Welcome to
History & Genealogy


A History of the

in the Wars of
1775-1812, 1861-'65,
Joseph T. Wilson
Late of the 2nd Reg't. La. Native Guard Vols. 54th Mass. Vols.
Aide-De-camp to the Commander-In-Chief G. A. R.
Author of
"Emancipation," "Voice of a New Race,"  "Twenty-Two Years of Freedom," etc., etc.
56 Illustrations
Hartford, Conn.:
American Publishing Company


pg. 145

     "Private Miles O'Reilly" was the nom de plume of a talented literary gentleman of the city of New York, who wrote much in humorous prose and verse. His real name was Charles G. Halpine.  After an honorable service in the war, rising to high rank, he was elected Register of New York, and died suddenly while in office, in 1808.  The following sketches from his pen, published during the war, give an account of matters connected with the recruiting and organizing of negro troops in South Carolina, and are quoted here as interesting historical facts connected with the subject:
     "Black troops are now an established success, and hereafter—while the race can furnish enough able-bodied males—the probability would seem that one-half the permanent naval and military forces of the United States will be drawn from this material, under the guidance and control of the white officers.  To-day there is much competition among the field and staff officers of our white volunteers—more especially in those regiments about being disbanded—to obtain commission of like or even lower grades in the colored regiments of Uncle Sam.  General Casey's board of examination cannot keep in session long enough, nor dismiss incompetent aspirants quick enough, to keep down the vast throngs of veterans, with and without shoulder-straps, who are now seeking various grades of command in the colored brigades of the Union.  Over this result all intelligent men will rejoice,—the privilege of being either killed or wounded in battle, or stricken down by the disease, toil and privations incident to the life of a marching soldier, not belonging to that class of prerogative for the exclusive enjoyment of which men of sense, and with higher careers open to them, will long contend.   Looking back, however, but a few years, to the organization of the first regiment of black troops in the departments of the South, what a change in public opinion are we compelled to recognize!  In sober verity, war is

[Pg. 146]
not only the sternest, but the quickest, of all teachers; and contrasting the Then and Now of our negro regiments, as we propose to do in this sketch, the contrast will forcibly recall Galileo's obdurate assertion that 'the world still moves.'
     " Be it known, then, that the first regiment of black troops raised in our recent war, was raised in the Spring of 1862 by the commanding general of the department of the South, of his own motion, and without any direct authority of law, order, or even sanction from the President, the Secretary of War, or our House of Congress. It was done by General Hunter as ' a military necessity ' under very peculiar circumstances, to be detailed hereafter; and although repudiated at first by the Government as were so many other measures originated in the same quarter, it was finally adopted as the settled policy of the country and of our military system; as have likewise since been adopted, all the other original measures for which these officers, at the time of their first announcement, was made to suffer both official rebuke and the violently vituperative denunciation of more than one-half the Northern press.
     "In the Spring of 1862, General Hunter, finding himself with lees than eleven thousand men under his command, and charged with the duty of holding the whole tortuous and broken seacoast of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida, had applied often, and in vain, to the authorities at Washington for reinforcements.  All the troops that could be gathered in the North were less than sufficient for the continuous drain of General McClellan's great operations against the enemy's capital; and the reiterated answer of the War Department was:  'You must get along as best you can.  Not a man from the North can be spared.'
     "On the mainland of three States nominally forming the Department of the South, the flag of the Union had no permanent foothold, save at Fernandiua, St. Augustine, and some few unimportant points along the Florida coast. It was on the Sea-islands of Georgia and South Carolina that our troops were stationed, and continually engaged in fortifying — the enemy being everywhere visible, and in force, across the narrow creeks dividing us from the mainland; and in various raids they came across to our islands, and we drove them back to the mainland, and up their creeks, with a few gunboats to help us—being the order of the day; yea, and yet oftener, of the night.
     "No reinforcements to be had from the North; vast fatigue duties in throwing up earthworks imposed on our insufficient garrison; the enemy continually increasing both in insolence and numbers; our only success the capture of Fort Pulaski, sealing up of Savannah; and this victory offset, if not. fully counter-balanced, by many minor gains of the enemy; this was about the condition of affairs as seen from the headquarters fronting Port Royal bay, when General Hunter one fine morning, with twirling glasses, puckered lips, and dilated nostrils, (he had just received another ' don't-bother-us-for-reinforcements ' dispatch from Washington) announced his intention of ' forming a negro regiment, and compelling

[Pg. 147]
every able-bodied black man in the department to fight for the freedom which could not but be the issue of our war.'  This resolution being taken, was immediately acted upon with vigor, the General causing all the necessary orders to be issued, and taking upon himself, as his private burden, the responsibility for all the irregular issues of arms, clothing, equipments, and rations involved in collecting and organizing the first experimental negro regiment.  The men he intended to pay, at first, by placing them as laborers on the pay-roll of the Chief Quartermaster; but it was his hope that the obvious necessity and wisdom of the measure he had thus presumed to adopt without authority, would secure for it the immediate approval of the higher authorities, and the necessary orders to cover the required pay and supply-issue of the force he had in contemplation. If his course should be endorsed by the War Department, well and good; if it were not so indorsed, why he had enough property of his own to pay back to the Government all he was irregularly expending in this experiment.
     "But now, on the very threshhold of this novel enterprise, came the first—and it was not a trivial—difficulty. Where could experienced officers be found for such an organization ? ' What ! command niggers? ' was the reply—if possible more amazed than scornful—of nearly every competent young lieutenant or captain of volunteers to whom the suggestion of commanding this class of troops was made. ' Never mind,' said Hunter, when this trouble was brought to his notice; 'the fools or bigots who refuse are enough punished by their refusal. Before two years they will be competing eagerly for the commission they now reject.  'Straightly there was issued a circular to all commanding officers in the department, directing them to announce to the non-commissioned officers and men of their respective commands that commissions in the 'South Carolina Regiment of Colored Infantry,' would be given to all deserving and reputable sergeants, corporals; and men who would appear at department headquarters, and prove able to pass an examination in the manual and tactics before a Band of Examiners, which was organized in a general order of current date.  Capt. Arthur M. Kenzie, of Chicago, aid-de-camp,—now of Hancock's Veterans Reserve Corps—was detailed as Colonel of the regiment, giving place, subsequently, in consequence of injured health, to the present Brig.-Gen. James D. Fessenden, then a captain in the Berdan Sharpshooters, though detailed as acting aid-de-camp on Gen. Hunter's staff. Capt. Kenzie, we may add, was Gen. Hunter's nephew, and his appointment as Colonel was made partly to prove —so violent was then the prejudice against negro troops—that the Commanding General asks nothing of them which he was not willing that one of his own flesh and blood should be engaged in.
     "The work was now fairly in progress, but the barriers of prejudice were not to be lightly overthrown. Non-commissioned officers and men of the right stamp, and able to pass the examination requisite, were scarce articles. Ten had the hardihood or moral courage to face the

[Pg. 148]
screaming, riotous ridicule of their late associates in the white regiments.  We remember one very striking instance in point, which we shall give as a sample of the whole.
     "Our friend Mr. Charles F. Briggs, of this city, so well known in literary circles, had a nephew enlisted in that excellent regiment the 48th New York, then garrisoning Fort Pulaski and the works of Tybee Island.  This youngster had raised himself by gallantry and good conduct to be a non-commissioned officer; and Mr. Briggs was anxious that he should be commissioned, according to his capabilities, in the colored troops then being raised.  The lad was sent for, passed his examination with credit, and was immediately offered a first lieutenancy, with the promise of being made captain when his company should be filled up to the required standard, - probably within ten days.
     "The inchoate first-lieutenant was in ecstasies; a gentleman by birth and education, he longed for the shoulder-straps.  He appeared joyously grateful; and only wanted leave to run up to Fort Pulaski for the purpose of collecting his traps, taking leave of his former comrades, and procuring his discharge-papers from Col. Barton.  Two days after that came a note to the department headquarters respectfully declining the commission!  He had been laughed and jeered out of accepting a captaincy by his comrades; and this - though we remember it more accurately from our correspondence with Mr. Briggs - was but one of many scores of precisely similar cases.
     "At length, however, officers were found; the ranks were filled; the men learned with uncommon quickness, having the imitativeness of so many monkeys apparently, and such excellent ears for music that all evolutions seemed to come to them by nature.  At once, despite all hostile influence, the negro regiment became one of the lions of the South; and strangers visiting the department, crowded out eagerly to see its evening parades and Sunday-morning inspection.  By a strange coincidence, its camp was pitched on the lawn and around the mansion of Gen. Drayton, who commanded the rebel works guarding Hilton Head, Port Royal and Beaufort, when the same were first captured by the joint naval and military operations under Admiral DuPont and General Timothy W. Sherman, - General Drayton's brother, Captain Drayton, of our navy, having command of one of the bet vessels in the attacking squadron; as he subsequently took aprt in the first iron-clad attack on Fort Sumpter.
     "Meantime, however, the War Department gave no sign, and the oracles of the Adjutant-General's office were dumb as the statue of the Sphynx.  Reports of the organization of the First South Carolina infantry were duly forwarded to army headquarters; but evoked no comment, either of approval or rebuke.  Letters detailing what had been done, and the reason for doing it; asking instructions, and to have commissions duly issued to the officers selected; appeals that the department paymaster should be instructed to pay these negro troops like other soldiers; demands that the Government should either shoulder the respon-

[Pg. 149]

Genl'. Hunter's black regiment in the distance.

[Pg. 150] - BLANK

[Pg. 151]
sibility of sustaining the organization, or give such orders as would absolve Gen. Hunter from the responsibility of backing out from an experiment which he believed to be essential to the salvation of the country, - all these appeals to Washington proved in vain; for the oracles still remained profoundly silent, probably waiting to see how public opinion and the politicians would receive this daring innovation.
     "At length one evening a special dispatch steamer plowed her way over the bar, and a perspiring messenger delivered into Gen. Hunter's hands a special despatch from the War Department, 'requiring immediate answer.'  The General was just about mounting his horse for his evening ride along the picket line, when this portentous missive wa brought under his notice.  Hastily opening it, he first looked grave, then began to smile, and finally burst into peals of irrepressible laughter, such as were rarely heard from 'Black David,' his old army name.  Never was the General seen, before or since, in such good spirits; he literally was unable to speak from constant interruption of laughter; and all his Adjutant-General could gather from him was:  'That he would not part with the document in his hand for fifty thousand dollars.'
     "At length he passed over the dispatch to his Chief of Staff, who on reading it, and re-reading it, could find in its texts but little apparent cause for merriment.  It was a grave demand from the War Department for information in regard to our negro regiment - the demand being based on a certain resolution introduced by the Hon. Mr. Wickliffe, of Kentucky, asking for specific information on the point, in a tone clearly not friendly.  These resolutions had been adopted by Congress; and as Hunter was without authority for any of his actions in this case, it seemed to his then not cheerful Adjutant-General that the documents in his hands were the reverse of hilarious.
     "Still Hunter was in extravagant spirits as he rode along, his laughter startling the squirrels in the dense pine woods, and every attempt that he made to explain himself being again and again interrupted by renewed peals of inextinguishable mirth.  'The fools!' he at length managed to say; 'that old fool has just given me the very chance I was growing sick for!  The War Department has refused to notice my black regiment; but now, in reply to this resolution, I can lay the matter before the country, and force the authorities either to adopt my negroes or disband them.'  He then rapidly sketched out the kind of reply he wished to have prepared; and, with the first ten words of his explanation, the full force of the cause he had for laughter became apparent.  Never did a General and his Chief-of-Staff, in a more unseemly state of cachinnation, ride along a picket-line.  At every new phase of the subject it presented new features of the ludicrous; and though the reply at this late date may have lost much of the drollery which then it wore, it is a serio-comic document of as much vital importance in the moral history of our late contest as any that can be found in the archives under the care of Gen. E. D. Townsend.  It was received late Sunday evening, and was answered very late that night, in order to be in time for the steamer.

[Pg. 152]
Arago, which sailed at daylight next morning, - the dispatch-steamer which brought the request 'for immediate information' having sustained some injuries which prevented an immediate return.  It was written after midnight, we may add, in a tornado of thunder and tempest such as has rarely been known even on that tornado-stricken coast; but loud as were the peals and vivid the flashes of heaven's artillery, there were at least two persons within the lines on Hilton Head who were laughing far too noisily themselves to pay any heed to external clamors.  The reply thus concocted, and sent, from an uncorrected manuscript copy now in our possession, ran as follows:

                                                        "HEADQUARTERS, DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH.
                                                                                                  Hilton Head, S. C., June, 1862.
"To the HON. E. M. STANTON, Secretary of War, Washington, D. C.
     "SIR: - I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of a communication from the Adjutant-General of the Army, dated June 13, 1862, requesting me to furnish you with the information necessary to answer certain Resolutions introduced in the House of Representatives June 9, 1862, on motion of the Hon. Mr. Wickliffe, of Kentucky; their substance being to enquire:
     "1st - Whether I had organized, or was organizing, a regiment of 'fugitive slaves' in this department.
     "2d - Whether say authority had been given to me from the War Department for such an organization; and
     "3rd - Whether I had been furnished, by order of the War Department, with clothing, uniforms, arms, equipments, and so forth, for such a force?
     "Only having received the letter at a late hour this evening, I urge forward my answer in time for the steamer sailing to-morrow morning, - this haste preventing me from entering, a minutely as I could wish, upon many points of detail, such as the paramount importance of the subject would seem to call for.  But, in view of the near termination of the present session of Congress, and the wide-spread interest which must have been awakened by Mr. Wickliffe's resolutions, I prefer sending even this imperfect answers to waiting the period necessary for the collection of fuller and more comprehensive data.
     "To the first question, therefore, I reply:  That no regiment of 'fugitive slaves' has been, or is being, organized in this department.  There is, however, a fine regiment of loyal persons whose late masters are fugitive rebels - men who everywhere fly before the appearance of the national flag, leaving their loyal and unhappy servants behind them, to shift, as best they can, for themselves.  So far, indeed, are the loyal persons composing the regiment from seeking to evade the presence of their late owners, that they are now, one and all, endeavoring with commendable zeal to acquire the drill and discipline requisite to place them in a position to go in full and effective pursuit of their fugacious and traitorous proprietors.
     "To the second question, I have the honor to answer that the instructions given to Brig.-Gen. T. W. Sherman by the Hon. Simon Cameron, late Secretary of War, and turned over to me, by succession, for my guidance, do distinctly authorize me to employ all loyal persons offering their service in defence of the Union, and for the suppression of this rebellion,' in any manner I may see fit, or that circumstances may call for.  There is now restriction as to the character or color of the persons to be employed, or the nature of the employment - whether civil or military - in which their services may be used.  I conclude, therefore, that I have been authorized to enlist 'fugitive slaves' as soldiers, could say such fugitives be found in this department.  No such characters, however, have yet appeared within view of our most advanced pickets, - the loyal negroes everywhere remaining on their plantations to welcome us, aid us, and supply us with food, labor and information.  It is the masters who have in every instance been the 'fugitives,' running away from loyal slaves as well as loyal soldiers; and these, as yet, we have only partially been able to see  - chiefly their heads over ramparts, or

[Pg. 153]
dodging behind trees, rifles in hand, in the extreme distance.  In the absence of any 'fugitive master law,' the deserted slaves would be wholly without remedy had not the crime of treason given them right to pursue, capture and bring those persons of whose benignant protection they have been thus suddenly and cruelly bereft.
     "To the third interrogatory, it is my painful duty to reply that I have never received any specific authority for issue of clothing, uniforms, arms, equipments and so

[Pg. 154]
scream and laugh; until finally, the merriment reached its climax on a motion made by some member Schuyler Colfax, if we remember rightly that 'as the document appeared to please the honorable gentleman from Kentucky so much, and as he had not heard the whole of it the Clerk be now requested to read the whole again' a motion which was instantaneously carried amid such an uproar of universal merriment and applause as the frescoed walls of the chamber have seldom heard, either before or since.  It was the great joke of the day, and coming at a moment of universal gloom in the public mind, was seized upon by the whole loyal press of the country as a kind of politico-military champaign cocktail.
     "This set that question at rest forever; and not long after, the proper authorities saw fit to authorize the employment of 'fifty thousand able-bodied blacks for labor in the Quartermaster's Department,' and the arming and drilling as soldiers of five thousand of these, but for the sole purpose of 'protecting the women and children of their fellow laborers who might be absent from home in the public service.'
     "Here we have another instance of the reluctance with which the National Government took up this idea of employing negroes as soldiers; a resolution, we may add, to which they were only finally compelled by General Hunter's disbandment of his original regiment, and the storm of public indignation which followed that act.
     "Nothing could have been happier in its effect upon the public mind than Gen. Hunter's reply to Mr. Wickliffe, of Kentucky, given in our last.  It produced a general broad grin throughout the country, and the advocate who can set his jury laughing rarely loses his cause.  It also strengthened the spinal column of the Government in a very marked degree although not yet up to the point of fully endorsing and accepting this daring experiment.
     "Meantime the civil authorities of course got wind of what was going on, Mr. Henry J. Windsor, special correspondent of the New York Times, in the Department of the south, having devoted several very graphic and widely-copied letters to a picture of that new thing under the sun, ' Hunter's negro regiment.'
     " Of course the chivalry of the rebellion were incensed beyond measure at this last Yankee outrage upon Southern rights.  Their papers teemed with vindictive articles against the commanding general who had dared to initiate such a novelty.  The Savannah Republican, in particular, denouncing Hunter as 'the cool-blooded abolition miscreant who, from his headquarters at Hilton Head, is engaged in executing the bloody and savage behest of the imperial gorilla who, from his throne of human bones at Washington, rules, reigns and riots over the destinies of the brutish and degraded North.'
     " Mere newspaper abuse, however, by no means gave content to the outraged feeling of the chivalry.  They therefore sent a formal demand

[Pg. 155]

Building Roads

[Pg. 156] - BLANK


[Pg. 157]
to our Government for information as to whether Gen. Hunter, in organizing his regiment of emancipated slaves, had acted under the authority of our War Department, or whether the villany was of his own conception.  If he had acted under orders, why then terrible measures of fierce retaliation against the whole Yankee nation were to be adopted; but if, per contra, the iniquity were of his own motion and without the sanction of our Government, then the foreshadowed retribution should be made to fall only on Hunter and his officers.
     "To this demand, with its alternative of threats, President Lincoln was in no mood to make any definitive reply. In fact no reply at all was sent, for, as yet, the most far-seeing political augurs could not determine whether the bird seen in the sky of the Southern Department would prove an eagle or a buzzard.  Public opinion was not formed upon the subject, though rapidly forming.  There were millions who agreed with Hunter in believing that 'that the black man should be made to fight for the freedom which could not but be the issue of our war;' and then they were outraged at the prospect of allowing black men to be killed or maimed in company with our nobler whites.
     "Failing to obtain any reply therefor, from the authorities at Washington, the Richmond people determined to pour out all their vengeance on the immediate perpetrators of this last Yankee atrocity; and forthwith there was issued from the rebel War Department a General Order number 60, we believe, of the series of 1862 reciting that ' as the government of the U. S. had refused to answer whether it authorized the raising of a black regiment by Gen. Hunter or not' said General, his staff, and all officers under his command who had directly or indirectly participated in the unclean thing, should hereafter be outlaws not covered by the laws of war; but to be executed as felons for the crimes of 'inciting negro insurrections wherever caught.'
     "This order reached the ears of the parties mainly interested just as Gen. Hunter was called to Washington, ostensibly for consultation on public business; but really on the motion of certain prominent speculators in marine transportation, with those 'big things,' in Port Royal harbor, and they were enormous with which the General had seen fit to interfere.  These frauds, however, will form a very fruitful and pregnant theme for some future chapters.  At present our business is with the slow but certain growth in the public mind of this idea of allowing some black men to be killed in the late war, and not continuing to arrogate death and mutilation by projectiles and bayonets as an exclusive privilege for our own beloved white race.
     "No sooner had Hunter been relieved from this special duty at Washington, than he was ordered back to the South, our Government still taking no notice of the order of outlawry against him issued by the rebel Secretary of War.  He and his officers were thus sent back to engage, with extremely insufficient forces, in an enterprise of no common difficulty, and with an agreeable sentence of sus. per col., if captured, hanging over their devoted heads!

[Pg. 158]
     "Why not suggest to Mr. Stanton, General, that he should either demand the special revocation of that order, or announce to the rebel War Department that our Government has adopted your negro-regiment policy as its own - which would be the same thing.
     "It was partly on this hint that Hunter-wrote the following letter to Jefferson Davis, - a letter subsequently suppressed and never sent, owing to influences which the writer of this article does not feel himself as yet at liberty to reveal, -  further than to say that Mr. Stanton knew nothing of the matter.  Davis and Hunter, we may add, had been very old and intimate friends, until divided, some years previous to our late war, by differences on the slavery question.  Davis had for many years been adjutant of the 1st U. S. Dragoons, of which Hunter had been Captain Commanding; and a relationship of very close friendship had existed between their respective families.  It was this thorough knowledge of his man, perhaps, which gave peculiar bitterness to Hunter's pen; and the letter is otherwise remarkable as a prophecy, or preordainment of that precise policy which Pres't. Johnson has so frequently announced, and reiterated since Mr. Lincoln's death. It ran  - with some few omissions, no longer pertinent or of public interest - as follows:


     " SIR:- While recently in command of the Department of the South, in accordance with the laws of the war and the dictates of common sense, I organized and caused to be drilled, armed and equipped, a regiment of enfranchised bondsmen, known as the 1st South Carolina Volunteers.
     "For this action, as I have ascertained, the pretended government of which you are the chief officer, has issued against me and all of my officers who were engaged in organizing the regiment in question, a General Order of Outlawry, which announces that, if captured, we shall not even be allowed the usual miserable treatment extended to such captives as fall into your hands; but that we are to be regarded as felons, and to receive the death by hanging due to such, irrespective of the laws of war.
     "Mr. Davis, we have been acquainted intimately in the past.  We have campaigned together, and our social relations have been such as to make each understand the other thoroughly.  That you mean, if it be ever in your power, to execute the full rigor of your threats, I am well assured; and you will believe my assertion, that I thank you for having raised in connection with me and my acts, this sharp and decisive issue.  I shall proudly accept, if such be the chance of war, the martyrdom you menace; and hereby give you notice that unless your General Order against me and my officers be formally revoked, within thirty days from the date of the transmission of this letter, sent under a flag of truce, I shall take your action in the matter as finale; and will reciprocate it by hanging every rebel officer who now is, or may hereafter be taken, prisoner by the troops of the command to which I am about returning.
     "Believe me that I rejoice at the aspect now being given to the war by the course you have adopted.  In my judgment, if the undoubted felony of treason had been treated from the outset as it deserves to be - as the sum of all felonies and crimes - this rebellion would never have attained its present menacing proportions.  The war you and your fellow conspirators have been waging against the United States must be regarded either as a war of justifiable defence, carried on for the integrity of the boundaries of a sovereign Confederation of States against foreign aggression, or as the most wicked, enormous, and deliberately planned conspiracy against human liberty and for the triumph of treason and slavery, of which the records of the world's history contain any note.
     "If our Government should adopt the first view of the case, you and your fellow

[Pg. 159]
rebels may justly claim to be considered a most unjustly treated body of disinterested patriots, although, perhaps, a little mistaken in your connivance with the thefts by which your agent, John B. Floyd, succeeded in arming the South and partially disarming the North as a preparative to the commencement of the struggle.
     "But if on the other hand - as is the theory of our Government - the war you have levied against the U. S. be a rebellion the most causeless, crafty and bloody ever known, - a conspiracy having the rule-or-ruin policy for its basis; the plunder of the black race and the reopening of the African slave trade for its object, the continued and further degredation of ninety per cent, of the white population of the South in favor of a slave driving ten per cent, aristocracy, and the exclusion of all foreign-born immigrants from participation in the generous and equal hospitality foreshadowed to them in the Declaration of Independence, -  if this, as I believe, be a fair statement of the origin and motives of the rebellion of which you are the titular head, then it would have been better had our Government adhered to the constitutional view of treason from the start, and hung every man taken in arms against the U. S. from the first butchery in the streets of Baltimore, down to the last resultless battle fought in the vicinity of Sharpsburg, If treason, in other words, be any crime, it is the essence of all crimes; a vast machinery of guilt, multiplying assassinations into wholesale slaughter, and organizing plunder as the basis for supporting a system of National Brigandage.  Your action, and that of those with whom you are in league, has its best comment in the sympathy extended to your cause by the despots and aristocracies of Europe.  You have succeeded in throwing back civilization for many years; and have made of the country that was the freest, happiest, proudest, richest, and most progressive but two short years ago, a vast temple of mourning, doubt, anxiety and privation- our manufactories of all but war material nearly paralyzed; the inventive spirit which was forever developing new resources destroyed, and our flag, that carried respect everywhere, now mocked by enemies who think its glory tarnished, and that its power is soon to become a mere tradition of the past.
     "For all these results, Mr. Davis, and for the three hundred thousand lives already sacrificed on both sides in the war - some pouring out their blood on the battle-field, and others fever stricken and wasting away to death in overcrowded hospitals - you and the fellow miscreants who have been your associates in this conspiracy are responsible.  Of you and them it may, with truth be said, that if all the innocent blood which you have spilled could be collected in one pool, the whole government of your Confederacy might swim in it.
     "I am aware that this is not the language in which the prevailing etiquette of our army is in the habit of considering your conspiracy.  It has come to pass through what instrumentalities you are best able to decide that the greatest and worst crime ever attempted against the human family, has been treated in certain quarters as though it were a mere error of judgment on the part of some gifted friend; a thing to be regretted, of course, as causing more or less disturbance to the relation of amity and esteem heretofore existing between those charged with the repression of such eccentricities and the eccentric actors; in fact, as a slight political miscalculation or peccadillo, rather than as an outrage involving the desolation of a continent, and demanding the promptest and severest retribution within power of human law.
     " For myself, I have never been able to take this view of the matter.  During a lifetime of active service, I have seen the seeds of this conspiracy planted in the rank soil of slavery, and the up as-growth watered by just such tricklings of a courtesy alike false to justice, expediency, and our eternal future.  Had we at an earlier day commenced to call things by their right names, and to look at the hideous features of slavery with our ordinary eyesight and common sense, instead of through the rose-colored glasses of supposed political expediency, there would be three hundred thousand more men alive to-day on American soil; and our country would never for a moment have forfeited her proud position as the highest exampler of the blessings - morals, intellectual and material - to be derived from a free form of government.
     "Whether your intention of hanging me and those of my staff and other officers who were engaged in organizing the 1st S. C. Volunteers, in case we are taken prisoners in battle, will be likely to benefit your cause or not, is a matter mainly for your

[Pg. 160]
own consideration.  For us , our profession makes the sacrifice of life a contingency ever present and always to be accepted; and although such a form of death as your order proposes, is not that to the contemplating of which soldiers have trained themselves, I feel well assured, both for myself and those included in my sentence, that we could die in no manner more damaging to your abominable rebellion and the abominable institution which is its origin.
     "The South has already tried one hanging experiment, but not with a success one would think  - to encourage its repetition.  John Brown, who was well known to me in Kansas, and who will be known in appreciative history through centuries which will only recall your name to load it with curses, once entered Virginia with seventeen men and an idea.  The terror caused by the presence of his idea, and the dauntless courage which prompted the assertion of his faith, against all odds, I need not now recall.  The history is too familiar and too painful.  'Old 'Ossawatomie ' was caught and hung; his seventeen men were killed, captured or dispersed, and several of them shared his fate.  Portions of his skin were tanned, I am told, and circulated as relics dear to the barbarity of the slave-holding heart.  But more than a million of armed white men, Mr. Davis, are to-day marching South, in practical acknowledgement that they regard the hanging of three years ago as the murder of a martyr; and as they march to a battle which has the emancipation of all slaves as one of its most glorious results, his name is on their lips; to the music of his memory their marching feet keep time; and as they sling knapsacks each one becomes aware that he is an armed apostle of the faith preached by him,

" ' Who has gone to be a soldier
In the army of the Lord I'

     "I am content, if such be the will of Providence to ascend the scaffold made sacred by the blood of this martyr; and I rejoice at every prospect of making our struggle more earnest and inexorable on both sides; for the sharper the conflict the sooner ended; the more vigorous and remorseless the strife, the less blood must be shed in it eventually.
     "In conclusion, let me assure you, that I rejoice with my whole heart that your order in my case, and that of my officers, if unrevoked, will untie our hands for the future; and that we shall be able to treat rebellion as it deserves, and give to the felony of treason a felon's death.

Very obediently yours,

     "Not long after General Hunter's return to the Department of the South, the first step towards organizing and recognizing negro troops was taken by our Government, in a letter of instructions directing Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton - then Military Governor of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, within the limits of Gen. Hunter's command - to forthwith raise and organize fifty thousand able-bodied blacks, for service as laborers in the quartermaster's department; of whom five thousand -  only five thousand, mark you -  might be armed and drilled as soldiers for the purpose of 'protecting the women and children of their fellow-laborers who might be absent from home in the public service.'
     "Here was authority given to Gen. Saxton, over Hunter's head, to pursue some steps farther the experiment which Hunter - soon followed by General Phelps, also included in the rebel order of 'outlawry' had been the first to initiate.  The rebel order still remained in full force, and with no protest against it on the part, of our Government; nor to our knowledge, was any demand from Washington ever made for its revocation during the existence of the Confederacy.  If Hunter, therefore, or any of his officers, had been captured in any of the campaigns of the past two and a half years, they had the pleasant knowledge for their comfort that any rebel officers into whose hands they might fall, was

[Pg. 161]

[Pg. 162] - BLANK


[Pg. 163]
strictly enjoined to not ' shoot them on the spot,' as was the order of General Dix, but to hang them on the first tree ; and hang them quickly.
     "With the subsequent history of our black troops the public is already familiar.  General Lorenzo Thomas, titular Adjutant-General of our army, not being regarded as a very efficient officer for that place, was permanently detailed on various services; now exchanging prisoners,
now discussing points of military law, now organizing black brigades down the Mississippi and elsewhere.  In fact, the main object seemed to be to keep this Gen. Thomas - who must not be confounded with Gen. George H. Thomas, one of the true heroes of our army, - away from the Adjutant-General's office at Washington, in order that Brigadier-General E. W. Townsend only a Colonel until quite recently - might perform all the laborious and crushing duties of Adjutant-General of our army, while only signing himself and ranking as First Assistant Adjutant-General.  If there be an officer who has done noble service in the late war while receiving no public credit for the same, no newspaper puffs nor public ovation, - that man is Brigadier-General E. W. Townsend, who should long since have been made a major-general, to rank from the first day of the rebellion.
     "And now let us only add, as practical proof that the rebels, even in their most rabid state, were not insensible to the force of proper "reasons," the following anecdote: Some officers of one our black regiments - Colonel Higginson's, we believe - indiscreetly rode beyond our lines around St. Augustine in pursuit of game, but whether feathered or female this deponent sayeth not.  Their guide proved to be a spy, who had given notice of the intended expedition to the enemy, and the whole party were soon surprised and captured.  The next we heard of them, they were confined in the condemned cells of one of the Florida State prisons, and were to be "tried" - i. e., sentenced and executed - as 'having been engaged in inciting negro insurrection.'
     "We had some wealthy young slave-holders belonging to the first families of South Carolina in the custody of Lieutenant-Colonel J. F. Hall now Brigadier-General of this city, who was our Provost Marshal; and it was on this basis Gen. Hunter resolved to operate.  'Release my officers of black troops from your condemned cells at once, and notify me of the fact.  Until so notified, your first family prisoners in my hands' the names then given - 'will receive precisely similar treatment.  For each of my officers hung, I will hang three of my prisoners who are slave-holders.'  This dose operated with instantaneous effect, and the next letter received from our captured officers set forth that they were at large on parole, and treated as well as they could wish to be in that miserable country.
     "We cannot better conclude this sketch, perhaps, than by giving the brief but pregnant verses in which our ex-orderly, Private Miles O'Reilly, late of the Old Tenth Army Corps, gave his opinion on this subject.  They were first published in connection with the banquet given in New York by Gen. T. F. Meagher and the officers of the Irish Brigade, to the

[Pg. 164]
returned veterans of that organization on the 13th of Jan. 1864, at Irving Hall. Of this song it may, perhaps, be said, in verity and without vanity, that, as Gen. Hunter's letter to Mr. Wickliffe had settled the negro soldiers' controversy in its official and Congressional form, so did the publication and immediate popular adoption of these verses conclude all argument upon this matter in the mind of the general public.  Its common sense, with a dash of drollery, at once won over the Irish, who had been the bitterest opponents of the measure, to become its friends; and from that hour to this, the attacks upon the experiment of our negro soldiery have been so few and far between that, indeed, they may be said to have ceased altogether.  It ran as follows, and appeared in the Herald the morning after the banquet as a portion of the report of the speeches and festivities:

(Air-The Low-Backed Chair.)

Some say it is a burnin' shame
     To make the naygurs fight,
An' that the thrade o' being kilt
     Belongs but to the white;
But as for me, upon me sowl,
     So liberal are we here,
I'll let Sambo be murthered in place o' meself
     On every day in the year.
On every day in the year, boys,
An' every hour in the day,
The right to be kil't I'll divide wid him,
     An' divil a word I'll say.

In battle's wild commotion
     I shouldn't at all object,
If Sambo's body should stop a ball
     That was comin' for me direct;
An' the prod of a Southern bagnet,
     So liberal are we here,
I'll resign and let Sambo take it,
     On every day in the year.
On everv day in the year boys,
An' wid none o' your nasty pride,
All right in a Southern bagnet prod
     Wid Sambo I'll divide.

The men who object to Sambo
     Should take his place and fight;
An' it's betther to have a naygur's hue
     Than a liver that's wake an' white;
Though Sambo's black as the ace o' spades
     His finger a thrigger can pull,
An' his eye runs sthraight on the barrel sight
     From under its thatch o' wool.
So hear me all, boys, darlins!
     Don't think I'm tippen' you chaff,
The right to be kilt I'll divide wid him,
     An' give him the largest half!

     "In regard to Hunter's reply to Mr. Wickliffe, we shall only add this anecdote, told us one day by that brilliant gentleman and scholar, the Hon "Sunset" Cox, of Ohio (now of New York):  'I tell you, that letter

[Page 165]
from Hunter spoiled the prettiest speech I had ever thought of making.  I had been delighted with Wicklifle's motion, and thought the reply to it would furnish us first-rate Democrat's thunder for the next election.  I made up my mind to sail in against Hunter's answer no matter what it was the moment it came; and to be even more humorously successful in its delivery and reception than I was in my speech against War Horse Gurley, of Ohio, which you have just been complimenting. Well, you see, man proposes, but providence orders otherwise.  When the Clerk announced the receipt of the answer, and that he was about to read it, I caught the Speaker's eye and was booked for the first speech against your negro experiment.  The first sentence, being formal and official, was very well; but at the second the House began to grin, and at the third, not a man on the floor except Father Wickliffe, of Kentucky, perhaps who was not convulsed with laughter.  Even my own risibles I found to be affected; and before the document was concluded, I motioned the Speaker that he might give the floor to whom he pleased, as my desire to distinguish myself in that particular tilt was over.'"








This Webpage has been created by Sharon Wick exclusively for Genealogy Express  ©2008
Submitters retain all copyrights