEIL, Promotion, Jan. 10, 1863; Resigned, May 2, 1863.
W. W. SAMPSON, Promotion, Jan. 10, 1863; Captain, Oct 30,
1863. J. M. THOMPSON, Promotion, Jan. 27, 1863; Captain, Oct. 30,
1863. R. M. GASTON, Promotion, April 15, 1863; Killed at Coosaw Ferry,
S. C., May 27, 1863.
JAS. B. WEST, Promotion, Feb. 28, 1863; Resigned, June 14, 1865.
N. G. PARKER, Promotion, May 5, 1863; Captain, Feb., 1865.
W. H. HYDE, Promotion, May 5, 1863; Resigned, April 3, 1865.
HENRY A. STONE, 8th Me., June 26, 1863; Resigned, Dec. 16, 1864.
J. A. TROWBRTDGE, Promotion, Aug. 11, 1863; Resigned, Nov.
A. W. JACKSON, Promotion, Aug. 26, 1863; Captain, April 30, 1864.
CHAS. E. PARKER, Promotion, Aug. 26, 1863; Resigned, Nov.
CHAS. W. HOOPER, Promotion, Nov. 8, 1863; Captain, Sept., 1865.
E. C. MERRIAM, Promotion, Nov. 19, 1863; Captain, Sept., 1865.
HENRY A. BEACH, Promotion, April 30, 1864; Resigned, Sept
E. W. ROBBINS, Promotion, April 30, 1864; Captain, Nov. 1, 1865.
ASA CHILD, Promotion, Sept, 1865; Mastered out, &c.
N. S. WHITE, Promotion, Sept, 1865; Captain, Nov. 18, 1865.
F. S. GOODRICH, Promotion, Oct., 1865; Mustered out, &c.
E. W. HYDE, Promotion, Oct 27, 1865; Mustered out, &c.
HENRY WOOD, Promotion, Nov., 1865; Mustered out, &c.
J. A. TROWBMDGE, N. Y. Vol. Eng., Oct 13, 1862; First Lt, Aug. 11,
JAS. B. O-NBIL, 1st U. S. Art'y, Oct 13, 1862; First Lt, Jan.
W. W. SAMPSON, 8th Me., Oct 13, 1862; First Lt, Jan 10, 1863.
J. M. THOMPSON, 7th N. H., Oct 13, 1862; First Lt, Jan. 27,
R. M. GASTON, 100th Pa., Oct. 13, 1862; First Lt, April 15, 1863.
W. H. HYDE, 6th Ct, Oct 13, 1862; First Lt, May 5, 1863.
JAS. B. WEST, 100th Pa., Oct. 13. 1862; First Lt, Feb. 28, 1863.
HARRY C. WEST, 100th Pa., Oct 13, 1862; Resigned, Nov. 4, 1864.
E. C. MERRIAM, 8th Me., Nov. 17, 1862; First Lt., Nov. 19, 1863.
CHAS. E. PARKER, 8th Me., Nov. 17, 1862; First Lt, Aug.
C. W. HOOPER, N. Y. Vol. Eng., Feb. 17, 1863; First Lt, April 15,
N. G. PARKER, 1st Mass. Cavalry, March, 1863; First Lt, May 5,
A. H. TIRRELL, 1st Mass. Cav., March 6, 1863; Resigned, July 22,
A. W. JACKSON, 8th Me., March 6, 1863; First Lt, Aug. 26, 1863.
HENRY A. BEACH, 48th N. Y., April 5, 1863; First Lt, April 30, 1864.
E. W. ROBBINS, 8th Me., April 5, 1863; First Lt, April 30, 1864.
A. B. BROWN, Civil Life, April 17, 1863; Resigned, Nov. 27,
F. M. GOULD, 3d R. I. Battery, June 1, 1863; Resigned, June 8, 1864.
ASA CHILD, 8th Me., Aug. 7, 1863; First Lt, Sept., 1865.
JEROME T. FDRMAN, 52d Pa., Aug. 30, 1863; Killed at Walhalla, S. C.,
Aug. 26, 1865.
JOHN W. SELVAGE, 48th N. Y., Sept 10, 1863; First Lt. 36th U. S. C. T.,
MIRAND W. SAXTON, Civil Life, Nov. 19, 1863; Captain 128th U. S. C. T.,
June 25, 1864 [now Second Lt 38th U. S. Infantry].
NELSON S. WHITE, Dec. 22, 1863; First Lt, Sept., 1865.
EDW. W. HYDE, Civil Life, May 4, 1864; First Lt, Oct. 27, 1865.
F. S. GOODRICH, 115th N. Y., May, 1864; First Lt., Oct., 1865.
B. H. MANNING, Aug. 11, 1864; Capt 128th U. S. C. T., March 17,
R. M. DAVIS, 4th Mass. Cavalry, Nov. 19, 1864; Capt. 104th U. S. C. T.,
May 11, 1865.
HENRY WOOD, N. Y. Vol. Eng., Aug., 1865; First Lt, Nov., 1865.
JOHN M. SEAKLES, 1st N. Y. Mounted Rifles, June 15, 1865; Mustered
Appendix B The First Black Soldiers
It is well known that the first systematic attempt to organize
colored troops during the war of the rebellion was the so-called
"Hunter Regiment." The officer originally detailed to recruit for this
purpose was Sergeant C. T. Trowbridge, of the New York Volunteer Engineers
(Col. Serrell). His detail was dated May 7, 1862, S. O. 84 Dept. South.
Enlistments came in very slowly, and no wonder. The white officers
and soldiers were generally opposed to the experiment, and filled the
ears of the negroes with the same tales which had been told them by
their masters,--that the Yankees really meant to sell them to Cuba, and
the like. The mildest threats were that they would be made to work
without pay (which turned out to be the case), and that they would be put in
the front rank in every battle. Nobody could assure them that they and
their families would be freed by the Government, if they fought for it,
since no such policy had been adopted. Nevertheless, they gradually
enlisted, the most efficient recruiting officer being Sergeant William
Bronson, of Company A, in my regiment, who always prided himself on this
service, and used to sign himself by the very original title, "No. 1,
African Foundations" in commemoration of his deeds.
By patience and tact these obstacles would in time have been
overcome. But before long, unfortunately, some of General Hunter's staff
became impatient, and induced him to take the position that the blacks
must enlist. Accordingly, squads of soldiers were sent to seize all
the able-bodied men on certain plantations, and bring them to the
camp. The immediate consequence was a renewal of the old suspicion,
ending in a widespread belief that they were to be sent to Cuba, as
their masters had predicted. The ultimate result was a habit of
distrust, discontent, and desertion, that it was almost impossible to
surmount. All the men who knew anything about General Hunter believed in
him; but they all knew that there were bad influences around him, and
that the Government had repudiated his promises. They had been kept
four months in service, and then had been dismissed without pay.
That having been the case, why should not the Government equally
repudiate General Saxton's promises or mine? As a matter of fact, the
Govenment did repudiate these pledges for years, though we had its own
written authority to give them. But that matter needs an appendix by
The "Hunter Regiment" remained in camp on Hilton Head Island until
the beginning of August, 1862, kept constantly under drill, but
much demoralized by desertion. It was then disbanded, except one
company. That company, under command of Sergeant Trowbridge, then acting
as Captain, but not commissioned, was kept in service, and was sent
(August 5, 1862) to garrison St. Simon's Island, on the coast of Georgia.
On this island (made famous by Mrs. Kemble's description) there were
then five hundred colored people, and not a single white man.
The black soldiers were sent down on the Ben De Ford, Captain
Hallett. On arriving, Trowbridge was at once informed by Commodore
Goldsborough, naval commander at that station, that there was a party of
rebel guerillas on the island, and was asked whether he would trust
his soldiers in pursuit of them. Trowbridge gladly assented; and
the Commodore added, "If you should capture them, it will be a great
thing for you."
They accordingly went on shore, and found that the colored men of
the island had already undertaken the enterprise. Twenty-five of them
had armed themselves, under the command of one of their own number,
whose name was John Brown. The second in command was Edward Gould, who
was afterwards a corporal in my own regiment The rebel party
retreated before these men, and drew them into a swamp. There was but one
path, and the negroes entered single file. The rebels lay behind a
great log, and fired upon them. John Brown, the leader, fell dead within
six feet of the log,--probably the first black man who fell under arms
in the war,--several other were wounded, and the band of raw
recruits retreated; as did also the rebels, in the opposite direction. This
was the first armed encounter, so far as I know, between the rebels
and their former slaves; and it is worth noticing that the attempt was
a spontaneous thing and not accompanied by any white man. The men were not
soldiers, nor in uniform, though some of them afterwards enlisted in
The father of this John Brown was afterwards a soldier in my
regiment; and, after his discharge for old age, was, for a time, my
servant. "Uncle York," as we called him, was as good a specimen of a saint as
I have ever met, and was quite the equal of Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom."
He was a fine-looking old man, with dignified and courtly manners, and
his gray head was a perfect benediction, as he sat with us on the
platform at our Sunday meetings. He fully believed, to his dying day, that
the "John Brown Song" related to his son, and to him only.
Trowbridge, after landing on the island, hunted the rebels all day
with his colored soldiers, and a posse of sailors. In one place, he found
by a creek a canoe, with a tar-kettle, and a fire burning; and it
was afterwards discovered that, at that very moment, the guerillas were
hid in a dense palmetto thicket, near by, and so eluded pursuit The
rebel leader was one Miles Hazard, who had a plantation on the island, and
the party escaped at last through the aid of his old slave, Henry, who
found them a boat One of my sergeants, Clarence Kennon, who had not
then escaped from slavery, was present when they reached the main-land;
and he described them as being tattered and dirty from head to foot,
after their efforts to escape their pursuers.
When the troops under my command occupied Jacksonville, Fla., in
March of the following year, we found at the railroad station, packed
for departure, a box of papers, some of them valuable. Among them was
a letter from this very Hazard to some friend, describing the perils
of that adventure, and saying, "If you wish to know hell before your
time, go to St Simon's and be hunted ten days by niggers."
I have heard Trowbridge say that not one of his men flinched; and
they seemed to take delight in the pursuit, though the weather was very
hot, and it was fearfully exhausting.
This was early in August; and the company remained two months at
St Simon's, doing picket duty within hearing of the rebel drums,
though not another scout ever ventured on the island, to their
knowledge. Every Saturday Trowbridge summoned the island people to drill with
his soldiers; and they came in hordes, men, women, and children, in
every imaginable garb, to the number of one hundred and fifty or
His own men were poorly clothed and hardly shod at all; and, as no
new supply of uniform was provided, they grew more and more ragged. They
got poor rations, and no pay; but they kept up their spirits. Every week
or so some of them would go on scouting excursions to the main-land;
one scout used to go regularly to his old mother's hut, and keep himself
hid under her bed, while she collected for him all the latest news of
rebel movements. This man never came back without bringing recruits with
At last the news came that Major-General Mitchell had come to
relieve General Hunter, and that Brigadier-General Saxton had gone North;
and Trowbridge went to Hilton Head in some anxiety to see if he and his
men were utterly forgotten. He prepared a report, showing the services
and claims of his men, and took it with him. This was early in
October, 1862. The first person he met was Brigadier-General Saxton, who
informed him that he had authority to organize five thousand colored troops,
and that he (Trowbridge) should be senior captain of the first regiment
This was accordingly done; and Company A of the First South
Carolina could honestly claim to date its enlistment back to May, 1862,
although they never got pay for that period of their service, and their date
of muster was November, IS, 1862.
The above facts were written down from the narration
of Lieutenant-Colonel Trowbridge, who may justly claim to have been
the first white officer to recruit and command colored troops in this
war. He was constantly in command of them from May 9, 1862, to February 9,
Except the Louisiana soldiers mentioned in the Introduction,--of whom
no detailed reports have, I think, been published,--my regiment
was unquestionably the first mustered into the service of the United
States; the first company muster bearing date, November 7, 1862, and the
others following in quick succession.
The second regiment in order of muster was the "First Kansas
Colored," dating from January 13, 1863. The first enlistment in the
Kansas regiment goes back to August 6, 1862; while the earliest
technical date of enlistment in my regiment was October 19, 1862, although,
as was stated above, one company really dated its organization back
to May, 1862. My muster as colonel dates back to November 10,
1862, several months earlier than any other of which I am aware,
among colored regiments, except that of Colonel Stafford (First
Louisiana Native Guards), September 27, 1862. Colonel Williams, of the
"First Kansas Colored," was mustered as lieutenant-colonel on January
13, 1863; as colonel, March 8, 1863. These dates I have (with the
other facts relating to the regiment) from Colonel R. J. Hinton, the
first officer detailed to recruit it.
To sum up the above facts: my late regiment had unquestioned priority
in muster over all but the Louisiana regiments. It had priority over
those in the actual organization and term of service of one company. On
the other hand, the Kansas regiment had the priority in average date
of enlistment, according to the muster-rolls.
The first detachment of the Second South Carolina Volunteers
(Colonel Montgomery) went into camp at Port Royal Island, February 23,
1863, numbering one hundred and twenty men. I do not know the date of
his muster; it was somewhat delayed, but was probably dated back to
about that time.
Recruiting for the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts (colored) began
on February 9, 1863, and the first squad went into camp at
Read-ville, Massachusetts, on February 21, 1863, numbering twenty-five men.
Colonel Shaw's commission (and probably his muster) was dated April 17,
1863. (Report of Adjutant-General of Massachusetts for 1863, pp.
These were the earliest colored regiments, so far as I know.
Appendix C General Saxton's Instructions
[The following are the instructions under which my regiment was
raised. It will be seen how unequivocal were the provisions in respect to
pay, upon which so long and weary a contest was waged by our friends
in Congress, before the fulfilment of the contract could be secured.]
WAR DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON CITY, D. C., August 25, 1862.
GENERAL, Your despatch of the 16th has this moment been received. It
is considered by the Department that the instructions given at the time
of your appointment were sufficient to enable you to do what you have
now requested authority for doing. But in order to place your
authority beyond all doubt, you are hereby authorized and instructed,
1st, To organize in any convenient organization, by squads,
companies, battalions, regiments, and brigades, or otherwise, colored persons
of African descent for volunteer laborers, to a number not exceeding
fifty thousand, and muster them into the service of the United States for
the term of the war, at a rate of compensation not exceeding five
dollars per month for common laborers, and eight dollars per month
for mechanical or skilled laborers, and assign them to the
Quartermaster's Department, to do and perform such laborer's duty as may be
required during the present war, and to be subject to the rules and articles
2d. The laboring forces herein authorized shall, under the order of
the General-in-Chief, or of this Department, be detailed by
the Quartermaster-General for laboring service with the armies of the
United States; and they shall be clothed and subsisted, after enrolment, in
the same manner as other persons in the Quartermaster's service.
3d. In view of the small force under your command, and the inability
of the Government at the present time to increase it, in order to guard
the plantations and settlements occupied by the United States from
invasion, and protect the inhabitants thereof from captivity and murder by
the enemy, you are also authorized to arm, uniform, equip, and receive
into the service of the United States, such number of volunteers of
African descent as you may deem expedient, not exceeding five thousand, and
may detail officers to instruct them in military drill, discipline,
and duty, and to command them. The persons so received into service,
and their officers, to be entitled to, and receive, the same pay and
rations as are allowed, by law, to volunteers in the service.
4th. You will occupy, if possible, all the islands and
plantations heretofore occupied by the Government, and secure and harvest the
crops, and cultivate and improve the plantations.
5th. The population of African descent that cultivate the lands
and perform the labor of the rebels constitute a large share of
their military strength, and enable the white masters to fill the
rebel armies, and wage a cruel and murderous war against the people of
the Northern States. By reducing the laboring strength of the rebels,
their miltary power will be reduced. You are therefore authorized by
every means in your power, to withdraw from the enemy their laboring force
and population, and to spare no effort, consistent with civilized
warfare, to weaken, harass, and annoy them, and to establish the authority of
the Government of the United States within your Department.
6th. You may turn over to the navy any number of colored volunteers
that may be required for the naval service.
7th. By recent act of Congress, all men and boys received into
the service of the United States, who may have been the slaves of
rebel masters, are, with their wives, mothers, and children, declared to
be forever free. You and all in your command will so treat and regard
EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War. BRIGADIER-GENERAL SAXTON.
Appendix D The Struggle for Pay
The story of the attempt to cut down the pay of the colored troops
is too long, too complicated, and too humiliating, to be here narrated. In
the case of my regiment there stood on record the direct pledge of the War
Department to General Saxton that their pay should be the same as that of
whites. So clear was this that our kind paymaster, Major W. J. Wood, of
New Jersey, took upon himself the responsibility of paying the price agreed
upon, for five months, till he was compelled by express orders to reduce it
from thirteen dollars per month to ten dollars, and from that to seven
dollars,--the pay of quartermaster's men and day-laborers. At the same time
the "stoppages" from the pay-rolls for the loss of all equipments and
articles of clothing remained the same as for all other soldiers, so that it
placed the men in the most painful and humiliating condition. Many of them
had families to provide for, and between the actual distress, the sense
of wrong, the taunts of those who had refused to enlist from the fear
of being cheated, and the doubt how much farther the cheat might
be carried, the poor fellows were goaded to the utmost. In the Third South
Carolina regiment, Sergeant William Walker was shot, by order
of court-marital, for leading his company to stack arms before
their captain's tent, on the avowed ground that they were released from
duty by the refusal of the Government to fulfill its share of the
contract. The fear of such tragedies spread a cloud of solicitude over
every camp of colored soldiers for more than a year, and the
following series of letters will show through what wearisome labors the
final triumph of justice was secured. In these labors the chief credit
must be given to my admirable Adjutant, Lieutenant G. W. Dewhurst In
the matter of bounty justice is not yet obtained; there is
a discrimination against those colored soldiers who were slaves on
April 19, 1861. Every officer, who through indolence or benevolent
design claimed on his muster-rolls that all his men had been free on
that day, secured for them the bounty; while every officer who,
like myself, obeyed orders and told the truth in each case, saw his men
and their families suffer for it, as I have done. A bill to abolish
this distinction was introduced by Mr. Wilson at the last session,
but failed to pass the House. It is hoped that next winter may remove
this last vestige of the weary contest
To show how persistently and for how long a period these claims had
to be urged on Congress, I reprint such of my own printed letters on
the subject as are now in my possession. There are one or two of which
I have no copies. It was especially in the Senate that it was so
difficult to get justice done; and our thanks will always be especially due
to Hon. Charles Sumner and Hon. Henry Wilson for their advocacy of
our simple rights. The records of those sessions will show who advocated
To the Editor of the New York Tribune:
SIR,--No one can overstate the intense anxiety with which the officers
of colored regiments in this Department are awaiting action from
Congress in regard to arrears of pay of their men.
It is not a matter of dollars and cents only; it is a question of
common honesty,--whether the United States Government has sufficient
integrity for the fulfillment of an explicit business contract.
The public seems to suppose that all required justice will be done
by the passage of a bill equalizing the pay of all soldiers for the
future. But, so far as my own regiment is concerned, this is but half
the question. My men have been nearly sixteen months in the service, and
for them the immediate issue is the question of arrears.
They understand the matter thoroughly, if the public do not Every one of
them knows that he volunteered under an explicit written assurance from the
War Department that he should have the pay of a white soldier. He knows
that for five months the regiment received that pay, after which it was cut
down from the promised thirteen dollars per month to ten dollars, for some
reason to him inscrutable.
He does not, know for I have not yet dared to tell the men--that
the Paymaster has been already reproved by the Pay Department for
fulfilling even in part the pledges of the War Department; that at the next
payment the ten dollars are to be further reduced to seven; and that, to
crown the whole, all the previous overpay is to be again deducted or
"stopped" from the future wages, thus leaving them a little more than a
dollar a month for six months to come, unless Congress interfere!
Yet so clear were the terms of the contract that Mr. Solicitor
Whiting, having examined the original instructions from the War Department
issued to Brigadier-General Saxton, Military Governor, admits to me (under
date of December 4, 1863,) that "the faith of the Government was
thereby pledged to every officer and soldier enlisted under that call."
He goes on to express the generous confidence that "the pledge will
be honorably fulfilled." I observe that every one at the North seems
to feel the same confidence, but that, meanwhile, the pledge
is unfulfilled. Nothing is said in Congress about fulfilling it. I have
not seen even a proposition in Congress to pay the colored soldiers,
from date of enlistment, the same pay with white soldiers; and yet
anything short of that is an unequivocal breach of contract, so far as
this regiment is concerned.
Meanwhile, the land sales are beginning, and there is danger of
every foot of land being sold from beneath my soldiers' feet, because
they have not the petty sum which Government first promised, and then
refused to pay.
The officers' pay comes promptly and fully enough, and this makes
the position more embarrassing. For how are we to explain to the men
the mystery that Government can afford us a hundred or two dollars a
month, and yet must keep back six of the poor thirteen which it promised
them? Does it not naturally suggest the most cruel suspicions in regard to
us? And yet nothing but their childlike faith in their officers, and in
that incarnate soul of honor, General Saxton, has sustained their faith,
or kept them patient, thus far.
There is nothing mean or mercenary about these men in general. Convince
them that the Government actually needs their money, and they would serve it
barefooted and on half-rations, and without a dollar--for a time. But,
unfortunately, they see white soldiers beside them, whom they know to be in
no way their superiors for any military service, receiving hundreds of
dollars for re-enlisting for this impoverished Government, which can only pay
seven dollars out of thirteen to its black regiments. And they see, on the
other hand, those colored men who refused to volunteer as soldiers, and who
have found more honest paymasters than the United States Government,
now exulting in well-filled pockets, and able to buy the little
homesteads the soldiers need, and to turn the soldiers' families into
the streets. Is this a school for self-sacrificing patriotism?
I should not speak thus urgently were it not becoming manifest
that there is to be no promptness of action in Congress, even as regards
the future pay of colored soldiers,--and that there is especial danger of
the whole matter of arrears going by default Should it be so, it will be
a repudiation more ungenerous than any which Jefferson Davis advocated
or Sydney Smith denounced. It will sully with dishonor all the nobleness
of this opening page of history, and fix upon the North a brand of
meanness worse than either Southerner or Englishman has yet dared to impute.
The mere delay in the fulfillment of this contract has already
inflicted untold suffering, has impaired discipline, has relaxed loyalty, and
has begun to implant a feeling of sullen distrust in the very
regiments whose early career solved the problem of the nation, created a new
army, and made peaceful emancipation possible.
T. W. HIGGINSON, Colonel commanding 1st S. C. Vols.
BEAUFORT, S. C., January 22, 1864.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST SOUTH CAROLINA VOLUNTEERS, BEAUFORT, S. C.,
Sunday, February 14, 1864.
To the Editor of the New York Times:
May I venture to call your attention to the great and cruel
injustice which is impending over the brave men of this regiment?
They have been in military service for over a year, having
volunteered, every man, without a cent of bounty, on the written pledge of
the War Department that they should receive the same pay and rations with
This pledge is contained in the written instructions
of Brigadier-General Saxton, Military Governor, dated August 25, 1862.
Mr. Solicitor Whiting, having examined those instructions, admits to me
that "the faith of the Government was thereby pledged to every officer
and soldier under that call."
Surely, if this fact were understood, every man in the nation would
see that the Government is degraded by using for a year the services of
the brave soldiers, and then repudiating the contract under which they
were enlisted. This is what will be done, should Mr. Wilson's
bill, legalizing the back pay of the army, be defeated.
We presume too much on the supposed ignorance of these men. I have
never yet found a man in my regiment so stupid as not to know when he
was cheated. If fraud proceeds from Government itself, so much the
worse, for this strikes at the foundation of all rectitude, all honor,
Mr. Senator Fessenden said, in the debate on Mr. Wilson's bill,
January 4, that the Government was not bound by the unauthorized promises
of irresponsible recruiting officers. But is the Government itself
an irresponsible recruiting officer? and if men have volunteered in
good faith on the written assurances of the Secretary of War, is not
Congress bound, in all decency, either to fulfill those pledges or to disband
Mr. Senator Doolittle argued in the same debate that white
soldiers should receive higher pay than black ones, because the families of
the latter were often supported by Government What an astounding
statement of fact is this! In the white regiment in which I was formerly
an officer (the Massachusetts Fifty-First) nine tenths of the
soldiers' families, in addition to the pay and bounties, drew regularly
their "State aid." Among my black soldiers, with half-pay and no bounty, not
a family receives any aid. Is there to be no limit, no end to
the injustice we heap upon this unfortunate people? Cannot even the fact
of their being in arms for the nation, liable to die any day in
its defence, secure them ordinary justice? Is the nation so poor, and
so utterly demoralized by its pauperism, that after it has had the lives
of these men, it must turn round to filch six dollars of the monthly
pay which the Secretary of War promised to their widows? It is even so,
if the excuses of Mr. Fressenden and Mr. Doolittle are to be accepted
by Congress and by the people.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
T, W. HIGGINSON, Colonel commanding 1st S. C. Volunteers.
NEW VICTORIES AND OLD WRONGS To the Editors of the Evening Post:
On the 2d of July, at James Island, S. C., a battery was taken by
three regiments, under the following circumstances:
The regiments were the One Hundred and Third New York (white),
the Thirty-Third United States (formerly First South Carolina
Volunteers), and the Fifty-Fifth Massachusetts, the two last being colored.
They marched at one A. M., by the flank, in the above order, hoping
to surprise the battery. As usual the rebels were prepared for them,
and opened upon them as they were deep in one of those almost
impassable Southern marshes. The One Hundred and Third New York, which
had previously been in twenty battles, was thrown into confusion;
the Thirty-Third United States did better, being behind; the
Fifty-Fifth Massachusetts being in the rear, did better still. All three
formed in line, when Colonel Hartwell, commanding the brigade, gave the order
to retreat. The officer commanding the Fifty-Fifth Massachusetts,
either misunderstanding the order, or hearing it countermanded, ordered
his regiment to charge. This order was at once repeated by Major
Trowbridge, commanding the Thirty-Third United States, and by the commander
of the One Hundred and Third New York, so that the three regiments reached
the fort in reversed order. The color-bearers of the Thirty-Third
United States and of the Fifty-Fifth Massachusetts had a race to be first
in, the latter winning. The One Hundred and Third New York entered
the battery immediately after.
These colored regiments are two of the five which were enlisted in
South Carolina and Massachusetts, under the written pledge of the
War Department that they should have the same pay and allowances as
white soldiers. That pledge has been deliberately broken by the
War Department, or by Congress, or by both, except as to the short
period, since last New-Year's Day. Every one of those killed in this action
from these two colored regiments under a fire before which the veterans
of twently battles recoiled died defrauded by the Government of nearly
one half his petty pay.
Mr. Fessenden, who defeated in the Senate the bill for the
fulfillment of the contract with these soldiers, is now Secretary of the
Treasury. Was the economy of saving six dollars per man worth to the Treasury
the ignominy of the repudiation?
Mr. Stevens, of Pennsylvania, on his triumphal return to
his constituents, used to them this language: "He had no doubt whatever
as to the final result of the present contest between liberty
and slavery. The only doubt he had was whether the nation had yet
been satisfactorily chastised for their cruel oppression of a harmless
and long-suffering race." Inasmuch as it was Mr. Stevens himself
who induced the House of Representatives, most unexpectedly to all,
to defeat the Senate bill for the fulfillment of the national
contract with these soldiers, I should think he had excellent reasons for
T. W. HIGGINSON, Colonel 1st S. C. Vols (now 33d U. S.) July 10,
To the Editor of the New York Tribune:
No one can possibly be so weary of reading of the wrongs done
by Government toward the colored soldiers as am I of writing about
them. This is my only excuse for intruding on your columns again.
By an order of the War Department, dated August 1, 1864, it is at
length ruled that colored soldiers shall be paid the full pay of soldiers
from date of enlistment, provided they were free on April 19,
1861,--not otherwise; and this distinction is to be noted on the pay-rolls.
In other words, if one half of a company escaped from slavery on April
18, 1861, they are to be paid thirteen dollars per month and allowed
three dollars and a half per month for clothing. If the other half
were delayed two days, they receive seven dollars per month and are
allowed three dollars per month for precisely the same articles of clothing.
If one of the former class is made first sergeant, Us pay is put up
to twenty-one dollars per month; but if he escaped two days later, his
pay is still estimated at seven dollars.
It had not occurred to me that anything could make the payrolls of
these regiments more complicated than at present, or the men more
rationally discontented. I had not the ingenuity to imagine such an order.
Yet it is no doubt in accordance with the spirit, if not with the letter,
of the final bill which was adopted by Congress under the lead of
Mr. Thaddeus Stevens.
The ground taken by Mr. Stevens apparently was that the country
might honorably save a few dollars by docking the promised pay of
those colored soldiers whom the war had made free. But the
Government should have thought of this before it made the contract with these
men and received their services. When the War Department
instructed Brigadier-General Saxton, August 25, 1862, to raise five regiments
of negroes in South Carolina, it was known very well that the men
so enlisted had only recently gained their freedom. But the
instructions said: "The persons so received into service, and their officers,
to be entitled to and receive the same pay and rations as are allowed by
law to volunteers in the service." Of this passage Mr. Solicitor
Whiting wrote to me: "I have no hesitation in saying that the faith of
the Government was thereby pledged to every officer and soldier
enlisted under that call." Where is that faith of the Government now?
The men who enlisted under the pledge were volunteers, every one;
they did not get their freedom by enlisting; they had it already.
They enlisted to serve the Government, trusting in its honor. Now the
nation turns upon them and says: Your part of the contract is fulfilled;
we have had your services. If you can show that you had previously
been free for a certain length of time, we will fulfil the other side of
the contract. If not, we repudiate it Help yourselves, if you can.
In other words, a freedman (since April 19, 1861) has no rights which
a white man is bound to respect. He is incapable of making a contract
No man is bound by a contract made with him. Any employer, following
the example of the United States Government, may make with him a
written agreement receive his services, and then withhold the wages. He has
no motive to honest industry, or to honesty of any kind. He is virtually
a slave, and nothing else, to the end of time.
Under this order, the greater part of the Massachusetts
colored regiments will get their pay at last and be able to take their wives
and children out of the almshouses, to which, as Governor Andrew informs
us, the gracious charity of the nation has consigned so many. For so much
I am grateful. But toward my regiment, which had been in service and
under fire, months before a Northern colored soldier was recruited, the
policy of repudiation has at last been officially adopted. There is
no alternative for the officers of South Carolina regiments but to wait
for another session of Congress, and meanwhile, if necessary, act
as executioners for those soldiers who, like Sergeant Walker, refuse
to fulfil their share of a contract where the Government has
openly repudiated the other share. If a year's discussion, however, has
at length secured the arrears of pay for the Northern colored
regiments, possibly two years may secure it for the Southern.
T. W. HIGGINSON, Colonel 1st S. C. Vols. (now 33d V. S.)
August 12, 1864.
To the Editor of the New York Tribune:
SIR,--An impression seems to prevail in the newspapers that the
lately published "opinion" of Attorney-General Bates (dated in July last)
at length secures justice to the colored soldiers in respect to arrears
of pay. This impression is a mistake.
That "opinion" does indeed show that there never was any excuse
for refusing them justice; but it does not, of itself, secure justice to
It logically covers the whole ground, and was doubtless intended to
do so; but technically it can only apply to those soldiers who were
free at the commencement of the war. For it was only about these that
the Attorney-General was officially consulted.
Under this decision the Northern colored regiments have already
got their arrears of pay,--and those few members of the Southern
regiments who were free on April 19, 1861. But in the South Carolina
regiments this only increases the dissatisfaction among the remainder,
who volunteered under the same pledge of full pay from the War
Department, and who do not see how the question of their status at some
antecedent period can affect an express contract If, in 1862, they were free
enough to make a bargain with, they were certainly free enough to claim
The unfortunate decision of Mr. Solicitor Whiting, under which all
our troubles arose, is indeed superseded by the reasoning of
the Attorney-General. But unhappily that does not remedy the evil, which
is already embodied in an Act of Congress, making the distinction
between those who were and those who were not free on April 19, 1861.
The question is, whether those who were not free at the breaking out
of the war are still to be defrauded, after the Attorney-General has
shown that there is no excuse for defrauding them?
I call it defrauding, because it is not a question of abstract
justice, but of the fulfilment of an express contract
I have never met with a man, whatever might be his opinions as to
the enlistment of colored soldiers, who did not admit that if they
had volunteered under the direct pledge of full pay from the War
Department, they were entitled to every cent of it. That these South
Carolina regiments had such direct pledge is undoubted, for it still exists
in writing, signed by the Secretary of War, and has never been
It is therefore the plain duty of Congress to repeal the law
which discriminates between different classes of colored soldiers, or at
least so to modify it as to secure the fulfilment of actual contracts.
Until this is done the nation is still disgraced. The few thousand dollars
in question are nothing compared with the absolute wrong done and
the discredit it has brought, both here and in Europe, upon the national
T. W. HIGGINSON,
Late Col. 1st S. C. Vols. (now 33d U. S. C. T.) NEWPORT, R.
I, December 8, 1864.
"To the Honorable Senate and House of Representatives of the
United States in Congress assembled:
"The undersigned respecfully petitions for the repeal of so much
of Section IV. of the Act of Congress making appropriations for the
army and approved July 4, 1864, as makes a distinction, in respect to
pay due, between those colored soldiers who were free on or before April
19, 1861, and those who were not free until a later date;
"Or at least that there may be such legislation as to secure
the fulfillment of pledges of full pay from date of enlistment, made
by direct authority of the War Department to the colored soldiers of
South Carolina, on the faith of which pledges they enlisted.
"THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON, Late Colonel 1st S. C. Vols. (now 33d U. S.
"NEWPORT, R. L, December 9, 1864."
Appendix E Farewell Address of Lt. Col. Trowbridge
HEADQUARTERS 33o UNITED STATES COLORED TROOPS, LATE IST SOUTH
MORRIS ISLAND, S. C.,
February 9, 1866. GENERAL ORDERS, No. 1.
COMRADES,--The hour is at hand when we must separate forever, and
nothing can ever take from us the pride we feel, when we look back upon
the history of the First South Carolina Volunteers,--the first black
regiment that ever bore arms in defence of freedom on the continent of
On the ninth day of May, 1862, at which time there were nearly
four millions of your race in a bondage sanctioned by the laws of the
land, and protected by our flag,--on that day, in the face of floods
of prejudice, that wellnigh deluged every avenue to manhood and
true liberty, you came forth to do battle for your country and
your kindred. For long and weary months without pay, or even the
privilege of being recognized as soldiers, you labored on, only to be
disbanded and sent to your homes, without even a hope of reward. And when
our country, necessitated by the deadly struggle with armed
traitors, finally granted you the opportunity again to come forth in
defence of the nation's life, the alacrity with which you responded to
the call gave abundant evidence of your readiness to strike a manly
blow for the liberty of your race. And from that little band of
hopeful, trusting, and brave men, who gathered at Camp Saxton, on Port
Royal Island, in the fall of 1862, amidst the terrible prejudices that
then surrounded us, has grown an army of a hundred and forty thousand
black soldiers, whose valor and heroism has won for your race a name
which will live as long as the undying pages of history shall endure; and
by whose efforts, united with those of the white man, armed rebellion
has been conquered, the millions of bondmen have been emancipated, and
the fundamental law of the land has been so altered as to remove
forever the possibility of human slavery being re-established within
the borders of redeemed America. The flag of our fathers, restored to
its rightful significance, now floats over every foot of our
territory, from Maine to California, and beholds only freemen! The
prejudices which formerly existed against you are wellnigh rooted out
Soldiers, you have done your duty, and acquitted yourselves like
men, who, actuated by such ennobling motives, could not fail; and as
the result of your fidelity and obedience, you have won your freedom. And
O, how great the reward!
It seems fitting to me that the last hours of our existence as
a regiment should be passed amidst the unmarked graves of
your comrades,--at Fort Wagner. Near you rest the bones of Colonel
Shaw, buried by an enemy's hand, in the same grave with his black
soldiers, who fell at his side; where, in future, your children's children
will come on pilgrimages to do homage to the ashes of those that fell in
this glorious struggle.
The flag which was presented to us by the Rev. George B. Cheever and
his congregation, of New York City, on the first of January, 1863,--the
day when Lincoln's immortal proclamation of freedom was given to
the world,--and which you have borne so nobly through the war, is now to
be rolled up forever, and deposited in our nation's capital. And
while there it shall rest, with the battles in which you have
participated inscribed upon its folds, it will be a source of pride to us all
to remember that it has never been disgraced by a cowardly faltering in
the hour of danger or polluted by a traitor's touch.
Now that you are to lay aside your arms, and return to the
peaceful avocations of life, I adjure you, by the associations and history
of the past, and the love you bear for your liberties, to harbor
no feelings of hatred toward your former masters, but to seek in the paths
of honesty, virture, sobriety, and industry, and by a willing obedience to
the laws of the land, to grow up to the full stature of American citizens.
The church, the school-house, and the right forever to be free are now
secured to you, and every prospect before you is full of hope and
encouragement. The nation guarantees to you full protection and justice, and
will require from you in return the respect for the laws and orderly
deportment which will prove to every one your right to all the privileges of
To the officers of the regiment I would say, your toils are ended,
your mission is fulfilled, and we separate forever. The fidelity,
patience, and patriotism with which you have discharged your duties, to your
men and to your country, entitle you to a far higher tribute than any
words of thankfulness which I can give you from the bottom of my heart
You will find your reward in the proud conviction that the cause for
which you have battled so nobly has been crowned with abundant success.
Officers and soldiers of the Thirty-Third United States Colored
Troops, once the First South Carolina Volunteers, I bid you all
By order of Lt.-Col. C. T. TROWBRIDGE, commanding Regiment
E. W. HYDE, Lieutenant and Acting Adjutant.