Army Life in a Black Regiment
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Part 2 out of 5

our main reliance. She was an old East Boston ferry-boat, a
"double-ender," admirable for river-work, but unfit for sea-service.
She drew seven feet of water; the Planter drew only four; but the
latter was very slow, and being obliged to go to St. Simon's by an
inner passage, would delay us from the beginning. She delayed us so
much, before the end, that we virtually parted company, and her career
was almost entirely separated from our own.

From boyhood I have had a fancy for boats, and have seldom been without
a share, usually more or less fractional, in a rather indeterminate
number of punts and wherries. But when, for the first time, I found
myself at sea as Commodore of a fleet of armed steamers,--for even the
Ben De Ford boasted a six-pounder or so,--it seemed rather an unexpected
promotion. But it is a characteristic of army life, that one adapts
one's self, as coolly as in a dream, to the most novel responsibilities.
One sits on court-martial, for instance, and decides on the life of a
fellow-creature, without being asked any inconvenient questions as to
previous knowledge of Blackstone; and after such an experience, shall
one shrink from wrecking a steamer or two in the cause of the nation? So
I placidly accepted my naval establishment, as if it were a new form of
boat-club, and looked over the charts, balancing between one river and
another, as if deciding whether to pull up or down Lake Quinsigamond. If
military life ever contemplated the exercise of the virtue of humility
under any circumstances this would perhaps have been a good opportunity
to begin its practice. But as the "Regulations" clearly contemplated
nothing of the kind, and as I had never met with any precedent which
looked in that direction, I had learned to check promptly all such weak

Captain Hallett proved the most frank and manly of sailors, and did
everything for our comfort. He was soon warm in his praises of the
demeanor of our men, which was very pleasant to hear, as this was the
first time that colored soldiers in any number had been conveyed on
board a transport, and I know of no place where a white volunteer
appears to so much disadvantage. His mind craves occupation, his body
is intensely uncomfortable, the daily emergency is not great enough to
call out his heroic qualities, and he is apt to be surly,
discontented, and impatient even of sanitary rules. The Southern black
soldier, on the other hand, is seldom sea-sick (at least, such is my
experience), and, if properly managed, is equally contented, whether
idle or busy; he is, moreover, so docile that all needful rules are
executed with cheerful acquiescence, and the quarters can therefore be
kept clean and wholesome. Very forlorn faces were soon visible among
the officers in the cabin, but I rarely saw such among the men.

Pleasant still seemed our enterprise, as we anchored at early morning in
the quiet waters of St. Simon's Sound, and saw the light fall softly on
the beach and the low bluffs, on the picturesque plantation-houses which
nestled there, and the graceful naval vessels that lay at anchor before
us. When we afterwards landed the air had that peculiar Mediterranean
translucency which Southern islands wear; and the plantation we visited
had the loveliest tropical garden, though tangled and desolate, which I
have ever seen in the South. The deserted house was embowered In great
blossoming shrubs, and filled with hyacinthine odors, among which
predominated that of the little Chickasaw roses which everywhere bloomed
and trailed around. There were fig-trees and date-palms, crape-myrtles
and wax-myrtles, Mexican agaves and English ivies, japonicas, bananas,
oranges, lemons, oleanders, jonquils, great cactuses, and wild Florida
lilies. This was not the plantation which Mrs. Kemble has since made
historic, although that was on the same island; and I could not waste
much sentiment over it, for it had belonged to a Northern renegade,
Thomas Butler King. Yet I felt then, as I have felt a hundred times
since, an emotion of heart-sickness at this desecration of a
homestead,--and especially when, looking from a bare upper window of the
empty house upon a range of broad, flat, sunny roofs, such as children
love to play on, I thought how that place might have been loved by yet
Innocent hearts, and I mourned anew the sacrilege of war.

I had visited the flag-ship Wabash ere we left Port Royal Harbor, and
had obtained a very kind letter of introduction from Admiral Dupont,
that stately and courtly potentate, elegant as one's ideal French
marquis; and under these credentials I received polite attention from
the naval officers at St. Simon's,--Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Budd,
of the gunboat Potomska, and Acting Master Moses, of the barque
Fernandina. They made valuable suggestions in regard to the different
rivers along the coast, and gave vivid descriptions of the last
previous trip up the St. Mary's undertaken by Captain Stevens, U.S.N.,
in the gunboat Ottawa, when he had to fight his way past batteries
at every bluff in descending the narrow and rapid stream. I was warned
that no resistance would be offered to the ascent, but only to our
return; and was further cautioned against the mistake, then common, of
underrating the courage of the Rebels. "It proved impossible to
dislodge those fellows from the banks," my informant said; "they had
dug rifle-pits, and swarmed like hornets, and when fairly silenced in
one direction they were sure to open upon us from another." All this
sounded alarming, but it was nine months since the event had happened;
and although nothing had gone up the river meanwhile, I counted on
less resistance now. And something must be risked anywhere.

We were delayed all that day in waiting for our consort, and improved
our time by verifying certain rumors about a quantity of new
railroad-iron which was said to be concealed in the abandoned Rebel
forts on St. Simon's and Jekyll Islands, and which would have much
value at Port Royal, if we could unearth it. Some of our men had
worked upon these very batteries, so that they could easily guide us;
and by the additional discovery of a large flat-boat we were enabled
to go to work in earnest upon the removal of the treasure. These iron
bars, surmounted by a dozen feet of sand, formed an invulnerable roof
for the magazines and bomb-proofs of the fort, and the men enjoyed
demolishing them far more than they had relished their construction.
Though the day was the 24th of January, 1863, the sun was very
oppressive upon the sands; but all were in the highest spirits, and
worked with the greatest zeal. The men seemed to regard these massive
bars as their first trophies; and if the rails had been wreathed with
roses, they could not have been got out in more holiday style. Nearly
a hundred were obtained that day, besides a quantity of five-inch
plank with which to barricade the very conspicuous pilot-houses of the
John Adams. Still another day we were delayed, and could still keep at
this work, not neglecting some foraging on the island from which
horses, cattle, and agricultural implements were to be removed, and
the few remaining colored families transferred to Fernandina. I had
now become quite anxious about the missing steamboat, as the inner
passage, by which alone she could arrive, was exposed at certain
points to fire from Rebel batteries, and it would have been unpleasant
to begin with a disaster. I remember that, as I stood on deck, in the
still and misty evening, listening with strained senses for some sound
of approach, I heard a low continuous noise from the distance, more
wild and desolate than anything in my memory can parallel. It came
from within the vast girdle of mist, and seemed like the cry of a
myriad of lost souls upon the horizon's verge; it was Dante become
audible: and yet it was but the accumulated cries of innumerable
seafowl at the entrance of the outer bay.

Late that night the Planter arrived. We left St. Simon's on the
following morning, reached Fort Clinch by four o'clock, and there
transferring two hundred men to the very scanty quarters of the John
Adams, allowed the larger transport to go into Fernandina, while the two
other vessels were to ascend the St. Mary's River, unless (as proved
inevitable in the end) the defects in the boiler of the Planter should
oblige her to remain behind. That night I proposed to make a sort of
trial-trip up stream, as far as Township landing, some fifteen miles,
there to pay our respects to Captain Clark's company of cavalry, whose
camp was reported to lie near by. This was included in Corporal Sutton's
programme, and seemed to me more inviting, and far more useful to the
men, than any amount of mere foraging. The thing really desirable
appeared to be to get them under fire as soon as possible, and to teach
them, by a few small successes, the application of what they had learned
in camp-.

I had ascertained that the camp of this company lay five miles from
the landing, and was accessible by two roads, one of which was a
lumber-path, not commonly used, but which Corporal Sutton had helped
to construct, and along which he could easily guide us. The plan was
to go by night, surround the house and negro cabins at the landing (to
prevent an alarm from being given), then to take the side path, and if
all went well, to surprise the camp; but if they got notice of our
approach, through their pickets, we should, at worst, have a fight, in
which the best man must win.

The moon was bright, and the river swift, but easy of navigation thus
far. Just below Township I landed a small advance force, to surround the
houses silently. With them went Corporal Sutton; and when, after
rounding the point, I went on shore with a larger body of men, he met me
with a silent chuckle of delight, and with the information that there
was a negro in a neighboring cabin who had just come from the Rebel
camp, and could give the latest information. While he hunted up this
valuable auxiliary, I mustered my detachment, winnowing out the men who
had coughs (not a few), and sending them ignominiously on board again: a
process I had regularly to perform, during this first season of catarrh,
on all occasions where quiet was needed. The only exception tolerated at
this time was in the case of one man who offered a solemn pledge, that,
if unable to restrain his cough, he would lie down on the ground, scrape
a little hole, and cough into it unheard. The ingenuity of this
proposition was irresistible, and the eager patient was allowed to pass

It was after midnight when we set off upon our excursion. I had about
a hundred men, marching by the flank, with a small advanced guard, and
also a few flankers, where the ground permitted. I put my Florida
company at the head of the column, and had by my side Captain Metcalf,
an excellent officer, and Sergeant Mclntyre, his first sergeant. We
plunged presently in pine woods, whose resinous smell I can still
remember. Corporal Sutton marched near me, with his captured negro
guide, whose first fear and sullenness had yielded to the magic news
of the President's Proclamation, then just issued, of which Governor
Andrew had sent me a large printed supply;--we seldom found men who
could read it, but they all seemed to feel more secure when they held
it in their hands. We marched on through the woods, with no sound but
the peeping of the frogs in a neighboring marsh, and the occasional
yelping of a dog, as we passed the hut of some "cracker." This yelping
always made Corporal Sutton uneasy; dogs are the detective officers of
Slavery's police.

We had halted once or twice to close up the ranks, and had marched some
two miles, seeing and hearing nothing more. I had got all I could out of
our new guide, and was striding on, rapt in pleasing contemplation. All
had gone so smoothly that I had merely to fancy the rest as being
equally smooth. Already I fancied our little detachment bursting out of
the woods, in swift surprise, upon the Rebel quarters,--already the
opposing commander, after hastily firing a charge or two from his
revolver (of course above my head), had yielded at discretion, and was
gracefully tendering, in a stage attitude, his unavailing sword,--when

There was a trampling of feet among the advanced guard as they came
confusedly to a halt, and almost at the same instant a more ominous
sound, as of galloping horses in the path before us. The moonlight
outside the woods gave that dimness of atmosphere within which is more
bewildering than darkness, because the eyes cannot adapt themselves to
it so well. Yet I fancied, and others aver, that they saw the leader
of an approaching party mounted on a white horse and reining up in the
pathway; others, again, declare that he drew a pistol from the holster
and took aim; others heard the words, "Charge in upon them! Surround
them!" But all this was confused by the opening rifle-shots of our
advanced guard, and, as clear observation was impossible, I made the
.men fix their bayonets and kneel in the cover on each side the
pathway, and I saw with delight the brave fellows, with Sergeant
Mclntyre at their head, settling down in the grass as coolly and
warily as if wild turkeys were the only game. Perhaps at the first
shot a man fell at my elbow. I felt it no more than if a tree had
fallen,--I was so busy watching my own men and the enemy, and planning
what to do next. Some of our soldiers, misunderstanding the order,
"Fix bayonets," were actually _charging_ with them, dashing off into
the dim woods, with nothing to charge at but the vanishing tail of an
imaginary horse,--for we could really see nothing. This zeal I noted
with pleasure, and also with anxiety, as our greatest danger was from
confusion and scattering; and for infantry to pursue cavalry would be
a novel enterprise. Captain Metcalf stood by me well in keeping the
men steady, as did Assistant Surgeon Minor, and Lieutenant, now
Captain, Jackson. How the men in the rear were behaving I could not
tell,--not so coolly, I afterwards found, because they were more
entirely bewildered, supposing, until the shots came, that the column
had simply halted for a moment's rest, as had been done once or twice
before. They did not know who or where their assailants might be, and
the fall of the man beside me created a hasty rumor that I was killed,
so that it was on the whole an alarming experience for them. They
kept together very tolerably, however, while our assailants, dividing,
rode along on each side through the open pine-barren, firing into our
ranks, but mostly over the heads of the men. My soldiers in turn fired
rapidly,--too rapidly, being yet beginners,--and it was evident that,
dim as it was, both sides had opportunity to do some execution.

I could hardly tell whether the fight had lasted ten minutes or an hour,
when, as the enemy's fire had evidently ceased or slackened, I gave the
order to cease firing. But it was very difficult at first to make them
desist: the taste of gunpowder was too intoxicating. One of them was
heard to mutter, indignantly, "Why de Cunnel order _Cease firing_, when
de Secesh blazin' away at de rate ob ten dollar a day?" Every incidental
occurrence seemed somehow to engrave itself upon my perceptions, without
interrupting the main course of thought. Thus I know, that, in one of
the pauses of the affair, there came wailing through the woods a cracked
female voice, as if calling back some stray husband who had run out to
join in the affray, "John, John, are you going to leave me, John? Are
you going to let me and the children be killed, John?" I suppose the
poor thing's fears of gunpowder were very genuine; but it was such a
wailing squeak, and so infinitely ludicrous, and John was probably
ensconced so very safely in some hollow tree, that I could see some of
the men showing all their white teeth in the very midst of the fight.
But soon this sound, with all others, had ceased, and left us in
peaceful possession of the field.

I have made the more of this little affair because it was the first
stand-up fight in which my men had been engaged, though they had been
under fire, in an irregular way, in their small early expeditions. To me
personally the event was of the greatest value: it had given us all an
opportunity to test each other, and our abstract surmises were changed
into positive knowledge. Hereafter it was of small importance what
nonsense might be talked or written about colored troops; so long as
mine did not flinch, it made no difference to me. My brave young
officers, themselves mostly new to danger, viewed the matter much as I
did; and yet we were under bonds of life and death to form a correct
opinion, which was more than could be said of the Northern editors, and
our verdict was proportionately of greater value.

I was convinced from appearances that we had been victorious, so far,
though I could not suppose that this would be the last of it. We knew
neither the numbers of the enemy, nor their plans, nor their present
condition: whether they had surprised us or whether we had surprised
them was all a mystery. Corporal Sutton was urgent to go on and complete
the enterprise. All my impulses said the same thing; but then I had the
most explicit injunctions from General Saxton to risk as little as
possible in this first enterprise, because of the fatal effect on public
sentiment of even an honorable defeat. We had now an honorable victory,
so far as it went; the officers and men around me were in good spirits,
but the rest of the column might be nervous; and it seemed so important
to make the first fight an entire success, that I thought it wiser to
let well alone; nor have I ever changed this opinion. For one's self,
Montrose's verse may be well applied, "To win or lose it all." But one
has no right to deal thus lightly with the fortunes of a race, and that
was the weight which I always felt as resting on our action. If my raw
infantry force had stood unflinchingly a night-surprise from "de boss
cavalry," as they reverentially termed them, I felt that a good
beginning had been made. All hope of surprising the enemy's camp was now
at an end; I was willing and ready to fight the cavalry over again, but
it seemed wiser that we, not they, should select the ground.

Attending to the wounded, therefore, and making as we best could
stretchers for those who were to be carried, including the remains of
the man killed at the first discharge (Private William Parsons of
Company G), and others who seemed at the point of death, we marched
through the woods to the landing,--expecting at every moment to be
involved in another fight. This not occurring, I was more than ever
satisfied that we had won a victory; for it was obvious that a mounted
force would not allow a detachment of infantry to march two miles
through open woods by night without renewing the fight, unless they
themselves had suffered a good deal. On arrival at the landing, seeing
that there was to be no immediate affray, I sent most of the men on
board, and called for volunteers to remain on shore with me and hold the
plantation-house till morning. They eagerly offered; and I was glad to
see them, when posted as sentinels by Lieutenants Hyde and Jackson, who
stayed with me, pace their beats as steadily and challenge as coolly as
veterans, though of course there was some powder wasted on imaginary
foes. Greatly to my surprise, however, we had no other enemies to
encounter. We did not yet know that we had killed the first lieutenant
of the cavalry, and that our opponents had retreated to the woods in
dismay, without daring to return to their camp. This at least was the
account we heard from prisoners afterwards, and was evidently the tale
current in the neighborhood, though the statements published in Southern
newspapers did not correspond. Admitting the death of Lieutenant Jones,
the Tallahassee Floridian of February 14th stated that "Captain Clark,
finding the enemy in strong force, fell back with his command to camp,
and removed his ordnance and commissary and other stores, with twelve
negroes on their way to the enemy, captured on that day."

In the morning, my invaluable surgeon, Dr. Rogers, sent me his report
of killed and wounded; and I have been since permitted to make the
following extracts from his notes: "One man killed instantly by ball
through the heart, and seven wounded, one of whom will die. Braver men
never lived. One man with two bullet-holes through the large muscles
of the shoulders and neck brought off from the scene of action, two
miles distant, two muskets; and not a murmur has escaped his lips.
Another, Robert Sutton, with three wounds,--one of which, being on the
skull, may cost him his life,--would not report himself till compelled
to do so by his officers. While dressing his wounds, he quietly talked
of what they had done, and of what they yet could do. To-day I have
had the Colonel _order_ him to obey me. He is perfectly quiet and
cool, but takes this whole affair with the religious bearing of a man
who realizes that freedom is sweeter than life. Yet another soldier
did not report himself at all, but remained all night on guard, and
possibly I should not have known of his having had a buck-shot in his
shoulder, if some duty requiring a sound shoulder had not been
required of him to-day." This last, it may be added, had persuaded a
comrade to dig out the buck-shot, for fear of being ordered on the
sick-list. And one of those who were carried to the vessel--a man
wounded through the lungs--asked only if I were safe, the contrary
having been reported. An officer may be pardoned some enthusiasm for
such men as these.

The anxious night having passed away without an attack, another
problem opened with the morning. For the first time, my officers and
men found themselves in possession of an enemy's abode; and though
there was but little temptation to plunder, I knew that I must here
begin to draw the line. I had long since resolved to prohibit
absolutely all indiscriminate pilfering and wanton outrage, and to
allow nothing to be taken or destroyed but by proper authority. The
men, to my great satisfaction, entered into this view at once, and so
did (perhaps a shade less readily, in some cases) the officers. The
greatest trouble was with the steamboat hands, and I resolved to let
them go ashore as little as possible. Most articles of furniture were
already, however, before our visit, gone from the plantation-house,
which was now used only as a picket-station. The only valuable article
was a pianoforte, for which a regular packing-box lay invitingly ready
outside. I had made up my mind, in accordance with the orders given to
naval commanders in that department,* to burn all picket-stations, and
all villages from which I should be covertly attacked, and nothing
else; and as this house was destined to the flames, I should have left
the piano in it, but for the seductions of that box. With such a
receptacle all ready, even to the cover, it would have seemed like
flying in the face of Providence not to put the piano in. I ordered it
removed, therefore, and afterwards presented it to the school for
colored children at Fernandina. This I mention because it was the only
article of property I ever took, or knowingly suffered to be taken, in
the enemy's country, save for legitimate military uses, from first to
last; nor would I have taken this, but for the thought of the school,
and, as aforesaid, the temptation of the box. If any other officer has
been more rigid, with equal opportunities, let him cast the first

* "It is my desire to avoid the destruction of private property, unless
used for picket or guard-stations, or for other military
purposes, by the enemy. ... Of course, if fired upon from any place, it
is your duty, if possible, to destroy it." Letter of ADMIRAL DUPONT,
commanding South Atlantic Squadron, to LIEUTENANT-COMMANDER HUGHES of
United States Gunboat Mohawk, Fernandina Harbor.

I think the zest with which the men finally set fire to the house at my
order was enhanced by this previous abstemiousness; but there is a
fearful fascination in the use of fire, which every child knows in the
abstract, and which I found to hold true in the practice. On our way
down river we had opportunity to test this again.

The ruined town of St. Mary's had at that time a bad reputation, among
both naval and military men. Lying but a short distance above
Fernandina, on the Georgia side, it was occasionally visited by our
gunboats. I was informed that the only residents of the town were three
old women, who were apparently kept there as spies,--that, on our
approach, the aged crones would come out and wave white
handkerchiefs,--that they would receive us hospitably, profess to be
profoundly loyal, and exhibit a portrait of Washington,--that they would
solemnly assure us that no Rebel pickets had been there for many
weeks,--but that in the adjoining yard we should find fresh horse-tracks,
and that we should be fired upon by guerillas the moment we left
the wharf. My officers had been much excited by these tales; and I had
assured them that, if this programme were literally carried out, we
would straightway return and burn the town, or what was left of it, for
our share. It was essential to show my officers and men that, while
rigid against irregular outrage, we could still be inexorable against
the enemy.

We had previously planned to stop at this town, on our way down river,
for some valuable lumber which we had espied on a wharf; and gliding
down the swift current, shelling a few bluffs as we passed, we soon
reached it. Punctual as the figures in a panorama appeared the old
ladies with their white handkerchiefs. Taking possession of the town,
much of which had previously been destroyed by the gunboats, and
stationing the color-guard, to their infinite delight, in the cupola of
the most conspicuous house, I deployed skirmishers along the exposed
suburb, and set a detail of men at work on the lumber. After a stately
and decorous interview with the queens of society of St. Mary's,--is it
Scott who says that nothing improves the manners like piracy?--I
peacefully withdrew the men when the work was done. There were faces of
disappointment among the officers,--for all felt a spirit of mischief
after the last night's adventure,--when, just as we had fairly swung out
into the stream and were under way, there came, like the sudden burst of
a tropical tornado, a regular little hail-storm of bullets into the open
end of the boat, driving every gunner in an instant from his post, and
surprising even those who were looking to be surprised. The shock was
but for a second; and though the bullets had pattered precisely like the
sound of hail upon the iron cannon, yet nobody was hurt. With very
respectable promptness, order was restored, our own shells were flying
into the woods from which the attack proceeded, and we were steaming up
to the wharf again, according to promise.

Who shall describe the theatrical attitudes assumed by the old ladies
as they reappeared at the front-door,--being luckily out of direct
range,--and set the handkerchiefs in wilder motion than ever? They
brandished them, they twirled them after the manner of the domestic
mop, they clasped their hands, handkerchiefs included. Meanwhile their
friends in the wood popped away steadily at us, with small effect; and
occasionally an invisible field-piece thundered feebly from another
quarter, with equally invisible results. Reaching the wharf, one
company, under Lieutenant (now Captain) Danil-son, was promptly
deployed in search of our assailants, who soon grew silent. Not so the
old ladies, when I announced to them my purpose, and added, with
extreme regret, that, as the wind was high, I should burn only that
half of the town which lay to leeward of their house, which did not,
after all, amount to much. Between gratitude for this degree of
mercy, and imploring appeals for greater, the treacherous old ladies
manoeuvred with clasped hands and demonstrative handkerchiefs around
me, impairing the effect of their eloquence by constantly addressing
me as "Mr. Captain"; for I have observed, that, while the sternest
officer is greatly propitiated by attributing to him a rank a little
higher than his own, yet no one is ever mollified by an error in the
opposite direction. I tried, however, to disregard such low
considerations, and to strike the correct mean between the sublime
patriot and the unsanctified incendiary, while I could find no refuge
from weak contrition save in greater and greater depths of courtesy;
and so melodramatic became our interview that some of the soldiers
still maintain that "dem dar ole Secesh women been a-gwine for kiss de
Cunnel," before we ended. But of this monstrous accusation I wish to
register an explicit denial, once for all.

Dropping down to Fernandina unmolested after this affair, we were
kindly received by the military and naval commanders,--Colonel Hawley,
of the Seventh Connecticut (now Brigadier-General Hawley), and
Lieutenant-Commander Hughes, of the gunboat Mohawk. It turned out very
opportunely that both of these officers had special errands to suggest
still farther up the St. Mary's, and precisely in the region where I
wished to go. Colonel Hawley showed me a letter from the War
Department, requesting him to ascertain the possibility of obtaining a
supply of brick for Fort Clinch from the brickyard which had furnished
the original materials, but which had not been visited since the
perilous river-trip of the Ottawa. Lieutenant Hughes wished to obtain
information for the Admiral respecting a Rebel steamer,--the
Berosa,--said to be lying somewhere up the river, and awaiting her
chance to run the blockade. I jumped at the opportunity. Berosa and
brickyard,--both were near Wood-stock, the former home of Corporal
Sutton; he was ready and eager to pilot us up the river; the moon
would be just right that evening, setting at 3h. 19m. A.M.; and our
boat was precisely the one to undertake the expedition. Its
double-headed shape was just what was needed in that swift and crooked
stream; the exposed pilot-houses had been tolerably barricaded with
the thick planks from St. Simon's; and we further obtained some
sand-bags from Fort Clinch, through the aid of Captain Sears, the
officer in charge, who had originally suggested the expedition after
brick. In return for this aid, the Planter was sent back to the wharf
at St. Mary's, to bring away a considerable supply of the same
precious article, which we had observed near the wharf. Meanwhile the
John Adams was coaling from naval supplies, through the kindness of
Lieutenant Hughes; and the Ben De Ford was taking in the lumber which
we had yesterday brought down. It was a great disappointment to be
unable to take the latter vessel up the river; but I was unwillingly
convinced that, though the depth of water might be sufficient, yet her
length would be unmanageable in the swift current and sharp turns. The
Planter must also be sent on a separate cruise, as her weak and
disabled machinery made her useless for my purpose. Two hundred men
were therefore transferred, as before, to the narrow hold of the John
Adams, in addition to the company permanently stationed on board to
work the guns. At seven o'clock on the evening of January 29th,
beneath a lovely moon, we steamed up the river.

Never shall I forget the mystery and excitement of that night. I know
nothing in life more fascinating than the nocturnal ascent of an
unknown river, leading far into an enemy's country, where one glides
in the dim moonlight between dark hills and meadows, each turn of the
channel making it seem like an inland lake, and cutting you off as by
a barrier from all behind,--with no sign of human life, but an
occasional picket-fire left glimmering beneath the bank, or the yelp
of a dog from some low-lying plantation. On such occasions every nerve
is strained to its utmost tension; all dreams of romance appear to
promise immediate fulfilment; all lights on board the vessel are
obscured, loud voices are hushed; you fancy a thousand men on shore,
and yet see nothing; the lonely river, unaccustomed to furrowing
keels, lapses by the vessel with a treacherous sound; and all the
senses are merged in a sort of anxious trance. Three tunes I have had
in full perfection this fascinating experience; but that night was the
first, and its zest was the keenest. It will come back to me in
dreams, if I live a thousand years.

I feared no attack during our ascent,--that danger was for our return;
but I feared the intricate navigation of the river, though I did not
fully know, till the actual experience, how dangerous it was. We passed
without trouble far above the scene of our first fight,--the Battle of
the Hundred Pines, as my officers had baptized it; and ever, as we
ascended, the banks grew steeper, the current swifter, the channel more
tortuous and more encumbered with projecting branches and drifting wood.
No piloting less skilful than that of Corporal Sutton and his mate,
James Bezzard, could have carried us through, I thought; and no
side-wheel steamer less strong than a ferry-boat could have borne the
crash and force with which we struck the wooded banks of the river. But
the powerful paddles, built to break the Northern ice, could crush the
Southern pine as well; and we came safely out of entanglements that at
first seemed formidable. We had the tide with us, which makes steering
far more difficult; and, in the sharp angles of the river, there was
often no resource but to run the bow boldly on shore, let the stern
swing round, and then reverse the motion. As the reversing machinery was
generally out of order, the engineer stupid or frightened, and the
captain excited, this involved moments of tolerably concentrated
anxiety. Eight times we grounded in the upper waters, and once lay
aground for half an hour; but at last we dropped anchor before the
little town of Woodstock, after moonset and an hour before daybreak,
just as I had planned, and so quietly that scarcely a dog barked, and
not a soul in the town, as we afterwards found, knew of our arrival.

As silently as possible, the great flat-boat which we had brought from
St. Simon's was filled with men. Major Strong was sent on shore with two
companies,--those of Captain James and Captain Metcalf,--with instructions
to surround the town quietly, allow no one to leave it, molest no one,
and hold as temporary prisoners every man whom he found. I watched them
push off into the darkness, got the remaining force ready to land, and
then paced the deck for an hour in silent watchfulness, waiting for
rifle-shots. Not a sound came from the shore, save the barking of dogs
and the morning crow of cocks; the time seemed interminable; but when
daylight came, I landed, and found a pair of scarlet trousers pacing on
their beat before every house in the village, and a small squad of
prisoners, stunted and forlorn as Falstaff's ragged regiment, already hi
hand. I observed with delight the good demeanor of my men towards these
forlorn Anglo-Saxons, and towards the more tumultuous women. Even one
soldier, who threatened to throw an old termagant into the river, took
care to append the courteous epithet "Madam."

I took a survey of the premises. The chief house, a pretty one with
picturesque outbuildings, was that of Mrs. A., who owned the mills and
lumber-wharves adjoining. The wealth of these wharves had not been
exaggerated. There was lumber enough to freight half a dozen steamers,
and I half regretted that I had agreed to take down a freight of bricks
instead. Further researches made me grateful that I had already
explained to my men the difference between public foraging and private
plunder. Along the river-bank I found building after building crowded
with costly furniture, all neatly packed, just as it was sent up from
St. Mary's when that town was abandoned. Pianos were a drug; china,
glass-ware, mahogany, pictures, all were here. And here were my men, who
knew that their own labor had earned for their masters these luxuries,
or such as these; their own wives and children were still sleeping on
the floor, perhaps, at Beaufort or Fernandina; and yet they submitted,
almost without a murmur, to the enforced abstinence. Bed and bedding for
our hospitals they might take from those store-rooms,--such as the
surgeon selected,--also an old flag which we found in a corner, and
an old field-piece (which the regiment still possesses),--but after this
the doors were closed and left unmolested. It cost a struggle to some of
the men, whose wives were destitute, I know; but their pride was very
easily touched, and when this abstinence was once recognized as a rule,
they claimed it as an honor, in this and all succeeding expeditions. I
flatter myself that, if they had once been set upon wholesale
plundering, they would have done it as thoroughly as their betters; but
I have always been infinitely grateful, both for the credit and for the
discipline of the regiment,--as well as for the men's subsequent
lives,--that the opposite method was adopted.

When the morning was a little advanced, I called on Mrs. A., who
received me in quite a stately way at her own door with "To what am I
indebted for the honor of this visit, Sir?" The foreign name of the
family, and the tropical look of the buildings, made it seem (as,
indeed, did all the rest of the adventure) like a chapter out of "Amyas
Leigh"; but as I had happened to hear that the lady herself was a
Philadel-phian, and her deceased husband a New-Yorker, I could not feel
even that modicum of reverence due to sincere Southerners. However, I
wished to present my credentials; so, calling up my companion, I said
that I believed she had been previously acquainted with Corporal Robert
Sutton? I never saw a finer bit of unutterable indignation than came
over the face of my hostess, as she slowly recognized him. She drew
herself up, and dropped out the monosyllables of her answer as if they
were so many drops of nitric acid. "Ah," quoth my lady, "we called him

It was a group for a painter. The whole drama of the war seemed to
reverse itself in an instant, and my tall, well-dressed, imposing,
philosophic Corporal dropped down the immeasurable depth into a mere
plantation "Bob" again. So at least in my imagination; not to that
person himself. Too essentially dignified in his nature to be moved by
words where substantial realities were in question, he simply turned
from the lady, touched his hat to me, and asked if I would wish to see
the slave-jail, as he had the keys in his possession.

If he fancied that I was in danger of being overcome by
blandishments, and needed to be recalled to realities, it was a

I must say that, when the door of that villanous edifice was thrown open
before me, I felt glad that my main interview with its lady proprietor
had passed before I saw it. It was a small building, like a Northern
corn-barn, and seemed to have as prominent and as legitimate a place
among the outbuildings of the establishment. In the middle of the door
was a large staple with a rusty chain, like an ox-chain, for fastening a
victim down. When the door had been opened after the death of the late
proprietor, my informant said, a man was found padlocked in that chain.
We found also three pairs of stocks of various construction, two of
which had smaller as well as larger holes, evidently for the feet of
women or children. In a building near by we found something far more
complicated, which was perfectly unintelligible till the men explained
all its parts: a machine so contrived that a person once imprisoned in
it could neither sit, stand, nor lie, but must support the body half
raised, in a position scarcely endurable. I have since bitterly
reproached myself for leaving this piece of ingenuity behind; but it
would have cost much labor to remove it, and to bring away the other
trophies seemed then enough. I remember the unutterable loathing with
which I leaned against the door of that prison-house; I had thought
myself seasoned to any conceivable horrors of Slavery, but it seemed as
if the visible presence of that den of sin would choke me. Of course it
would have been burned to the ground by us, but that this would have
involved the sacrifice of every other building and all the piles of
lumber, and for the moment it seemed as if the sacrifice would be
righteous. But I forbore, and only took as trophies the instruments of
torture and the keys of the jail.

We found but few colored people in this vicinity; some we brought away
with us, and an old man and woman preferred to remain. All the white
males whom we found I took as hostages, in order to shield us, if
possible, from attack on our way down river, explaining to them that
they would be put on shore when the dangerous points were passed. I knew
that their wives could easily send notice of this fact to the
Rebel forces along the river. My hostages were a forlorn-looking set of
"crackers," far inferior to our soldiers in _physique_, and yet quite
equal, the latter declared, to the average material of the Southern
armies. None were in uniform, but this proved nothing as to their being
soldiers. One of them, a mere boy, was captured at his own door, with
gun in hand. It was a fowling-piece, which he used only, as his mother
plaintively assured me, "to shoot little birds with." As the guileless
youth had for this purpose loaded the gun with eighteen buck-shot, we
thought it justifiable to confiscate both the weapon and the owner, in
mercy to the birds.

We took from this place, for the use of the army, a flock of some thirty
sheep, forty bushels of rice, some other provisions, tools, oars, and a
little lumber, leaving all possible space for the bricks which we
expected to obtain just below. I should have gone farther up the river,
but for a dangerous boom which kept back a great number of logs in a
large brook that here fell into the St. Mary's; the stream ran with
force, and if the Rebels had wit enough to do it, they might in ten
minutes so choke the river with drift-wood as infinitely to enhance our
troubles. So we dropped down stream a mile or two, found the very
brickyard from which Fort Clinch had been constructed,--still stored with
bricks, and seemingly unprotected. Here Sergeant Rivers again planted
his standard, and the men toiled eagerly, for several hours, in loading
our boat to the utmost with the bricks. Meanwhile we questioned black
and white witnesses, and learned for the first tune that the Rebels
admitted a repulse at Township Landing, and that Lieutenant Jones and
ten of their number were killed,--though this I fancy to have been an
exaggeration. They also declared that the mysterious steamer Berosa was
lying at the head of the river, but was a broken-down and worthless
affair, and would never get to sea. The result has since proved this;
for the vessel subsequently ran the blockade and foundered near shore,
the crew barely escaping with their lives. I had the pleasure, as it
happened, of being the first person to forward this information to
Admiral Dupont, when it came through the pickets, many months
after,--thus concluding my report on the Berosa.

Before the work at the yard was over the pickets reported mounted men in
the woods near by, as had previously been the report at Woodstock. This
admonished us to lose no time; and as we left the wharf, immediate
arrangements were made to have the gun crews all in readiness, and to
keep the rest of the men below, since their musketry would be of little
use now, and I did not propose to risk a life unnecessarily. The chief
obstacle to this was their own eagerness; penned down on one side, they
popped up on the other; their officers, too, were eager to see what was
going on, and were almost as hard to cork down as the men. Add to this,
that the vessel was now very crowded, and that I had to be chiefly on
the hurricane-deck with the pilots. Captain Clifton, master of the
vessel, was brave to excess, and as much excited as the men; he could no
more be kept in the little pilot-house than they below; and when we had
passed one or two bluffs, with no sign of an enemy, he grew more and
more irrepressible, and exposed himself conspicuously on the upper deck.
Perhaps we all were a little lulled by apparent safety; for myself, I
lay down for a moment on a settee in a state-room, having been on my
feet, almost without cessation, for twenty-four hours.

Suddenly there swept down from a bluff above us, on the Georgia side,
a mingling of shout and roar and rattle as of a tornado let loose; and
as a storm of bullets came pelting against the sides of the vessel,
and through a window, there went up a shrill answering shout from our
own men. It took but an instant for me to reach the gun-deck. After
all my efforts the men had swarmed once more from below, and already,
crowding at both ends of the boat, were loading and firing with
inconceivable rapidity, shouting to each other, "Nebber gib it up!"
and of course having no steady aim, as the vessel glided and whirled
in the swift current. Meanwhile the officers in charge of the large
guns had their crews in order, and our shells began to fly over the
bluffs, which, as we now saw, should have been shelled in advance,
only that we had to economize ammunition. The other soldiers I drove
below, almost by main force, with the aid of their officers, who
behaved exceedingly well, giving the men leave to fire from the open
port-holes which lined the lower deck, almost at the water's level. In
the very midst of the _melee_ Major Strong came from the upper deck,
with a face of horror, and whispered to me, "Captain Clifton was
killed at the first shot by my side."

If he had said that the vessel was on fire the shock would hardly have
been greater. Of course, the military commander on board a steamer is
almost as helpless as an unarmed man, so far as the risks of water go. A
seaman must command there. In the hazardous voyage of last night, I had
learned, though unjustly, to distrust every official on board the
steamboat except this excitable, brave, warm-hearted sailor; and now,
among these added dangers, to lose him! The responsibility for his life
also thrilled me; he was not among my soldiers, and yet he was killed. I
thought of his wife and children, of whom he had spoken; but one learns
to think rapidly in war, and, cautioning the Major to silence, I went up
to the hurricane-deck and drew in the helpless body, that it should be
safe from further desecration, and then looked to see where we were.

We were now gliding past a safe reach of marsh, while our assailants
were riding by cross-paths to attack us at the next bluff. It was Reed's
Bluff where we were first attacked, and Scrubby Bluff, I think, was
next. They were shelled in advance, but swarmed manfully to the banks
again as we swept round one of the sharp angles of the stream beneath
their fire. My men were now pretty well imprisoned below in the hot and
crowded hold, and actually fought each other, the officers afterwards
said, for places at the open port-holes, from which to aim. Others
implored to be landed, exclaiming that they "supposed de Cunnel knew
best," but it was "mighty mean" to be shut up down below, when they
might be "fightin' de Secesh _in de clar field_." This clear field, and
no favor, was what they thenceforward sighed for. But in such difficult
navigation it would have been madness to think of landing, although one
daring Rebel actually sprang upon the large boat which we towed astern,
where he was shot down by one of our sergeants. This boat was soon after
swamped and abandoned, then taken and repaired by the Rebels at a
later date, and finally, by a piece of dramatic completeness, was seized
by a party of fugitive slaves, who escaped in it to our lines, and some
of whom enlisted in my own regiment.

It has always been rather a mystery to me why the Rebels did not fell a
few trees across the stream at some of the many sharp angles where we
might so easily have been thus imprisoned. This, however, they did not
attempt, and with the skilful pilotage of our trusty
Corporal,--philosophic as Socrates through all the din, and occasionally
relieving his mind by taking a shot with his rifle through the high
portholes of the pilot-house,--we glided safely on. The steamer did not
ground once on the descent, and the mate in command, Mr. Smith, did his
duty very well. The plank sheathing of the pilot-house was penetrated by
few bullets, though struck by so many outside that it was visited as a
curiosity after our return; and even among the gun-crews, though they
had no protection, not a man was hurt. As we approached some wooded
bluff, usually on the Georgia side, we could see galloping along the
hillside what seemed a regiment of mounted riflemen, and could see our
shell scatter them ere we approached. Shelling did not, however, prevent
a rather fierce fusilade from our old friends of Captain dark's company
at Waterman's Bluff, near Township Landing; but even this did no serious
damage, and this was the last.

It was of course impossible, while thus running the gauntlet, to put
our hostages ashore, and I could only explain to them that they must
thank their own friends for their inevitable detention. I was by no
means proud of their forlorn appearance, and besought Colonel Hawley
to take them off my hands; but he was sending no flags of truce at
that time, and liked their looks no better than I did. So I took them
to Port Royal, where they were afterwards sent safely across the
lines. Our men were pleased at taking them back with us, as they had
already said, regretfully, "S'pose we leave dem Secesh at Fernandina,
General Saxby won't see 'em,"--as if they were some new natural
curiosity, which indeed they were. One soldier further suggested the
expediency of keeping them permanently in camp, to be used as marks
for the guns of the relieved guard every morning. But this was rather
an ebullition of fancy than a sober proposition.

Against these levities I must put a piece of more tragic eloquence,
which I took down by night on the steamer's deck from the thrilling
harangue of Corporal Adam Allston, one of our most gifted prophets,
whose influence over the men was unbounded. "When I heard," he said, "de
bombshell a-screamin' troo de woods like de Judgment Day, I said to
myself, 'If my head was took off to-night, dey couldn't put my soul in
de torments, perceps [except] God was my enemy!' And when de
rifle-bullets came whizzin' across de deck, I cried aloud, 'God help my
congregation! Boys, load and fire!'"

I must pass briefly over the few remaining days of our cruise. At
Fernandina we met the Planter, which had been successful on her separate
expedition, and had destroyed extensive salt-works at Crooked River,
under charge of the energetic Captain Trowbridge, efficiently aided by
Captain Rogers. Our commodities being in part delivered at Fernandina,
our decks being full, coal nearly out, and time up, we called once more
at St. Simon's Sound, bringing away the remainder of our railroad-iron,
with some which the naval officers had previously disinterred, and then
steamed back to Beaufort. Arriving there at sunrise (February 2, 1863),
I made my way with Dr. Rogers to General Saxton's bedroom, and laid
before him the keys and shackles of the slave-prison, with my report of
the good conduct of the men,--as Dr. Rogers remarked, a message from
heaven and another from hell.

Slight as this expedition now seems among the vast events of the war,
the future student of the newspapers of that day will find that it
occupied no little space in their columns, so intense was the interest
which then attached to the novel experiment of employing black troops.
So obvious, too, was the value, during this raid, of their local
knowledge and their enthusiasm, that it was impossible not to find in
its successes new suggestions for the war. Certainly I would not have
consented to repeat the enterprise with the bravest white troops,
leaving Corporal Sutton and his mates behind, for I should have
expected to fail. For a year after our raid the Upper St. Mary's
remained unvisited, till in 1864 the large force with which we held
Florida secured peace upon its banks; then Mrs. A. took the oath of
allegiance, the Government bought her remaining lumber, and the John
Adams again ascended with a detachment of my men under Lieutenant
Parker, and brought a portion of it to Fernandina. By a strange turn
of fortune, Corporal Sutton (now Sergeant) was at this time in jail at
Hilton Head, under sentence of court-martial for an alleged act of
mutiny,--an affair in which the general voice of our officers
sustained him and condemned his accusers, so that he soon received a
full pardon, and was restored in honor to his place in the regiment,
which he has ever since held.

Nothing can ever exaggerate the fascinations of war, whether on the
largest or smallest scale. When we settled down into camp-life again,
it seemed like a butterfly's folding its wings to re-enter the
chrysalis. None of us could listen to the crack of a gun without
recalling instantly the sharp shots that spilled down from the bluffs
of the St. Mary's, or hear a sudden trampling of horsemen by night
without recalling the sounds which startled us on the Field of the
Hundred Pines. The memory of our raid was preserved in the camp by
many legends of adventure, growing vaster and more incredible as time
wore on,--and by the morning appeals to the surgeon of some veteran
invalids, who could now cut off all reproofs and suspicions with
"Doctor, I's been a sickly pusson eber since de _expeditious_." But to
me the most vivid remembrancer was the flock of sheep which we had
"lifted." The Post Quartermaster discreetly gave us the charge of
them, and they rilled a gap in the landscape and in the larder,--
which last had before presented one unvaried round of impenetrable
beef. Mr. Obabiah Oldbuck, when he decided to adopt a pastoral life,
and assumed the provisional name of Thyrsis, never looked upon his
flocks and herds with more unalloyed contentment than I upon that
fleecy family. I had been familiar, in Kansas, with the metaphor by
which the sentiments of an owner were credited to his property, and
had heard of a proslavery colt and an antislavery cow. The fact that
these sheep were but recently converted from "Se-cesh" sentiments was
their crowning charm. Methought they frisked and fattened in the joy
of their deliverance from the shadow of Mrs. A.'s slave-jail, and
gladly contemplated translation into mutton-broth for sick or wounded
soldiers. The very slaves who once, perchance, were sold at auction
with yon aged patriarch of the flock, had now asserted their humanity,
and would devour him as hospital rations. Meanwhile our shepherd bore
a sharp bayonet without a crook, and I felt myself a peer of Ulysses
and Rob Roy,--those sheep-stealers of less elevated aims,--when I met
in my daily rides these wandering trophies of our wider wanderings.

Chapter 4
Up the St. John's

There was not much stirring in the Department of the South early in
1863, and the St. Mary's expedition had afforded a new sensation. Of
course the few officers of colored troops, and a larger number who
wished to become such, were urgent for further experiments in the same
line; and the Florida tax-commissioners were urgent likewise. I well
remember the morning when, after some preliminary correspondence, I
steamed down from Beaufort, S. C., to Hilton Head, with General Saxton,
Judge S., and one or two others, to have an interview on the matter with
Major-General Hunter, then commanding the Department.

Hilton Head, in those days, seemed always like some foreign military
station in the tropics. The long, low, white buildings, with piazzas
and verandas on the water-side; the general impression of heat and
lassitude, existence appearing to pulsate only with the sea-breeze;
the sandy, almost impassable streets; and the firm, level beach, on
which everybody walked who could get there: all these suggested
Jamaica or the East Indies. Then the head-quarters at the end of the
beach, the Zouave sentinels, the successive anterooms, the lounging
aids, the good-natured and easy General,--easy by habit and energetic
by impulse,--all had a certain air of Southern languor, rather
picturesque, but perhaps not altogether bracing. General Hunter
received us, that day, with his usual kindliness; there was a good
deal of pleasant chat; Miles O'Reilly was called in to read his latest
verses; and then we came to the matter in hand.

Jacksonville, on the St. John's River, in Florida, had been already
twice taken and twice evacuated; having been occupied by
Brigadier-General Wright, in March, 1862, and by Brigadier-General
Brannan, in October of the same year. The second evacuation was by
Major-General Hunter's own order, on the avowed ground that a garrison
of five thousand was needed to hold the place, and that this force could
not be spared. The present proposition was to take and hold it with a
brigade of less than a thousand men, carrying, however, arms and uniforms
for twice that number, and a month's rations. The claim was, that there
were fewer rebel troops in the Department than formerly, and that the
St. Mary's expedition had shown the advantage possessed by colored
troops, in local knowledge, and in the confidence of the loyal blacks.
It was also urged, that it was worth while to risk something, in the
effort to hold Florida, and perhaps bring it back into the Union.

My chief aim in the negotiation was to get the men into action, and
that of the Florida Commissioners to get them into Florida. Thus far
coinciding, we could heartily co-operate; and though General Hunter
made some reasonable objections, they were yielded more readily than I
had feared; and finally, before half our logical ammunition was
exhausted, the desired permission was given, and the thing might be
considered as done.

We were now to leave, as we supposed forever, the camp which had thus
far been our home. Our vast amount of surplus baggage made a heavy job
in the loading, inasmuch as we had no wharf, and everything had to be
put on board by means of flat-boats. It was completed by twenty-four
hours of steady work; and after some of the usual uncomfortable delays
which wait on military expeditions, we were at last afloat.

I had tried to keep the plan as secret as possible, and had requested to
have no definite orders, until we should be on board ship. But this
larger expedition was less within my own hands than was the St. Mary's
affair, and the great reliance for concealment was on certain counter
reports, ingeniously set afloat by some of the Florida men. These
reports rapidly swelled into the most enormous tales, and by the time
they reached the New York newspapers, the expedition was "a great
volcano about bursting, whose lava will burn, flow, and destroy," "the
sudden appearance in arms of no less than five thousand negroes," "a
liberating host," "not the phantom, but the reality, of servile
insurrection." What the undertaking actually was may be best seen in the
instructions which guided it.*


March 5, 1863.

COLONEL,--You will please proceed with your command, the First and Second
Regiments South Carolina Volunteers, which are now embarked upon the
steamers John Adams, Boston, and Burn-side, to Fernandina, Florida.

Relying upon your military skill and judgment. I shall give you no
special directions as to your procedure after you leave Fernandina. I
expect, however, that you will occupy Jacksonville, Florida, and
intrench yourselves there.

The main objects of your expedition are to carry the proclamation of
freedom to the enslaved; to call all loyal men into the service of the
United States; to occupy as much of the State of Florida as possible
with the forces under your command; and to neglect no means consistent
with the usages of civilized warfare to weaken, harass, and annoy those
who are in rebellion against the Government of the United States.

Trusting that the blessing of our Heavenly Father will rest upon your
noble enterprise,

I am yours, sincerely,


Brig.-Gen., Mil. Gov. Dept. of the South. Colonel Higginson, Comdg.
Expeditionary Corps.

In due time, after touching at Fernandina, we reached the difficult
bar of the St. John's, and were piloted safely over. Admiral Dupont
had furnished a courteous letter of introduction.* and we were
cordially received by Commander Duncan of the Norwich, and Lieutenant
Watson, commanding the Uncas. Like all officers on blockade duty, they
were impatient of their enforced inaction, and gladly seized the
opportunity for a different service. It was some time since they had
ascended as high as Jacksonville, for their orders were strict, one
vessel's coal was low, the other was in infirm condition, and there
were rumors of cotton-clads and torpedoes. But they gladly agreed to
escort us up the river, so soon as our own armed gunboat, the John
Adams, should arrive,--she being unaccountably delayed.


PORT ROYAL HARBOR, S. C., March 6, 1863. SIR,--I am informed by
Major-General Hunter that he is sending Colonel Higginson on an
important mission in the southerly part of his Department.

I have not been made acquainted with the objects of this mission, but
any assistance that you can offer Colonel Higginson, which will not
interfere with your other duties, you are authorized to give.

Respectfully your obedient servant,

Rear-Adm. Comdg. S. Atl. Block. Squad.

To the Senior Officer at the different Blockading Stations on the Coast
of Georgia and Florida.

We waited twenty-four hours for her, at the sultry mouth of that glassy
river, watching the great pelicans which floated lazily on its tide, or
sometimes shooting one, to admire the great pouch, into which one of the
soldiers could insert his foot, as into a boot. "He hold one quart,"
said the admiring experimentalist. "Hi! boy," retorted another quickly,
"neber you bring dat quart measure in _my_ peck o' corn." The protest
came very promptly, and was certainly fair; for the strange receptacle
would have held nearly a gallon.

We went on shore, too, and were shown a rather pathetic little garden,
which the naval officers had laid out, indulging a dream of vegetables.
They lingered over the little microscopic sprouts, pointing them out
tenderly, as if they were cradled babies. I have often noticed this
touching weakness, in gentlemen of that profession, on lonely stations.

We wandered among the bluffs, too, in the little deserted
hamlet called "Pilot Town." The ever-shifting sand had in some cases
almost buried the small houses, and had swept around others a circular
drift, at a few yards' distance, overtopping then: eaves, and leaving
each the untouched citadel of this natural redoubt. There was also a
dismantled lighthouse, an object which always seems the most dreary
symbol of the barbarism of war, when one considers the national
beneficence which reared and kindled it. Despite the service rendered by
this once brilliant light, there were many wrecks which had been strown
upon the beach, victims of the most formidable of the Southern
river-bars. As I stood with my foot on the half-buried ribs of one of
these vessels,--so distinctly traced that one might almost fancy them
human,--the old pilot, my companion, told me the story of the wreck. The
vessel had formerly been in the Cuba trade; and her owner, an American
merchant residing in Havana, had christened her for his young daughter.
I asked the name, and was startled to recognize that of a favorite young
cousin of mine, besides the bones of whose representative I was thus
strangely standing, upon this lonely shore.

It was well to have something to relieve the anxiety naturally felt at
the delay of the John Adams,--anxiety both for her safety and for the
success of our enterprise, The Rebels had repeatedly threatened to burn
the whole of Jacksonville, in case of another attack, as they had
previously burned its mills and its great hotel. It seemed as if the
news of our arrival must surely have travelled thirty miles by this
time. All day we watched every smoke that rose among the wooded hills,
and consulted the compass and the map, to see if that sign announced the
doom of our expected home. At the very last moment of the tide, just in
time to cross the bar that day, the missing vessel arrived; all
anxieties vanished; I transferred my quarters on board, and at two the
next morning we steamed up the river.

Again there was the dreamy delight of ascending an unknown stream,
beneath a sinking moon, into a region where peril made fascination.
Since the time of the first explorers, I suppose that those Southern
waters have known no sensations so dreamy and so bewitching as those
which this war has brought forth. I recall, in this case, the faintest
sensations of our voyage, as Ponce de Leon may have recalled those of
his wandering search, in the same soft zone, for the secret of the
mystic fountain. I remember how, during that night, I looked for the
first time through a powerful night-glass. It had always seemed a
thing wholly inconceivable, that a mere lens could change darkness
into light; and as I turned the instrument on the preceding gunboat,
and actually discerned the man at the wheel and the others standing
about him,--all relapsing into vague gloom again at the withdrawal of
the glass,--it gave a feeling of childish delight. Yet it seemed only
in keeping with the whole enchantment of the scene; and had I been
some Aladdin, convoyed by genii or giants, I could hardly have felt
more wholly a denizen of some world of romance.

But the river was of difficult navigation; and we began to feel
sometimes, beneath the keel, that ominous, sliding, grating, treacherous
arrest of motion which makes the heart shudder, as the vessel does.
There was some solicitude about torpedoes, also,--a peril which became a
formidable thing, one year later, in the very channel where we found
none. Soon one of our consorts grounded, then another, every vessel
taking its turn, I believe, and then in turn getting off, until the
Norwich lay hopelessly stranded, for that tide at least, a few miles
below Jacksonville, and out of sight of the city, so that she could not
even add to our dignity by her visible presence from afar.

This was rather a serious matter, as the Norwich was our main naval
reliance, the Uncas being a small steamer of less than two hundred
tons, and in such poor condition that Commander Duncan, on finding
himself aground, at first quite declined to trust his consort any
farther alone. But, having got thus far, it was plainly my duty to
risk the remainder with or without naval assistance; and this being
so, the courageous officer did not long object, but allowed his
dashing subordinate to steam up with us to the city. This left us one
naval and one army gunboat; and, fortunately, the Burn-side, being a
black propeller, always passed for an armed vessel among the Rebels,
and we rather encouraged that pleasing illusion.

We had aimed to reach Jacksonville at daybreak; but these mishaps
delayed us, and we had several hours of fresh, early sunshine,
lighting up the green shores of that lovely river, wooded to the
water's edge, with sometimes an emerald meadow, opening a vista to
some picturesque house,--all utterly unlike anything we had yet seen
in the South, and suggesting rather the Penobscot or Kennebec. Here
and there we glided by the ruins of some saw-mill burned by the Rebels
on General Wright's approach; but nothing else spoke of war, except,
perhaps, the silence. It was a delicious day, and a scene of
fascination. Our Florida men were wild with delight; and when we
rounded the point below the city, and saw from afar its long streets,
its brick warehouses, its white cottages, and its overshadowing
trees,--all peaceful and undisturbed by flames,--it seemed, in the
men's favorite phrase, "too much good," and all discipline was merged,
for the moment, in a buzz of ecstasy.

The city was still there for us, at any rate; though none knew what
perils might be concealed behind those quiet buildings. Yet there were
children playing on the wharves; careless men, here and there, lounged
down to look at us, hands in pockets; a few women came to their doors,
and gazed listlessly upon us, shading their eyes with their hands. We
drew momently nearer, in silence and with breathless attention. The
gunners were at their posts, and the men in line. It was eight
o'clock. We were now directly opposite the town: yet no sign of
danger was seen; not a rifle-shot was heard; not a shell rose hissing
in the air. The Uncas rounded to, and dropped anchor in the stream; by
previous agreement, I steamed to an upper pier of the town, Colonel
Montgomery to a lower one; the little boat-howitzers were run out upon
the wharves, and presently to the angles of the chief streets; and the
pretty town was our own without a shot. In spite of our detention, the
surprise had been complete, and not a soul in Jacksonville had dreamed
of our coming.

The day passed quickly, in eager preparations for defence; the people
could or would give us no definite information about the Rebel camp,
which was, however, known to be near, and our force did not permit our
going out to surprise it. The night following was the most anxious I
ever spent. We were all tired out; the companies were under arms, in
various parts of the town, to be ready for an attack at any moment. My
temporary quarters were beneath the loveliest grove of linden-trees,
and as I reclined, half-dozing, the mocking-birds sang all night like
nightingales,--their notes seeming to trickle down through the sweet
air from amid the blossoming boughs. Day brought relief and the sense
of due possession, and we could see what we had won.

Jacksonville was now a United States post again: the only post on the
main-land in the Department of the South. Before the war it had three
or four thousand inhabitants, and a rapidly growing lumber-trade, for
which abundant facilities were evidently provided. The wharves were
capacious, and the blocks of brick warehouses along the lower street
were utterly unlike anything we had yet seen in that region, as were
the neatness and thrift everywhere visible. It had been built up by
Northern enterprise, and much of the property was owned by loyal men.
It had been a great resort for invalids, though the Rebels had burned
the large hotel which once accommodated them. Mills had also been
burned; but the dwelling-houses were almost all in good condition. The
quarters for the men were admirable; and I took official possession of
the handsome brick house of Colonel Sunder-land, the established
head-quarters through every occupation, whose accommodating flag-staff
had literally and repeatedly changed its colors. The seceded Colonel,
reputed author of the State ordinance of Secession, was a New-Yorker
by birth, and we found his law-card, issued when in practice in
Easton, Washington County, New York. He certainly had good taste in
planning the inside of a house, though time had impaired its
condition. There was a neat office with ample bookcases and no books,
a billiard-table with no balls, gas-fixtures without gas, and a
bathing-room without water. There was a separate building for
servants' quarters, and a kitchen with every convenience, even to a
few jars of lingering pickles. On the whole, there was an air of
substance and comfort about the town, quite alien from the picturesque
decadence of Beaufort.

The town rose gradually from the river, and was bounded on the rear by a
long, sluggish creek, beyond which lay a stretch of woods, affording an
excellent covert for the enemy, but without great facilities for attack,
as there were but two or three fords and bridges. This brook could
easily be held against a small force, but could at any time and at
almost any point be readily crossed by a large one. North of the town
the land rose a little, between the river and the sources of the brook,
and then sank to a plain, which had been partially cleared by a previous
garrison. For so small a force as ours, however, this clearing must be
extended nearer to the town; otherwise our lines would be too long for
our numbers.

This deficiency in numbers at once became a source of serious anxiety.
While planning the expedition, it had seemed so important to get the men
a foothold in Florida that I was willing to risk everything for it. But
this important post once in our possession, it began to show some
analogies to the proverbial elephant in the lottery. To hold it
permanently with nine hundred men was not, perhaps, impossible, with the
aid of a gunboat (I had left many of my own regiment sick and on duty in
Beaufort, and Colonel Montgomery had as yet less than one hundred and
fifty); but to hold it, and also to make forays up the river, certainly
required a larger number. We came in part to recruit, but had found
scarcely an able-bodied negro in the city; all had been removed farther
up, and we must certainly contrive to follow them. I was very unwilling
to have, as yet, any white troops under my command, with the blacks.
Finally, however, being informed by Judge S. of a conversation with
Colonel Hawley, commanding at Fernandina, in which the latter had
offered to send four companies and a light battery to swell our force,
--in view of the aid given to his position by this more advanced post, I
decided to authorize the energetic Judge to go back to Fernandina and
renew the negotiation, as the John Adams must go thither at any rate for

Meanwhile all definite display of our force was avoided; dress-parades
were omitted; the companies were so distributed as to tell for the
utmost; and judicious use was made, here and there, of empty tents.
The gunboats and transports moved impressively up and down the river,
from time to time. The disposition of pickets was varied each night to
perplex the enemy, and some advantage taken of his distrust, which
might be assumed as equalling our own. The citizens were duly
impressed by our supply of ammunition, which was really enormous, and
all these things soon took effect. A loyal woman, who came into town,
said that the Rebel scouts, stopping at her house, reported that there
were "sixteen hundred negroes all over the woods, and the town full of
them besides." "It was of no use to go in. General Finnegan had driven
them into a bad place once, and should not do it again." "They had
lost their captain and their best surgeon in the first skirmish, and
if the Savannah people wanted the negroes driven away, they might come
and do it themselves." Unfortunately, we knew that they could easily
come from Savannah at any time, as there was railroad communication
nearly all the way; and every time we heard the steam-whistle, the men
were convinced of their arrival. Thus we never could approach to any
certainty as to their numbers, while they could observe, from the
bluffs, every steamboat that ascended the river.

To render our weak force still more available, we barricaded the
approaches to the chief streets by constructing barriers or felling
trees. It went to my heart to sacrifice, for this purpose, several of my
beautiful lindens; but it was no time for aesthetics. As the giants lay
on the ground, still scenting the air with their abundant bloom, I used
to rein up my horse and watch the children playing hide-and-seek amongst
their branches, or some quiet cow grazing at the foliage. Nothing
impresses the mind in war like some occasional object or association
that belongs apparently to peace alone.

Among all these solicitudes, it was a great thing that one particular
anxiety vanished in a day. On the former expedition the men were upon
trial as to their courage; now they were to endure another test, as to
their demeanor as victors. Here were five hundred citizens, nearly all
white, at the mercy of their former slaves. To some of these whites it
was the last crowning humiliation, and they were, or professed to be,
in perpetual fear. On the other hand, the most intelligent and
lady-like woman I saw, the wife of a Rebel captain, rather surprised
me by saying that it seemed pleasanter to have these men stationed
there, whom they had known all their lives, and who had generally
borne a good character, than to be in the power of entire strangers.
Certainly the men deserved the confidence, for there was scarcely an
exception to their good behavior. I think they thoroughly felt that
their honor and dignity were concerned in the matter, and took too
much pride in their character as soldiers,--to say nothing of higher
motives,--to tarnish it by any misdeeds. They watched their officers
vigilantly and even suspiciously, to detect any disposition towards
compromise; and so long as we pursued a just course it was evident
that they could be relied on. Yet the spot was pointed out to me where
two of our leading men had seen their brothers hanged by Lynch law;
many of them had private wrongs to avenge; and they all had utter
disbelief in all pretended loyalty, especially on the part of the

One citizen alone was brought to me in a sort of escort of honor by
Corporal Prince Lambkin,--one of the color-guard, and one of our ablest
men,--the same who had once made a speech in camp, reminding his hearers
that they had lived under the American flag for eighteen hundred and
sixty-two years, and ought to live and die under it. Corporal Lambkin
now introduced his man, a German, with the highest compliment in his
power, "He hab true colored-man heart." Surrounded by mean, cajoling,
insinuating white men and women who were all that and worse, I was quite
ready to appreciate the quality he thus proclaimed. A colored-man heart,
in the Rebel States, is a fair synonyme for a loyal heart, and it is
about the only such synonyme. In this case, I found afterwards that the
man in question, a small grocer, had been an object of suspicion to the
whites from his readiness to lend money to the negroes, or sell to them
on credit; in which, perhaps, there may have been some mixture of
self-interest with benevolence.

I resort to a note-book of that period, well thumbed and pocket-worn,
which sometimes received a fragment of the day's experience.

"March 16, 1863.

"Of course, droll things are constantly occurring. Every white man,
woman, and child is flattering, seductive, and professes Union
sentiment; every black ditto believes that every white ditto is a
scoundrel, and ought to be shot, but for good order and military
discipline. The Provost Marshal and I steer between them as blandly as
we can. Such scenes as succeed each other! Rush of indignant Africans.
A white man, in woman's clothes, has been seen to enter a certain
house,--undoubtedly a spy. Further evidence discloses the Roman
Catholic priest, a peaceful little Frenchman, in his professional
apparel.--Anxious female enters. Some sentinel has shot her cow by
mistake for a Rebel. The United States cannot think of paying the
desired thirty dollars. Let her go to the Post-Quartermaster and
select a cow from his herd. If there is none to suit her (and, indeed,
not one of them gave a drop of milk,--neither did hers), let her wait
till the next lot comes in,--that is all.--Yesterday's operations gave
the following total yield: Thirty 'contrabands,' eighteen horses,
eleven cattle, ten saddles and bridles, and one new army-wagon. At
this rate we shall soon be self-supporting _cavalry_.

"Where complaints are made of the soldiers, it almost always turns out
that the women have insulted them most grossly, swearing at them, and
the like. One unpleasant old Dutch woman came in, bursting with wrath,
and told the whole narrative of her blameless life, diversified with

"'Last January I ran off two of my black people from St. Mary's to
Fernandina,' (sob,)--'then I moved down there myself, and at Lake City
I lost six women and a boy,' (sob,)--'then I stopped at Baldwin for
one of the wenches to be confined,' (sob,)--'then I brought them all
here to live in a Christian country' (sob, sob). "Then the blockheads'
[blockades, that is, gunboats] 'came, and they all ran off with the
blockheads,' (sob, sob, sob,) 'and left me, an old lady of forty-six,
obliged to work for a living.' (Chaos of sobs, without cessation.)

"But when I found what the old sinner had said to the soldiers I rather
wondered at their self-control in not throttling her."

Meanwhile skirmishing went on daily in the outskirts of the town. There
was a fight on the very first day, when our men killed, as before
hinted, a Rebel surgeon, which was oddly metamorphosed in the Southern
newspapers into their killing one of ours, which certainly never
happened. Every day, after this, they appeared in small mounted squads
in the neighborhood, and exchanged shots with our pickets, to which the
gunboats would contribute their louder share, their aim being rather
embarrassed by the woods and hills. We made reconnoissances, too, to
learn the country in different directions, and were apt to be fired upon
during these. Along the farther side of what we called the "Debatable
Land" there was a line of cottages, hardly superior to negro huts, and
almost all empty, where the Rebel pickets resorted, and from whose
windows they fired. By degrees all these nests were broken up and
destroyed, though it cost some trouble to do it, and the hottest
skirmishing usually took place around them.

Among these little affairs was one which we called "Company K's
Skirmish," because it brought out the fact that this company, which was
composed entirely of South Carolina men, and had never shone in drill or
discipline, stood near the head of the regiment for coolness and
courage,--the defect of discipline showing itself only in their extreme
unwillingness to halt when once let loose. It was at this time that the
small comedy of the Goose occurred,--an anecdote which Wendell Phillips
has since made his own.

One of the advancing line of skirmishers, usually an active fellow
enough, was observed to move clumsily and irregularly. It soon
appeared that he had encountered a fine specimen of the domestic
goose, which had surrendered at discretion. Not wishing to lose it, he
could yet find no way to hold it but between his legs; and so he went
on, loading, firing, advancing, halting, always with the goose
writhing and struggling and hissing in this natural pair of stocks.
Both happily came off unwounded, and retired in good order at the
signal, or some time after it; but I have hardly a cooler thing to put
on record.

Meanwhile, another fellow left the field less exultingly; for, after a
thoroughly courageous share in the skirmish, he came blubbering to his
captain, and said,--"Cappen, make Caesar gib me my cane." It seemed
that, during some interval of the fighting, he had helped himself to an
armful of Rebel sugar-cane, such as they all delighted in chewing. The
Roman hero, during another pause, had confiscated the treasure; whence
these tears of the returning warrior. I never could accustom myself to
these extraordinary interminglings of manly and childish attributes.

Our most untiring scout during this period was the chaplain of my
regiment,--the most restless and daring spirit we had, and now exulting
in full liberty of action. He it was who was daily permitted to stray
singly where no other officer would have been allowed to go, so
irresistible was his appeal, "You know I am only a chaplain." Methinks I
see our regimental saint, with pistols in belt and a Ballard rifle slung
on shoulder, putting spurs to his steed, and cantering away down some
questionable wood-path, or returning with some tale of Rebel haunt
discovered, or store of foraging. He would track an enemy like an
Indian, or exhort him, when apprehended, like an early Christian. Some
of our devout soldiers shook their heads sometimes over the chaplain's
little eccentricities. "Woffor Mr. Chapman made a preacher for?" said
one of them, as usual transforming his title into a patronymic. "He's
_de fightingest more Yankee_ I eber see in all my days."

And the criticism was very natural, though they could not deny that,
when the hour for Sunday service came, Mr. F. commanded the respect and
attention of all. That hour never came, however, on our first Sunday in
Jacksonville; we were too busy and the men too scattered; so the
chaplain made his accustomed foray beyond the lines instead.

"Is it not Sunday?" slyly asked an unregenerate lieutenant. "Nay," quoth
his Reverence, waxing fervid; "it is the Day of Judgment"

This reminds me of a raid up the river, conducted by one of our senior
captains, an enthusiast whose gray beard and prophetic manner always
took me back to the Fifth-Monarchy men. He was most successful that day,
bringing back horses, cattle, provisions, and prisoners; and one of the
latter complained bitterly to me of being held, stating that Captain R.
had promised him speedy liberty. But that doughty official spurned the
imputation of such weak blandishments, in this day of triumphant

"Promise him!" said he, "I promised him nothing but the Day of Judgment
and Periods of Damnation!"

Often since have I rolled beneath my tongue this savory and solemn
sentence, and I do not believe that since the days of the Long
Parliament there has been a more resounding anathema.

In Colonel Montgomery's hands these up-river raids reached the dignity
of a fine art. His conceptions of foraging were rather more Western and
liberal than mine, and on these excursions he fully indemnified himself
for any undue abstinence demanded of him when in camp. I remember being
on the wharf, with some naval officers, when he came down from his first
trip. The steamer seemed an animated hen-coop. Live poultry hung from
the foremast shrouds, dead ones from the mainmast, geese hissed from the
binnacle, a pig paced the quarter-deck, and a duck's wings were seen
fluttering from a line which was wont to sustain duck trousers. The
naval heroes, mindful of their own short rations, and taking high views
of one's duties in a conquered country, looked at me reproachfully, as
who should say, "Shall these things be?" In a moment or two the
returning foragers had landed.

"Captain ----," said Montgomery, courteously, "would you allow me to
send a remarkably fine turkey for your use on board ship?"

"Lieutenant ----," said Major Corwin, "may I ask your acceptance of a
pair of ducks for your mess?"

Never did I behold more cordial relations between army and navy than
sprang into existence at those sentences. So true it is, as Charles
Lamb says, that a single present of game may diffuse kindly sentiments
through a whole community. These little trips were called "rest";
there was no other rest during those ten days. An immense amount of
picket and fatigue duty had to be done. Two redoubts were to be built
to command the Northern Valley; all the intervening grove, which now
afforded lurking-ground for a daring enemy, must be cleared away; and
a few houses must be reluctantly razed for the same purpose. The fort
on the left was named Fort Higginson, and that built by my own
regiment, in return, Fort Montgomery. The former was necessarily a
hasty work, and is now, I believe, in ruins; the latter was far more
elaborately constructed, on lines well traced by the Fourth New
Hampshire during the previous occupation. It did great credit to
Captain Trowbridge, of my regiment (formerly of the New York Volunteer
Engineers), who had charge of its construction.

How like a dream seems now that period of daily skirmishes and nightly
watchfulness! The fatigue was so constant that the days hurried by. I
felt the need of some occasional change of ideas, and having just
received from the North Mr. Brook's beautiful translation of Jean
Paul's "Titan," I used to retire to my bedroom for some ten minutes
every afternoon, and read a chapter or two. It was more refreshing
than a nap, and will always be to me one of the most fascinating books
in the world, with this added association. After all, what concerned
me was not so much the fear of an attempt to drive us out and retake
the city,--for that would be against the whole policy of the Rebels in
that region,--as of an effort to fulfil their threats and burn it, by
some nocturnal dash. The most valuable buildings belonged to Union
men, and the upper part of the town, built chiefly of resinous pine,
was combustible to the last degree. In case of fire, if the wind blew
towards the river, we might lose steamers and all. I remember
regulating my degree of disrobing by the direction of the wind; if it
blew from the river, it was safe to make one's self quite comfortable;
if otherwise, it was best to conform to Suwarrow's idea of luxury, and
take off one spur.

So passed our busy life for ten days. There were no tidings of
reinforcements, and I hardly knew whether I wished for them,--or
rather, I desired them as a choice of evils; for our men were giving
out from overwork, and the recruiting excursions, for which we had
mainly come, were hardly possible. At the utmost, I had asked for the
addition of four companies and a light battery. Judge of my surprise
when two infantry regiments successively arrived! I must resort to a
scrap from the diary. Perhaps diaries are apt to be thought tedious;
but I would rather read a page of one, whatever the events described,
than any more deliberate narrative,--it gives glimpses so much more
real and vivid.


March 20, 1863, Midnight.

"For the last twenty-four hours we have been sending women and children
out of town, in answer to a demand by flag of truce, with a threat of
bombardment. [N. B. I advised them not to go, and the majority declined
doing so.] It was designed, no doubt, to intimidate; and in our
ignorance of the force actually outside, we have had to recognize the
possibility of danger, and work hard at our defences. At any time, by
going into the outskirts, we can have a skirmish, which is nothing but
fun; but when night closes in over a small and weary garrison, there
sometimes steals into my mind, like a chill, that most sickening of all
sensations, the anxiety of a commander. This was the night generally set
for an attack, if any, though I am pretty well satisfied that they have
not strength to dare it, and the worst they could probably do is to burn
the town. But to-night, instead of enemies, appear friends,--our devoted
civic ally, Judge S., and a whole Connecticut regiment, the Sixth, under
Major Meeker; and though the latter are aground, twelve miles below, yet
they enable one to breathe more freely. I only wish they were black; but
now I have to show, not only that blacks can fight, but that they and
white soldiers can act in harmony together."

That evening the enemy came up for a reconnoissance, in the deepest
darkness, and there were alarms all night. The next day the Sixth
Connecticut got afloat, and came up the river; and two days after, to
my continued amazement, arrived a part of the Eighth Maine, under
Lieutenant-Colonel Twichell. This increased my command to four
regiments, or parts of regiments, half white and half black.
Skirmishing had almost ceased,--our defences being tolerably complete,
and looking from without much more effective than they really were. We
were safe from any attack by a small force, and hoped that the enemy
could not spare a large one from Charleston or Savannah. All looked
bright without, and gave leisure for some small anxieties within.

It was the first time in the war (so far as I know) that white and black
soldiers had served together on regular duty. Jealousy was still felt
towards even the officers of colored regiments, and any difficult
contingency would be apt to bring it out. The white soldiers, just from
ship-board, felt a natural desire to stray about the town; and no attack
from an enemy would be so disastrous as the slightest collision between
them and the black provost-guard. I shudder, even now, to think of the
train of consequences, bearing on the whole course of subsequent
national events, which one such mishap might then have produced. It is
almost impossible for us now to remember in what a delicate balance then
hung the whole question of negro enlistments, and consequently of
Slavery. Fortunately for my own serenity, I had great faith in the
intrinsic power of military discipline, and also knew that a common
service would soon produce mutual respect among good soldiers; and so it
proved. But the first twelve hours of this mixed command were to me a
more anxious period than any outward alarms had created.

Let us resort to the note-book again.

"JACKSONVILLE, March 22, 1863.

"It is Sunday; the bell is ringing for church, and Rev. Mr. F., from
Beaufort, is to preach. This afternoon our good quartermaster
establishes a Sunday-school for our little colony of 'contrabands,' now
numbering seventy.

"Sunday Afternoon. "The bewildering report is confirmed; and in
addition to the Sixth Connecticut, which came yesterday, appears part
of the Eighth Maine. The remainder, with its colonel, will be here
to-morrow, and, report says, Major-General Hunter. Now my hope is that
we may go to some point higher up the river, which we can hold for
ourselves. There are two other points [Magnolia and Pilatka], which,
in themselves, are as favorable as this, and, for getting recruits,
better. So I shall hope to be allowed to go. To take posts, and then
let white troops garrison them,--that is my programme.

"What makes the thing more puzzling is, that the Eighth Maine has only
brought ten days' rations, so that they evidently are not to stay here;
and yet where they go, or why they come, is a puzzle. Meanwhile we can
sleep sound o' nights; and if the black and white babies do not quarrel
and pull hair, we shall do very well."

Colonel Rust, on arriving, said frankly that he knew nothing of the
plans prevailing in the Department, but that General Hunter was
certainly coming soon to act for himself; that it had been reported at
the North, and even at Port Royal, that we had all been captured and
shot (and, indeed, I had afterwards the pleasure of reading my own
obituary in a Northern Democratic journal), and that we certainly needed
reinforcements; that he himself had been sent with orders to carry out,
so far as possible, the original plans of the expedition; that he
regarded himself as only a visitor, and should remain chiefly on
shipboard,--which he did. He would relieve the black provost-guard by a
white one, if I approved,--which I certainly did. But he said that he
felt bound to give the chief opportunities of action to the colored
troops,--which I also approved, and which he carried out, not quite to
the satisfaction of his own eager and daring officers.

I recall one of these enterprises, out of which we extracted a good
deal of amusement; it was baptized the Battle of the Clothes-Lines. A
white company was out scouting in the woods behind the town, with one
of my best Florida men for a guide; and the captain sent back a
message that he had discovered a Rebel camp with twenty-two tents,
beyond a creek, about four miles away; the officers and men had been
distinctly seen, and it would be quite possible to capture it. Colonel
Rust at once sent me out with two hundred men to do the work,
recalling the original scouts, and disregarding the appeals of his own
eager officers. We marched through the open pine woods, on a
delightful afternoon, and met the returning party. Poor fellows! I
never shall forget the longing eyes they cast on us, as we marched
forth to the field of glory, from which they were debarred. We went
three or four miles out, sometimes halting to send forward a scout,
while I made all the men lie down in the long, thin grass and beside
the fallen trees, till one could not imagine that there was a person
there. I remember how picturesque the effect was, when, at the signal,
all rose again, like Roderick Dhu's men, and the green wood appeared
suddenly populous with armed life. At a certain point forces were
divided, and a detachment was sent round the head of the creek, to
flank the unsuspecting enemy; while we of the main body, stealing with
caution nearer and nearer, through ever denser woods, swooped down at
last in triumph upon a solitary farmhouse,--where the family-washing
had been hung out to dry! This was the "Rebel camp"!

It is due to Sergeant Greene, my invaluable guide, to say that he had
from the beginning discouraged any high hopes of a crossing of
bayonets. He had early explained that it was not he who claimed to
have seen the tents and the Rebel soldiers, but one of the
officers,--and had pointed out that our undisturbed approach was
hardly reconcilable with the existence of a hostile camp so near. This
impression had also pressed more and more upon my own mind, but it was
our business to put the thing beyond a doubt. Probably the place may
have been occasionally used for a picket-station, and we found fresh
horse-tracks in the vicinity, and there was a quantity of iron
bridle-bits in the house, of which no clear explanation could be
given; so that the armed men may not have been wholly imaginary. But
camp there was none. After enjoying to the utmost the fun of the
thing, therefore, we borrowed the only horse on the premises, hung all
the bits over his neck, and as I rode him back to camp, they clanked
like broken chains. We were joined on the way by our dear and devoted
surgeon, whom I had left behind as an invalid, but who had mounted his
horse and ridden out alone to attend to our wounded, his green sash
looking quite in harmony with the early spring verdure of those lovely
woods. So came we back in triumph, enjoying the joke all the more
because some one else was responsible. We mystified the little
community at first, but soon let out the secret, and witticisms
abounded for a day or two, the mildest of which was the assertion that
the author of the alarm must have been "three sheets in the wind."

Another expedition was of more exciting character. For several days
before the arrival of Colonel Rust a reconnois-sance had been planned in
the direction of the enemy's camp, and he finally consented to its being
carried out. By the energy of Major Corwin, of the Second South Carolina
Volunteers, aided by Mr. Holden, then a gunner on the Paul Jones, and
afterwards made captain of the same regiment, one of the ten-pound
Parrott guns had been mounted on a hand-car, for use on the railway.
This it was now proposed to bring into service. I took a large detail of
men from the two white regiments and from my own, and had instructions
to march as far as the four-mile station on the railway, if possible,
examine the country, and ascertain if the Rebel camp had been removed,
as was reported, beyond that distance. I was forbidden going any farther
from camp, or attacking the Rebel camp, as my force comprised half our
garrison, and should the town meanwhile be attacked from some other
direction, it would be in great danger.

I never shall forget the delight of that march through the open pine
barren, with occasional patches of uncertain swamp. The Eighth Maine,
under Lieutenant-Colonel Twich-ell, was on the right, the Sixth
Connecticut, under Major Meeker, on the left, and my own men, under
Major Strong, in the centre, having in charge the cannon, to which
they had been trained. Mr. Heron, from the John Adams, acted as
gunner. The mounted Rebel pickets retired before us through the woods,
keeping usually beyond range of the skirmishers, who in a long
line--white, black, white--were deployed transversely. For the first
time I saw the two colors fairly alternate on the military chessboard;
it had been the object of much labor and many dreams, and I liked the
pattern at last. Nothing was said about the novel fact by anybody,--it
all seemed to come as matter-of-course; there appeared to be no mutual
distrust among the men, and as for the officers, doubtless "each crow
thought its own young the whitest,"--I certainly did, although doing
full justice to the eager courage of the Northern portion of my
command. Especially I watched with pleasure the fresh delight of the
Maine men, who had not, like the rest, been previously in action, and
who strode rapidly on with their long legs, irresistibly recalling, as
their gaunt, athletic frames and sunburnt faces appeared here and
there among the pines, the lumber regions of their native State, with
which I was not unfamiliar.

We passed through a former camp of the Rebels, from which everything had
been lately removed; but when the utmost permitted limits of our
reconnoissance were reached, there were still no signs of any other
camp, and the Rebel cavalry still kept provokingly before us. Their
evident object was to lure us on to their own stronghold, and had we
fallen into the trap, it would perhaps have resembled, on a smaller
scale, the Olustee of the following year. With a good deal of
reluctance, however, I caused the recall to be sounded, and, after a
slight halt, we began to retrace our steps.

Straining our eyes to look along the reach of level railway which
stretched away through the pine barren, we began to see certain
ominous puffs of smoke, which might indeed proceed from some fire in
the woods, but were at once set down by the men as coming from the
mysterious locomotive battery which the Rebels were said to have
constructed. Gradually the smoke grew denser, and appeared to be
moving up along the track, keeping pace with our motion, and about two
miles distant. I watched it steadily through a field-glass from our
own slowly moving battery: it seemed to move when we moved and to halt
when we halted. Sometimes in the dun smoke I caught a glimpse of
something blacker, raised high in the air like the threatening head of
some great gliding serpent. Suddenly there came a sharp puff of
lighter smoke that seemed like a forked tongue, and then a hollow
report, and we could see a great black projectile hurled into the air,
and falling a quarter of a mile away from us, in the woods. I did not
at once learn that this first shot killed two of the Maine men, and
wounded two more. This was fired wide, but the numerous shots which
followed were admirably aimed, and seldom failed to fall or explode
close to our own smaller battery.

It was the first time that the men had been seriously exposed to
artillery fire,--a danger more exciting to the ignorant mind than any
other, as this very war has shown.* So I watched them anxiously.
Fortunately there were deep trenches on each side the railway, with many
stout, projecting roots, forming very tolerable bomb-proofs for those
who happened to be near them. The enemy's gun was a sixty-four-pound
Blakely, as we afterward found, whose enormous projectile moved very
slowly and gave ample time to cover,--insomuch, that, while the
fragments of shell fell all around and amongst us, not a man was hurt.
This soon gave the men the most buoyant confidence, and they shouted
with childish delight over every explosion.

*Take this for example: "The effect was electrical. The Rebels were the
best men in Ford's command, being Lieutenant-Colonel Showalter's
Californians, and they are brave men. They had dismounted and sent their
horses to the rear, and were undoubtedly determined upon a desperate
fight, and their superior numbers made them confident of success. But
they never fought with artillery, and a cannon has more terror for them
than ten thousand rifles and all the wild Camanches on the plains of
Texas. At first glimpse of the shining brass monsters there was a
visible wavering in the determined front of the enemy, and as the shells
came screaming over their heads the scare was complete. They broke
ranks, fled for their horses, scrambled on the first that came to hand,
and skedaddled in the direction of Brownsville."_New York Evening Post_,
September 25, 1864.

The moment a shell had burst or fallen unburst, our little gun was
invariably fired in return, and that with some precision, so far as we
could judge, its range also being nearly as great. For some reason they
showed no disposition to overtake us, in which attempt their locomotive
would have given them an immense advantage over our heavy hand-car, and
their cavalry force over our infantry. Nevertheless, I rather hoped that
they would attempt it, for then an effort might have been made to cut
them off in the rear by taking up some rails. As it was, this was out of
the question, though they moved slowly, as we moved, keeping always
about two miles away. When they finally ceased firing we took up the
rails beyond us before withdrawing, and thus kept the enemy from
approaching so near the city again. But I shall never forget that
Dantean monster, rearing its black head amid the distant smoke, nor the
solicitude with which I watched for the puff which meant danger, and
looked round to see if my chickens were all under cover. The greatest
peril, after all, was from the possible dismounting of our gun, in which
case we should have been very apt to lose it, if the enemy had showed
any dash. There may be other such tilts of railway artillery on record
during the war; but if so, I have not happened to read of them, and so
have dwelt the longer on this.

This was doubtless the same locomotive battery which had previously
fired more than once upon the town,--running up within two miles and then
withdrawing, while it was deemed inexpedient to destroy the railroad, on
our part, lest it might be needed by ourselves in turn. One night, too,
the Rebel threat had been fulfilled, and they had shelled the town with
the same battery. They had the range well, and every shot fell near the
post headquarters. It was exciting to see the great Blakely shell,
showing a light as it rose, and moving slowly towards us like a comet,
then exploding and scattering its formidable fragments. Yet, strange to
say, no serious harm was done to life or limb, and the most formidable
casualty was that of a citizen who complained that a shell had passed
through the wall of his bedroom, and carried off his mosquito curtain in
its transit.

Little knew we how soon these small entertainments would be over.
Colonel Montgomery had gone up the river with his two companies,
perhaps to remain permanently; and I was soon to follow. On Friday,
March 27th, I wrote home: "The Burnside has gone to Beaufort for
rations, and the John Adams to Fernandina for coal; we expect both
back by Sunday, and on Monday I hope to get the regiment off to a
point farther up,--Magnolia, thirty-five miles, or Pilatka,
seventy-five,--either of which would be a good post for us. General
Hunter is expected every day, and it is strange he has not come." The
very next day came an official order recalling the whole expedition,
and for the third time evacuating Jacksonville.

A council of military and naval officers was at once called (though
there was but one thing to be done), and the latter were even more
disappointed and amazed than the former. This was especially the case
with the senior naval officer, Captain Steedman, a South-Carolinian by
birth, but who had proved himself as patriotic as he was courteous and
able, and whose presence and advice had been of the greatest value to
me. He and all of us felt keenly the wrongfulness of breaking the
pledges which we had been authorized to make to these people, and of
leaving them to the mercy of the Rebels once more. Most of the people
themselves took the same view, and eagerly begged to accompany us on our
departure. They were allowed to bring their clothing and furniture also,
and at once developed that insane mania for aged and valueless trumpery
which always seizes upon the human race, I believe, in moments of
danger. With the greatest difficulty we selected between the essential
and the non-essential, and our few transports were at length loaded to
the very water's edge on the morning of March 29th,--Colonel Montgomery
having by this time returned from up-river, with sixteen prisoners, and
the fruits of foraging in plenty.

And upon that last morning occurred an act on the part of some of the
garrison most deeply to be regretted, and not to be excused by the
natural indignation at then- recall,--an act which, through the
unfortunate eloquence of one newspaper correspondent, rang through the
nation,--the attempt to burn the town. I fortunately need not dwell
much upon it, as I was not at the time in command of the post,--as the
white soldiers frankly took upon themselves the whole
responsibility,--and as all the fires were made in the wooden part of
the city, which was occupied by them, while none were made in the
brick part, where the colored soldiers were quartered. It was
fortunate for our reputation that the newspaper accounts generally
agreed in exculpating us from all share in the matter;* and the single
exception, which one correspondent asserted, I could never verify, and
do not believe to have existed. It was stated by Colonel Rust, in his
official report, that some twenty-five buildings in all were burned,
and I doubt if the actual number was greater; but this was probably
owing in part to a change of wind, and did not diminish the discredit
of the transaction. It made our sorrow at departure no less, though it
infinitely enhanced the impressiveness of the scene.

*"The colored regiments had nothing at all to do with it; they behaved
with propriety throughout" _Boston Journal_ Correspondence. ("Carleton.")

"The negro troops took no part whatever in the perpetration of this
Vandalism."_New York Tribune_ Correspondence. ("N. P.")

"We know not whether we are most rejoiced or saddened to observe, by the
general concurrence of accounts, that the negro soldiers had nothing to
do with the barbarous act" _Boston Journal_ Editorial, April 10, 1863.

The excitement of the departure was intense. The embarkation was so
laborious that it seemed as if the flames must be upon us before we
could get on board, and it was also generally expected that the Rebel
skirmishers would be down among the houses, wherever practicable, to
annoy us to the utmost, as had been the case at the previous evacuation.
They were, indeed, there, as we afterwards heard, but did not venture to
molest us. The sight and roar of the flames, and the rolling clouds of
smoke, brought home to the impressible minds of the black soldiers all
their favorite imagery of the Judgment-Day; and those who were not too
much depressed by disappointment were excited by the spectacle, and sang
and exhorted without ceasing.

With heavy hearts their officers floated down the lovely river, which we
had ascended with hopes so buoyant; and from that day to this, the
reasons for our recall have never been made public. It was commonly
attributed to proslavery advisers, acting on the rather impulsive nature
of Major-General Hunter, with a view to cut short the career of the
colored troops, and stop their recruiting. But it may have been simply
the scarcity of troops in the Department, and the renewed conviction at
head-quarters that we were too few to hold the post alone. The latter
theory was strengthened by the fact that, when General Seymour
reoccupied Jacksonville, the following year, he took with him twenty
thousand men instead of one thousand,--and the sanguinary battle of
Olustee found him with too few.

Chapter 5
Out on Picket

One can hardly imagine a body of men more disconsolate than a regiment
suddenly transferred from an adventurous life in the enemy's country
to the quiet of a sheltered camp, on safe and familiar ground. The men
under my command were deeply dejected when, on a most appropriate
day,--the First of April, 1863,--they found themselves unaccountably
recalled from Florida, that region of delights which had seemed theirs
by the right of conquest. My dusky soldiers, who based their whole
walk and conversation strictly on the ancient Israelites, felt that
the prophecies were all set at naught, and that they were on the wrong
side of the Red Sea; indeed, I fear they regarded even me as a sort of
reversed Moses, whose Pisgah fronted in the wrong direction. Had they
foreseen how the next occupation of the Promised Land was destined to
result, they might have acquiesced with more of their wonted
cheerfulness. As it was, we were very glad to receive, after a few
days of discontented repose on the very ground where we had once been
so happy, an order to go out on picket at Port Royal Ferry, with the
understanding that we might remain there for some time. This picket
station was regarded as a sort of military picnic by the regiments
stationed at Beaufort, South Carolina; it meant blackberries and
oysters, wild roses and magnolias, flowery lanes instead of sandy
barrens, and a sort of guerilla existence in place of the camp
routine. To the colored soldiers especially, with their love of
country life, and their extensive personal acquaintance on the
plantations, it seemed quite like a Christmas festival. Besides, they
would be in sight of the enemy, and who knew but there might, by the
blessing of Providence, be a raid or a skirmish? If they could not
remain on the St. John's River, it was something to dwell on the
Coosaw. In the end they enjoyed it as much as they expected, and
though we "went out" several times subsequently, until it became an
old story, the enjoyment never waned. And as even the march from the
camp to the picket lines was something that could not possibly have
been the same for any white regiment in the service, it is worth while
to begin at the beginning and describe it.

A regiment ordered on picket was expected to have reveille at daybreak,
and to be in line for departure by sunrise. This delighted our men, who
always took a childlike pleasure in being out of bed at any unreasonable
hour; and by the time I had emerged, the tents were nearly all struck,
and the great wagons were lumbering into camp to receive them, with
whatever else was to be transported. The first rays of the sun must fall
upon the line of these wagons, moving away across the wide
parade-ground, followed by the column of men, who would soon outstrip
them. But on the occasion which I especially describe the sun was
shrouded, and, when once upon the sandy plain, neither camp nor town nor
river could be seen in the dimness; and when I rode forward and looked
back there was only visible the long, moving, shadowy column, seeming
rather awful in its snake-like advance. There was a swaying of flags and
multitudinous weapons that might have been camels' necks for all one
could see, and the whole thing might have been a caravan upon the
desert. Soon we debouched upon the "Shell Road," the wagon-train drew on
one side into the fog, and by the time the sun appeared the music
ceased, the men took the "route step," and the fun began.

The "route step" is an abandonment of all military strictness, and
nothing is required of the men but to keep four abreast, and not lag
behind. They are not required to keep step, though, with the rhythmical
ear of our soldiers, they almost always instinctively did so; talking
and singing are allowed, and of this privilege, at least, they eagerly
availed themselves. On this day they were at the top of exhilaration.
There was one broad grin from one end of the column to the other; it
might soon have been a caravan of elephants instead of camels, for the
ivory and the blackness; the chatter and the laughter almost drowned the
tramp of feet and the clatter of equipments. At cross-roads and
plantation gates the colored people thronged to see us pass; every one
found a friend and a greeting. "How you do, aunty?" "Huddy (how d'ye),
Budder Benjamin?" "How you find yourself dis mor-nin', Tittawisa (Sister
Louisa)?" Such saluations rang out to everybody, known or unknown. In
return, venerable, kerchiefed matrons courtesied laboriously to every
one, with an unfailing "Bress de Lord, budder." Grave little boys,
blacker than ink, shook hands with our laughing and utterly unmanageable
drummers, who greeted them with this sure word of prophecy, "Dem's de
drummers for de nex' war!" Pretty mulatto girls ogled and coquetted, and
made eyes, as Thackeray would say, at half the young fellows in the
battalion. Meantime the singing was brisk along the whole column, and
when I sometimes reined up to see them pass, the chant of each company,
entering my ear, drove out from the other ear the strain of the
preceding. Such an odd mixture of things, military and missionary, as
the successive waves of song drifted byl First, "John Brown," of course;
then, "What make old Satan for follow me so?" then, "Marching Along";
then, "Hold your light on Canaan's shore"; then, "When this cruel war is
over" (a new favorite, sung by a few); yielding presently to a grand
burst of the favorite marching song among them all, and one at which
every step instinctively quickened, so light and jubilant its rhythm,--

"All true children gwine in de wilderness,
Gwine in de wilderness, gwine in de wilderness,
True believers gwine in de wilderness,
To take away de sins ob de world,"--

ending in a "Hoigh!" after each verse,--a sort of Irish yell. For all
the songs, but especially for their own wild hymns, they constantly
improvised simple verses, with the same odd mingling,--the little
facts of to-day's march being interwoven with the depths of
theological gloom, and the same jubilant chorus annexed to all;

"We're gwin to de Ferry,
De bell done ringing;
Gwine to de landing,
De bell done ringing;
Trust, believer
O, de bell done ringing;
Satan's behind me,
De bell done ringing;
'T is a misty morning,
De bell done ringing;
O de road am sandy,
De bell done ringing;
Hell been open,
De bell done ringing";--

and so on indefinitely.

The little drum-corps kept in advance, a jolly crew, their drums slung
on their backs, and the drum-sticks perhaps balanced on their heads.
With them went the officers' servant-boys, more uproarious still,
always ready to lend their shrill treble to any song. At the head of
the whole force there walked, by some self-imposed pre-eminence, a
respectable elderly female, one of the company laundresses, whose
vigorous stride we never could quite overtake, and who had an enormous
bundle balanced on her head, while she waved in her hand, like a
sword, a long-handled tin dipper. Such a picturesque medley of fun,
war, and music I believe no white regiment in the service could have
shown; and yet there was no straggling, and a single tap of the drum
would at any moment bring order out of this seeming chaos. So we
marched our seven miles out upon the smooth and shaded road,--beneath
jasmine clusters, and great pine-cones dropping, and great bunches of
misletoe still in bloom among the branches. Arrived at the station,
the scene soon became busy and more confused; wagons were being
unloaded, tents pitched, water brought, wood cut, fires made, while
the "field and staff" could take possession of the abandoned quarters
of their predecessors, and we could look round in the lovely summer
morning to "survey our empire and behold our home."

The only thoroughfare by land between Beaufort and Charleston is the
"Shell Road," a beautiful avenue, which, about nine miles from Beaufort,
strikes a ferry across the Coosaw River. War abolished the ferry, and
made the river the permanent barrier between the opposing picket lines.
For ten miles, right and left, these lines extended, marked by well-worn
footpaths, following the endless windings of the stream; and they never
varied until nearly the end of the war. Upon their maintenance depended
our whole foothold on the Sea Islands; and upon that again finally
depended the whole campaign of Sherman. But for the services of the
colored troops, which finally formed the main garrison of the Department
of the South, the Great March would never have been performed.

There was thus a region ten or twelve miles square of which I had
exclusive military command. It was level, but otherwise broken and
bewildering to the last degree. No road traversed it, properly
speaking, but the Shell Road. All the rest was a wild medley of
cypress swamp, pine barren, muddy creek, and cultivated plantation,
intersected by interminable lanes and bridle-paths, through which we
must ride day and night, and which our horses soon knew better than
ourselves. The regiment was distributed at different stations, the
main force being under my immediate command, at a plantation close by
the Shell Road, two miles from the ferry, and seven miles from
Beaufort. Our first picket duty was just at the time of the first
attack on Charleston, under Dupont and Hunter; and it was generally
supposed that the Confederates would make an effort to recapture the
Sea Islands. My orders were to watch the enemy closely, keep informed
as to his position and movements, attempt no advance, and, in case any
were attempted from the other side, to delay it as long as possible,
sending instant notice to head-quarters. As to the delay, that could
be easily guaranteed. There were causeways on the Shell Road which a
single battery could hold against a large force; and the plantations
were everywhere so intersected by hedges and dikes that they seemed
expressly planned for defence. Although creeks wound in and out
everywhere, yet these were only navigable at high tide, and at all
other times were impassable marshes. There were but few posts where
the enemy were within rifle range, and their occasional attacks at
those points were soon stopped by our enforcement of a pithy order
from General Hunter, "Give them as good as they send." So that, with


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