War-Time Letters From Seth Rogers, M.D. Surgeon of the First South Carolina Afterwards the Thirty-third U.S.C.T. 1862-1863.
Camp Saxon, Beaufort, S.C., December 27, 1862.
There is a little more of solid reality in this work of camp life than I have found in any previous experience. You remember my delight in the life of ship surgeon, when I had three hundred and fifty of the lowest Irish to care for. Multiply that delight by ten and you will approximate to what I get among these children of the tropics. A more childlike, jovial, devotional, musical, shrewd, amusing, set of beings never lived. Be true to them and they will be devoted to you. I leave all of my things in tent unguarded and at loose ends as I could never think of doing in a white regiment, and if I ever lose anything you shall be informed. Their religious devotion is more natural than any I ever witnessed. At this moment the air is full of melody from the tents, of prayer and hymns mingled with the hearty yah, yah, of the playful outsiders.
Last night I had too many business letters to get off in today’s mail to allow me time for writing half of what I wished, and since then I have lived so long that much has been lost in the ages.
I want, once and for all, to say that Col. Higginson is splendid - pardon the McClellan word - beyond even my anticipation, which, you know, has for years been quite exalted. I stood by General Saxton - who is a West Pointer - the other night, witnessing the dress parade and was delighted to hear him say that he knew of no other man who could have magically brought these blacks under the military discipline that makes our camp one of the most enviable. Should we by possibility ever increase to a brigade I can already foresee that our good Colonel is destined to be the Brigadier General.
I am about selecting my orderly from among the privates, just now a Lieutenant brought little “Charlie” before me; a boy of fourteen or fifteen, who saw his master shot at Hilton Head without weeping over it; who had some of his own teeth knocked out at the same time. He has always taken care of his master and knows so many things that I shall probably avail myself of his bright eyes and willing hands. We have had an old uncle “Tiff”, whom I should take if I had the time and strength to wait upon him when he should get too tired to wait upon me. He is a dear old man who prays day and night.
I have forgotten whether I have written that the mocking- bird sings by day and the cricket by night. To me it is South America over again. The live oak grows to enormous size. Today I made thirty of my longest paces across the diameter of the branches of one of these handsome trees. The beautiful gray moss pendent everywhere from its branches gave the most decided impression of fatherliness and age.
Co. H. kindly invited James [Captain James S. Rogers, Dr. Rogers’s nephew] and me to mess with him and the Adjutant, thus we have a pleasant little table under the supervision of “William and Hattie,” in an old home just outside of camp. I am yet sharing the young captain’s tent, but in a day or two shall have my own pitched. . . . We are not more than fifty rods from the shore. Our landing is remarkable for its old fort, built of shells and cement in 16—by Jean Paul de la Ribaudiere. Its preservation is almost equal to the monuments perpetuated by Roman cement. The chance for wild game here is excellent, and in anticipation I enjoy it much, while in reality I doubt whether I shall ever find time for such recreation, and actual profit to our stomachs. It is not very easy for us to get fresh meat here, but we shall not suffer, because oysters are plentiful and fresh. [In 1562, an ill-fated French settlement was established there by Jean Ribaut (also Ribault); in 1564 René de Laudonnière, Ribaut’s subordinate, established Fort Caroline at today’s Jacksonville, Florida. The latter settlement was destroyed by Spaniards under Pedro Menéndes de Avilés in 1565.]
Dr. John Milton Hawks, surgeon, United States Colored Infantry. Like Seth Rogers, Dr. Hawks was an avid abolitionist who volunteered for service in a war that he prayed would bring an end to slavery in the United States. The wife of Hawks, Esther Hill Hawks, was also a medical doctor and a life-long abolitionist. Courtesy of Florida State Archives.
Our Chaplain is a great worker, and has a good influence over the soldiers. . . . Mr. Fowler, who was, not long ago at Cambridge. [James H. Fowler, an ordained Unitarian minister, was a dedicated abolitionist before the war. He was educated at Dartmouth and Harvard Divinity School. His brother, Thomas D. Fowler, also an ordained Unitarian minister, became chaplain to another United States Colored Infantry regiment.]
My first assistant surgeon is Dr. Hawks [John Milton Hawks] of Manchester, N.H. He is a radical anti-slavery man, somewhat older than I, and has a large medical experience and in addition has been hospital surgeon at Beaufort during several months. He has been rigidly examined by three regimental surgeons from New England and they have given him a very flattering certificate of qualification. I consider myself fortunate in having a man so well fitted for the place. The men and officers like him and I fancy will take to him quite as much as to me. The second assistant is not yet decided upon, but will probably be a young man who has already been several months in the army. The hospital steward has also had experience. All this accumulation of army experience around me makes me feel particularly green, but I guess I can work up to the sticking point. It is ever so much easier for me than to go in with green hands.
December 31, 1862
I examine from sixty to eighty men every morning and make prescriptions for those who need them. Doing this and visiting those in the hospital, usually keeps me busy from breakfast to dinner, after that my assistants can “see care” ordinarily of everybody till next morning. My afternoons are almost equally busy in contriving ways to keep the soldiers from getting sick, improving my hospital, etc. We have to make everything as we go on. The hospital is the upper floor of an old cotton gin building. I had the machinery moved and bedsteads made, beds made and filled with the dry, course grass that the soldiers brought on their heads from the plains, and eight sick men were put in there last Tuesday. It was a hard day’s work, but the men were very sick and I had all the help that could work in the building. We have no such thing as pillows or sheets, but we have plenty of blankets, and the knapsacks answer nicely for pillows. Dr. Hawks had already got a good fire- place in the room and now everything is as systematic, and almost as comfortable, as in any hospital. . . . Some of our officers and men have been off and captured some oxen, and today all hands have been getting ready for a great barbecue, which we are to have tomorrow. They have killed ten oxen which are now being roasted whole over great pits containing live coals made from burning logs in them.
January 1, 1863
This is the evening of the most eventful day of my life. Our barbeque was a most wonderful success. Two steamboats came loaded with people from Beaufort, St. Helena Island and Hilton Head. Among the visitors were some of my new acquaintances, [including] my friend, Mr. Hall of the voyage Delaware. But the dearest friend I found among them was Miss [Charlotte] Forten, whom you remember. She is a teacher of the freed children on St. Helena Island. Gen Saxton and his father and others came from Beaufort, and several cavalry officers hovered around the outskirts of our multitude of black soldiers and civilians, and in the centre of all was the speakers’ stand where the General and our Colonel and some others, with the band, performed the ceremonies of the day. Several good speeches were made, but the most impressive scene was that which occurred at the presentation of the Dr. Cheever flag to our regiment. After the presentation speech had been made, and just as Col. Higginson advanced to take the flag and respond, a negro woman standing near began to sing “America”, and soon many voices of freedmen and women joined in the beautiful hymn, and sang it so touchingly that every one was thrilled beyond measure. Nothing could have been more unexpected or more inspiring. The President’s proclamation and General Saxton’s New Year’s greeting had been read, and this spontaneous outburst of love and loyalty to a country that has heretofore so terribly wronged these blacks, was the birth of a new hope in the honesty of her intention. I most earnestly trust they not hope in vain. [Charlotte Forten (1837-1914), a Philadelphia-born African American teacher whose parents and grandparents were avid abolitionists, was one of the first teachers to travel to the Sea Islands after Union forces were established there.]
Col. H. was so much inspired by the remarkable thought of, and singing of, the hymn that he made one of his most effective speeches. Then came Gen. Saxton with a most earnest and brotherly speech to the blacks and then Mrs. Frances D. Gage, and finally all joined in the John Brown hymn, and then to dinner. A hundred things of interest occurred which I have not time to relate. Everybody was happy in the bright sunshine, and in the great hope. The ten oxen were hearty relish and barrels of molasses and water and vinegar and ginger were drunk to wash them down. Mr. Hall, Miss Forten and some others took dinner with us. [Frances Dana Barker Gage was the mother of eight children, four of whom served in the Union army, and an avid abolition, temperance, and women’s rights activist. She served in the U.S. Sanitary Commission and as superintendent of a South Carolina freedmen’s school.]
January 2, 1863
I did not observe any reporters at our barbeque yesterday, but I presume some of the journals will contain enough to make it unnecessary for me to write more than my letter of yesterday. I will, however, reiterate the statement that it was the most eventful day of my life. To know what I mean you must stand in the midst of the disenthralled and feel the inspiration of their birth into freedom. For once I heartily cheered for stars and stripes. There is nothing in history more touching and beautiful than the spontaneous outburst of these freed men and women just at the moment when out gallant colonel was receiving the flag of the regiment. None of us had ever heard them sing America, and the most infinite depth and tenderness of “My country ‘tis of thee Sweet land of Liberty,” was inspiring to the last degree. I doubt if our Col. ever spoke so well and he justly attributed inspiration to the unexpected singing of the hymn.
Evening Jan. 3, 1863
We are having summer days and October nights, with the white frost covering the sand of our camp- ground in the morning.
I wish I could send you a photograph of my orderly. I had my choice of a boy from the regiment and selected Wiley Rohan, a shining black boy of fifteen, with handsome eyes, and teeth so perfect and beautiful that I always like to see his smiling face. He is very bright and tractable, with great fund of active willingness. I questioned him relative to the difference between an orderly and a servant, and found him entirely posted, but when I asked if he preferred I should get another boy, who had not enlisted, for my servant, to having extra compensation himself for doing the little things needful for me, he at once decided to fill the two positions. I doubt not we shall get greatly attached to each other. He knows all about managing a boat, has taken care of a horse and has also been taught to cook.
From what I have heretofore written I hope you have not inferred that our regiment is made up of saints. Now and then a soldier among us is not much superior in morals to members of a white regiment. The principle crime here is that of desertion. Today we have had a melancholy result of which will be likely to exert a salutary influence upon the regiment.Serg’t Rivers [Prince Rivers], our Provost Sergeant, is as black as the ace of spades and a man of remarkable executive ability. He is the one from whom some Philadelphia soldiers attempted to strip the sergeants’ stripes and found wiser and safer to leave him alone. It is his duty here to keep the prisoners at work and yesterday afternoon he left them cutting wood outside the camp while he was at dress parade. Three escaped in spite of the two soldiers who were guarding them. It was already sunset when he started with an armed posse to search for them and as the Col. and I walked out a mile from the camp, it seemed to us impossible that search could avail anything in a country so level and so filled with woodland jungle. But about noon today the party returned with one prisoner in a cart, fatally wounded by a gunshot in the abdomen. The poor fellow would not halt at command and in consequence must linger out a few hours of mortal suffering. This sad contingency of military discipline seems to me just, but falling as it does upon a member of that race so long denied common justice by my own, I cannot help feeling a peculiar sadness about it. Serg’t Rivers is off again with twenty eight men, in search of the others. I most earnestly hope that if found they will surrender. The feeling through the regiment in regard to the fatal result is that the deserter received his just punishment.
Sunday, Jan. 4, 1863
The poor fellow who was shot yesterday died at sunset this evening. His desertion and its consequences made an impressive text for the religious services today. We had service in the grove, using our New Year’ platform for the pulpit and the officers, while the soldiers and women and children, under the live oaks with their pendant mosses, made the missionary pictures seem almost respectable. I doubt, however, whether the American Board of Foreign Missions ever instructed their missionaries to preach the radical doctrines of human brotherhood taught in our camp. Brotherhood in Christ and brotherhood on earth are not always the same in practice. . . .
My young orderly, who should be named Ariel, remarked today that he had all his life been accustomed to take his master’s family out in a boat, till one day he thought he would take his own family off in the same way. He is from Florida.
Jan. 6, 1863
For the first time in the six weeks Colonel H. has been in camp, he to-day went to Beaufort. He returns with a more civilized air and informs me that there are yet many people outside our camp. The rebel pickets above came down to the river bank this morning and announced that an armistice had been agreed upon for six months and therefore laid aside their guns and sat on the bank, fishing. Their statement is not credited because nobody believes the insanity of the nation has taken such a disastrous turn.
I am steadily becoming acquainted with very remarkable men whose lives in slavery and whose heroism in getting out of it, deepens my faith in negro character and intellect. The difference in physiognomy among them now seems to me quite as marked as among the whites and the physiognomy of their diseases is quite apparent to me.
Jan. 9, 1863
This morning, the adjutant and I, with eight oarsmen, went down to Hilton Head in our surf boat, The distance cannot be far from twelve miles and the trip is a charming one, though the shores are wanting in those rugged qualities which help to make the difference in character between the North and the South. Our black soldiers sang as they rowed - not the songs of common sailors - but hymns of praise mingled with those pathetic longings for a better world, so constant with these people. There are times when I could quite enjoy more earthly songs from them, even a touch of the wicked, but this generation must live and die in sadness. The sun can never shine for them as for a nation of freemen whose fathers were not slaves.
My special business in going to Hilton Head was to test the honesty of a certain medical purveyor, who does not incline to honor the requisitions of the surgeon of the 1st Reg. S.C.Vol’s. He has not yet heard of the popularity of black regiments, but Uncle Samuel will teach him that, as well as a few other things. But it will be too late for him to repent in this world when he shall have learned the lesson.
The “Flora” - General Saxton’s steamer - came down from Beaufort and we were towed by her to our camp. I met the General on the steamer and was delighted to find him in that mood over the purveyor’s second refusal, which will work out a line of retributive justice. He read to me a letter just received by him from Secretary Stanton [Edwin McMasters Stanton, Secretary of War], which authorizes me to draw direct from New York. So we shall be all right within two weeks, I hope. In addition to all my other duties, I should be quite like to prescribe for some of those pro-slavery scamps who disgrace the federal shoulder-straps. This particular case was polite enough to me, for which I was sorry. When Gen Hunter gets here there will be a bowing and scraping to the anti-slavery men that awaken wickedness in my heart.
I keep in capital working condition. My tent is up and I shall be in it as soon as I get time to “move.”
Jan. 10, 1863
I have been here two and a half weeks and still am occupying James’s tent, so little time have I far found for getting my own in readiness.
I am just now busy in trying to discover the causes of such an excess of pleurisy and pneumonia in our camp, as compared with white regiments. Thus far I can only get the reiteration of the fact that negroes are more subject to these diseases than are the whites. I should be very sorry to find that their nightly “praise meetings,” or “shouts,” acted an important role in the development of these diseases, yet, thus far our gravest cases are the most religious. It would be a sad but curious coincidence, if while the Colonel and young captain are diligently taking notes of the songs and hymns of the soldiers, the surgeon should note a marked fatality resulting from this sweet religious expression. We shall see. It is as difficult to inculcate temperance in religion here, among these sun-burned children, as to introduce it into a Methodist camp meeting. I hope we shall not have to shut in religious expression by military rules.
Speaking of coincidences, reminds me that I found the steward, this morning, putting up prescriptions in bits of the “Liberator”. I don’t believe Mr. Garrison’s editorials ever before came so near these black soldiers. I wondered if the powers would not have some magic power conveyed to them. South Carolina is getting a simultaneous doctoring of body and soul.
Sunday Evening, Jan. 11, 1863
At service today the President’s proclamation was read and the Colonel asked all who wanted to fight for liberty, to say “I”: The response would have satisfied greater enthusiasts then uncle Abraham.
I have lost more than one hour’s sleep since coming here, listening to the coughing of the soldiers in the night and trying to contrive plans to meet the more obvious causes. In a climate so damp and with change of temperature so great between midday and midnight, I have steadily felt the importance of some means by which the soldier’s A tents could, with their clothing, be more effectually dried and purified than is ordinarily done by the sun. To have a fire in a tent 7 x 8 for four men, without fireplace, stove or even an opening in the top, did not seem quite feasible, but we are trying in James’s and one other company, an experiment which is likely to prove a success. Remembering the antiseptic influence of wood smoke, and also the primitive cabins from which many of our people came, we have, this evening, had fires built in the centre of the tents, the floor boards in the middle being removed and a hole being dug in the sand for the fuel. The soldiers enjoy this scheme. After the smoke ceases, the beds of coals make the tents seem very cozy. The Colonel is not backward in favoring every hygienic measure that offers any good to the soldiers. A few days experiment with two companies will settle the question by comparison of sick lists.
Monday Evening, Jan. 12, 1863
Tonight I am seated in my own tent, and my orderly is patiently practicing on a copy of his name on the other side of my little hard pine table. I have a double tent, two joined, with a rough floor elevated about a foot from the sand and open at the sides so that the wind can whistle under, as well as over, my two rooms. These rooms are each nine feet square and parted by the folds of the two tents. I have room enough for a large family and it seems wrong that I should have so much, while those little 7 x 8 tents of the soldiers, literally steam with four bodies in them. But with the clothing allowed by Government, they could never be comfortable alone at night. On the whole, I like these little tents for soldiers better then those which receive a larger number. I see no way of isolating soldiers into decency. The unnatural life must, of course, have a few material comforts. On the other hand the out of door life compensates for many violations of wholesome laws. I find our officers universally gaining flesh. . . . Instead of a fireplace, I have found a little stove, with so much draft that I can have all the front open and thus get the light which makes a tent so pleasant and social. We have little, select euchre parties, now and then. It is to be regretted that the Colonel’s education does not extend beyond whist.
Jan. 13, 1863
. . . When I sit down at evening it always seems as if there could be but one subject to write upon, the music of these religious soldiers, who sing and pray steadily from supper time till “taps”, at 8:30 interrupted only by roll call at eight. The chaplain’s pagoda-like school house is the scene of earnest prayers and hymns at evening. I am sure the President is remembered more faithfully and gratefully in prayer by these Christian soldiers than by any other regiment in the army. It is one thing for a chaplain to pray for him, but quite another for the soldiers to kneel and implore blessings on his head and divine guidance for the officers placed over them, such prayers ought to make us true to them.
This afternoon, for the first time, our men are getting some money - not direct from the Government, but through that constant friend to them - Gen. Saxton, who waits for Government to refund it to him. The real drawback to enlistments is that the poor fellows who were in the Hunter regiment have never been paid a cent by the Government. Without reflection, one would suppose the offer of freedom quite sufficient for them to join us. But you must remember that not the least curse of slavery is ignorance and that the intellectual enjoyment of freedom cannot, by the present generation, be so fully appreciated as its material gifts and benefits. Just think how few there are, even in New England, who could bravely die for an Idea, you will see that the infinite love of freedom which inspires these people is not the same that fills the heart of a more favored race. . . .
Evening, Jan 14, 1863
My tent is so comfortable and attractive that I never felt more at home anywhere in my life. It is my castle and its walls are to me as good as granite. The Lord only knows how many good things we all the time lose by not having enough exposure to hindrance to sharpen our wits. I can now see plainly enough that the most delightful way to live at the sea-shore or among the mountains, in the summer, is to have at night only canvas walls between you and the bracing air and beautiful scenes you seek. Then just think of a tempest that shall make your frail tenement tremble like a bark at sea, and you in the sweet realization of how little space there is between you and the messengers of God.
Before breakfast this morning I stood on the shore and listened to the John Brown hymn, sung by a hundred of our recruits, as they came up the river on the steamer “Boston,” from St. Augustine, Fla. Our Lieut. Col. Billings went down last week for them and today we have received into our regiment all but five, whom I rejected in consequence of old age and other disabilities. It seemed hard to reject men who came to fight for their freedom, but these poor fellows are a hindrance in active service and we might be compelled to leave them to the mercy of those who know not that “It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
. . . I wish you could see how finely the Colonel appears in my dress coat. His was sent from Worcester quite a time before I left New England, but has never reached him. Very likely some miserable colonel of a poor white regiment appropriated it. I pity those who get so demoralized by association and wish they could have the benefit of our higher code. As I am less for ornament than for use here. I offered my coat to the Col. and was glad to find that Theodore [evidently Rogers’s tailor in Massachusetts] had applied his “celestial principle under the arms,” so that a Beaufort tailor could easily make an exact fit for the upper sphere. To sick soldiers it is unimportant whether I have one or two rows of buttons and my handsome straps fit just as well on my fatigue coat as on the other.
Jan. 15, 1863
Last night I wrote something about the beauties of tent life, tonight I might say something of its adventures. All night the wind blew furiously and all day the fine sand has drifted like snow. The rocking of the tent has been like a ship in a storm at sea and I heard one actually complaining of a sea sickness, in consequence. All day I have prayed for rain, and at this moment it is pouring like mad. Ah! Is it not charming to sit here and bid defiance to the raging storm. I can now fully understand what [Henry David] Thoreau meant when he enjoyed the wild apple that tasted as a squash bug smells, while he felt it a triumph to have eaten it. All the wild in me is called forth by this life and I enjoy it intensely, not because it is easy, but because it is triumphant. Had I time I could write volumes on the merits of Indian tanned buffalo robes in Dixie. The more the wind searches my tent at night the more closely my shaggy friend clings to me and protects me from harm. . . .
Between midnight and morning, while I was dreaming of a magnificent storm on the ocean, I was awakened by a pitiful outcry as if one was being murdered in the rear of my tent. Several voices joined and then the sentinel screamed for the corporal of the guard, and finally it all ended in a low laugh. I put my pistol back under my head and went to sleep again. Today I learned that the Commissary Serg’t had the nightmare and two or three others caught the fright and fancied Secesh after them.
My second assistant has come, Dr. Minor [Thomas S. Minor], a young man whom I was fearful we should not get. I feel peculiarly blessed in having assistants who are honest and trustworthy, but of such different practical attainments that, putting us three together, we make quite a strong team.
Jan 16, evening
All night the wind blew a gale, with an occasional dash of rain to increase the interest. While I slept better than usual I am sorry to say that three tents were blown down, one of which contained a sick man. The wind finally came from the N.W. and today we found our coats none too warm. The sky has been beautiful in the extreme, like that of early summer when the clouds are full of promise. At this moment the camp resounds with the John Brown hymn, sung as no white regiment can sing it, so full of harmony. I know you all think me over enthusiastic about these people, but every one of you would be equally so, if here. Every day deepens my conviction that if we are true to them they will be true to us. The Col. arrives at the same conclusion. When I think of their long suffering at the hands of the whites, and then of their readiness to forgive, I feel reverence for the race that I did not know before coming among them. You need not fancy that I find them perfect: it had not been my fortune to find mortals of that type - even in Worcester - but I do find them, as a people, religious, kind hearted, forgiving and as truth loving as the average of whites, more so than the Irish of the lowest rank.
Jan 17, Evening
Major John D. Strong, the man who, with sword drawn, pursued the white soldier who struck a black man while the 1st South Carolina Volunteers drilled at Beaufort. Strong was later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 33rd USCI. USMHI.
This has been a triumphant day for our regiment. We have marched to Beaufort and back in such style as to turn jeers into admiration, and tonight our men are full of music and delight. The Colonel, not content with marching the whole length of the front street, actually stopped on the parade ground and drilled the regiment an hour or more and then they marched home to the music of their own voices. The different encampments at Beaufort had large delegations by the way-side, as we entered the town, and we were greeted with such language as pertains to vulgar negro haters. Our men were apparently indifferent to it and the officers could afford to wait in silence. I fell back to the rear with the major and was constantly delighted at the manly bearing of our soldiers. Not a head was turned to the right or left, not a word spoken. At length a white soldier struck a black man, not of our regiment, and the poor fellow appealing to us, we wheeled our horses upon the rabble, and Major Strong [John D. Strong], with drawn sword pursued the offender, with the point of that instrument a little nearer the fellow’s back than seemed wholesome. I have rarely seen one more thoroughly frightened. The effectiveness was magical, no more audible sneers. But wasn’t it good to march our regiment proudly in front of those mansions where two years ago chivalry were plotting something as strange, but quite unlike.
January 18, Sunday Evening
Such a transparent day and cool north wind makes even South Carolina endurable, while it lasts, I mean. When General [David] Hunter gets here we expect to nullify the state.
In white regiments, where the sick list is greater then ours, I hear of surgeons who have plenty of leisure. I suppose they are men who do not love their profession, or, possibly, men who fancy that all of the surgeon’s duty is performed when he has seen the sick and made his prescriptions. But in fact the surgeon’s duties in a regiment are like a woman’s work, never done. But to a good housewife there must be a sweet satisfaction in order and cleanliness, and in the long run it must be more economical.
In our camp most curious problems present themselves, as how to keep people from scurvy without vegetables and fresh meat; how to have a good fire in tents without a fireplace, stove or ventilation; how to make bread without yeast and without oven; how to treat the sick without medicines; how to amputate limbs without knives. All these and many other similarly knotty questions the surgeon of the First Regiment of S.C. Vol’s. has to consider, sometimes when he ought to be sleeping. This is not said complainingly. Our men rarely complain and those jeering white soldiers who saw their firm tread in the streets of Beaufort yesterday must have discovered the reason for their patience, this silent waiting. There was a Destiny in the silent, dignified bearing of our men yesterday. I never in my life, felt so proud, so strong, so large. I longed to lead a change upon those uncivil soldiers. Possibly that was wicked - can’t help it - “born so.” But I can afford to wait; the great mill is grinding slowly and surely.Hurrah! Hurrah! The Quartermaster just in with dispatch from signal officer announcing arrival of “Arago” and a gun boat at Hilton Head and General Hunter has come.
Jan 20, 1863
Gen. Hunter is in earnest about arming the blacks, so we may confidently expect well-done to increase. The little opposition to our movement will fall to the ground so soon we can prove our worthiness by marked success. Remember, it requires not only time but deeds, to undo the hateful lesson this Republic has been so long teaching. The public heart has virus in it and nothing but the flow of arterial blood can purify it. The innocent must suffer for the guilty.
I am beginning to find a little leisure for noting verbatim some of the individual histories of these soldiers and shall endeavor to forward them to you. The Col. and young captain have transcribed many of their songs and hymns, but without the music of their peculiar voices, I confess the words do not much interest me. Now and then a fine, poetical expression, but as a rule, somewhat dry, like the human skull Serg’t Rivers brought me one day. Their autobiographies, on the contrary, if one has the time and patience to draw them out, are often so unique that I feel deeply interested in them.
At dress parade, tonight, the Col. had some of my sanitary measures embodied in a general order and read by the Adjutant. One of the most important details was that each tent is hereafter to have a fire in it every evening. We have tried it long enough in James’ company, to be satisfied of its utility. The men do not greatly mind the smoke and I have convinced the Col. that it is one of the best purifiers and antiseptics we could have.
Jan 21, Evening
Great days seem natural to us now. General Hunter has reviewed our regiment with Gen. Saxton, and the Colonel’s long mourned dress coat has come and I no longer weep in secret silence the sacrifice of mine. But we will leave coats for arms and ask you to congratulate the 1st S.C.V, on the distinction conferred by the General in visiting us before any of those in Beaufort. And was it not refreshing to hear the General in command say to our soldiers, when formed in hollow square, “Men, I am glad to see you so well, I wish we had a hundred thousand soldiers like you. Before Spring I hope we shall have fifty thousand. You are fighting for your liberty and the liberty of your families and friends. The man who is not willing to fight for his liberty is not fit to have it.” Probably I have not the exact phraseology, but it cannot differ materially. It was very impressive to us all, while the cheers that followed were stunning to us all. Then the dear, noble General Saxton, so long thwarted by pro-slavery opposition, stepped forward and informed the regiment that Gen. Hunter had this afternoon told him that fifty thousand Springfield rifles are coming to this department for the black soldiers. Then the Colonel introduced the surgeons to Gen’l Hunter and while taking him to our little hospital, I called his attention to the refusal of Purveyor to honor any requisitions: consequently, I take another requisition to Hilton Head, countersigned by General Hunter, and we shall see with what result.
Jan. 22. Evening
Early this morning I galloped to Beaufort, went to Hilton Head on the “Flora,” and at sunset was back with my instruments and a beginning of the medicines. My success was entire, not however, without considerable ungodliness on one side, possibly not a little on the other. But Gen. Hunter intends to be obeyed and, I fancy, the negro haters will find it out in good season. You know I always fancied retributive justice, so I especially enjoy Gen. Hunter’s presence. He is an awful retribution to many a traitorous scamp in the department. The rule of Brannon-ism is at an end, and we poor sinners must be forgiven a little exultation. I understand that our medical Purveyor is a relative of General Brannon. . . .
Steamer Ben Deford, Jan 23, 1863
I have refrained till now from informing you of a little expedition which for the last few days has been planning for us. I suppose there never was an expedition, however small, that got off at the time specified, nor one that was kept secret. So we are five days later than intended, and the floating rumors of our plans are enough in number to make it appear that we are to take Charleston and all other prominent Secesh places on the coast of Dixie. The “Planter,” the same that Robert Small ran out of Charleston, and the “John Adams,” each with a company of our soldiers and some large guns on board, started from camp at noon today, Major Strong on the John Adams. About four this afternoon we started with four companies including that of Cap’t R., Colonel, Surgeon and second assistant surgeon and at this moment we are outside the bar, off Hilton Head, sailing as quietly in the soft moonlight and warm atmosphere as if our intentions were of the most peaceful nature.
The “Ben Deford” is really a magnificent steamer for transporting troops. A turn among the soldiers just now, convinced me that we can have ventilation enough and warmth enough to prevent illness. It is a real pleasure to go and see them so quietly wrapped in their blankets, no quarreling, no profanity, and the whole responsibility rests upon our Colonel. He has absolute authority over these three steamers. Our men were all anxious to go, and many, belonging to companies not designated for the trip, went to Col. H. and begged to go. Some have been permitted to do so. It remains to see how they will fight.
St. Simon’s Bay, Jan 24
At nine this morning we entered this bay expecting to find the “John Adams” waiting for us, but she was not to be seen. We dropped anchor and the Col. and I went on board the gunboat “Potomska.” There we found a remarkable negro who resides on St. Simon’s Island and who informed us that he knew of a quantity of Railroad iron that was used in the construction of a fort, below, on the shore. So while waiting for the “John Adams,” the surf boats were manned and men enough taken ashore to secure about two thousand dollars worth of this new iron which is much needed at Hilton Head.
With Lieut. West [James B. West], I went up to the Hon. Thomas Butler King’s estate, and confiscated a nice bath tub and three new windows for my hospital, which has only shutters. At four this afternoon the John Adams” steamed down the bay.
Still lying at anchor in St. Simon’s Bay, waiting for the “Planter.” Judge [Lyman] Stickney of Florida is with us; an able defender of the oppressed and a gentleman. I was much pleased to learn that he is a native of Vermont. Surgeon [Joel] Richardson, formerly of the 9th. Maine, is also with us. We are to leave him at Fernandina. His health has become so frail he was compelled to resign. Last evening he presented me with a pair of shoulder straps for my fatigue coat, with the remark that it might become essential that I have then on. But I fancy that whoever of our regiment falls into the hands of the Rebels would scarcely be saved by straps and sash. I feel that there is a tacit understanding that we are not to surrender under any circumstances. . . . The captain of the steamer [Captain Hallett] is an odd genius. He is a Cape Cod man, whose profanity is so much a part of his nature that total abstinence might kill him. He swears vigorously for freedom and especially for the Massachusetts expression of it. Curses the sluggishness of government officials and swears the democrats ought to be sent to -- . Says he has worked fifteen months with this steamer at an expense of four hundred thousand dollars to the government, and he does not believe he has earned for it ten dollars that could not have been as well earned, if this, and some other steamers, had never been employed. Seven hundred and fifty dollars a day, exclusive of coal, counts up. Government ought to draft property as well as men, and then compensate when it gets through using it. Such a course would put an end to private speculation . . . .
January 26, 1863
The “Planter” got along last night and, with the “John Adams” has gone through the “inside passage,” while we are running outside to meet them at Fernandina Harbor.
Since coming aboard the steamer I have more opportunity than before with the line officers about their men. I find an almost universal attachment and confidence. We have a few mulattoes in the regiment and so far as I have conversed with officers, their testimony is very decidedly in favor of the blacks, both for physical and intellectual points. I was prepared for the former, but was surprised to find that the ruling spirits among the soldiers are found mainly among the blacks.
Steamer “John Adams,” St. Marys River, January 26, 1863
. . . We are now in the heart of secesh and before morning shall have succeeded or failed in our purpose. At this moment the men are loading their muskets with a will that means fight. Our Colonel is cool and careful and I trust his judgment in this perilous undertaking. But if we should lose him!
This town was partly burned a few weeks ago by the gunboat “Neptune.” Some of her men went ashore when the white flag was shown, but the pickets fired on them, hence the destruction of the town. A woman has been waving her white handkerchief from one of the houses, but we do not care to do anything here. We are moving slowly and silently up the river, all lights above extinguished, save mine and I have put my rubber blanket up for a curtain at the window. The Colonel is too considerate of me, but takes Dr. Minor to land with the troops. I am sadly aware that I could not endure a rapid march of ten miles on foot, so I have reluctantly fitted out Dr. Minor with my orderly, pistol and sash, tourniquets, etc., and shall try to possess my soul in patience, if not peace. Our men show anything but fear as we pass between the double line of pickets.
Oh! The terrible waiting! Before eleven P.M. one hundred and seventy-five men had been landed at Township plantation, ten miles above St. Mary’s, with the Colonel at their head. And now volley after volley of musketry off in the woods sets me making final preparations for the wounded.
Jan’y 27, 1863
I appropriated the mess-room and the officer’s berths to receive the wounded. Fortunately we had thought to bring candles along, no others on board.—It was not more than one hour before we were busy dressing gun shot wounds. One man was killed instantly by a ball through the heart and seven were wounded, one of whom will die. Braver men never lived. One man with two bullet holes through the large muscles of the shoulder and neck, brought off from the scene of action, Robert Sutton, with three wounds, one on the skull, which 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 what they yet can do. Today I had the Col. order him to obey me. He is perfectly quiet and cool but takes this whole affair with the religious bravery of a man who realizes that freedom is sweeter than life. Yet another did not report at all, but kept all night on guard and perhaps I should not have known of his having had a buckshot in the shoulder if some duty requiring a sound shoulder had not been required of him today. The object of our raid was to surprise and capture a company of rebel cavalry pickets, but, as is usual in this war, the enemy seemed to know of the secret plan, and we only succeeded in making them skedaddle after a few rounds, and in bringing off five contrabands, a fine piano and divers other things. We also had the satisfaction of burning the plantation house and outbuildings, so they will not screen any more pickets. We steadily send shot and shell over the bluffs to prevent their picking off men from our boat, which is their habit. All this is very exciting and I enjoy it much. I just now volunteered to go up on a bluff and burn a picket house of rendezvous, but I believe the Col. thinks it unsafe for his friends to do what he himself is ever ready to do.
We reached St. Mary’s before noon. I believe I have before stated that the town was partially burned by the “Neptune,” yet there fifty or more houses remaining, including two large churches, a bank, etc. As we approached, the waving of white handkerchiefs began again, by the two maiden ladies (! !) residing in sight of the wharf. All the other houses were uninhabited. The women informed us that they were living entirely alone with their aged mother, that they were “St. Domingo ladies,” but had not owned slaves since England abolished slavery there. Their antecedents have been so doubtful that the Colonel thought it best to search their house very carefully in spite of their protestations, and entreaties and talk of honor, etc. etc. I was permitted to join him and one of the captains in the search and found it very interesting though we discovered no rebels. Of course we had a guard around the house, a guard of such color as greatly to annoy the inmates. They told me that they had not seen pickets at all and many other things which I knew to be false. But we politely left them, they avowing that they were ladies and thanking us for being gentlemen. As we were about to leave the wharf, bang, bang, bang, went secesh rifles from behind the houses and whistling went the balls over our heads. We were not long in sending shot and shell enough to protect our skirmishers and then the Col. did what I begged him to do this morning - put nearly all the town in flames, save the house of these women and two or three at the windward of it. I wanted to take the women down to Fernandina and burn every house, but the Col. thought it best to leave them, so there will still be a screen and sympathy left there for the rebels. But we left an immense fire and I trust the pickets will have to rescue the women from it.
Steamer Ben Deford, # 13 Fernandina, Fla., January 28, 1863
While superintending the transfer of the wounded from the “John Adams” last night, I sent ashore for mattresses, but without success. This morning I had been ashore and procured a bale of fine hay from Quartermaster Seward, a gentleman who was my partner at euchre on the “Delaware” and who is now very prompt in doing what he can for us, so that now our men are about as comfortably placed as if they were in a hospital. Yesterday I saw how difficult it is to keep down vandalism when a town is to be burned. In this respect the blacks are much more easily controlled than the whites. Of course we have a right to appropriate what we need in the service of Uncle Sam, but I would be as severe as the Col. on individual appropriations. My only regret about burning the town is that we did not give those “unprotected ladies” the protection of our flag and then burn every house. I find the same feeling among officers here in Fernandina. If we are ever to put down this ungodly rebellion, we must act in the broadest principles of justice. If I offer my life in the defense of my country I shall not be slow nor economical in my demands upon my enemies. This is the true justice and wise humanity. Just now two companies were sent to St. Mary’s on the “Planter” to load brick: I let Dr. Miner go with them. That I did not go myself instead, was the bravest thing I have done since I came to Dixie.
Jan. 29, noon
I have just received a note from the Col, who is ashore, that sets our line officers to making ready in haste for another expedition. We are not yet done with St. Mary’s River and some of the upper settlements. The “Planter” has not yet returned, but has been using her artillery this morning shelling the pickets in the woods I presume. I shall get some surgeon to care for my men in absence.
Steamboat John Adams, Jan. 29, 1863
Again we are on our way into the heart of secesh [soldier’s slang for secessionist]. If we do not get blown to pieces before morning we shall get some distance above where any of our gunboats have been within a year. Tonight I have heard that a negro has come from the scene of the fight the other night, and he reports seven rebels killed, including the daring Cap’t Clark. Cap’t Clifton of this boat is a most singular mixture of candor and roughness and refinement. Though he swears like a trooper, there is a drollery and generosity and honesty about him that quite captivates me. The other night I was standing beside him in silence after our troops had marched away from shore, and the mate came up and asked permission to go ashore and get some hens. The captain exclaimed, “Oh my God! Doctor just think of this man robbing hen roosts right in the midst of death and damnation.” The deep, sepulchral voice with which this was uttered made the whole thing so tragico-comical that I did not know whether to laugh or cry.
Alberti’s Mills, 40 miles from Fernandina, Jan 30, 1863
The river is rebellious to the last degree. It is very crooked and sluggish and black and got us aground so many times in the long, sleepless night that rebel pickets might have picked off many of our men and officers. Again and again we had to turn points at right angles and we were never more than two rods from one or another shore. Often the sides of our boat were swept by the boughs of the mournful looking trees. The shores are generally low and marshy and the moss droops so low as to give the appearance of weeping willows, It is now eleven, A.M. and we are starting homeward.
Oh it was a queer night, so queer that more than once I laughed outright, when I thought of the curious fact that T.W.H. and I were so industriously trying to get a peep at real rebels, while they would undoubtedly do something to get a peep at us. In my time I have seen considerable mismanagement of one kind and another, but I do not remember that I ever dreamed that so much of that article could be employed in one night on board a steamboat. Among the boat’s officers there was no mutual understanding, and it is fortunate for us that the rebels did not know it. But at daylight we did reach Alberti’s mills and then came for me an hour of dreamy, fitful sleep. I had made three vigorous efforts to sleep during the night, but enjoyed the calm moonlight and strange scenery and spice of danger too much for drowsiness. We passed picket fires and felt the possibility that our return might be obstructed, or greatly harassed. Very few officers have voluntarily dared such a responsibility as that resting on our Colonel, but he patiently and vigilantly met all the obstacles and had his pickets and skirmishers so arranged.—
Evening and “Ben Deford” again thank God
. . . I had written thus far when the rebels began firing from the shore and I found myself among our soldiers, who replied with a spirit and precision that sent more than one poor fellow to the dust.
Captain Clifton of the “John Adams” was shot through the head and died instantly. My Major’s head had escaped by about two inches. Strange to say no other accidents occurred in this nor in the subsequent firing from the bluffs on the Florida shore. The first attack was from the Georgia bluffs. They were both desperate, but of short duration. One fellow actually jumped on the flat- boat in tow, and was immediately shot by one of our soldiers. I afterwards asked Robert Sutton what he was about during the conflict, and found that he was deliberately shooting from the pilot house, with two guns, having a man load one while he fired the other. But I will not go back to the sunrise. As I was saying, the pickets and the skirmishers were so placed that there was no escape for the white families at Alberti’s Mills. The Col. had gone ashore and a little after sunrise sent for me to go off [the ship] and take with me some copies of the President’s Proclamation. I found a little village all included in the Alberti estate and the mansion was occupied by madame Alberti and her family. She was a New Yorker by birth and her deceased husband was a native of Philadelphia. [Edwin R. Alberti graduated from the Philadelphia Military Academy and served in the United States Army for a decade before settling in Florida. By 1850, Alberti was the owner of fifty-two slaves and a steam sawmill known as Woodstock Mills. He died in 1861, leaving his widow, Ernestine Strong Alberti, as sole owner of Woodstock Mills, located on the St. Marys River approximately four miles downriver from Kings Ferry. The “little village” included a post office, schoolhouse, church, retail store and a two-room jail.]
Mr. [Abraham] Bessent, former business partner of Alberti’s was at the house on a visit, ill with chronic bronchitis. He, being an important person, must be made a prisoner, unless too feeble to be removed from the house. I found on examination, that he could be taken with us without danger to himself. Madame Alberti spent much time trying to convince me that she and her husband had been wonderfully devoted to the interests of their slaves, especially to the fruitless work of trying to educate them. The truth of these assertions was disproved by certain facts, such as a strong slave jail, containing implements of torture which we now have in our possession, (the lock I have), the fact that the slaves have “mostly gone to the Yankees,” and yet other fact that Robert Sutton, a former slave there, said the statement was false. The statement of a black man was lawful in Dixie yesterday. I called madame Alberti’s attention to a former slave of hers, whom she remembered as “Bob” but never before knew as Robert Sutton, corporal in the army of the United States. Robert begged me to forgive him for breaking through my order that he should not exert himself at all till the danger of inflammation of the brain should be averted. The white bandage about his head was conspicuous at the points of danger through all the twenty-four eventful hours of our expedition. It finally devolved upon him and Sergeant Rivers to examine the persons of our six rebel prisoners, for concealed weapons of defense. This last was so very anti-slavery that I fancied the rebels enjoyed it somewhat less than I. I am told that thirteen riderless horses went back to camp after that fight in the woods the other night. That the lieutenant in command and five others were killed and many others wounded. Could our party have known the exact state of affairs, the camp might have been destroyed and many prisoners taken. But it was safer and wiser for the infantry not to follow cavalry in the night.
Our comrades on the “Ben Deford” greeted us heartily and the Provost Marshal was in readiness to take charge of our prisoners. We shall probably take Mr. Bessent to Beaufort with us. He is a wealthy and influential rebel and may become a very important hostage when Jeff Davis begins to hang us. We brought off two or three negroes, and rice, corn, sheep and other valuable things, strictly contraband of war. I wanted the Col. to take a piano, already boxed, and in a store-house at the wharf, but we had no room for it. I thought it would especially please Miss [Charlotte] Forten to have it in her school.
While I keenly enjoy these moonlight excursions I find that like rising at three o’clock in the morning to go for pond lilies, one is satisfied with about three trips a week. You can imagine a little what an immense tax such a life makes upon the nervous system. But I find we sleep well as soon as opportunity offers. This rough life exposure in the open air puts an end to morbid excitability of the nerves, and one jumps at any reasonable chance for a snooze.
Sunday, Feb.1, 1863
This morning the “Planter,” with Cap’t Trowbridge’s and Cap’t Rogers’ companies, met us in St. Simon’s Bay. They have not been idle. They left Cumberland Bay the day before yesterday and taking the inside route, destroyed some salt works which operation has damaged the rebels to the extent of about twenty five thousand dollars. They met with no opposition, but had a hard time dragging their boats through the marsh. The marshes, or savannahs, in this part of the country, which border the rivers, are almost impassible for human beings, yet many a slave has waded through them toward the north star of freedom.
Today I find a formidable sick list, the result of huddling so many men together in the hold of the “John Adams,” but I think nothing serious will come of it. The officer in command at Fernandina has no authority to send out a flag of truce with prisoners, so we take all ours to Beaufort. I am exceedingly glad of it, since I have found, through Robert Sutton, that one of them shot a man while he was trying to escape to the “Yankees.” After I had dressed Robert’s wound, this morning, he took me to the rebel and ingeniously made him say; “No, you are mistaken, the gun went off accidentally,” “and besides he was not killed, but died of fever.” “Then,” said Robert “You did threaten to shoot him ?” “Yes, but I intended it only as a threat.” Robert said, “I know you killed him,” and I to Robert, “The testimony of black men is legal now in Florida.”
We are taking several white soldiers and officers from Fernandina to Hilton Head. Their prejudice against our soldiers is amusing. We happen to have command of this steamer and, of course, have the best places. I find white soldiers sleep on deck rather than to go below with our men. Last evening I saw a Lieutenant getting two of our soldiers to take his trunk down to the cabin and he was rather suddenly informed by Lieut. West that United States soldiers were not to be called upon to do menial service. Another Lieut. expressed the opinion to our rough and ready Capt. [George] Dolly, that “these niggers” never would fight much. Dolly, in his fearful way, said; “You d- d fool; these soldiers have already fought more bravely than you ever will, you who have lived a couple of years on Uncle Sam without earning a cent for him.” The Lieut. did not think it safe to reply. I fancy Dolly. He is a vandal, but generous and brave. His men love him and fear him. His orders are somewhat terse, when in battle. I happened to be standing by him when he gave the command, “Cease firing, but if they fire again, give ‘em hell.”
The Colonel’s daring bravery has deepened the love and admiration of his men and officers. I have been a constant source of annoyance to him by words of caution, but am happy to know that they were heeded. The death of Capt. Clifton was a terrible confirmation of all I have said, and I doubt if the Major again puts himself unnecessarily in the way of so much danger. I could not get the ball that passed through the mess room where I was writing, but I picked one up in the prisoner’s room, adjoining. Had we been the prisoners, our places would have been on the upper deck, where they begged we would not put them, and where no one dreamed of putting them. All of them, except Mr Bessent, are now forward with the soldiers. . . .
Our expedition has been a capital success. We have had our soldiers three times under fire and know that they only care to face the enemy. We know also, that they can be trusted with the conquered foe. Not a single unbecoming act have I seen or heard of on the part of the guards, skirmishers or pickets. It was not for want of temptation, and I am led to wonder at their self control. The material benefit to the Government, of the expedition, is not inconsiderable. We are more than ever satisfied that the blacks must help us in this war. The next question to solve, is, how to penetrate far enough into the interior to free them. Possibly it remains for our regiment to solve this problem. Give us a good gunboat and plenty of ammunition to help us into the midst of them and I think we may trust God and our determination for the result. . .
Camp Saxton, Beaufort, S.C. Feb. 3,1863
At break of day we were at Beaufort and my sick and wounded were being carefully conveyed to the “Contraband Hospital” for better care than our camp hospital affords. I left eight there and it seemed like leaving my children among strangers. But this was only a feeling, not a fact. It was very pleasant to have the black soldiers served first. Col. Rich and the other officers and soldiers, must wait the convenience of our freedmen. I should quite enjoy living in some one of our Northern cities a few months with the 1st S.C.Vols. I fancy there would be a conquering of prejudices somewhat satisfactory to your humble servant. Justice is an admirable machine when in good running order and with honest engineers to keep it going.
The Col. Took his official report in one hand and a captured instrument of slave torture in the other, to Gen. Saxton and left them for an early inspection. I was too busy to breakfast there with the Col. At ten o’clock we were disembarking opposite our camp and the home troops were receiving us with wild cheers of joy. All sorts of false rumors had been reported concerning us. We had been cut up and cut down, hung and cut to pieces and various other rebel morsels of information had been circulated. I trust that you have not been tormented by such rumors. Perhaps it is best for me to take this occasion to say that the rebel reports are not always so reliable as their personal sympathizers could wish. Believe nothing short of official reports and --my letters.
Lieut. O’Neil informed me today that during the eight years of his military life in Texas, Utah and in the present war, he had never been engaged in anything half so daring as our trip up the St. Mary’s River. He is one of our best officers and has seen much service. . . . I would very much like to go up to Alberti’s Mills again, with flat-boats enough to bring away lumber etc. and then set fire to what we could not take. There is not [sufficient] rebel force in that neighborhood to capture us. If they should block the passage by felling trees across the river, our boys would have the opportunity to do what they so much crave -- meet their old masters in “de cl’ar field.” They besought me over and over, to ask “de Cunnel to let we spill out on de sho’an’meet dem fellers in de brush.” There would have been bushwhacking of a startling nature and I have no doubt we could have brought off some of those cavalry horses hitched in the rear. But the Col. is pretty economical of human life when no great object is at stake.
I have noticed that twenty eight boxes of goods await my order at Hilton Head and that the “Flora” will bring them up and land them at our camp, if I wish. This looks as if the day of honoring requisitions in this department has arrived. Meanwhile, during my absence, my requisition on the Purveyor in New York was honored and I found eighteen boxes of the very best material awaiting my return. The Soldiers Relief Association of Norwich, CT. has shipped a goodly supply of bedding, towels, flannel shirts etc. to us. These things were offered by Miss G the very efficient agent. Gen. Saxton has given me the upper part of the Smith mansion for another hospital, so we shall have twenty four beds as comfortably arranged and as well cared for as any in the department.
Yesterday, Miss Forten sent me, from St. Helena Island, a generous box of ginger cakes. I don’t know how she learned my weakness. This box makes my tent very attractive to the Col. and the young captain.
Robert Sutton has quite recovered from his wounds. He told me that the flesh was healthy and I have found it so and the bone did not get involved. I never look at Robert without feeling certain that his father must have been a great Nubian king. I have rarely reverenced a man more than I do him. His manners are exceedingly simple, unaffected and dignified, without the slightest touch of haughtiness. Voice, low, soft and flooding, as if his thoughts were choking him. He is tall, straight and brawny muscled. His face is all of Africa in feeling and in control of expression. By this I do not mean cunning, but manly control. He seems to me kingly, and, oh ! I wish he could read and write. He ought to be a leader, a general, instead of a corporal. I fancy he is like Toussaint l’ Ouverture and it would not surprise me if some great occasion should make him a deliverer of his people from bondage.
Prince Rivers, just as black as Robert Sutton, has a peculiar fineness of texture of skin that gives the most cleanly look. He is agile and fleet, like a deer, in his speed and like a panther in his tread. His features are not very African and his eye is so bright that it must “shine at the night, when de moon am gone away.” His manners are not surpassed on this globe. I feel my awkwardness when I meet him. This because an officer ought to be as polite as a soldier.
Feb. 6. 1863
We are just now through with the hardest and coldest north east storm that we have had since I came to the Department on the South. Living through this is evidence of considerable constitution. The storm politely waited for us to finish an expedition but the two together have succeeded in running our sick list up to 129 in today’s report. This morning a poor fellow died of congestion of the lungs, before the surgeon saw him. In this case, as in nearly all the autopsies I have made, I find extensive adhesions which have resulted from former pleurisy. There are, at this moment, not less than a dozen severe cases of pleuro-pneumonia among our sick. I find it true that these people are more subject than the whites to pulmonary diseases. And here I must put a fact of dispraise to the colored people as I find them. They, as a rule, show remarkable indifference to the sufferings of those not immediately related by the ties of consanguinity. I do not believe this to be a want of affection in the race, but due to long influence of inhuman teaching and treatment. I believe the development of individual responsibility and the inducement to rise, will abolish this want of feeling and respect for each other.
Feb. 7. 1863
. . . [Ralph Waldo] Emerson and Thoreau are oftener in my mind, in connection with this camp life and these people, than any other writers I know. While I am constantly studying how to keep these men well, or to alleviate their sufferings, they as constantly fill me with something higher than a feeling of philanthropy, a sort of oriental sympathy, outreaching the wants of the body. Gen. Saxton has said that these people are “intensely human,” and I will add that I find them intensely divine. It is, however, more difficult to call out the divine than the human.
The blessings resulting from freedom will wash away the accursed stains of slavery and all the world will see that these are also children of God. They have a boundless conception of the divine spirit and a more intense trust in the fatherhood of God than have the cultivated whites of my acquaintance. It is true, they will commit almost as many sins as their white neighbors, but I am speaking now of the religious element and leaving the moral to be controlled by culture.
This morning I had a break in my tent. But in spite of cold and damp, I never sleep cold. Had the Lord anticipated this war I think he would have made buffaloes native here. My robe seems half human in kindness and warmth. The “Free South” has published Col. Higginson’s official report of our expedition. He told me tonight that there were many things he would have been glad to embody in the report, but the rebels would have gained thereby such information as we wish to keep from them. I think our prisoners will be held as hostages.Keeping our men below so long on the “John Adams” destroyed more lives than the rifle shots would have done. It seemed a choice of evils and the least apparent was chosen. But the return of sunshine will help restore the sick.
St. Helena Island, Feb. 9, 1863
Yesterday afternoon I put my new saddle and bridle on the long-legged horse, claimed by the Col. and Adjutant, and came over here to spend the night with the Hunn’s and Miss Forten. This is the first night I have slept in a house since the 18th day of December. It seems strange to find myself in the midst of civilization and buckwheat cakes. . . . Just before leaving camp, I read Mr Emerson’s “Boston Hymn” to our regiment, while assembled for divine worship. I prefaced it with the remark that many white folks could not understand the poems of Mr. Emerson, but I had no apprehension of that kind from those before me. It was enough that Robert Sutton’s eyes were glistening before me as I read. I was standing on the veranda of the plantation house and the men were under a beautiful magnolia tree toward the river. Mr. Emerson would have trembled with joy to see how much these dark colored men drank in the religion of his poem. The chaplain was filled with emotion by it and straightway took the poem for his text and when I left, was enthusiastically speaking from it.
Camp Saxton, Feb. 8, 1863
My package for you is so enormous this morning that it quite startles me. My reputation for making notes is almost equal to the Colonel’s though I didn’t get out my notebook in the midst of the whistling bullets on St. Mary’s as I saw him do.I feel that it was a little cowardly in me to run away from camp yesterday, but I knew that three of our good soldiers must die within a few hours and I could do no more for them. It is just impossible for me to get used to losing patients. Such death is equivalent to losing some vital part of one’s self. This comes from distrust of myself, rather than of God. Our sick list is rapidly lessening and all will soon be as usual. I have this afternoon conversed with a pro-slavery surgeon, who has had much to do with negroes. I thought he seemed rather pleased in making the statement that their power of endurance was not equal to that of the whites. I nevertheless gathered valuable information and hints relative to their treatment. If I am permitted to remain in the regiment a year I shall prove that while the blacks are subject to quite different diseases from those of the whites the mortality among them will average less and the available strength or efficiency will average more. This is the season for white soldiers to be well and blacks to be ill. . . . My pleasant visit at Friend Hunn’s made me forgetful of camp trials and I have returned with renewed vigor.
No day so thoroughly spring-like as this, yet I feel we are to miss the unlocking delight we realize in the New England transition from winter to summer. The bugs and birds and frogs seem to realize the change but they know their own and are grateful for the smallest favors. I miss the melting snow at noon and the crunching crystals at night and morning. My eyes are not dazzled by the pure splendor as the days lengthen. The cawing crow flies back and forth, be he does not seem so earnest, so put to his trumps as those that fly above Wigwam Hill, when Long Pond is all leaden and weeks of sunshine and rain must come to free the ice-bound waters. The shores of our river here are covered with nourishing things, and the tides make high and low for the benefit of lazy lives, but I do not see the use of living such easy terms. Sometimes it seems to me like a funny experiment to try the merits of the body in this land of ease, and of the soul in a less genial clime. How long the experiment is to last the Lord only knows, but I am devotedly thankful that my place of nativity is among the cold mountains of Vermont. I do not believe it is possible for a New England type of man to originate in this level land. I shall soon expect to find alligators in Charles River, or turkey buzzards among the Adirondacks. This reminds me that on my way through the pine woods yesterday, I ran one of these southern birds down. He had probably eaten so much that he could not fly. I easily captured him and brought him into camp for James to prepare for the Natural History Society of Worcester. Can you imagine me galloping across the plains and through the woods with this South Carolina specimen in my arms? I was thankful the long-legged horse did not have a fit of ugliness as he did the day before.
Before the countersign was given, tonight, the Captain and I went out to see a sick soldier at Battery Plantation. It was much more convenient to enter the lines at the guard- house when we returned, than to go to the ordinary entrance. We were challenged in the dark by “Who came darm?” “A friend of the guard: call a corporal of the guard to let us in.” “Halt, halt!” At the same time cocking his musket. We of course halted and asked if his gun was loaded. This raised his suspicion and his gun at the same time and he again demanded, “Who dar?” I said, “The surgeon and Captain Rogers.” “I don’t know any Sur John” and I began to think he might fire upon us before the corporal came, so I told him the doctor and captain. This lessened his apprehension. I believe it would surely be fatal for any one to attempt to get by the guard here at night. To our soldiers, this war is not play, they intend to obey orders.
. . . It is to be remembered that the officers of a regiment in which the privates do not read and write, have much to do that would otherwise be done by an orderly or by a private detailed for the purpose. Today I have planned a new hospital and begun to lay the foundation of the first ward. This looks a little like having a brigade here sometime. We have a charming spot near the river for hospital buildings. I shall have only sixteen patients in a ward. Each ward is to be a separate building 20 x 50 feet, containing two fireplaces. From morning till evening, all through the summer, a breeze comes up the river and my wards shall be blessed by it. What a relief it would be to have Stephen Earle take charge of this, but it is all to be very simple and our efficient chaplain takes almost all of it on his hands.
Feb. 12. Evening
Tonight the tree toads sing in the adjoining grove and sounds of life are everywhere. The day has been like one in midsummer, when showers are expected in the afternoon and do not come; but the evening is cooler. The Col. and I walked out a little way to a cypress grove, where alligators might thrive, and where they tell of finding one. The trees are large, like oaks and have similar tassel like blossoms, or catkins, but the bole is broad at base and tapers rapidly up six or eight feet in a beautiful compound column and then becomes a simple Doric. All around under these trees are the cypress knees, from six to eight inches in height and looking preciously like cloaked and hooded monks, in prayer. The resemblance was so marked that I hesitated to break the silence of the place which seemed as holy as the “Sanctuary,” opposite Wigwam Hill. I will endeavor to send home one of these knees that you may see how a congregation of them must look.
At last the Adjutant has been made very happy by the arrival of his affianced. They are to be married before the regiment. I confess I should feel somewhat about marrying here as Cap’t. Clifton did about the robbing of hen roosts up the St. Mary’s.
Tonight I chanced to get into conversation with Serg’t McIntyre of Co. G., a soldier whose appearance always interested me. He is a native of Palatka, Fla., was born on the plantation of old Governor Mosley, & was always treated kindly by him. When our gunboats went up the St. John’s, this Serg’t went to his old master, who was much suspected of Union sentiments by the rebels, and begged him to come off under protection of our flag. But, failing to start him, McIntyre informed the old man of his intention to go himself and take with him his parents and sisters, that if he could always be sure of having the old Governor for a master he loved him so much that he would stick by him. The Governor much regretted their leaving him, but, knowing that his children would not treat them as he had done, he interposed no obstacles. All but the mother, who had “brought up” the Governor’s daughters, came away. I have written the above as a preface to the reasons of this man’s gratitude and attachment. [William Dunn Mosley was elected Governor of Florida in 1845.]
By the Governor he was always treated kindly. By trade he is a builder and his master allowed him, for eight years, to work at his trade where he pleased, by paying him (the master) $360.00 a year. He hired six other slaves from their masters, at various rates, according to their ability, and went off to Micanopy - which was not much of a place at that time - and within eight years they had built up “a smart town.” Twice a year he was obliged to go back to Palatka, fifty miles, to pay the masters for their kindness in allowing their slaves to clothe and board themselves and furnish their own tools and bring in from $150.00 to $360.00 per year, per man, in return. Even now this honest fellow does not fully realize the outrage. It was so much to them to escape the constant restraints of bondage that they forgot the rest. Many of the houses were built by contract instead of by the day, and if the chivalry had paid him always as agreed, he could have cleared about $550.00 per year. As it was, he was only even with the world when the war began and he was suspected of giving information about the “Yankees” to the slaves and he was compelled to leave his wife and two children at Micanopy. The first man to appear against him on a sort of trial for such suspicion was one for whom he had just built a home and received nothing for it. Should we ever go up the St. John’s River into the heart of Florida, the Serg’t will be a valuable guide. He has sisters at Beaufort and at Fernandina who have paid their masters fourteen dollars per month year after year, and supported themselves by washing and ironing.
Feb. 13, 1863
Tonight I have been talking with Cato Waring, one of my old nurses in the hospital. The attempt to give a report of his history seems futile. He is a quiet, old black man, this Cato, with singular combination of intellect and ready shrewdness, a subtlety of character that makes you feel as if a serpent might silently coil around you at any moment, without the rustle of a leaf. He appears dull and heavy, but is full of unspent sharpness and agility. He is old, but not gray, body and spirit alike intact. The night after our return from our expedition, I was telling them in the hospital about it and old Cato sat, with his dull eyes bent upon the fire, seemingly indifferent to all, till I came to the death of the rebel officer in the woods. Then his eyes sparkled and glared at me. “Did you know his name?” “No.” “Oh, I hope to God it was my young master who went down that way.”
Tonight Cato came to my tent and began very quietly to tell me of his life in slavery and his escape from it, but it was not long before his tone and manner became too dramatic for me to take notes and I felt as if all the horrors of the accursed system were being poured upon my naked nerves. His voice was always low, but commanding. He was born on the Santee River and “raised by Mr. Cooper as a pet.” But he was sent away to learn the carpenter’s trade, and after seven years apprenticeship returned home to find his old master was dead and the estate insolvent by mismanagement on the part of the widow and children. Finally, he and the other slaves were sold to pay the debts. Dr. Waring, his new master, “was a bad man, but not so bad as his wife.” The Dr’s family increased rapidly and his expenses were so great that Cato was made not only driver, but overseer of the estate, a position he held till his escape, a period of sixteen years. Dr. Waring and his wife ranked among the affectionate specimens of humanity. “Dey ollus kiss wen he go out an wen he come in”. Mrs. Waring was a neat housewife and made her servants “clean all de brasses and eberyting befo’ daylight in de mo’nin’-“ When she arose in the morning and examined the furniture with her white handkerchief for dust, there were usually one or two victims selected for the lash. It was Cato’s business to wait at the door for orders to apply from one hundred to five hundred lashes every morning before going out to the plantation. If the victim was male, he was stripped and cords were fastened to his fingers and then drawn over a horizontal pole above his head, till his toes only, touched the ground; then the master would stand behind Cato with a paddle and knock him over for any delinquency on his part. The same treatment was applied to women, except that instead of stripping off the clothing, the skirts and chemise were drawn up over the head. When the parlor was filled with visitors, the mistress would wind a towel around the end of a stick and have it thrust into the throat of the victim and it would come out all covered in blood- thus the screams of the tortured would be smothered. These statements would seem exaggerated to me if I had not, over and over, in my medical examinations in this regiment, found enormous horizontal scars around the body, and, on inquiry, been told “Dat’s whar my ole Marsa had whipped me.” Never once have these revelations come to me except by inquiry.
Finally, the war began. Old Cato heard the guns for Fort Sumter and waited and waited to hear his master speak of it. He and all his fellow slaves felt that the hour of deliverance had come. Finally, he said one night to his old master, young Doctor who “had been off to some place dey calls Paris,” and who was worse than the old man; “what all dat tunder mean way off dar?” “Oh it’s the d—d Yankees who want to steal all our property.” Of course Cato was indignant at the Yankees and promised to stand by his master. Time went on and the rebels began to doubt their success and at the same time began to swear that they would “work de niggers to deat’ before the d—d Yankees should have them.” Cato was compelled to exact tasks of the slaves that were before unheard of. He could not do it, and told his master so one Sunday night. The Doctor swore vehemently and ordered Cato to report himself in the morning for chastisement. Cato said “I tanked him berry much for de information an’ went to my hut an’ hung all de keys whar de ole woman could fin’ ‘em, but didn’t tell her what I’se gwinen to do, cause she’d make such a hullaboo about it. But Sunday mornin’ befo’ de hen git up, “ Cato was in a dug-out pushing his way through the rice swamp, so that the dogs could not follow his trail. He had gone far before daylight, and during the day, lay quietly in his boat, for he had been three days without eating. When he unexpectedly met a white lady, he assumed nonchalance, touched his hat and said, “howdye,” and told such a plausible story that he got something to eat. At another time he went four days without eating and in the evening saw a black man nailing up a coonskin by torch light, on the side of his hut. “Dis big ole man look like a religion feller,” and Cato was almost on the point of trusting him enough to go up and ask for food, but finally thought it safer to wait a little and try to steal something. He had just entered the yard when a great dog caught him by the chest, but fortunately, got only his clothing in his mouth. His hickory cane silenced that dog, but others came, an’ all de blacks an’ whites came down togedder.” He ran to the woods and found a pond and waded half the night to escape the dogs. “I didn’t git noffin for eat, but I wasn’t hungry no mo’ that night.” At last he found shelter and food and rest under a roof of a negro whom he could trust. He was then twenty-two miles from the river and in the night a black horseman came and said a Yankee gunboat was “commin’ up de ribber, an’ de Cap’n was holdin’ out his arms an’ beck’nin’ de niggahs fus’ from one sho’an’den from de odder.” Cato straightway started toward the river, but there were many roads. The horseman agreed to break off pine boughs at such partings and then go on rejoicing. By some mistake he did not reach the river at the point designated, and afterwards learned that his mistake had saved him from a trap of the rebels for whom the black horseman was acting.
Another night he was lying under a garden fence when a rebel was leaning over it, watching, intently, the house beyond, ready to shoot him when he should jump from a window. “My heart did beat so hard I wondered he didn’t hear it, but he didn’t an’ wen dey come to search de garden, I crawl on my belly till I jump troo de gate an’ it rain so fass I knowed deyre guns wouldn’t go wen dey snapped em at me.” At last, after wandering about “from de secon’ week in May till de las week in June I reached de gunboat.” His approach to the boat was full of apprehension. Before he could be certain of the boat, he saw soldiers on the shore and did not quite know whether they were Yankees or rebels. So he wavered between holding up his “white rag” and keeping out of sight. At last they saw him in his little boat, which he had somewhere confiscated, and “I hol’ up de rag an’ de mo’ de boat come, de mo’ I draw back, but oh, wen I get on de boat I thought I was in hebben.” I shall not trouble you with more slave stories. It is too much like trying to relate a tragedy acted by Rachel - very tame.
Feb. 16, 1863
Our Colonel has been down to Hilton Head today and reported Brig. Gen. Stephenson under arrest and to be sent to Washington for asserting that he would rather the Union cause should be lost than be saved by black soldiers. I should like to see the gentleman this evening. Everything may go against us in the present, but these little episodes are refreshing.
My heart is lightened by the return of usual health to our camp. It is pleasant to find every one looking up instead of down. Some of the replies to medical questions are quite unique, as, for instance, “I feel jail bound an’ cough powerful.” “I’ve got misery all de way down from de top ob de head to de sole ob de foot.” If I had not promised you freedom from individual histories in the future, I should try to write out the history of my head hospital nurse. Mr. Spaulding is a very superior man. He was kept in the stocks three weeks in the winter and his legs have not since been as strong as before. He is averse to speaking of himself. I trust his integrity, tenderness and natural ability as I would trust those qualities in John Milton Earle. He is a prince and commands the respect of all.
Feb. 17, 1863. Evening
Today I have been reading Judge Conway’s speech in Congress. I have found no leisure to watch carefully the reported change in public opinion in the North. I did not believe till today, that our friends are actually getting hopeless about the restoration of the Union on the basis of universal freedom. Judge Conway’s opinion I respect, and in this instance it weighs like lead upon my spirits. Besides, I somehow feel that the sentiments of a majority of the friends of freedom are too nearly represented in this speech. If so, nothing short of a miracle can bring the present generation of slaves into freedom. This thought makes me tremble when I look into the faces of our brave fellows and remember that millions of such are waiting in bondage for an opportunity to be as brave. The contemptible love of dominion so long fostered in this nation will yet be the death of it. Of course a better nation will grow out of the moldering ruins, but it is cruel that the present good of a nation and a race should be sacrificed on the altar of selfishness. These men have wives and children, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers yet in slavery and they daily pray God to bless the nation that has begun to let them fight for freedom. If the nation proves false to this half realized hope the curse of God will weigh more heavily on us than ever before. I would rather make my grave with the oppressed and outraged than survive the day of blighted anticipations. As God lives, liberty will come at last, but long I see her before I die. [The reference to Judge Conway may have been to Marcus Daniel Conway, 1832-1907, a Virginia-born radical abolitionist who published books advocating abolition in 1861 and 1862. Conway gave a lecture in 1862 in the Smithsonian Abolition Lecture series that was intended to pressure Lincoln to embrace abolition as the main goal of the war. He also returned to his home state in 1862 to assist thirty-two of his father’s slaves to escape to freedom in Ohio. Marcus Conway was not a judge, however, it was conservative father, Walker Peyton Conway, and his paternal uncle Eustace Conway who were judges in Virginia. Both men were pro-slavery and states’ rights advocates.]
Feb. 18, Evening
Last evening had more sadness for me that I have known since I left New England. But while gloomily preparing for bed at ten o’clock, my young assistant, Dr. Minor, thrust his head into the tent with, “Doctor, don’t you want to see the Atlantic for February? I have a box from home.”
“A well known legal writer,” (vide N.Y. Evening Post) made me experience somewhat of the “Law of Costs” by holding open my eyes and heart and soul long beyond the physiological rules of camp, but what was lost in quantity of sleep was made up in quality by the reading. I long to take my old friend by the hand and thank him from my heart for this philosophical statement of vital truth. I find no leisure for reading books when so many unread souls lie open before me and writing and speaking in the face of a bleeding nation seem somewhat disgraceful to me, but the “legal writer” has come in at a critical moment with a reserved force of language which may prove better then a whole division of armed men. We now have the medical department of our regiment so systemized that I find more freedom from care than a few weeks ago. The prospect of a change of location leaves my new hospital in status quo.
Feb. 20. Evening
Yesterday I visited Miss Murray’s school in St. Helena Island. Miss Murray is assisted by Miss Towne and Miss Foster. Since the season for tilling the land had begun, the school has lessened in numbers from 200 to 125; both sexes and from three to fifteen years of age. Many of them have been under tuition several months and compare very favorably with Irish children after some length of instruction, as I have seen them in N.E. From what I have seen in camp, I think the mode of receiving instruction is very different in the two races. Imitation and musical concert are the avenues to the minds of these children. Of course the habit of such dependence will be changed by education, but such is the beginning. After centuries of slavery, which utterly shuts the avenues of thought, we should hardly expect rapid development of activity in the superior regions of thought. Only now and then some genius like Robert Sutton can be left to prove the God-like relation. The simple fact is that use is less destructive than disuse. [Ellen Murray and Laura M. Town were life-long friends who came to St. Helena Island in April 1862 as missionary teachers and founded the Penn School for black children.]
I dined at Friend Hunn’s and was accompanied by Miss Forten on a visit to Mr. Thorpe, who had charge of the Tripp plantation. [Rogers was riding] Edisto, a meager little confiscated creature from Edisto Island, with a saddle that must have been afloat since the flood, a bridle that left him comparatively unbridled and erratic in his ways and a girth that could never gird his loins up to the scriptural injunction without breaking. He had neither sandals nor shoes to his feet nor speed to his body. You can imagine that our ride of four miles through the pine barren was not so rapid as John Gilpin’s. But the afternoon was like the last of June and full of sunshine and jasmine blossoms and the ground was covered with brown pine needles. I have seen none but the pitch tree here. The needles are often a foot long and now that they are enlivened by steady warmth, they sport graceful plumes against the sky. [David Franklin Thorpe, a Brown University student and abolitionist, came to St. Helena Island as part of the Port Royal Experiment. He was a plantation superintendent from 1861-1869.]But I have made my last visit to St. Helena Island. The fortunes of war uproot, too suddenly, for my fancy, all the little fibers of local attachment just as they begin to take kindly to the soil. I have just got everything in good attitude towards my new hospital when all is to be abandoned and we are to pitch our tents (if rebels permit) in another state. Being exactly what I want, I do not grumble at the fact.
Feb. 24, 1863
Colonel James Montgomery, commander of the Second South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, later renamed the 34th United States Colored Infantry. Montgomery, often called the “Kansas Jayhawker” for his violent prewar experiences, organized the regiment, enrolled the soldiers, and led several historic raids up rivers in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. USMHI.
Colonel Montgomery’s arrival from Key West, with the nucleus of the Second S.C. Vols. is an event of importance to our life here and also to the history of the war. I have heard Col. Higginson declare that he regarded Col. Montgomery alone as equal to one regiment. I have rarely heard our Colonel express deeper confidence in anyone. I have already discovered the secret of it. Col. Montgomery occupied my tent, last night, and before I turned in with James I heard him talk enough to feel sure of his indomitable courage united with that rare verity which belongs only to inborn gentlemen. A compact head on slightly rounded shoulders, a tall form of slender build, dark, bronzed face, deep brown and slightly curling hair, a Roman nose, heavy beard and mustache, a smallish, determined mouth and pointed chin, deep hazel eyes of density, all form a combination of feature and expression belonging to a man who has fought many battles but never surrendered. He once drove fourteen thousand with four hundred. He once ordered five rebel prisoners shot to avenge the death of five of his soldiers who were taken prisoners and shot by the rebels. He would not permit the blasphemy of the oath of allegiance to the remaining ten, but sent them back to their rebel brethren with the information that he could take prisoners and that thereafter he should not be content with life for life, but ten for one if they persisted in their hellish career of atrocity which they had begun. This man seems to me one of the John Brown men of destiny. He is not of the slow, calculating sort, but being in harmony with the elements around him, he counsels with fleeting events and trusts his intuitions more than his calculations. [Colonel James Montgomery of Kansas was in charge of enrolling formerly enslaved men into the ranks of the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers. He first enlisted men who had been brought by naval vessels to a refugee camp at Key West, Florida. In March 1863 he led raids on St. Johns River plantations near Jacksonville, Florida, freed the enslaved and drafted the able-bodied men into his regiment. The 2nd SCVI later was renamed the 34th United States Colored Infantry. For more on the daring raids conducted by Montgomery and the men of the 2nd South Carolina see “Colonel James Montgomery’s Raids in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina” on this same website.]
Feb. 25, 1863
This afternoon our regiment was received by Gen. Saxton in the presence of Gen. Hunter. The staff and body guards of these two General made about a hundred horsemen. I quite enjoyed the bugle notes as they galloped into camp and thought how much more exciting a cavalry regiment must be than infantry. In the course of the battalion drill our boys were ordered to make a charge toward them and I verily believe that if the Col. had not been in front, the order “Halt” would have passed unheeded till the cavalry had scattered over the field.
All this evening I have been squeezing Kansas history out of Col. Montgomery, a history which he himself is so completely identified that I have really been listening to a wonderful autobiography. Col. M. is born pioneer. Ashtabula County, Ohio, is his native place. Forty nine years ago, Joshua R. Giddings and Ben Wade were young men and Montgomery in his boyhood was accustomed to hear their early pleadings at the bar. So you see how birth and early surroundings fitted him for a fiercer frontier life. New England life seems puny beside the lusty life born on the frontier. Of the Col’s. eight children two of his sons are to hold commissions in his regiment. They are young but as “they don’t know the meaning of fear” and hate slavery he is sure they will get on. In medicine he has a weakness for pellets instead of pills. It is humiliating that our two strong colonels should exhibit such weak points. So long as we remain in good health I don’t know but this foible of homeopathy is as harmless as any of the popular vagaries.—
Yesterday Mingo Leighton died. Many weeks ago, I saw him step out of the ranks one day, when upon the double quick discovered that he had a slight disease of the heart. He was a noble fellow black as midnight, who had suffered in the stocks and under the lash of a savage master and did not accept any offer of discharge papers. Later he realized some of his hopes up the St. Mary’s so that he was very quiet under his fatal congestion of the lungs. He was ill but a few hours and was very calm when he told me on my first visit that his work was finished. He never gave me his history, though he regarded me as his friend, but one of his comrades confirmed my convictions of his worth. This same comrade, John Quincy, a good old man, who for eight years, paid his master twenty dollars per month for his time and eight dollars per month apiece for mules, and boarded himself and animals, this man told me that Mingo was deeply religious but said little about it and that he himself had been “trabblin by dis truth somethin’ like twenty five years” I have rarely met a man whose trust in God has seemed to me more immediate and constant.
Our visitors increase and I shall not be sorry when we are beyond the reach of those who “doubt the propriety” of arming the negroes. There is but one convincing argument and I don’t care how soon it comes. I am sick of talking to men whose limited capacity renders it necessary for me to explain that humanity lies somewhat deeper than the integument of the human body.
I keep a blazing fire in my tent about half the time, these hot, humid days, to keep myself from moulding alive. It requires a high pressure of vitality to push off these damps as they crowd in upon me here. Yet I have found only three cases of tubercular disease among our soldiers. Considering the fact that they were recruited without much regard to physical ability, I think this freedom from scrofulous disease remarkable.
March 2, Evening
John Quincy (Co. G.) came and asked me today if I would “send up North” for a pair of spectacles for him, “for common eyes of 60”. The old man said he “could not live long enough to make much account of them,” but that he “could read right smart places in the Testament,” and since he had lost his spectacles he missed it. This is the same soldier who told his congregation on the “Ben Deford,” after our St. Mary’s trip, that he saw the Col. with his shoulder at the wheel of the big gun in the midst of the firing, and that “when de shell went out it was de scream ob de great Jehovah to de rebels.” What made this statement the more interesting to me was the fact that I was standing in the background with the Col. at the time and John Quincy did not know of our presence.We are now weeding our regiment a little and today I have examined about a hundred and discharged thirty for disability. I find one poor fellow whose mind is very torpid, though he is not idiotic. A companion of his told me that he had been overworked in the Georgia rice swamps and that “he be chilly minded, not brave and expeditious like me.” I believe I have somewhere written that our men were not subjected to examination by a surgeon before enlisting, hence this disagreeable business of discharging now. It is much easier to keep men out of a regiment than to get them out when once in.
The plot thickens. Our steamers are coaling up and the stores and ammunition are going aboard. This looks southward and before this letter reaches you we shall probably be up some river, I hope not the one spoken of on the streets. Today Dr. M. M. Marsh of the U.S. Sanitary Commission has made his official visit and dined with me. I suppose I care the more for Dr. Marsh that he is not only a gentleman, and a physician whom I greatly respect, but also that he comes from the capital of my native state. He is an elderly man with a countenance all covered with benignity. The following note to me from his agent at Beaufort, Mr. H. G. Spaulding, indicates the right spirit towards our movement. “If you are in want of any hospital or sanitary supplies for your regiment, we shall be most happy to fill out the requisition for you. Send for whatever you need and state in every case the amount wanted. This is all the ‘red tape’ of our Commission and there are no knots in it. In view of your unexpected movement I take this opportunity of assuring you of our desire to assist you in every way in our power.” [The USSC organized volunteer efforts to provide aid and supplies during the war, raising money, recruiting nurses, and operating kitchens at army camps.]
Of course Dr. Minor was posted off with a requisition and our good soldiers shall bless the Commission.
Last night our men seemed bewitched. A few ran guard to be at a dance at the old “Battery plantation.” Very early in the morning a poor fellow refused to halt, when ordered to do so by the guard, and has lost his life for it. He was shot through the side and will die within a few days.
Steamer Boston, March 6
Yesterday, at four p.m. the last tent was struck and we began to move down the river at eight this evening. Like our other expedition, we have three steamers: the “Boston,” “Burnside” and “John Adams.” Col. Montgomery with his men and Co. A (Capt. Trowbridge) of our regiment, started last evening on the “Burnside.” Our Lt. Col. Billings with Co. B (Capt. James [S. Rogers]) and Co. C (Capt. [William J.] Randolph) on the “John Adams.” Col. Higginson and Major Strong with the other seven companies of our regiment, on the Flag Ship “Boston.” I have left Dr. Hawks behind to care for the sick in the hospital, and placed Dr. Minor on the “Adams.” With me are the hospital Steward and my trusty nurse, Mr. Spaulding. You may easily imagine there is not much leeway on this steamer, calculated to carry less than four hundred. Besides we are blocked at every turn by camp equipage, horses, army wagons etc. But the weather is perfect and the line officers cheerfully co-operate in keeping their men where I want them.
To break camp under any circumstances is not an easy thing to do, but divers unforeseen obstacles have made no end of complications. The most serious hindrance I know of was the attempted desertion of Lieutenants O’Neil and Stockdale, two artillerists, who were very brave in our last expedition and upon whom, I fancy, the Col. put much dependence in our present undertaking. [Lt. James B. O’Neill, Co. D, and 1st Lt. William Stockdale, Co. C] The disaffection of these two officers grew out of the discontent and diabolism of their wives. Soon after our expedition, I was obliged to ask Gen. Saxton for increased hospital room. This led to the conclusion that these Irish wives, who were occupying chambers in the plantation house, would be obliged to go to New York for want of room at Beaufort, besides, it seemed necessary to get them away from the regiment. Leave of absence could not be granted the Lieutenants and then commenced such cursing from Madam Stockdale as I never heard from any woman. There was a quiet cooperation on the part of Madam O’Neil. Yesterday morning the Lieutenants would not report to their superiors, as ordered by the Col., but left the camp instead. The Major arrested them in Beaufort and put them in charge of the Ass’t Adjutant General, who, very unwisely, at last let them off with an hour on parole. Not reporting as promised, they were pursued and found on the “shell road” going towards the lines of the enemy. They are now heavily ironed and in jail at Beaufort, with a prospect of execution before them. I am glad for their wives to suffer as they do and inasmuch as these officers have served several years in the regular army and are not at all ignorant of the rules, they cannot complain of any punishment they may have brought upon themselves.
Steamer Boston, Mouth of St. John’s River, March 8, 1863
Mayport Mills, at the “Mouth of the Saint Johns River,” was seized by Federal gunboats of the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron in March 1862 and held throughout the war. It became the starting point for four occupations of Jacksonville, and for four years of gunboat patrols of the river. Map is courtesy of Erin Soles, Center for Instructional Technology, University of North Florida.
Waiting, waiting, waiting, with the thermometer at 80 F. this bright Sunday. Great sandbanks like snow, atmosphere shimmering in the hot sunlight, while the young, tender foliage softens the landscape into beauty.
At daylight this morning we left Fernandina and arrived off the bar at the mouth of this river at 9.30 A.M. The gunboat “Uncas” came off to meet us and considerably before noon we were anchored in here with the “Uncas,” the “Norwich” and our transport, the “Burnside.” Why the “John Adams,” has not reached here, we cannot imagine. This delay warns the rebs of our approach to Jacksonville and, if they choose to dispute our landing, I do not see why some lives may not be lost. James and I have been ashore this afternoon and have seen various wild flowers unfamiliar to us. The Col. is deep in consultation with gunboat captains and a steady frown indicates his impatience and perplexity about the “John Adams.” Rough and ready Capt. Dolly remarked when we passed her that he was d-d if he didn’t admire the Lt.Col. because he was always to be found just where we left him. His theory however about the non-arrival of the “Adams” is that the chaplain has gone back for the last well to be dug. Wells are one of the chaplain’s specialties and it would not be surprising if the theory proved correct. To me the worst feature of the delay is the exposure of our men to disease. I dread confinement in close air for them much more than I do rebel bullets.
Yesterday I heard of a little coincidence which quite amused me. One of our captains is not so broad and catholic as Theodore Parker, and very constantly manifests a jealous nature by petty complaints and watching for evil. Yesterday morning he was speaking to me of the Col. and remarked that the only fault he could find with him was a lack of discipline, and that the men ought not to be allowed to insult their officers without severe punishment. I replied that I did not know of an officer in the regiment who was obliged to cross the track of the men so much as I, and yet, without any specific control over any but those in the hospital department, I never dreamed of being insulted and that if I were, I should feel that the fault were mine. This captain happened to be the officer of the day and, towards evening, I noticed that he was looking very demure and that he was minus his sash. On inquiry I found he had permitted some slight improprieties among the men and that the Col. promptly put another officer in his place. I have not heard of a better disciplinarian than Col. H. and I doubt not Capt. – is getting convinced on the same point. [Theodore Parker was a Massachusetts preacher, abolitionist, and social reformer made famous for his writings and his liberal and expansive intellectual pursuits.]
Just now I found one of our men in a collapsed state which will prove fatal.
This morning, at last, the “John Adams” hove in sight. The officers report fog [was] so dense as to prevent running her over the bar at Fernandina. If the rebels are not duller than I think them, we shall suffer for this most annoying delay. My judgment of it is more severe than I can write.
The poor fellow whom I mentioned yesterday, died this morning. Were our men obliged to sleep aboard a few nights more, such deaths would be frequent. Yet I have done everything to prevent disease that, under the circumstances, can be done. Yesterday I found several ill on the “Burnside,” including Col. Montgomery and one of our best artillerists. Today all are in good condition and anticipating a fight.
Headquarters 1st S.C. Vols., Jacksonville, Fla. March 12, 1863
For once I have been so busy that I could not find time to note the thousand and one incidents of our expedition. Tuesday morning, at two, our fleet of five steamers moved slowly up the St. Johns, passed the yellow bluffs, the night glorious in its blue, misty moonlight, the river wide and beautiful. When daylight came we were delighted by the scenery of the shores and the cozy looking homes scattered here and there.
Strange as it may seem, the rebels were taken by surprise and the city was neither defended nor burned and we landed without a gun being fired. One man came down to the wharf and caught the line when it was thrown off and the Col. was the first to step on shore. Then followed Capt. Metcalf and Capt. Rogers with their men and soon other companies followed, till pickets were posted in the suburbs. Meanwhile, Col. Montgomery and Capt. Trowbridge with their men, started off in the direction of the rebel camp. The “John Adams,” “Boston” and “Burnside” remain at the wharves, while the “Uncas” and “Norwich” lie out in the stream.
We expect to hold this city, though I don’t see how it is to be done without reinforcements. Our men will do almost anything, but I don’t believe they can do so much picket service without exhaustion. Skirmishing is intensely exciting and they enjoy it beyond measure. Yesterday they brought in a saddle with some instruments that belonged to a surgeon of the cavalry who was shot through the head. At every fight our boys have put the rebels to flight, though they have twice made the attack with force superior to ours.
The rebel camp is eight miles out. It is not easy for us to know their exact force. Under the protection of our gunboats, we are safe, but we hope, ere long, to be safe under our own protection. Many of our men were slaves here, not long ago, and you can scarcely imagine the horror and dread the secesh have of them. We have a few important prisoners, one who was a Lieut. in the U.S. Army and afterward in the Confederate Army.
Capt. Rogers is Provost Marshal and has his powers taxed considerably. He likes his work exceedingly and does it well. He rides a little secesh pony which he captured the first morning here. I am sick of “loyal slaveholders,” and would not resort to the blasphemy of administering the oath to them. I think we are not doing so much of this last as some commanders have done.
I should judge this to be a town of 4000 inhabitants. It has excellent wharves and large brick warehouses more than half a mile in length. The town gradually rises from the river, back a third or half a mile. Streets and houses have gas fixtures, a New England look to everything, streets beautifully shaded by live oaks, now and then a cornus Florida, the ground paved with its white petals, peach trees in full bloom.
Jacksonville building fronting on Bay Street, east of Ocean Street. Black Union soldiers can be seen on the street and in the windows of the second floor of the building on the right. Colonel Higginson billeted the men of the First South Carolina Volunteers on the second story of buildings on Bay Street for security, and also because of space availability. Photograph by Sam A. Cooley, 1864. LC.
Our headquarters are grand. The new brick house we occupy was owned by Col. [John] Sanderson, one of the ablest lawyers in the state and one of the most traitorous. He is in Dixie while his family is north. I just now asked Serg’t [Thomas] Hodges if he knew Sanderson. “Oh yes, I was one of the carpenters who worked many a hard day on that fine house.”
Albert Sammis, private in Co. C, First South Carolina Volunteers. Sammis, born free and a blacksmith before the war, volunteered for service at Camp Saxton in December 1862 and became Colonel Higginson’s orderly during the occupation of Jacksonville. Albert was the son of John S. Sammis, a wealthy planter and business owner in Jacksonville, and an enslaved woman who was freed before Albert was born. After the war, Albert worked as a gardener, cook, and constable in Jacksonville. Courtesy of Eileen Brady, Special Collections Librarian, Thomas G. Carpenter Library, University of North Florida.
There are probably 400 or 500 people remaining here. If everything goes right I shall convert the Washington Hotel into a hospital. At present we keep sick and wounded on the “John Adams.”
This is the only place I have yet seen in the South that suits me for a residence. It is the most important position in Florida for us to hold. It has already been twice abandoned by our troops and it remains to be proved whether it must be abandoned a third time.
March 13, Evening
The night was not a very quiet one for our sentinels at the barricades, firing enough to keep all on the qui-vive, though no one was wounded on our side and I cannot learn that anybody but a secesh dog was found dead on the other side. Expecting a noisy night and possibly a dangerous one, I slept, as heretofore, on the “John Adams.” Doing so gave the Col. a good opportunity for quietly saying this morning that he did not doubt Capt. Duncan of the “Norwich” would afford me greater security if I liked. Inasmuch as I am somewhat severe on cowards, I quite enjoyed the laugh brought upon myself. My presence here was entirely unnecessary, consequently I sought a place of less danger. I have not yet considered it quite prudent to bring the sick and wounded to a hospital on shore.
March 14, Evening
A curious incident occurred this morning which gave me a full hundred (from both regiments) sick and wounded to examine and prescribe for and fill out my prescriptions. The “John Adams” started for a secret raid up the river at daylight without notifying Dr Minor, the steward and the hospital nurse who were all sleeping on the boat. It was a good enough joke, but for me not so practical as to make me crave a repetition. Tonight our sick and wounded are in the hospital. Col. Montgomery thought the Lord had grown these handsome shade trees especially for barricades and I have never a doubt that the Washington Hotel, with its sixteen chambers, and a fire-place in each, was especially intended for a military hospital. Possibly it is because it seems too good to last that I deem it hazardous to bring our sick ashore, but the Colonels assure me it is perfectly safe to do so. . . .
Our belligerent Chaplain is armed with a revolver on each side and a Ballard rifle on his back. He keeps so persistently on the advanced picket line that I could scarcely persuade him to conduct the funeral service of the poor fellow who was shot the other day. Today he got on the track of some cavalry and infantry and was certain of surrounding and capturing them if he could only get permission from the Colonel. His hatred of slavery is so intense that his prayers are of a nature to keep his powder dry.We have burned a good many houses within a mile of town, to get rid of screens for the enemy between us and the woods, where rather formidable trees are being felled to complete our water barricade. The houses are often occupied by women and children whose husbands and fathers are in the Confederate service. The Chaplain, being a man of fire, has much to do with this matter. Today, I questioned him as to his usual mode of proceeding. I found he gave them the choice of the two governments, but with the explicit statement that their friends in arms were to be killed soon unless they came and surrendered. His division of the effects of these families seems rather scriptural. “What seems to belong to the woman, I yield to her, but what seems to belong to the man I have brought into camp.”
Some of these cases are very pitiful and call out my deepest commiseration. Today I visited a poor widow who has a son in the rebel service. Her house was burning and she, with her children, was brought into town. She has not been able to walk a step during the last five months. On examination I found that her prostration was due entirely to privations and hardships resulting from the war. For more than a year her food has been “dry hominy” with now and then a little fish. She was born in Alabama of “poor white” parents. As I talked with her it seemed to me it must be difficult for her to understand the justice of our coming here to invade the homes of those who had always earned their bread by the sweat of their brows.
Yesterday I conversed with a lady who lives in a pleasant cottage, with her beautiful children and her aged mother. Her husband is a captain outside our barricades and when the Colonel granted her permission to go wherever she chose, she said so many had gone from the river and coast towns to the interior that one could scarcely find a barn to stay in or food to subsist on. She remains here for the present. Her husband was a music teacher and was taken into the army by conscription. From what I can learn of him through Union men, I have no doubt he would gladly return to loyalty. What are we to do with such families? “Things are a little mixed” here in the South, but we must all suffer the results of our great national sin, some one way, some another. [Rogers probably conversed with Mrs. A.A. Ochus, whose German-born husband was a music teacher and the owner of a music store in Jacksonville before the war. He joined the Jacksonville Light Infantry in 1859 and became the Captain of Co. D, 11th Florida Infantry in the Confederate States Army.]
I have given out word that the Surgeon of our regiment will cheerfully and gladly attend to the medical needs of all civilians here. To be the means of relieving suffering is sufficient compensation, but in this case there is the additional good of being able to make anti-slavery statements in a satisfactory way. . . .
I never supposed I could be so much gratified by comparatively level scenery. The river is very beautiful, quite clear and of a deep amber color. I cannot tell you how much I enjoy my evening bath. Dr Minor usually goes with me. Once, while in the water, the companies were hurriedly ordered to “fall in,” but seemed so unnatural that one’s bathing should be interfered with that we were not startled by the alarm.
We find the rebel women here exceedingly desirous to prove that our soldiers are guilty of all the outrages they might expect from a long-injured people now in power. Many of our soldiers are natives of this place and meet their old mistresses here. On the day of our landing I was over and over implored, by those who knew their deserts, to protect them from the “niggers.” It was an awful turning of the tables. I quite enjoyed saying “These are United States troops and they will not dishonor the flag.” Several charges have been preferred against the soldiers, but thus far, when sifted down, have proved quite as much against those who complained as against our men. The Adjutant told me of a lady of easy manners, who had been very much insulted by a soldier. Close investigation proved that he actually sat on her front door-steps.
That our soldiers do some outrageous things, I have little doubt. When women taunt them with language most unbecoming, as they sometimes do, I should be very sorry if they did not return a silencer. Thus far they have behaved better than any white regiment has done under such temptations. They “confiscate” pigs and chickens because their captains connive at it and the Provost Marshall cannot do everything alone.
Today the “John Adams” and the “Burnside” are off on some speculation up the river. I was too busy to go with them this morning, or should have asked the privilege. Col. Montgomery has gone with his men. They declare that he is a “perfect devil to fight, he don’t care nuttin ‘bout de revels.” His bravery is apparently rashness but in reality, far from it. He evidently thinks the true mode of self-defense is to attack the enemy on his own ground.
[March 15] Evening
About six, the “Burnside” came down the river with horses, hogs, chickens and prisoners. They took Col. Bryant, just as he returned to his plantation after running his negroes into the back county. They report great quantities of cotton and cattle up the river, so I hope we really are to have fresh beef again.
It is nothing like as damp and unwholesome here as in South Carolina. The same amount of exposure there that our men have had here, would have given the hospital twenty or thirty cases of pleurisy and pneumonia, while today we have but a single case of acute inflammation. There is coughing enough to keep back several rebel regiments. I see no reason, however, why the officers should not get intermittent fever from this handsome river, by and by. It looks as if midsummer might load it with miasma and alligators.
. . . I am gradually confiscating furniture for my spacious chamber in the best house of this beautiful town, as if it were my final residence. I enjoy the long cedar closet that opens out of my room. The fragrance is so sweet that I cannot understand why moths object to it. Then just think of having a perfect bath room, without any water in it and costly gas fixtures without any gas. The war has greatly deranged the machinery of this town. Almost everywhere, except in this house, I have found the lead pipes cut by the rebels and used, I suppose, for bullets. When Col. Sanderson left here he placed his house in charge of a Union man, saying that it would naturally be the headquarters of any Union commander. Hence the more perfect preservation of the property.
March 16. Evening
The second floors of the warehouses on Bay Street make capital quarters for our troops. The rebels burned many of the stores of Union men and would have burned their private dwellings if it could have been done without endangering their own.
The provost marshal has worked very assiduously in collecting and preserving from destruction, furniture etc., left in the vacated houses. To be his “old Uncle” just now I find a great convenience. Today he sent up to my room the only spiral spring bed the town afforded. After three months of such hard fare I am not sure but so much luxury will make me effeminate. The old buffalo robe seems at home again and there is not an easier bed in the United States. [The provost marshal at the time was Captain James S. Rogers, the nephew of Dr. Rogers.]
One of our pickets came in today with a conical ball in his foot and complained that “de cunnel stood out forwad ob we looking at de revels wid de glass an wouldn’t let we fire.” The Col. afterwards told me that the range was so long that it would have been a great waste of ammunition.
The mosquitoes are here. I have always heard that they were as large as sheep. It is a mistake, they are not so large as rats. I think those I see are probably “spring poor,” at any rate they seem hungry, and, like the women and children, come in droves for rations.
This afternoon was the first opportunity I have found for a horseback ride. The little confiscated spitfire kicked and pranced beautifully, but I found he could run, having been trained, I suppose for skedaddling. Walking is the last thing to be done here so long as you can get a horse or a boat. At present we can do but little of either, lest we be shot by guerillas.
I asked Major [B. Ryder] Corwin, this morning, if he really liked Colonel Montgomery as much as he expected to, and was delighted by his saying, “A great deal better.”
We are fairly at work at our legitimate business. The “John Adams” brought down, last evening, thirty contrabands, ten horse, and quantities of corn, hogs, cotton etc. Today the ‘Burnside” is off on a similar errand. Meanwhile our boys have had a smart skirmish about a mile and a half out and burned several houses occupied by the rebel advance pickets. As we are not here to act aggressively against camp Finnegan, but simply to hold this town for headquarters, while making such advances from other points on the river as may seem best, it seems as if the enemy must have reached the conclusion, ere this, that we have means of defense. It is a mystery that they do not contrive some way to burn us out. Women and children are permitted to go and come without hindrance and they could do us the greatest damage by going back to their friends by the light of the town. I trust they will not think of it.
This morning a message came in by flag of truce from camp Finnegan [Camp Finegan was eight miles west of Jacksonville] giving us 24 hours to send out the women and children to the brick church, where the skirmish was yesterday, and their teams will meet them there. The message was signed by Lieut. Col. [Abner H.] McCormick. This afternoon another came from Col. [Duncan L.] Clinch repeating the former and adding that we should be held responsible for what might happen to those left in town. This looks as if they intend to approach the town with artillery and set it on fire with shells. This is feasible, in spite of our gunboats. If there is any pluck in them the attempt will be made. Many of our officers think the message a mere flourish for intimidation, but I do not and shall hold myself in readiness to send my sick and wounded to the steamer at short notice. Meanwhile we look for reinforcements by the “Boston.” Her delay is unaccountable.
Owing to hard fare and excessive fatigue, several of our officers are quite out of health. I am satisfied that the blacks have too much credit for good cooking. I have yet to find one who knows how to make bread or cook meat. If we hold this town we shall soon have “post oven” and good bread; getting rid of the villainous fried dough which is bringing dysentery into camp.
The provost marshal and major have been very busy today, escorting the rebel women and children to their friends. Major Strong told me that while the teams were unloading, the marshal sat on his pony whistling the John Brown hymn. As James was not permitted to talk, I suppose he had to whistle in self defense. I very much wanted to go, but could not get permission. I suppose the Col. is afraid I shall, sometime, go over to the rebels. About one hundred and fifty have gone out today, leaving about two hundred here. The Col. is under no obligation to force civilians out of town without positive notification from the enemy that he intends to attack.
The enemy left us undisturbed during the night and I believe their chance has vanished with the rising of the morning’s sun. The “Boston” has arrived with the sixth Connecticut regiment and there are others to hand. Meanwhile our earthworks are so nearly completed that guns are mounted and a large force could easily be repulsed. But last night more than one officer slept with his boots on.
Last night was dark and rainy with just wind enough to make sounds everywhere. At midnight, cannonading began at one of the forts and then followed shells for the gunboats. Our pickets were fired upon and there was general impression outside that all secesh were down upon us. But the enemy has not since been heard from. Today Major Strong went with skirmishers far beyond the accustomed line, without opposition. Cannonading in the night is hard for weak nerves and I dreaded the effect upon my sick. One of the convalescents was suddenly attacked with pleurisy in the night, and when I asked him about the time when the pain began, he replied, “Just after de gun done gone shoot.” Another, who had a bullet through his leg, said he had “enjoyed a mighty bad rest.” Tomorrow the “Boston” will take northward some important prisoners whom we have arrested here. Some of them were complaining of Capt. [William J.] Randolph’s tardiness in having them examined, that when he arrested them he promised they should have an early trial. The Capt. replied that he would like to have them prove that he promised them anything but “the day of Judgment and long periods of damnation.”
I wish I had time to tell you some of the curious incidents of the last ten days. I dare say the Col. has them all in his everlasting note book, so you will get them sometime.Our regiment and the sixth Conn. met harmoniously at church this morning. The prejudice of the white soldiers is very strong, yet I trust there will be no serious collision. Our boys have seen hardships enough to unfit them for receiving taunts very graciously. The question begins to be asked “When shall we make an advance?’
The 8th Maine arrived today and I am sorry that Col. [John D.] Rust ranks our Col.
Tonight the “Paul Jones” has returned from Palatka, bringing a single contraband and the intelligence that all the slaves have been run back to the interior. The fact is if we are ever to get black soldiers, we must make a big hole through rebel lines so that the blacks can run back to us. Every day of waiting here is a day of strength to our fortifications, but a day of weakness to our purpose. We need nothing so much as black recruits and it seems to me that if the proclamation of emancipation is ever to be anything more than a dead letter it must be made so before many weeks. Were the North an anti-slavery unit I should not feel at all impatient, but I believe we have more to dread from traitors at home than from their friends who fight against us here. Possibly public opinion may not continue on its anti-slavery decline at home, but if today we had fifty thousand black troops, I should feel more certain of its returning to health. I am perfectly satisfied that there is nothing in this world so dreadful to the rebels as the enlistment of their slaves in the federal service. They will resort to every possible means to prevent our getting recruits. . . .
Our Provost Marshal is succeeded by the appointment of another from one of the older regiments. I believe all the officers of the Post are chosen from the oldest regiment present. The date of one’s commission settles the appointment. I was surgeon of the Post until the 8th Maine arrived, now I am only surgeon of the 1st S.C.Volunteers again. I suppose it would be proper to feel relieved, but not having discovered any change in my daily duties, I feel much the same over; as Capt. Trowbridge would express it, “Hearty but wake.” Speaking of Trowbridge reminds me that I heard him and the Chaplain, on Sunday, entering into a mutual agreement not to swear any more. The Chaplain swears only under the most pressing circumstances, but I have not the remotest faith that in the hour of need either of them will remember the pledge. Yet I am aware of notable instances of self restraint in cases more chronic than theirs. Capt. Dolly is doing his best to give it up, but he told me, confidentially, that he would rather go without eating.
March 25. 4.30,P.M
Three quarters of an hour ago I was dreaming pleasantly of a prayer meeting, when a rebel bombshell burst somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the town. Presently another and another, then the reply of our guns and then the “long roll.” It seemed as if we were at last, fairly in for it. Dr. Minor came up to ask if we were to trust Providence to care for our hospital. I advised him to go back and assure them all that the Lord was on the side of our big guns. Meanwhile I crawled on to the top of our observatory and watched the firing until the secesh sent shell which burst in the air and sent a fragment whistling above my head with a note so shrill that I began to think of Gabriel’s trumpet and crawled down again. Presently the cannonading ceased. I do not think it was chivalric for the rebels to wake us so early, but, I remember, we are not now in South Carolina. The cocks are crowing unconcernedly and I’ll go to bed again.
Several shells came into town before our guns gave the quietus. A section of one struck within a few feet of the Col. and Major, in front of Headquarters. The hospital of the 8th Maine was perforated by a piece of one, and two dwelling houses were terribly bored. One went through two occupied chambers. A husband and wife lost, respectively, a coat and a skirt, which were hanging on a rocking chair and . . . a portion of the mosquito bar over the bed. Shells make very ugly-looking holes through houses. It seems remarkable that no one was injured, although to me not much more so than that so few are injured in thunder storms, of which the scene forcibly reminded me.
This morning we made a reconnaissance in force. One of our . . . [South Carolina Volunteer] companies took charge of the rifled ten pounder on the platform car, while the Col and Major advanced on the line of the railroad with four other companies of our regiment together with six of the 8th Maine and 6th Conn, our Colonel in command. Our boys skirmished on the left of the road and the others on the right. The rebel pickets galloped off to camp – which has been moved back ten or twelve miles. When we had advanced about four miles through the open pine barrens and occasional thick woods, the smoke of a rebel engine was seen in the distance. Meantime I had hurried through my morning duties and at about 12.30 P.M. had overtaken the force. I had not been there more than twenty minutes before the 64 pound shells began to come down upon us from their gun on a platform car. Our force had already begun a slow retreat, with repeated halts, when the conical portion of the first shell (which had exploded above our heads) struck four of the 8th Maine soldiers, killing two and wounding two, one slightly and one so that the amputation of the foot is necessary. The firing was very accurate; first on one side of the road, then on the other a shell would come singing over and many of them exploded over our heads. Gen. Saxton believes a special Providence watches over our regiment and that not a man was seriously injured today would seem to justify his belief. I saw a whole shell that did not explode, plough into the sand under the feet of a soldier not six rods from me, knock his gun out of his hands and his cap off his head, but before I could get to him he had gathered himself up and was off uninjured.
Dr. Joseph Mitchell of the 8th Maine who suffered and I were the only mounted officers out, till the Col’s horse was sent to meet him on the return. My “rebel” pranced well and behaved beautifully. We burned several houses and as I had not before had the satisfaction, I chose a very new, good one and kindled my fire in a costly mahogany sideboard. A portion of the R.R. track was destroyed, but whether enough to hinder them long in repairs I am not certain. [Dr. Mitchell was a native of Maine, a graduate of the Harvard Medical School who moved to Jacksonville in 1852 for health reasons. An ardent Unionist, Mitchell left Florida at the outbreak of the war and volunteered for Union service, eventually becoming a surgeon in the 8th Maine.]
After our return, Sergeant McIntyre of Co. G. came up to headquarters to intercede for his friend Thomas Long, a private in the same company, who had conceived the idea of going alone a dozen miles to destroy by fire a long trestle work, built through a swamp, over which the oar cars run. Thomas Long is a thin, spiritual-looking, unassuming black man, who trusts God. He has gone on his errand, an errand requiring more real courage and heroism than has before been manifested in our regiment. Of course he goes disguised, but he carries with him such evidence of his intention that death would surely follow his capture. My expectation of seeing him again is very small. [Thomas W. Long became an African Methodist Episcopal minister after the war and represented Marion County in the Florida State Senate.]
This morning a company of the 8th Maine went over the creek, north of the town, and advanced about three miles through the pine barren. At noon a messenger came in for reinforcements to go out and take a camp containing a hundred cavalry pickets. It was decided that Co. H. and Major Strong with four of our companies should undertake the job, much to the disappointment of Lieut Col [Joseph F.] Twitchell of the 8th Maine, who told me how certain he was of making a fine dash of it if allowed to go. But we had held the town against great odds before they came to our relief, and it was our right to go.
To my surprise, the Col. ordered me to stay behind until the reserve force should come up. I waited as long as I could conveniently and then rode over to the creek where our pickets were stationed. Instead of meeting a “reserve,” I found only the horses of our officers, who had not attempted to get them over the barricades on the causeway and through the creek, where the bridge had been removed. They had already been gone long enough to get two miles in advance and it looked to me as if there must be ample time for our party to capture or be captured long before the 8th Maine could reinforce them. So, for one, I disobeyed orders and gave my Rebel the reins. I found he could leap like a panther and run like a deer. Except in the circus, I have never seen a horse leap so high. The marsh each side of the causeway made it impossible to go round. Once out on the plain, among the tall, handsome pine, we went gaily in pursuit of our party. The scene was so solemn and so beautiful that I had no fear of possible guerilla shots. At length our men were in sight, on the right of the road, and hats were waving me out of the way so likely to be seen by the enemy. Knowing but little of strategy, I suppose I should have made a straight forward push for the enemy. Major Strong, with two companies, had gone around another way to cut off retreat, and I soon perceived, by the silence and ominous motions, that we were in the immediate vicinity of the camp. Finally the trap was handsomely and strategically set, the Major was on the left spring and the Col. on the right, and when the two jaws snapped together they found between their teeth quite a lot of drying sheets and shirts and other articles, resembling, through a thickly wooded ravine, a rebel camp. Chickens were frightened and an old mare confiscated by the Major to ride back to town. I have not seen the 8th Maine captain who made the blunder, but everybody else seems to enjoy it. Our boys could not have had a better skirmish drill. I was not censured for disobeying orders.
March 27, 1863
This afternoon our eyes were gladdened by the sight of the “Boston” and convoy steaming up the river, but when, instead of a cavalry force and light artillery to weigh them down, we perceived they came empty, we were filled with forebodings, till our hearts actually sank within us at the intelligence that an order from Gen. Hunter had come for our forces to evacuate the town to help those further north. This may be wisdom, but I fail to see anything but that fatal vacillation which has thus far cursed us in this war. We have planted ourselves here for the definite purpose of making this state free, and have already so fortified the city that a small force can hold it while the boats are making such raids up the river as may seem best. Col. Montgomery and his men have been off two days up the river and tonight, a steamer is dispatched to call them back. I hope it will take the “John Adams” a week to find the “Gen Meigs,” for we cannot think of leaving without them. Unfortunately we are constantly expecting her back, though it would not surprise me if Col. Montgomery had marched his men twenty miles inland and confiscated all sorts of contrabands. He carefully avoided taking anything but hard bread, for he religiously believes we ought to live on the rebels.
Judge Stickney is exceedingly anxious to take the Convoy and go back to Hilton Head to ask for a reconsideration of the order. Among the officers there is a difference of opinion as to the rightfulness of such a delay. The order was peremptory and were I Gen. Hunter I would cashier the officer who disobeyed it. At the same time I believe the only reason why Gen Hunter calls us back is because he fears our black troops might be overpowered in the absence of the other regiments. There would be no danger of it. If our army ever should happen to do anything at Charleston we could be reinforced after that. [Lyman D. Stickney, a radical abolitionist, was appointed by Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to head the U.S. Direct Tax Commission of Florida. Stickney was a political opportunist of the first order and had a sharp eye for personally rewarding and unsavory investments in property owned by Confederates before the war.]
March 28. Evening
Not yet off. Have worked enough for one day in getting our sick and wounded on the “John Adams.” Another steamer has arrived with additional instructions. It seems that each regiment is to return to its former camp, I suppose this mean that we are to protect the Islands while the advance is made on Charleston, if it means anything. The “John Adams” found the “Gen. Meigs” a long way up the river. They returned at noon with twelve rebel prisoners who were caught while asleep at their station. The Lieutenant in command was permitted to say goodbye to his wife, and made his escape through the sobs and crinoline of his female friends. Col Montgomery admits a weak spot in his military nature. He could have shot the Lieut. while escaping, but would not do so in the presence of his wife. [The Confederate lieutenant that escaped was Stephen Bryant, owner of eighty-seven enslaved men and women and the Laurel Grove Plantation on Doctors Lake – today in Clay County.]
Our men made a landing at Palatka and were fired into by the rebs. Lieut. Col Billings received a ball through the fleshy margin of each hand while attempting to get off the steamer. Brave old John Quincy received one through the leg, a little above the ankle, fracturing the small bone and carrying away some of it. I shall not amputate. It seemed peculiarly trying for the old man. He had begged the privilege of going up for his wife and received a shot instead. I don’t quite see how he will harmonize this double affliction with the theory he so often preaches to the men, that when one trusts in God and is not a coward, he will be protected against the bullets of his enemies.
Tonight the Major and Captain, with twenty picked men, go up the river with muffled oars, to try to capture another lot of pickets. I fear they will not be successful. Thomas Long returned safely day before yesterday. He examined camp Finnegan, eight miles out, and went to the trestle four miles beyond, but finding it closely watched by pickets he did not attempt to burn it. I look at that man with a deep feeling of reverence.
My Rebel and I went, this afternoon, round the circuit of the pickets, forts, rifle pits and stockades for the last time. The pickets were playing euchre and fishing in the creek and enjoying themselves as only pickets can. I thought how much less the rebels troubled them than me. The truth is, the order to evacuate this town this town depresses me. I hate weak vacillation and this seems too much like the unsettled policy that all along has crippled the energy of our forces.
Steamer Convoy, Mouth of St John’s, March 29, 1863
This is one of the sad days of my life. The evacuation of Jacksonville is the burial of so many hopes I had cherished for the oppressed, that I feel like one in attendance at the funeral of a host of his friends. I greatly fear we are to be put back: out of action service at a moment when there is most need for us to work. I believe our retrograde movement today is an error more serious and damaging to the interests of the enslaved than appears on the surface. . . . Major Strong and his partly visited, last night, the picket station of the rebels, but for some reason they found no one and the search was useless.
Early this morning all was hurry and excitement. Insufficient means of transportation caused a good deal of grief among families obliged to leave behind their furniture, and caused a good deal of profanity among officers and soldiers obliged to be packed as you would pack pork. This little Convoy, of 410 tons, has six companies of soldiers with all their equipment, forty or fifty citizens with all the truck we did not throw back upon the wharf; fifty horses; all the Commissary stores and all my hospital stores save those needed on the “John Adams.” Were this crowded state to last but a few hours there would be no trouble, but it is thick weather and raining like fury and the fleet dare not put out to sea before morning. I forgot to say that we have also all our camp tents on board. Here we are for the night.Quite early this morning the 8th Maine boys began setting fire to the town – a most shameful proceeding. I came near losing my hospital stores before I could find conveyance for them to the steamer. The hospital was burned and many buildings were on fire when we left. It seemed like an interposition of Providence that a heavy rain so soon came on, which probably saved part of town. It also seems to me that Providence is interfering with Gen Hunter’s order in a way that may be more or less destructive. The wind is changing to the East and our prospect of getting off in the morning is passing away.
Late last evening we succeeding in getting a hundred men ashore and decently quartered in old houses. The wind blew a gale most of the night, the rain poured in torrents, while occasional thunder and lightning added interest to the scene. The Captain of the Convoy insisted on my taking his berth, so that my quarters were very good. I would sooner have lain on the hurricane deck in the storm than have slept in the cabin. At this moment I am writing in the captain’s room with a crowd of homeless women and children around me. One important testimony from them I am glad to record. They prefer to be here with the poorest accommodations rather than on the “Boston” or “Delaware” with nice staterooms and a large saloon. And what do you suppose is the reason? Because black soldiers do not offer them insults and they do not feel so secure with the white ones. It is established beyond all controversy, that black troops, with worthy commanders, are more controllable than white troops. What they would do with a less conscientious Colonel, I cannot say.This morning the Major and I went on shore and designated quarters for every company on board and now they are all drying and rejoicing themselves before blazing fires. Col H Is on the “John Adams.” I met him this morning and was told that my severe criticisms of those who fail to live up to a decent standard in the fulfillment of duties, [is indicative of] a suspicious nature. Till informed by my superior officer, I did not know exactly the name of the spirit that sometimes makes me sharp on those who do not come up to my standard, but I should be false to myself if I tried to prove that every one did the best he knew. I do not, nor can I believe it. Please don’t infer that I am getting grouchy. On the contrary, I was never better natured in my life.
Our men are coming aboard again and we shall start for Fernandina this afternoon. Sending the men ashore was a great hit. Nearly all are in good condition. I was this morning obliged to amputate John Quincy’s leg. His chances for life are only about one in three, owing to old age and impaired constitution. I am hard at work. Capt B treats me like a brother. I don’t see how I could be better placed in this department.
Camp Saxton, Beaufort, S.C. April 2, 1863. Evening
Such is the management here that my notes no longer date from satisfying advance posts. Four weeks ago tonight I was saying a last goodbye to our camp ground and at a late hour went on board the steamer that was forever to take us from South Carolina. The deserted camp by moon-light saddened me, but this inglorious return depresses me more than I can express. It seemed appropriate that we should steam Beaufort River the night of April 1.
It was not too late for me to visit dear old Mr. Saxton. He told me how terribly disappointed the General was at the sudden unexpected conclusion of Gen Hunter to order the evacuation of Jacksonville. One night it was agreed that Gen Saxton should visit us in person, but early in the morning all was reversed and empty steamers were sent for us. Gen Hunter could not be persuaded to countermand the order. At the risk of being reckoned “suspicious” I must express the conviction that Gen Hunter has been influenced by pro-slavery counsel. Negroes are now being drafted hereabouts “to do garrison duty.”
Today the long slumbering fleet at Hilton Head has begun to move towards Charleston. I am satisfied that Gen. Foster [General John G. Foster] could have handled the land forces better than Hunter. A very small force is being left to protect these Islands and you will be glad to know that we are to do picket duty in the absence of other troops. An attack upon us is not the most improbable thing to anticipate. I think our boys would enjoy a fight with almost any number of the enemy and some of our officers are slightly belligerent.
One of our soldiers who was expatiating on the pluck of the chaplain exclaimed, “My God, what for made him preacher? He is de fightenest more Yankee I eber did see.”
During the last two nights on the steamer, I insisted that the Capt. should have his berth; sleeping so well on the floor of the pilot house has made mattresses and other fixings seem somewhat effeminate.
Last night about a hundred of the boys bivouacked on the hurricane deck and early this morning they were full of cheerful congratulations. I heard one say, “Well, Jim, how are you? “Bully, tank God.” I am constantly amused by their pointed, laconic remarks.
- - - - - I understand that Gen. Hunter gives as a reason for withdrawing our regiment from Jacksonville that he needed others and dared not leave us alone. So far as safety is concerned, I would rather be on the main land of Florida than the islands here. My box of supplies from the Soldiers Aid Society of Worcester opened well today. We brought it up from Fernandina with us. The “General Burnside” was loaded with stores for us at the moment Gen. Hunter was McClellandized and everything was dumped off at Fernandina. The box has arrived at the moment we most need it, and, with exception of the ling, every article will be exceedingly useful. We confiscated a few bales of oakum up the St. Mary’s and I like it better than any other material for general dressing.
[The “General Burnside” crashed one year later as a Union naval flotilla was attempting to cross the St. John River bar and steam upriver to occupy Jacksonville for the fourth time during the war. The vessel floundered and eventually washed ashore a few miles south of the entrance to the river. It was a popular landmark long after the war ended.]
You would laugh to see me tonight in the naked, floorless tent, without fire, the rain pouring upon my canvas roof and my candle flickering in the wind. During our absence the regiment took our tent floors and we are on the sand. These drafted men are merged into the second regiment; I shall be delighted if the surgeon of that regiment ever makes his appearance. Dr Hawks is one of the examiners of exempts and as all have to be cared for, we three have quite enough to do. Dr Minor looks fatigued and it would not surprise me if he should have to haul off for rest. Everybody loves him. [The second regiment was the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers under Colonel James Montgomery; later the 34th USCI.]
Tomorrow I hear we are to pull up stakes and go on picket duty. This is not easy work, but work of any kind is preferable to inactivity. Dr. Minor is down with intermittent fever. I scarcely know how to spare him. I was obliged to send John Quincy to the Beaufort Hospital. . . . Mrs. General Lander drew up her splendid steed before my tent door this afternoon and assured me she would do all in her power for our General Hospital for colored soldiers, now being established in Beaufort. [Mrs. Lander was Jean Margaret Davenport, the widow of Major-General Frederick William Lander.]
It is yet undecided who the surgeon will be and I am somewhat solicitous about it. Very few surgeons will do precisely the same for blacks as they would do for whites, and I know of no people more susceptible to the benign influence of kind words than these long-suffering blacks.
Mrs. Lander told me that sixth Connecticut boys were full of praise for the bravery of our regiment.This morning I got another curious answer to my question about the condition of the bowels. “Well I haint had bowels better nor a day now.”
We have no freezing weather since we returned, but have come back to a comparatively cold climate. I sleep warmly, but smile at the transfer from my luxurious chamber and spring bed at Jacksonville to the unwarmed tent in the sand, with hospital store boxes for my bed and my field case of instruments for my pillow. Never an aching bone nor soreness of muscle from this. Sleeping half dressed is the normal condition and when I get along habitually to coat and cap and boots and spurs I don’t see what special advantages bears and buffaloes will have over me.
Advance Picket Station, Port Royal Island, April 6
We are seven miles N.W. of Beaufort. Six companies are encamped here, one at Port Royal Ferry, one at the Seabrook Plantation three miles from here, one at Rose’s two miles off in another direction, one at the brick-yard, three miles off is still another. Picket duty is always honorable, and being assigned to it for a time seems like a sort of compensation for taking us away from Jacksonville, but a pill is a pill, sugared or no, and we have been dosed with a very bad one which will forever stick in my crop. I did not want to lose my respect for Gen’l Hunter’s judgment but his vacillation shakes my confidence. . . . This old plantation house is not large enough to decently hold the colonel and his staff, but if we are very quiet I guess we shall get on amiably. Tonight I sleep on the dirty floor of an attic with two dormer windows and two room mates. The Col. wanted me to share his room below, but in this damp climate I shall always seek an upper room when it is possible.The scattering of our men will give us pleasant rides and plenty of excitement. The country hereabouts is just as charming as pine barren, slight elevations, running streams, acres of large white single roses climbing to the tops of respectable trees, and milk-white clusters of locust blossoms with their delicate fragrance, wild crimson honeysuckle and trees of cornus Florida in full bloom can make it. Don’t you think I might be happy? Well, I am.
Some of you can imagine how heartily I enjoy the morning gallop from station to station, to look after our soldiers. They endured the march well but are not equal to whites. I believe the Col. is more easily reconciled to this disparity of endurance, from the fact that it corroborates his theory that physical endurance and longevity are enhanced by civilization. Yesterday morning as we came through Beaufort I visited Gen’l Saxton and asked him to detail Dr. Hawks to take charge of the new General Hospital for colored soldiers instead of carrying out his plan to appoint Dr. ____, whose treatment is open to criticism. Tonight I am glad to hear that all is going as I could wish, and that our men will not be neglected. Dr. Minor is here with me again.
At Seabrook, this morning, I saw the rebel pickets on the opposite shore. They often hail our men but are never answered. The men chafe under this a little; but obey the Col’s order. Charles Follen has charge of that plantation. I like him. There is a prospect of his joining our regiment. I heartily wish we might have all earnest, anti-slavery men for officers. Military training without moral help is not very valuable.
Everything was going on quietly until we heard heavy cannonading in the direction of the Ferry before sunrise this morning. The “George Washington,” an old steamboat converted into a semi-gunboat, was cruising in the river and got around last evening. The rebels had ample time to send for artillery during the night and they blew her up. The explosion threw her men into the water and marsh, from which they were brought out by our pickets and the Chaplain. I judge that not more than a dozen were killed or wounded. They were sent to the Hospital in Beaufort. I would like to have the care of them, but we have no accommodations here. One of them told the Adjutant’s wife that he was glad to have me take care of him for he had often seen me in Worcester. Another was a handsome Providence boy, who was terribly broken to pieces, but who will recover.
April 10, Evening
My Reb has been ill with a horse distemper that is running through the damp stables, and I am just beginning to ride him again. I hope he and I will live to go home together. He knows a good deal more than can be written here, and is willing to consider me his friend.
April 11, Evening
All astir tonight. Rebel demonstrations at the Ferry. We have a gunboat above and one below, and part of a regular battery in front, ready to dispute any attack or attempt to take the guns from the “George Washington.”
Should one inquire for my health tonight, I might adopt the reply of a soldier yesterday: “Not superior, thank God”. A good night’s sleep will restore all that was lost under the tramp of couriers and rattle of sabers on the piazza during the whole of last night. Why couriers should carry sabers except to be in harmony with the general spirit of the War Department, I cannot conceive. There would be precisely as much sense in my being tripped up by mine [my saber] at the bedside of the sick or at the operating table. Ample preparations were made for the repulse of a large invading force and no force invaded. I guess we are all a little sorry, since it seems like lying in the face of Providence to leave unused for skirmishing these wonderful pine barrens. I thought Gen Saxton looked a little disappointed about it when he came out this morning. Gen. Hunter, who ought to be holding Charleston today, was with him. Were I not so sleepy I would crowd in a few curses here on the mismanagement which has resulted in the withdrawal of our forces from before Charleston. How much longer are we to be outraged by this blundering imbecility? I don’t yet know how it is to be most balmed. I suppose the rebels don’t care so long as they are left unhurt. This ever lasting talk about the moral effect of taking Charleston and Richmond is about played out. The moral effect of European nations will gravitate toward the successful party. If we whip the rebels we may be sure of European sympathy, and if we do not, with our means, we don’t deserve the sympathy of any one.
Today I have visited our soldiers in Gen. Hospital No. 10, in Beaufort. I am happy to say that at last we have a hospital with a look of permanence, and about as good as the others. Dr and Mrs. Hawks [Esther Hill Hawks was also a medical doctor] and one hospital steward have worked hard to get it in order. The supply of stores and medicines has been furnished by the Medical Department. Tonight the precious wandering box of capsicum and all the good things found its way to me. The iron band had kept it secure. Not a particle of the candy nor the capsicum had been eaten, not a postage stamp lost.
Today I have read the official report by Col. Root of our Florida expedition. Had the man written it himself I should have felt a sort of respect for his ability in the way of negative lies. But no one who knows him can give him credit for even power enough to write that singularly omissive report. Such is the foundation of history.
Night before last a boat load of rebels came over to Barnwell’s plantation to capture a squad of our pickets, but the boys were wide awake and gave them a few rounds of buck and ball which caused a hasty retreat. These dark nights are favorable for raids, and Cap’t Rogers, while on picket at the Ferry, took advantage of the rain and intense darkness last evening and went over the river bringing back a valuable boat. It was a daring operation which proved that our pickets are more vigilant than theirs. Up to today the rebels have not fired anything more injurious than oaths across at our men but this morning they tried their muskets. The shots were harmless but I very much regret their return to the barbarous practice. Our boys have thought it a little hard that they were not allowed to “cuss” back, and I doubt if it will be as easy to control them if the rebels repeat the offense. Yesterday I had a talk with “Aunt Sarah,” on the Perryclear Plantation about five miles from here, about her experiences in the revolution of ’76. She is said to be over a hundred years old and I can assure you I felt that I was looking into the dark ages as I sat before her. She spoke of the present war as one that the she and her race had long dreamed of, as the war of freedom for them.
Up to three days ago, good old John Quincy was getting on nicely, but lockjaw came upon him and today he was buried. He never murmured at his fate, but his religious conversation made everybody about him cheerful. I very much regretted the impossibility of having him under my immediate care.
Our men keep remarkably well out here, this kind of life exactly suits them.
Last night our Col. forgot the importance of his present position and visited the wreck of the George Washington. He saw how the remaining gun was situated, and gratified his love of adventure without being fired upon. It is a shame that no gunboat has yet been sent to protect the men who might have taken off those guns. The rumor comes to us from town tonight that the troops are ordered back to Charleston and that reinforcements are to meet them there from the North. We shall be left here on picket a while longer, and for this last I am thankful. Gen. Hunter has been consulted about the picket shooting, and writes to Gen. Saxton to “give them back as good as they send.”
Yesterday the rebels at the Ferry made arrangements for Col. Higginson to meet Gen. Walker this morning under a flag of truce. The request was that the Col. in command here should send of a boat to bring the General across. But the Col. concluded to go over to them at the hour appointed. I would have gone with him but for my lameness, a wrench to the knee from the Quartermaster’s poor horse falling upon it. The Col. was met by the General’s staff with an official letter, but when informed what regiment he represented they replied that their orders were to hold no official communication with officers of such regiments. The Col. learned that General Walker is the W. S. Walker of the regular army, who was under my care in Worcester in the autumn of 1852, and who subsequently in 1856, at the head of a company of dragoons, was sent by Gov. Geary to meet the Col. [Higginson] on the plains of Kansas while he was at the head of an armed emigration train [abolitionists from New England settling the Kansas Territory]. The meeting then was one of mutual surprise, and instead of arrests being made and the train stopped, they went together to the Governor, and the affair took a less stringent turn than had threatened. Yesterday the Col. took especial pains to send him word that his old acquaintance, T.W.H., would have been happy to send his compliments had he been treated with due respect, and that his old medical friend, Dr. R. [Rogers] was also here. [John W. Geary was appointed territorial governor of Kansas on July 31, 1856, amidst the violence of the “Bleeding Kansas” controversy. He tried to bring peace to the troubled territory but was removed from office by newly elected president James Buchanan. He became a Union general during the war.]
I remember an incident that occurred with this Walker, who, by the way, is a nephew of the Hon. R. J. Walker of Virginia, formerly Secretary of War. He had not been in our house many days before I had to settle a difficulty between him and Andrew, our faithful Irishman, whose heart was tender and somewhat larger than that of an ox. Andrew could not bear to be spoken to as if he were a dog, and I agreed with him so fully in the matter that I remonstrated with Cap’t Walker, and informed him that if either of them left the house it would be he. Whereupon the poor fellow was so angry that he remained three days and three nights in his bed before the storm passed away. His physical sufferings were so intense that there was some excuse for his anger, but it all passed away, and as his health gradually returned he became very gentlemanly and a favorite in the family.In the absence of the Chaplain today, Thomas Long of Go. G. held the divine service. His prayers were so deep and simple and touching that we all found our sight somewhat dimmed by tears. In the course of the sermon he said; “If each one of us was praying men, it appears to me that we could fight as well with prayers as with bullets, for the Lord has said that if we have faith, even as a grain of mustard seed cut into four parts, you could say unto that sycamore tree, arise, and it will come up.”
I have today conversed with the extraordinary colored man, Peter Burns, who brought off one hundred and thirty-two persons with him from the main land, and who has, for a long time, been employed by Gen. Hunter and by Gen. Saxton for a scout. He is a dark mulatto with face and form resembling John Brown. To hear his quaint expressions and Cromwellian talk is worth a journey from New England. . . . Too sleepy to repeat any of them to-night.
This style of warfare which leads one in charming ways while serving the soldiers is for the moment more attractive even than shot and shell. Yet I feel a longing for the battle-fields that lie between me and my home. Nothing less terrible can decide for freedom, and the sooner we are on the bloody field the sooner will come the day of jubilee. Heaven only knows how much more time and how much more human life is to be squandered by incompetent, egotistic officers in high places. When I think of the gradual melting away of the best army the world has ever seen simply because slavery has poisoned the religious earnestness of those in power I find it hard to take off the conviction that retributive justice will yet grind this proud nation to dust.
Haven’t Reb and I had a wild ride this afternoon? We plunged through the woods without regard to paths under foot, but trusted the paths in the sky. Of course we came out at the point, five miles away, for which we started. Possibly I ought not to include Reb in the sky path, for I gave him the rein in returning and noticed that he put his head near the ground, and with precision retraced the winding way. He leaps the fallen timber like a greyhound and seems so happy in the woods that I half expect him to make remarks on the beautiful things we see. Ah, I wish I could know whether he does see them.
This afternoon I heard a touching prayer from the “Uncle Tom” of our regiment, York Brown. He is a dear old soul and prays as if his “Most Heavenly Father” could not be very remote from him. Our Chaplain spoke of Jesus so much better than usual today I begin to feel as if we may yet Christianize him. He is a godly man and will sometime leave religious theories alone.
Two or three months ago I wrote you of a fearful monomania among our line officers, called “Muster and Pay Rolls.” The fighting in Florida cured them of the disease, but recently the old enemy has shown himself in another form. One can scarcely stir without seeing anxious inquiry in stifled notes; “Has he come? When will he come?” “Oh he will come and he will be loaded with greenbacks, we shall again be fed and clothed.” I regret to say that this form of the disease extends to the field and staff, and while I fancy myself beyond the reach of the epidemic, I do sometime see floating ghosts of greenbacks which promise much in the future. . . . To be paid in dollars and cents for the work in which I am engaged, I dare say would seem less ridiculous to my creditors than to me, yet doubtless if Uncle Sam should ever proffer pay, my searing irons will be duly heated and my conscience made callous. The Bible says, “The laborer, etc. etc.,” I will read that for consolation.
We are beginning just now to have showers and are promised that by and by they will come daily, and that we shall be brought to sympathize with Noah, when first he began to think of building the Ark. This evening it had been thundering a long time before I discovered it was not cannonading, so completely have the elements become demoralized by the war.
Dr. Minor found an enormous alligator in a cypress swamp this morning, and I joined him for a skirmish through the woods to find the old fellow. We penetrated to the centre of a low cypress growth and then found ourselves in the most impressive sanctuary I ever saw. A circular, open space of about 300 feet in diameter, in the centre of which were two stagnant pools of about twenty feed in diameter. There was not a stump nor a knee in this open space, but all around were the tall, solemn cypresses, completely draped in the long gray moss. The ground was made dry and soft, like wool, by a kind of moss. The great reptile had gone into one of the pools and roiled the water so we could not see him, but with a pole, I succeeded in making him strike with his tail. We had no opportunity to use our Ballards, and galloped home through the woods with resolves to try again another day. Within a couple of months that swamp will hold enough malarious poison in it to protect the occupants from human intrusion.
After Mr. Bennett and his assistants had finished paying the men today, we took a ride over to Barnwell’s. The “Barnwell oak” measures 126 feet in the broadest diameter in the spread of its branches, at lease such was my pacing. This is not the largest live oak but the broadest spread of branches I have ever seen. They start from the body very near the ground.
Tomorrow I am to be blessed by taking into my employment, York Brown. The old man has been nurse in the hospital during the last two months, but he prefers to avail himself to Gen. Saxton’s voluntary offer and take his discharge papers. He has been all his life a “gentleman’s waiter” and “knows how to keer of a hoss.” Think of my having this religious old white-headed man, whom I reverence, constantly near me. Do not be surprised if I get converted to Christianity by him.
Today, Dr. Minor, the Chaplain and I went up to the pool in the cypress swamp, but the great reptile drew his head under as we approached. The Chaplain was so religiously impressed by the sanctuary that he declared it would be sacrilegious for us to shoot the alligator; that God would never again permit us to be thrilled by the beauty of natural scenery. We knew it before and thanked the Chaplain for his sermon, and hereafter shall try to practice forbearance. It will be safer, however, for us to leave our Ballard’s at home.
Col. Montgomery’s regiment is nearly full, mostly drafted men from these islands. They are stationed at Pigeon Point, nearer Beaufort. [To draft black soldiers sometimes meant forcibly seizing and enrolling able-bodied black men into Union regiments against their wishes.]
As I was riding out to see Cap’t James’ men at Rose’s [Captain William James, Co. B, 1st SCV, encamped at Rose’s Plantation] this morning I was drawn aside by an immense chattering of birds down by the river. Not less than five hundred, possibly a thousand, bobolinks, the first I have seen this year, had congregated in the low tree-tops, and were eagerly discussing some important question. I could not believe my eyes, so approached nearer and nearer till all were silent, and then, to clear my doubts, one of the congregation did his best in that bird song so full of liquid melody. Again the business of the convention was resumed and I left them to decide the question whether to go Northward today or wait some finer opportunity.
Cap’t Rogers performed a deed on the 8th ins’t for which he will always rejoice. The causeway at the Ferry extends out into the river within about 150 yards of one on the opposite shore. There is no spot on the river so thoroughly picketed by both parties, yet he went across at noon in a little “dug-out” and brought over two men who beckoned from the rebel causeway. They were fugitive slaves, who had walked a hundred miles from the interior and had not been discovered by the rebels. They are intelligent fellows and take on liberty as if naturally fitted for it. There was no occasion to suppose that these men were not sent down there to decoy one to destruction, and I regard the crossing in the face of an enemy, who, according to all rules of war, should have been hidden behind the bushes, as an exceedingly daring thing to do. Had I been present as was the Col. I should have protested against it. As usual I find myself the most cautious man in the regiment. Now that it is done I am profoundly thankful but there was not more than one chance in two hundred for him to escape death or capture.
You may remember that I wrote about the attempted desertion of Lieut’s O Neil and Stockdale. They have just had their trial before a court martial and were acquitted on the ground that they were only absent from the camp without leave, and that their long confinement in jail at Beaufort was sufficient punishment. Gen. Hunter took this copper head decision in hand and in a general order makes their discharge disgrace them before the army. The order is pretty severe and ends by decreeing that they shall receive no pay nor bounty.
The rebels told us at picket that Gen. Hooker [Major General Joseph Hooker] was driving everything before him but I confess to a “heap” of incredulity which I hope will vanish before official dispatches.
We get reports from rebel sources that Hooker has got into Richmond, that Stonewall Jackson was killed and Lee taken prisoner. Were all this true you might expect some of us home within a few months, but it is too good to believe. [Rogers’s skepticism was sensible; Hooker was defeated by Confederate General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Chancellorsville at the beginning of May 1862. Stonewall Jackson had been killed as a result of battle, but General Robert E. Lee, rather than being taken prisoner, would continue to lead a brilliant Confederate military campaign.]
After all it seems the doubters are justified, Hooker is on the wrong side of the Rappahannock. But you will be glad to know that here we are so peaceful there is no danger of my telling you great stories of forced marches and hard fights. Today we endured the trials of a picnic, over in the oak grove at Barnwell’s. It is rare that we exert ourselves so much, but Mrs. Lander gave the order with so much grace that Gen. Saxton and our Colonel and his staff entered the lists manfully, and I have rarely seen better dancing and eating.
Three fugitives came from the main land this morning. They watched from the other shore when [our pickets] discharged their guns and withdrew from a certain post, and then came across in a little “dug-out” which the rebels had buried at some former salt works, an old man and his two sons. He thinks he can run off a good many more. He will have the opportunity to try.
We are being greatly washed in the rainy season now. Fortunately our tents are all raised eighteen inches from the ground and pitched on solid floors of faced pine logs. It is not easy to procure boards here ‘and these logs do just as well. The men cover the floor with pine needles and sleep after the same fashion that I do. The camp has a most picturesque look. Each row of tents has its long piazza roof of pine boughs under which the men sit more contentedly than would be possible for Yankees.
I am getting excessively proud of the physical condition of our regiment. Since we came out here we have enlisted nearly a hundred good, able-bodied men, and discharged about thirty from the service. Gen. Hunter has just issued very good sanitary orders for encampments during the summer. We had anticipated the more important of them.
Yesterday Reb and I found shelter from a great rain, where I saw only an old, gray-headed woman whose name was Rose. I found that she and her old husband and sister were benevolently left for the Yankees, while the younger members were saved from us by the masters. The old woman did not murmur at her fate, and when I said: “You must have found it easier to live in slavery with your children and grandchildren than living alone in freedom” she replied: “Yes, Masre, but we lub de freedom better dan dat, an’we rudder lib here alone dan be in slavery. Dey can no mo’sell we.” I never hear that word sell pronounced by these people without a thrill of horror.
I don’t remember whether I have written about the wonderful persistency of these people when once fully determined to accomplish a thing. You all know what they have gone through to gain freedom, and can easily imagine some of them capable of equal pertinacity for less worthy objects. I have noticed that when one of them fully makes up his mind to get discharged from the service on the ground of disability, there are but two ways to act in the matter. If there be real ground for his complaint, give him papers at once, but if not, pile his falsehoods upon him so crushingly that he at once feels there is no possible hope of deceiving you. Such cases are rare, but they occur, and some of our best soldiers today are men who were put into the guard-house for trying to deceive me. I only wonder that with the accursed teaching of their masters they do not oftener attempt this thing. If, under such circumstances, I am more severe with them than another would be, I never doubt that the Lord will bear in mind that my heart is intent on full justice for them.
I find my hatred of slop philanthropy deepened by living with these intensely human children. While I reverence them more and more, I am more and more convinced that Robert Sutton and Prince Rivers were in the right when they said at Alberti’s Mill: “That man don’t know what is good for him. You know that freedom is better than slavery for him and you ought to force him to go away with us.” The most intelligent men in our regiment urge the policy of conscription on the same ground, and that it will give them a “chance to get sense”. I said to Uncle York, just now, when he came into my den to see that the fire “keep blazin”: “Uncle, if you had not a wife in secesh I might want you to go home with me when the war is over.” Then he told me that he had been twice back to Darien for his wife, once on a gun-boat and once at the imminent risk of losing his life, but that she each time refused to come away, and that he would like to remain forever with me. She is a second wife and much younger than he. The last time he went for her he brought off several fugitives. He closed his narrative as follows: “So I got some sheepskin to muffle de oar, an de moon was berry shine and when at las’ we done got by de danger, I whoop, and de master ob de gun boat Paul Jones say ‘Come on’, and den I make de rowers raise a sing.”
Steamer Fulton. October 13, 1863
The third pleasant day of our voyage from New York to Hilton Head. It is all well enough to be home on leave, but this returning to duty without full health teaches me it were wiser to make my next leave permanent.
[The reason for the absence of letters from May 27 to October of 1863 is explained in this letter. Dr. Rogers had gone home to Massachusetts on medical leave to recuperate from an undisclosed ailment.]
I landed at Beaufort at sunset last evening and spent the night with the Col. [Higginson] and Cap’t Rogers [his nephew, James S. Rogers] in the hospital. They are both convalescent, and I am not at all anxious about them. Dr. Hawks and Dr. Minor have worked well, and I find my department in excellent condition. Col. Higginson has overcome many obstacles since his return, and the regiment has greatly profited by the hard work that has prostrated him.
No one has received me with such silent joy as Uncle York. The old man has most scrupulously protected my property during my absence, down to a bit of hard soap, regretting that some vandal had actually used said soap a few times in washing his hands. The Chaplain’s vacant tent stands next to mine while he is in the hands of the rebels. Through a deserter we hear that he was not executed. We feel hopeful about him and never doubt that he will be faithful in his testimony against the cause of this war.
I never knew till today that “John Brown,” the only son of Uncle York, was the first negro soldier who fell in this war. He was shot in a skirmish on St. Simon’s Island, Aug. 8, 1862. A singular coincidence of names. No wonder our soldiers think him to be the hero of the John Brown hymn.
Yesterday some contrabands from the “main” reported that they overheard a rebel Col. say that the Chaplain they had taken prisoner was the sauciest damned Yankee they had ever seen. No one doubts that he referred to our Chaplain.
Below I copy verbatim a document that came from one of our best blacks, a man so earnest and brave that he can be depended upon in the hardest places. He is now on picket in a dangerous spot, but you will see that he has dreams of a socialistic depth that might interest a Fourier. [Charles Fourier, an early nineteenth century French romantic socialist that rejected industrialism and was sometimes considered nonsensical for his confusing and contradictory writings.]
“My Officers notice in the 1st S.C. regiment. I am hereby notified to all who it may concern that I have been teased by my sentiments about a society, and for such reason I execute my sentiment. By that reason I so likely find that my option adhere my sentiment to an agricultural society for this reason, our African race must have a society. If the society are carried on by Fidelity because for so reason fidelities is the keeper of societies and society is the keeper of the Profits and Profits execute from Toils. I give my suggest here that all who toils on agriculture will have without any difficulty. And also I am fully testified that I have closed an agriculture society of which will be seen as follows. I have great option of this agricultural society.
“No. 1. St. Helena. S.C.
1. Gabriel Capers Place [not stated] 22 members 257 acres $220.00 [money collected].
“July 29, 1863 it was formed. No 1 is that number. No. 2 is the man who did own the place. No. 3 is the place. No. 4 is the number of members. No. 5 is the number of acres. No. 6 is money already collected in the society. I am also hoping that this society will bring forward all those that are the means of ruin. All who in favor of this society will say by a ticket.”Seg’t. William Brown, Co A. 1st S.C.Vols.
Camp Shaw, Beaufort SC, Oct. 29, 1863
It is a pretty severe official joke that Gen. Gilmore is just now playing off on those who have obtained surgeon’s certificates stating that change of climate is necessary “to prevent permanent disability” or to “save life.” Since the 19th [of this month] all such have been sent to Convalescent Camp at St. Augustine, Fla. instead of North. The almost impossibility of getting out of the Department in any other way than on a surgeon’s certificate has led to abuses that are best remedied by this change of program. It seems hard that those who really need to go North should have to suffer for the exaggerated complaints of the unworthy. Cap’t Rogers had been sick in hospital nearly a month and Surgeon Hayden had sent a certificate to Headquarters before my return. Yesterday I saw him off to St. Augustine. Fortunately he is convalescent and can meet the disappointment better than he could two weeks ago. I have now in our regimental hospital an old man who had been more than a year in the regiment and who has never asked for leave of absence and who has never before been away from his company. His name is Thursday Young, gray headed and fighting like a tiger.
Overheard a rough compliment of our guard this morning. A couple of white soldiers were taking a lot of Government horses along the road where our guards were instructed to examine passes. As they approached, one said to the other, “I shouldn’t think they’d bother us when we have all these horses”. “Hump!” said the other, “they’d stop a feller here if the horses all went to hell.”
My practice of taking one at his word was justified at a late hour last night in the case of a delinquent who got into the guardhouse. He was suddenly attacked with excruciating tooth-ache and insisted on being brought to me for relief. Instead of the expected anodyne and exemption from the guard house he was relieved of his tooth and sent back.
The guns at Charleston have kept up a great booming all through the day; more constant and frequent than since those memorable days of July. General [Quincy A.] Gilmore could destroy the city any day, but I hope he will not do it.
Beaufort, S.C. Nov. 24
Convalescent, thank Heaven, but I would not object to an opportunity for returning thanks a little more rapidly.Congestive chill two weeks ago, cough, prostration, vertigo -- three days of nowhere, then brought in ambulance from camp to this S.W. corner chamber over the signal office; overlooking the beautiful bay and giving broad view of heaven by day and by night. In my tent I missed this last and the blazing fire on the hearth. With these and dear Uncle York to “tote things” I ought not to find time to hang heavily. Today our companies E and K have proved themselves worthy, in a skirmish over the river, of all the praises that have been showered upon them. The acts which I am not strong enough to write out, will appear in the Northern Journals. Fancy the rebel cavalry sending their pack of blood hounds in advance and our men receiving them on their bayonets and then repulsing the cavalry with buck and ball. Two of our men drowned, several wounded.
A cheerful letter from our Chaplain, dated Columbia Jail, S.C. Oct. 23rd. He was treated the same as other officers, and we infer that our colored soldiers were not subjected to any peculiar hardships. Of course he was not permitted to criticize. We will give him a big reception if he ever comes back to the regiment. [Chaplain Fowler was captured by Confederates after accompanying a group of Union soldiers – including men from the 1st South Carolina – who went behind Confederate lines to tap into a telegraph wire running parallel to the Charleston and Savannah Railroad line. He was held prisoner of war for over a year.]
December 2, 1863
Today is the anniversary of the date of my commission of surgeon, and today I have tendered my resignation on surgeon’s certificate of disability. If it gets perfectly red taped by the first of the year I shall be glad.