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Chapter army life and camp drill

Very little is known as to the training of the regiments which took part in the Civil War. From Wentworth Higginson's letters one gets an inkling of how the Massachusetts youth went to work to learn the drill. He was then living in Worcester, and on January 24, 1861, wrote:

January 24, 1861.

I do not propose that the regiment which I am planning should be called anti-slavery in special, or have a platform or a policy; if others attribute these things, it is their own affair. I expect men to join me from personal sympathy with me; if they ask for pledges, of course none will be given them.

. . The only way for anti-slavery men to share in the control is to share in the sacrifices. .... All I ask, now, is an opportunity to fight, under orders, carrying with me such men as I can raise. I will risk the rest; having faith in the laws of gravitation.

Our two military companies were both ordered; one has gone to Boston, and not a person in town seemed to think of anything but seeing them off. Margaret [a niece] reports not a boy at the High School; then the male teachers vanished; then the girls.

April 5

There was an exhibition of our military school last week, which created such an enthusiasm that there is [155] a class of thirty gentlemen formed for learning the drill, of whom I am one, as I always wanted to learn it. I never expect, like my respected cousin George [Higginson] in Boston, to trot through town in a blue jacket and little red cap: but it is very popular so far.

The Worcester Highland Military Academy, mentioned above, was founded in 1856 as a means of preserving health and discipline among the boys.

The Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Militia was the famous regiment attacked April 19, 1861, in Baltimore on its way to defend the national capital. Four soldiers were killed in this fray. The next letter describes the regiment's return march through Worcester. They had remained in Washington after their time (three months) had expired, owing to the Bull Run disaster.

August 4, 1861

Two days this week have been made exciting by the return of troops; the look of Colonel Jones's Sixth Regiment was peculiarly wild, every man wearing a little red skull cap more or less faded, with or without a tassel, surmounting the worn and faded gray uniform. I do not think that Zouaves, just from Africa, could have been a wilder spectacle than those thousand scarecrows tramping in order through our streets with a bouquet on every bayonet. Dr. Martin, whom you know, has lost thirty pounds of flesh and come back the very handsomest man who ever wore a uniform.

When the daughter of the regiment — a little Jones [156] girl — was being placed on her horse, a black man here carried her a bouquet, saying that it was an acknowledgment for her father's “hospitality” in going to the defence of Washington.

Several of the men had kittens on their knapsacks.

August 13

. . The Bull Run affair . . . did not seem to me at all discouraging; our men appeared so well when matched in fair field. And I am sure that but for this reverse we never should have the law of Congress emancipating slaves used in rebellion and the consequent instructions of Cameron to Butler — the greatest step in advance taken by our Government since its formation, and all the more valuable for being forced upon us by military necessity so that all will heartily concur in it. Now for the first time it is a war of emancipation. In this view I am thankful for the defeat.

Charles Devens left here with his regiment last week. . .. I think W. Phillips too severe upon him; this is a new era and we must forgive the past, and everybody knows that his part in the rendition of Sims has clouded all his life.


He would gladly have given me a commission in this regiment, if I could have gone.

Cameron, Lincoln's first Secretary of War, directed General Butler to employ fugitive slaves in any way that seemed desirable. It was perhaps in consequence [157] of these orders that Butler, while in command at For tress Monroe, adroitly applied the term “contraband-of-war” to captured slaves.

Devens was United States Marshal at the time of the Sims case, and although his sympathies were with the fugitive slave, he felt obliged to obey the law. But he afterwards made a great effort financially and otherwise to procure freedom for Sims, and his brave career in the Civil War has been fitly recognized by naming for him the recent great soldiers' training camp at Ayer.

August 2
Dearest Mother:
We take things more quietly here. The war has never cost us a minute's sleep, which Dr. Holmes thinks enviable at such a time. You and Anna croon over your Springfield Republican till you get altogether too anxious.

Our people are too excitable and felt the Manassas repulse far more than was needful. So far as the military aspects of the matter are concerned, everything looks much better to me, since that, than before, both by land and sea. As for foreign countries, it is galling that they should say such things of us, but they will unsay them when disproved. I do not think there is any danger that England or France will be anything but neutral, and that being the case, though what the newspapers say may be annoying, it is not important.

I am satisfied that we are gravitating towards a bolder anti-slavery policy, and it was foreseen that [158] several defeats would be needed to bring us to that. The desideratum is to approach a policy of emancipation by stages so clear and irresistible as to retain for that end an united public sentiment. With the aid of favoring circumstances I think this possible, and events seem to me fortunate or otherwise in proportion as they tend this way.

September 6

Yesterday General Butler made a speech here unexpectedly on his way to Lowell; I did not hear it, but it was said to be very bold and radical; saying especially that wherever our armies went they must carry Freedom with them, since it was absurd to fight to give the benefit of our institutions to those who do not desire them (the masters) and not to those who do (the slaves). How wonderfully the Hatteras affair has set that man up again — and indeed the nation.

November 1, 1861
You will never take a hopeful view of anything, I see, till you give up that unfortunate “Springfield Republican.” In every war there must be ups and downs, mistakes committed, valuable lives lost (as we foolishly call it), defeats sustained. But these very defeats often produce good in the end. The defeat at Manassas was just what we needed, and it may yet prove so with this. It is of immense importance to know, as we now do, that our raw troops may be as cool even in retreat as veterans, for this is the point where veterans usually have all the advantage. The [159] recollection of this will be an immense strength in the next decisive battle, when it comes. Charles Devens smoked a cigar quietly, perhaps to reassure his men, during the whole time, and his men moved as quietly as if on parade. How sublime is such quiet courage — worth how many sacrifices! Yet that was by no means a superior regiment in material or in officers. Devens was much depressed about it when he went away. ...

Think, too, of this remarkable fact, that while of the British army in the Crimea the majority died within a year or two from want of proper sanitary arrangements, here the health is better among every regiment than at home. It is a singular fact that the war is said not to have raised the price of gunpowder, because the amount used does not exceed the amount ordinarily expended in field sports. And so against the losses in battle we must set the lives saved from home diseases and dangers. Usually the camp is far more dangerous than the field.


For some time I have been making up my mind that anti-slavery men were leaving the war altogether too much in the hands of Democrats and Irishmen, and that if we expect to control its conduct or settlement, we must take part in it ourselves. No prominent antislavery man has yet taken a marked share in the war, and I am satisfied that there are a great many in this and other States who would like to go if I do. I have made up my mind to take part in the affair, hoping to aid in settling it the quicker. [160]

Mary has, of course, taken this with her usual courage, seeing it not to be a fever of the blood, but a conviction of duty. I hope the same will be the case with you also, dearest; for what is the use of having children who are good for anything unless you are willing to have them used? My habitual impression of the uncertainty of human life is so strong that Mary declares I regard crossing our Main Street among the carriage wheels as being far more perilous than a battle,--and I certainly do regard it as very dangerous,--but I have always had a remarkable faculty of falling on my feet, and having got through Kansases and court-houses unharmed, have the most entire faith in my having the same faculty here. I observe that the men whom bullets hit are usually men who have forewarnings beforehand.

E. P. Whipple, just from Washington, says that one of Fremont's friends came on to smooth things over with the Government, and talked to the President till he turned on him at last--“Sir,” said Old Abe, “I believe General Fremont to be a thoroughly honest man, but he has unfortunately surrounded himself with some of the greatest scoundrels on this continent; you are one of them and the worst of them.”

Worcester, February 22
Let me congratulate you on the birthday of Washington and the reception of Old Abe.... After keeping silence so long, he may make as many speeches as he pleases now: and he really says very good things.

I hope he won't be betrayed into any such excesses of [161] enthusiasm as dear Brother Andrew was when he kissed the Revolutionary musket and dropped a tear on it, which has been occasionally smiled at, I grieve to hear, by the young and vicious.

November 24
I have been waiting to know my prospects a little more clearly, but if I wish for that I must wait longer still. I suppose Governor Andrew returned from Washington yesterday or to-day. . . . What new views may be in his mind, it is impossible to say, or even whether he will return desiring to hurry or postpone the organization of new regiments. I confidently expect to go in some way, but whether in the arrangement I originally planned, or not, I cannot now say. ... I have got my ten companies planned out, but whether he will think they promise sufficiently I do not know, for he judges everything for himself, and sometimes impulsively.

Harry Lee says, “Of course the Governor ought to be governed by his aides, but he is not and they have to yield to his decisions. He is not a man of practical judgment, nor does he understand men; my judgment” (with a droll grimace) “is a great deal better than his; it ought to be, for I am older than he.” Nevertheless the Governor has his own way and his aristocratic aides are very deferential to him.

Certainly he has done better than Banks would have done, for he works much more straightforwardly and commands confidence far more entirely. Banks, though honest himself, was always unfortunate, like Fremont, in having those about him who were not.


To Dr. James Freeman Clarke:

Worcester, November 5, 1861
Dear Sir:
My proposed regiment seems to be under very fair headway, and I wished to ask whether you could be induced to go with us as chaplain.

. . I think that the army is becoming a power so formidable that [it] is essential to the safety of the nation that a high tone of character should prevail in it. This consideration has almost as much weight as the anti-slavery one in inducing me to take part in the war.

The election of chaplain is made by the staff officers and captains of companies, so that I shall have no power to offer it, as from myself.

The answer to this letter has not been preserved, but soon after the above was written, orders came from General Andrew to stop all recruiting and the proposed regiment was given up.

These items are from the diary dated January 25, 1862:

My last drill club disbanded last night, and so ends perhaps my special military training.

First club formed under Captain Goodhue April 1 and lasted through April, till he left with Rifle Battalion.

Then came our Rifle Club of which I was President, drilled by Wood in Lincoln House Block. This merged in the [163] Old City Guard, so called (May 20), and began at beginning again. . . . We got some escort duty and outdoor drill and learned all the company movements and part of the manual. Read Hardee (vol. 1) slightly, with the actual exercises, and found all far easier than I expected....

No more drill through summer. September 21 to October 15, went to work on Hardee and got it up thoroughly, and renewed manual exercise and learned bayonet drill, a little way. October 10, formed plan of regiment and then gave much time and thought to the whole matter till December 10. Got authority about October 30, and the Bay State Drill Club was formed about that time with me as President. Through October was much at camp with Twenty-Fifth Regiment; had studied battalion drill but little with previous regiments, but found it just as simple as the other.

About November 20 I had opportunity to drill a smaller squad say six times, and afterwards the larger club six or eight times and taught all the company movements. The very first experience in giving orders I found confusing, but after that it was nothing. I took for a time a certain enjoyment in it, but after I had thoroughly learned it, found it exceedingly tiresome, which was surprising to me, as I never grew tired of cricket or the gymnasium. All the magic it had beforehand vanished and I was thankful to have learned it, to discover how little all this militia training amounts to. .... I can hardly conceive now of caring to join the militia and feel a certain satisfaction [164] in having escaped a monotonous winter's drill at the seat of peace — the Potomac.

Therefore, although two months ago it seemed to me exceedingly delightful — and indeed quite magical -to drill a company; yet it is now a positive relief to think that my last drill club is disbanded and (unless some occasion should still turn up for actual service) I shall have no more of it.

More letters to his mother follow, dated 1862:

I was invited and urged to speak in Washington and a day was appointed; but so many were going that it did not seem important. ... It was no disappointment to me, for the mere sensation of Civil War I got thoroughly in Kansas. ...

I cannot feel as badly as you do about the war; I think that either they or we will emancipate the slaves in some form and so remove prospectively the only real obstacle to peace and prosperity, and then the bequest of debt and hate will be surmounted in a generation or two.

January 29
. . Mrs. Richardson, of this' city (Maria Lowell's sister), has just been there [Washington]. She says Generals are dog-cheap; President L. looks like his pictures; Mrs. Lincoln at the levee was well and quite expensively dressed; that is, her laces were fine, worth two thousand dollars, and she told a lady she hardly felt it right to wear them in these times, although they were a present. They were delighted with Mrs. [165] McClellan; heard Charles Sumner's speech which was read and not exciting; and said the Senate Chamber looked quite pathetic with half the seats vacant. ...

In Baltimore they stayed with the Bowens; he is Unitarian minister there and married Annie Gilman, of Charleston; they are very strong Union; she hung out the Stars and Stripes when no one else in the city did, and sent her little boy of five through the streets with a Union cockade, last April, and this, though her family are secesh. But their parish has almost vanished, all the gentility of Baltimore being as strong in the wrong direction as possible still, and the mob also-only the middle class loyal.

February 21
You and Anna must be quite stirred up by the exciting news [fall of Fort Donelson], after all the sorrows which you and the Springfield Republican have interchanged. Does that vicarious journal admit the brighter side of the question? I don't believe that in the history of the world a more sudden change ever came over the spirits of any people than has happened among us in the last three weeks--the whole change from gloom to glory. Do you remember your disapproving view of Mrs. Lincoln's party? And now everybody is spending gunpowder and bell metal and calling for illuminations.

I never cared much for the Western campaign till that trip up the Tennessee River, but when one looks at the map and sees that Florence is really in Alabama, and then thinks of the enthusiasm that hailed our [166] troops, it is certainly very striking and does more to make me believe in a Union sentiment at the South than all else put together. If that exists, the war will not last long; but if that exists, it will have to be propitiated; there is the difficulty, and the timidity about slavery will continue. The less success on our part, the more likelihood of an emancipatory policy — and so the other way. Still, the war must greatly weaken slavery, end as it may.


To-morrow Jefferson Davis is to be inaugurated for six years--pleasant prospect for him.

In the note-book for the same month is this entry, alluding to the “past three weeks” :

Then there was a settled anxiety almost hopelessness; nothing seemed to have been gained and nobody could forebode whether the war would last one year or ten. Now there is such a glare of victory that we only count the months or perhaps weeks until Richmond and New Orleans shall have submitted. All the great load of anxiety seems to have been lifted in one instant from the public mind. The difficulty is, that with it goes the sense of immediate responsibility to the slaves.

March 26
Thomas Earle, a friend of ours, with whom I went to the Adirondack a few years ago, is a soldier in the Twenty-Fifth Regiment and now home on furlough. He was here on Sunday and gave Mary a good account of [167] everything. On the day of the battle he put Conway's book “The rejected Stone” over his heart, another book the other side, and his tin plate in the middle. Some of the others laughed at him, but a rifle ball struck him just over the heart, glanced from Conway's book and out again without hurting him. He wears the coat with the two bullet holes and showed us the book scarred by the bullet. He says that when, after the battle, he examined the swamp they went through, he could not conceive that they could have got beyond it, and could understand that the rebel officers should have believed it a sufficient protection on that side. He was enthusiastic about General Burnside and said he received the contrabands very cordially and beautifully. It seems that the whole success of the affair was owing to a slave who told them the only landing-place on the island which was undefended.

Ellen Perkins sent us a volume containing Stephen's letters copied, and we enjoyed them very much; they are really among the very best letters which I have seen, and very graphic and full of his cool, philosophical observations. It is the first glimpse into his mind which I have had since he was a boy, and I think he must have done very well. He often gives the most comical pictures of himself, as of his vacating his tent in a storm to some men who had been thoroughly soaked, after which he strolled into the woods and sat down in a puddle, where he stayed disconsolately all the morning, “like a damp hen.” He describes a certain very fat officer who took refuge behind a tree in a skirmish, but “lapped over painfully.” He is [168] always piquant, and very free of his criticisms on his superior officers, as might be expected.

Stephen Perkins, a cousin and pupil as a boy of Mr. Higginson's, was killed at the battle of Cedar Mountain, August 9, 1862, going into the fight when almost too ill to stand.

June 20
Charles Devens is here and I went to see him yesterday — he looks well, and moves with a cane, but Lieutenant Sargent says his wound has made no progress since it occurred, and so may take a good while; the ball cannot be found by the probe, which is perhaps no great matter, but the peritoneum is destroyed in one place and the bone enfoliated. ... He does not suffer and it is merely vexatious, but if it had been a Minie ball he would probably have lost the leg.

The regiment here fills up very slowly — or rather is hardly under weigh as yet — not a hundred men. People feel that it is near the end of the war and don't like the prospect of garrison or police duty somewhere for three years.


Parson Brownlow was here and spoke. His appearance is not formidable nor his tones, but his sentences are; he speaks frightful vengeance, but I don't know that he means half of it, after all.

The “fighting parson,” as Brownlow was called, was editor of the “Knoxville Whig,” until arrested [169] for his “incendiary articles” against the Confederate Government. The verdict was, “He deserves death and we vote to kill him” ; but after a few months' imprisonment he was released and conducted into the Union lines.

After Mr. Higginson had given up his project of recruiting a regiment, he wrote of a new plan to enlist a company for nine months and go as captain.

August 15, 1869
I dare say this will seem hard to you, dearest Mother, but I remember that you acquiesced before, and I think you will again. Nine months is not a great while, after all, and as for the uncertainties of human life they seem hardly greater in war than in peace.

The Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment will be Dwight Foster, Attorney-General of the State, and one of our best men. I suppose I might have some regimental position by pushing for it, but I shall not. My proposed company takes greatly here, and many of our best young men are joining in it. It will not be long probably — that is not many weeks — before the regiment is full.

August 22
It is quite a relief to my mind that you are able to acquiesce in my plans. ....

I have now twenty-seven recruits, very nice fellows, and should have many more, but that all the other towns are all paying bounties, and it will not be decided whether we pay one, until Monday, so they are waiting [170] to see. By the end of next week I hope to be full, and go soon into camp.

August 29
I am going to Boston to-day with my company roll full, to get authority to choose officers; and next week we expect to go into barracks in a large building a little out of town. I have filled up much more rapidly than any other company — had sixty-one in advance of the bounty, which was not voted till Wednesday night. Everybody praises the material of my company and their appearance on the street. I have taken them out twice.

I have come from Boston and have had a street drill of my company, marching them by the house, much to Mary's edification. I have authority to elect company officers to-morrow; and we shall go into camp when the barracks are ready — perhaps by the end of next week.

I had a glimpse of the Corcoran procession and of him, a quiet-looking man. They say Fremont's reception was magnificent and his speech reads very admirably, though he is said to be no orator. Two bouquets were carried from the platform to Jessie who sat in an adjoining gallery; this showed her to the audience and produced great enthusiasm.

September 7
I have my commission and we go into barracks when they are ready-say Wednesday or Thursday. I [171] drill my company every afternoon two hours outdoors and enjoy it much. They learn fast and their marching is much praised. I don't think I ever did anything better than I have done all this, so far. The lieutenants of the company are those I planned to have from the beginning; both of them have been much with me in the gymnasium and they are excellent fellows. John Goodell (first lieutenant) is a remarkably capable, strong, prompt person reliable as the North Star and able to succeed in anything he attempts. He has a splendid physique, though not tall; a rich brunette complexion, with fine eyes. He has never been in the military line, but learns very quickly. Luther Bigelow (second) is a bookkeeper like the other, and was out for three months with the army last year; still he is not well drilled and he is almost too gentle; thoroughly sweet and refined; still perhaps it is in him. My first sergeant is named Dunlap, a teacher, an Amherst College graduate; I have to train him also, but he learns easily. Most of the privates are quite young, but very nice fellows; I hardly know an exception. They are a remarkably good-looking, well-bred set, everybody says; and some very handsome men.

September 14
To-morrow I go into barracks and must write a little first. . . .

I have been drilling my companies for a week or two, several hours a day, and everybody is surprised at their rapid progress; they will be far superior to any other of the companies going into camp, so far as I can [172] judge. The Adjutant-General, rather to my amazement, announces Regiment No. 51 as consisting of companies raised by T. W. Higginson, Worcester, though in fact I can only be said to have raised two. This seems to imply that I am likely to be elected to a field office, which is very possible; but we are to try and get Lieutenant-Colonel Sprague of the Twenty-Fifth, who is now here, for colonel. This would be heaven for us all, as he is a perfect Henri Larochejacquelin to me, in sweetness and charm, and the greatest possible favorite here — tall, fair, low-voiced, graceful, a natural nobleman. He has been a year in the service and can teach us everything. He and I are quite friends, and it would seem too good to be true, only that everything has flowed so effortless to me thus far that my imaginable good luck seems credible. He it is of whom Miss Rebecca K.-- remarked, sitting among a mob of ladies sewing for the Twenty-Fifth Regiment, Colonel Sprague's photograph being passed round to refresh them, “Oh, let me look at my darling Augustus.” “Miss K----,” remarked the lady who sat next, “allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Sprague” --that fortunate lady sitting next her on the other side.

If we fail of him, we may have Mr. Scandlin, who was chaplain of the Fifteenth Regiment, and figured in the Battle of Ball's Bluff; an Englishman and a natural soldier.

I don't expect to remain many weeks in barracks.


Camp John E. Wool, September 26
To-day I had to go down to Boston to help settle an unfortunate division of feeling here, as to which companies should go into the Fifty-First Regiment. It has been quite annoying, as two companies have been much provoked with me, in consequence; and at this moment the matter is being finally settled, whether they are to go with the regiment or not — probably not. I hope not, as they are bad companies and poorly officered.

This has given extra solicitude to me. If all the regiment were like my company it would be clear enjoyment.

October 4
I am much pleased with the officers of the eight remaining companies: none are highly cultivated, but almost all are intelligent and manly and the majority are fine-looking — more so than usual.

Yesterday we marched over the hills into Auburn, about three miles, to visit the homestead of one of our company named Rice, a nice, rosy boy. As we descended, I suddenly became aware of waving handkerchiefs in an orchard and found that there was a small outdoor entertainment for us, men, women, and children, some thirty or forty, between two great apple trees with an American flag hung above, a table with bread and butter, doughnuts, cheese and apples; and the parish minister to make a speech. So we partook of these various entertainments and responded with songs, which the boys do very well, and some cheers, [174] before we left for camp. On the way we stopped and similarly saluted a lady who had aided in the affair, but had been prevented from going by a sickness in the family. Then we marched back to camp, arriving after dark.

. .. I think we may be here a month. Several of the new nine months regiments are said to be now under orders for Newbern, North Carolina, but there is no intimation about ours-only Colonel Sprague thinks he can get us into Burnside's division.

Camp Wool, October 13
One of the richest things we have here in the barracks is the dancing. About once a week the men have a regular ball; the bunks at the middle of the building are moved on one side, candles are stuck about the rafters, one or two kerosene lamps suspended, two fiddlers hoisted on a top bunk, with Stuart Brown, our adjutant, in a red jockey cap to call the figures; and all take partners to the extent of thirty or forty couples. The ladies are distinguishable by a handkerchief tied to the arm, and conduct themselves with much propriety, and as the younger and more delicate are naturally selected to act in this capacity, they sometimes acquit themselves with much grace, especially in the rare intervals when a waltz or polka is permitted. But these airy side dishes seldom come in -the bulk of the entertainment consisting of country dances of the very solidest description, thorough heel-and-toe work, and no flinching, as you would think could you hear them over my head at this moment. [175] I can remember nothing but the remotest of the Brattleboroa public balls which can in the least rival the amount of work accomplished; these, perhaps, being even more concentrated since they not only begin at seven, but close at nine. The men not yet being uniformed exhibit every variety of shirts and jackets, while here and there the shoulder-straps of some lively young lieutenant flash through the struggling mass. My young Lieutenant, Bigelow, after looking on for a while, was swept away by the charms of the prettiest of the sergeants, named Fairweather, and I last saw him winding through the “Portland fancy” with her. Up aloft, on all the cross-timbers of the high roof, along the upper row of bunks, are perched the spectators, all masculine; the dim lights glimmer on dusky figures and particolored caps, while the floor rocks with the perpetual surge of motion. Without the excitement of love or wine, with simply the pent — up physical energy of two days inaction during a storm, they dance like Maenads or Bacchanals; their whole bodies dance; in the pauses between the figures they throb and tremble all over, as they keep time to the music; sometimes solitary, uncouth men who are not dancing begin to whirl and frisk alone by themselves in corners, unnoticing and unnoticed. In each set there are mingled grim and war-worn faces, looking old as Waterloo, with merely childish faces from school, and there is such an absorption, such a passionate delight, that one would say dancing must be a reminiscence of the felicity of Adam before Eve appeared, never to be seen in its full zest while a woman mingled in it. It is [176] something that seems wholly contrary to all theories of social enjoyment; and then to think that these New Englanders are called grave and unenjoying! In all the really rustic entertainments I have ever seen, from Katahdin to Kansas, there has been a certain stiffness which I supposed inherent and inevitable. I remember a ball of lumbermen at South Moluncus, or Number Three, in Maine, that was as joyless as Beacon Street; and yet here in these barracks I have beheld a scene where the wildest revelry absorbed every person, and yet without women or drink. There is no swearing or vulgarity; they are too much absorbed for that; it is all perfectly real to them; they look forward to it and back upon it as any other young men might look on any other ball, and no one could dream, to hear them speak of it, that it is all a divertisement of men alone.

Sunday, October 26
I believe I have not written regularly, but time passes very rapidly and the days are a good deal alike. As yet I have not had a trace of ennui, because I have no leisure. There is none during the day, except when it rains, and four evenings in the week are taken up with meetings; that is, two for officers' school, which as yet is a failure, two I give to my non-commissioned officers, meeting in my room. These last are equal or superior to the commissioned officers of the regiment in intelligence and refinement, so it is very pleasant and we have nice times. My room is quite comfortable, with an airtight stove, which burns when the wind blows one way and doesn't burn when it blows ta other. [177]

The commissioned officers are now growing well acquainted and are a good set on the whole as the various traits come out. The captains are the best; we have no actually bad ones, though several are mediocre or slack. As usual, the new men are the best and the men of militia or actual service the poorest — make most mistakes and are most negligent; reason, because they rely on their own impressions and limited experience, while the new men anxiously make sure of the “Regulations” or the “Tactics” or the colonel for everything. The best of them discover, with me, how annoying it is to be scrupulous and punctilious where others take it easy. Still, the stricter officers command most weight in the end.

.The two captains who satisfy me are Wheeler of Grafton and . . . Kimball of Oxford--... the latter a very handsome young medical student, the former a noble-looking six-foot Saxon, sound and simple-hearted in his manhood, one of Tom Hughes's type of men; son of a rich machinist here in Worcester, himself a Harvard graduate, who after travelling in Europe settled down as a farmer in Grafton, with a private school like Miles's; he is the man among them all who will “do to tie to,” as they say out West. My lieutenants are the best of the lot and all is harmony among us three; then there are some nice attractive boys among the others, with a mixture of older men, respectable country sheriffs and such, good, though not graceful, and then another set of precarious morale who will go up or down according to the influences. [178]

Colonel Ward, who commands the post, I heartily like; there is little of him beyond the military, but that is excellent; he is always frank and decided and just; always sustains those who wish to do right, but is not so severe on wrongdoers as if it were his own regiment. But after all, I shall be glad to find Colonel Sprague so good a disciplinarian — that being, after all, three quarters of a colonel. The captains can do the parental-at least I can — to the men; but it is absolutely necessary to have somebody overhead who will establish a uniform standard of discipline. We now have dress parade and battalion drill; of course in so military a place as Brattleboroa you know what these mean. The first is an easy form; the last is drilling as a regiment and is very interesting. After what I have learned from the books, it comes very easy, but as I command the right flank company I have to give all the nervous energy I can spare, to keep up sharply to orders often new and often inaudible; but the company now marches so well that the result is always satisfactory and we have made no bad mistakes.

This week we are to have two more companies; one of the two which were rejected, and another more desirable; this gives the ten companies and we shall probably choose field officers this week. The lieutenant-colonel will be Harkness, adjutant of the Twenty-Fifth, whom Sprague desires to bring with him-a splendid soldier, though with some defects. I may be chosen major and may not, and don't concern myself at all. We are to have a regimental ball in Mechanics [179] Hall to celebrate the election, and shall probably be off for Newbern before many weeks.

It is doubtful whether my company retains permanently the right of the line; you will be surprised at my speaking of this; but you have no idea of the importance these trifles assume, in the little world of the camp. Wisely said Goethe, “Thought expands, but lames; action animates, but narrows.”

November 2
We have chosen our field officers... . Had the original programme been carried out, I should probably have been major, but for that I care nothing. . . . I think it will all go smooth; in which case we shall have altogether the ablest field among the New England nine-months regiments. I am senior captain, at present, with the “right of the line” --that is, marching first in column — and my company and lieutenants were glad not to have me promoted — which was pleasant.


We have everything now but guns and may be ordered off at any time. The steamers return this month to Newbern, but I think a Springfield regiment will go instead of ours and we at the next trip of the vessels.

Studley [lieutenant-colonel] is a plain man of excellent character and a good soldier; was imprisoned at Richmond after Ball's Bluff last year. Harkness [major] is a nice little fellow, all steel; and Sprague [colonel] a chevalier. The two latter being great favorites [180] in the North Carolina department, our regiment would doubtless stand well there.


Tuesday the whole regiment goes home to vote, and it will seem just like a holiday in college.

November 9
Our field officers have received their commissions and take command to-morrow, for which I am very glad. A regiment needs at least three persons to take care of the officers. If I like Colonel Sprague as well as Colonel Ward, I am quite satisfied; but Colonel Ward is but one man, with a wooden leg and two camps to look after. With three first-class officers of experience, ours will be a splendid regiment, and I should far rather be a captain in it than colonel of a raw regiment with no one of more experience than myself to look to; which is the case with most of the nine-months troops. We are more sure of an honorable position and at the same time likely to be carefully kept and judiciously handled. In mere drill, experience is of little value, for one man can learn it better in a month than another in a year, and my company is admitted to be the best drilled and disciplined in the regiment; but the main part of the military sphere lies beyond this, in the proper care of the men, and here experience is of immense value.

As for our destination or time of leaving, we as yet know nothing, but the latter cannot be very far off. If we go to Newbern we cannot go for a fortnight or more; if we go with Banks we may be ordered to New [181] York, at least, any day. It is snowing hard again and the men take it rather hard, yet they are more good-natured than one would expect, on the whole. All my company have bought new blue overcoats in place of. the shoddies — some for cash, some for credit.

On Tuesday the lady friends of the company give us a dinner at City Hall.

Camp Wool, November 12
We have marching orders (which I have seen) to go to Newbern by the return steamers. Only two regiments are to go, and we shall have a steamer to ourselves, which will be far more comfortable. They finally sailed on the 10th and will be ready to sail again in ten days or a fortnight from that time. I suppose you will prefer the Newbern destination.

All these plans were changed by General Saxton's proposal that Captain Higginson should take command of a South Carolina regiment of freed slaves.

November 16
. . I found this [Saxton's] letter on my table. It may change all my plans. I have telegraphed to Governor Andrew at Washington for leave to go to Beaufort and see General Saxton, there to decide on accepting the post, which is, of course, in itself very attractive. Nevertheless I have almost decided not to sacrifice a certainty for an uncertainty, and not resign my present post till I am sure of a more important one. It came very unexpectedly. Yesterday I came in and [182] told Mary .... Then I went to Boston and saw Edward Hooper . . . and others who have been at Port Royal, and their information leaves me still in doubt how far it will be a desirable situation. But if I can get a temporary furlough, I shall certainly go in a few days to New York, there to await the steamer for Port Royal, as its going is very irregular. If I cannot get this leave of absence, I shall probably forego the Saxton offer rather than resign on an uncertainty.


Our regiment will probably leave in about a week, for Newbern. Colonel Sprague's rule is perfectly delightful — a silken glove and a hand of iron.

A few days in South Carolina convinced Higginson that no pro-Slavery influence was apt to destroy General Saxton's project and he resigned his commission in the Massachusetts regiment.

After taking command of the colored regiment, Colonel Higginson wrote from the South:

Speaking of Sprague recalls the thrill with which I read, in ... [a home] letter, of my old regiment formed into line of battle, in the early dawn, and my perfect cavalier riding along the line and telling them “in the uncertain future that was before them, to quit themselves like men.” How that man always throws an instinctive touch of poetry into every word and act; how strange it is that a wholesale flour store in Worcester should have reared the only man who ever enabled me to understand what Prince Rupert might have been!


The First South Carolina Volunteers was concerned in various daring raids and skirmishes, although not taking part in any of the big battles. The following extracts from Colonel Higginson's letters and journals were written, for the most part, while with his black soldiers.

Camp Saxton, Beaufort, S. C., December 1, 1862
. . .General Saxton has lent me a horse and I had a ride through the plantation to a strange old fort, of which there are two here, like those in St. Augustine, built by a French explorer about the time of the Pilgrims, and older, therefore, than any remains in New England, even the Higginson house at Guilford, Connecticut. They are built of a curious combination of oyster shells and cement . .. and are still hard and square, save where water-worn. One is before this house and a mere low redoubt; the other, two miles off, is a high square house, bored with holes for musketry and the walls still firm; though a cannon-ball would probably crush them.

. .. William, our attendant, speaks with contempt of the cultivation of this famous plantation--“No yam, sa; no white potato, no brimstone” --which is the startling name given to the yellow sweet potato such as we have at the North, but which is superseded here by a smaller and more insipid white one....

A boatload of holiday negroes crossed the river, and as the women, in gay colors with head-kerchiefs, were carried ashore in the men's arms, I was reminded of similar scenes in Fayal, while the continuous sing-song [184] talk might as well have been Portuguese as English. I am constantly struck with this resemblance; a peasantry is a peasantry, I suppose; black or white, slave or free, it has certain characteristics. Those dirty irregular negro houses and their surroundings are much like the Fayalese, though there is not here that beautiful whiteness of clothing, and the people are more degraded.

The Colonel's housekeeping was in a tent “bounded in a nutshell.”

December 10
My little stove is burning — I call it Fever and Ague, from its intermittent heats and chills.

. . Almost all the tents have little fireplaces, though they have almost nothing of which to make funnels except the omnipresent preserve-cans, set one upon another, and you see a little row of these sticking up funnily, behind the tents, out of the ground, for the fireplace is dug down instead of built up, except where some happy man gets a haul of bricks.

. . . Pigs run about the camp and exasperate me by marring the dignity of dress parade, till I almost resolve to let the soldiers kill them — I would if they were composed of anything but pork.

January 21, 1863
Being so near Georgia, I have thought it best to be provided with the summer costume attributed to Georgians — a shirt collar and a pair of spurs; and have accordingly purchased both those articles.


January 23 saw Colonel Higginson in command of three vessels, bound on a foraging trip up the St. Mary's River. This expedition was fully described in “Army life.” After his return he wrote:

. . . Do you know at Fernandina I tea'd with three schoolmistresses and it is quite bewildering; I had forgotten that there were so many women in the world. . . . Here I never see a white woman, save two Irish lieutenantesses.

Camp Saxton, February 24
Our army does not seem to me as vivacious as many suppose, but slouchy and slovenly, ill-kept and ill-handled. In this respect the navy is far superior to it; there is a universal neatness and discipline which forms a refreshing contrast. Water is a cleaner element, to be sure.

February 28

I have other dialects beside the negro to study. I have a drum major temporarily detailed from the Ninetieth New York now at Key West. He is an old Belgian who has been in a dozen armies and the state of whose brass buttons is a study for all American soldiers, so lustrous are they. His talk is a mixture of all tongues. “Co-lo-nel, I muss haf my deescharge and not return to Key West; dere is de yellow fever and then pop goes de weazel mit me: I haf no fear in battel, but de yellow fever is too much mit me.”

February 24

February 24, shortly before a second expedition up the St. John's River, which resulted in the capture [186] of Jacksonville, the diary announces the arrival of Colonel Montgomery on the scene.

February 24.

. . . Colonel Montgomery arrived last night, with one hundred and twenty men as the nucleus of his regiment, and he will be sent with us wherever we go, probably. His military experience will be of unspeakable value to me.

Three years before Higginson had written of Montgomery:

Montgomery in Kansas is a noble person, born and reared in Kentucky, and whatever he does I shall expect to find right when it is understood, though it may take long to understand it. I was not unprepared for his present course. He wrote to me long ago that the Missourians were driving him and his friends so hard that they expected to retaliate in self-defence, though the number is greatly overestimated, as in John Brown's case.

James Montgomery was one of the early Kansas settlers. His house was burned by the Missourians, and he organized a band of fighters which he had led on retaliatory raids into Missouri. He was called the “Kansas hero” and subsequently commanded the first North Carolina Colored Volunteers.

Headquarters, Jacksonville, March 16, 1863
In respect to personal courage I have learnt nothing new, and adhere to the belief that war has not so much [187] harder tests than peace. But the anxiety of a commander is something for which peace affords no parallel, not even in Waldo [president of a railroad insurance company] running to the head of the stairs when any one came in the evening, lest it should be some messenger of accident on the railroad. This of itself would be enough to keep me from any desire for high military responsibility, and if it is so with one of my easy temperament, what must it be to those as conscientious and more excitable? I can understand how Burnside felt. So far as love of adventure goes, it must yield less and less enjoyment as one goes up. Were I a private, I could do many things and run many risks which I ought not now to incur. I could go out by night on scouts. I have power, responsibility, rule a city absolutely, adjudicate arrests of prisoners and restitutions of old women's cows, plan defences, go on well-escorted reconnoissances, but the propensity for personal scrapes is partially corked up.

I remember Charles Devens saying that he never had felt such unutterable relief as when Colonel Baker arrived on the field at the Battle of Ball's Bluff. Not that he brought very strong reinforcements with him, but simply that he lifted the load of responsibility off Devens's shoulders; and after that he had merely to fight and obey orders — not command.

Something of this feeling has been mine for twenty-four hours. When the Delaware approached the wharf with the Eighth Maine Regiment and Colonel [188] Rust (my superior officer), I had to send him the message that I was very sorry I could n't receive him handsomely, but the fact was we were in the midst of a fight. The rebels were just then beginning to shell us for the first time with a big gun they have got on a locomotive; but the gunboats returned the fire and it did n't last long. Then he took command . . .and instantly a load fell. ...

It is odd how used one gets to alarms, especially when “relieved” by a senior officer. Last night Montgomery said, “To-night the town will be shelled.” He is commonly so little apprehensive that it meant more from him than it would from most men: it was based on their known wish to destroy the town, and their having shelled us during the day. I said, “They won't dare” ; went to bed with my clothes on and never waked from half-past 9 to six.

Montgomery is splendid, but impulsive and changeable; never plans far ahead, and goes off at a tangent. The last tangent is to leave us to-morrow, go up the river thirty miles on a steamer and strike directly for the interior, where the slaves are leaving the rebels to watch us here. What makes the project odder is that in forty-eight hours or so, we — i.e., the S. C.V.-hope to be under weigh to take and occupy some upper point, so that by waiting he could strike off from us. But off he goes to-morrow — unless he changes his mind. His only anxiety is that his men will get their feet so blistered; for they are all Key West men. That island is only eight miles by two, and that is the longest distance they have ever walked in their lives. [189]

People are coming into town; shops opening few and small. “Society” consists of a nest of sallow, singing, semi-secesh spinsters, just behind my headquarters, who are haunted day and evening by lieutenants, naval and military. I received my share of blarney on the day of first arrival, and have since kept clear of it.

Have I written you of my handsome secesh horse Rinaldo, a strong, yet slender and graceful sorrel with a white line down the face and the proverbial two white feet? A cavalry horse; belonged to a rebel officer; perfectly trained, without a trick; goes like the wind and is pulled up with a touch; foster-brother of my orderly; both raised by Colonel Sammis, a rich old slaveholding refugee who has returned with us. Colonel S. sold him to the rebel officer for $275, and I have him for $125, the Government price.


The only trouble is that one's rides are so limited by the narrow limits of the dominion, a good part even of this being encumbered with prostrate trees to keep other people from riding.

March 28.

Colonel Montgomery has just returned from upriver, as far as Palatka; he landed incautiously and was fired upon. Lieutenant-Colonel--, who was with him, was just climbing up the wharf, had both hands up at the top of the ladder, and a buckshot went simultaneously through the fleshy part of each hand without touching the bone. He incautiously turned to retreat and a spent bullet hit him lightly on the hip. [190] So he brought home three slight wounds, two of which clearly belong to the major and me, both of whom had been exposed much more than the lieutenant-colonel. . . We try to treat him pleasantly, but we think it rather grasping in him. . . . On the other hand, they brought down thirteen rebel soldiers whom they surprised asleep on picket. Montgomery took all their guns, then shook one on the shoulder to wake him. “What is it?” quoth the sleeper. “You are prisoners,” said Montgomery. “No,” said the man, explaining, “we belong to Westcott's company” (a noted guerilla force). “Yes,” said Montgomery, “but we don't.” So they were all taken, with their horses and arms.

Later Higginson wrote of the wounded officer:

The lieutenant-colonel all but cried to go home and show his martyred hands to the C — ladies who had previously planned a festival for him in the City Hall! Heaven forgive me if I wrong him, but he is an uncommon baby, for his size. .. . They crack some jokes on him, the officers; some say the rebels tried to crucify him; others that he knelt to pray for mercy and so the shots went through the uplifted hands.

On the very day of Montgomery's return, March 28, a sudden order came to evacuate Jacksonville.

In the excitement of departure the disappointed colonel wrote on March 30: [191]

On board Steamer John Adams, Mouth of St. John's River
The only time since I entered the service when I have felt within the reach of tears was when, after the men were all on board at Jacksonville, I walked back among the burning buildings (set on fire by the white soldiers, not by mine) and picked a tea-rosebud from the garden of my headquarters. To think that this was the end of our brilliant enterprise and the destruction of my beautiful city was a sadder thing than wounds or death. . . . But this did not last long-“to-morrow to fresh fields and pastures new.”


I told you in my last journal that Montgomery had brought in thirteen rebel prisoners (pickets); I did not add that he also captured the lieutenant, who afterwards escaped by the aid of a crowd of female friends who came to take farewell. He crawled away behind their skirts, then ran, and would not stop, though Montgomery raised his pistol. But M. would n't shoot, for he said he could n't kill him in his sister's presence -a very characteristic touch. His revolver is unerring; the other day he shot an alligator in the eye, the only part visible. . . .

We have on board a delightful old pilot seventy years old, who has been on all our trips; a perfect old philosopher, who knows every nook on the coast from Maine to New Orleans, and who, once tapped, talks forever, with the raciest personal adventures. Captain Gomez he is; was of course born in Salem, in Clam Shell Alley, in a part of the city called Buttonhole. [192] His mother could not read and whipped his sister for venturing to study grammar at school--“What business have poor folk's children to learn Grammar? I'll Grammar you — it's Billy Gray's folks that learn Grammar.” He never learned to spell, and has a way in writing letters of putting a word in several successive spellings, to give his reader the choice, as volley, voylly, etc. He formerly lived in Jacksonville among other places, and was delighted to go there and get back a chest of tools; he is a brave little old thing, too, and stayed on deck when I drove all others under; and when Montgomery was surprised at Palatka and Lieutenant-Colonel--wounded, old Gomez tried to work the gun himself.

After the Florida trip the regiment was picketed at Port Royal Ferry, South Carolina.

April 12
. .. In the misty gray of the morning, I rode out to the ferry amid rose scents and the song of early birds, hearing for the first time the chuck-will's widow, the Southern whip-poor-will, whose peculiar note I at once recognized. There all was quiet and I sent the batteries home. I never gave an order to an officer of regulars before, and though it was only a juvenile little lieutenant, fresh from West Point, who had come out on the boat from New York with me, and then threatened to quit the service because he could not bring with him a basket of champagne, still it seemed rather presumptuous. To be sure I have [193] habitually under my command a company of the Massachusetts cavalry detailed as pickets, and that too seemed odd at first; but “tout arrive en France.”

A corporal of cavalry with whom I was riding the other day told me a story of Henry Higginson. ... Once there was an advance beyond this ferry a year ago to fire a bridge, and the Massachusetts cavalry went along — almost their only smelling of powder in these parts — and Henry, being reproved by General Stevens for exposing himself somewhere, only exclaimed, “Pooh! They won't hurt me!” a piece of assured invulnerability which became a byword in the corps.

Advanced Picket Station, Milnes Plantation, April 17, 1863
... Four companies of the regiment are distributed at different points, two or three miles away; six are here, encamped on a breezy field, the field officers living in the plantation house near by! a little house with four rooms and the doctor's closet, and a large piazza all immersed in a dense mass of waving and murmuring locust blossoms. Upstairs the adjutant and his wife, and opposite them the major and chaplain. Below, the kitchen and dining-room in one, where William and Hetty reign [the house servants]; then my office, with my bed on one side consisting of a broad, wooden shelf and some blankets, and a great open fireplace, with bricks for andirons, to be used on chilly evenings. Then the doctor's little box, opening on a piazza. . . . Doctor's floor carpeted with pine [194] needles, so that the whole room is scented. Outside are the negro houses and sundry rambling sheds, to accommodate our many horses; though Rinaldo lives in a little house close by the door, where I can go and give him salt at any time, which he eats like sugar. By the house are sundry tents belonging to officials, dotted among the trees. Our mess is large and very pleasant: I have grown quite attached to the major, who is always sunny and obliging, very energetic and industrious, and as daring a man as I ever met. Then there is the chaplain, an eccentric genius with a good deal of brilliancy and perfectly unexpected in word and deed; Dr. Rogers, Dr. Minor, his assistant, and Lieutenant Bingham, the quartermaster, two as true, pure-hearted, and manly young fellows as the world can show. Then there is Captain Rogers and the adjutant and his wife; he always steady, unassuming, and equal to all he undertakes, and she taking life always on the sunny and sensible side. With two or three more women as bright and pleasant our little household would be quite a model. . . . Then I call for Rinaldo and away to visit the pickets. At Seabrook we keep a nice little sailboat which I brought from Jacksonville. Sometimes I take that and cross to some island which we do not picket and which we and the enemy both approach cautiously, they especially, for they have never shown daring except in hopes to find us napping.

April 23

I hope you have not been troubled by the attack on me by “Conservator” in the “Evening post.” As to [195] the putting on shore of furniture, etc., at Jacksonville, I certainly did it; for it was a choice between furniture and life. The crowding on board those boats was fearful, and nobody suffered more by it in the end than those very people whom I had partially relieved by clearing the vessel. I had my men busy removing the cannon that morning, while the town was already burning, and when I came to put the men on board ship, I found one half the hold of my principal vessel full of an immense accumulation of furniture. The captain entirely refused to take on more than three companies and I had six to place there; so the only possible way was immediately to put on shore whatever could be got at, leaving only the trunks of the people. As it was, we nearly had a pestilence on board that vessel solely from overcrowding and had to put all the soldiers on shore at the mouth of the river and cleanse out the ship.

In case of storm all the rest of the furniture and the horses must have been thrown overboard, and that might have been called cruelty too. Don't you know a woman will sooner lose her life than her feather bed? . . . There was little time to discriminate, with the vessels lying at the wharves of a burning town, ammunition on board every vessel, and a rebel force outside ...

Moreover, though it sounds very fine to talk about “Union” citizens, the people who made most noise were avowed secessionists until they thought we were the strongest; and then were afraid to stay because they had gone too far. One family of semi-ladies in the [196] house behind mine, who had confessed themselves secessionists to me, had five wagon-loads of their furniture brought by our only three wagons, when it was hard to get teams to save the sick from the hospital and the cannon from the forts. They had played and sung and flirted with the young naval officers and wound them round their fingers, though entirely without charm. Now they are in Beaufort, in one of the best houses, and have appeared in the streets with secession aprons. Montgomery's quartermaster is one of their chief admirers. On the other hand, some of the real Union people of Jacksonville could not get a team to haul their furniture, so overwhelmed were we with work. Not that Colonel R-meant any special harm, but he was unequal to the terribly difficult task of evacuating a town in a hurry and carrying away the inhabitants.

As for the burning, the place was only very partially burnt, but the perfect insubordination which the attempt showed was outrageous, though not strange to any one who knows our regiments. Good, brave, hardy fellows, intelligent, too, but with no more discipline than so many calves. Colonel — is so unpopular that all but two of his officers have just resigned, and some said openly that they burnt the houses because they thought he did n't wish it.

Of course I shall not write any correction of that report about “cruelty, etc.,” because I never believe in contradicting falsehoods; it only keeps them alive....

You know it is not my habit to worry, especially [197] about personal matters, and it is such a piece of luck that the public should not charge all the burning on my men, as was to be expected, that I am willing to be thought as bad as “Brute Butler” for a time, if that will buy justice for them.

But I expressed the hope in Jacksonville that I might be kept out of the way of “Union” people in rebel communities; if you trust them, they betray you.

April 24

It is odd to read the papers. We read loud to each other the narrative of our own adventures and agree that no one need say that we are not kept supplied with new novels!

Camp life was varied by studies of the Southern flora and animal life.

Dr. Rogers [brought in] a six-foot snake round his neck, not alive ....

The snake above-named was called the thunder-snake by the men, of which I could get no explanation save, “speck he look like streak lightnina, sal” They are much more afraid of snakes than of alligators, which they say seldom attack men even in the water, but are afraid of them. I have seen a dead alligator six feet long, but there is a live one eighteen feet long in a cypress swamp not far from here, which I am going to visit.


I slept at night on the floor in Dr. Minor's little room; he dropped asleep like a baby while I worked [198] and meditated of possible incursions of the enemy. Soon I heard sounds which indicated them; I raised my head; then they came nearer; then there came something like the explosion of a small shell and a thump in the corner of the room. The fire still glowed, and presently I saw the largest rat I ever looked upon trot placidly forth into the centre of the floor, just between Minor and me, and look round to see what he might devour. Luckily it was neither of us, and I waked in the morning with all my features complete; but should not again select that floor to spread my blankets on.

May 8

I had some talk with General Hunter. It is hard not to like him when one is with him; he seems so good-natured, generous, and impulsive. He impressed me as being by habit lax, indolent, vacillating, and forgetful; but as capable of being on a given occasion prompt, decided, and heroic. So far as principles of action go, this war has nothing more to teach him; his defects are more hopeless because they belong to his temperament and no conversion can extricate him from them. With the tonic of a strong moral influence always beside him, he could be easily held up to the standard of a great man; as it is, while he is asleep, the Devil sows tares, and that is a large part of the time.

I am afraid to quote the things the paymaster said of this regiment, but Mr. Page has sent it all to the “Tribune,” they say. I am ashamed to be so praised; [199] it is such a reproach on this undisciplined, unbuttoned mob we call an army. I hope it will never be my lot to write military memoirs; I should have to dip my pen in stronger superlatives than I ever mixed before.

Here is the latest Beaufort anecdote. There is a New York regiment here which calls itself “Les Enfans Perdus,” or the lost children, being composed of all nations-officers chiefly French. One of these, the adjutant, was criticizing some of General Hunter's late movements, and some one in joke threatened him with Fort La Fayette. “Vas dat you say!” he cried in a rage; “ven you say La Fayette, take off your hat” (suiting the action to the word). “Ven you say Vashinton, take off your ht” (uncovering again). “Ven you say Huntare, do as me,--ah-h-h” (gripping his hat over his ears with both hands, grinding his teeth, and running away in an ecstasy of despair).

You may fancy from this that there is no enthusiasm felt here over the failure at Charleston and the evacuation of Jacksonville.

In another letter Colonel Higginson says that the above regiment, the One Hundredth New York, was the only one which ever planted anything around its tents. Almost all of these were surrounded by little gardens.

Referring to a long-delayed letter, the Colonel wrote his mother:

It was bad, as one of the drummers said he should feel if killed without having any defensive weapon but [200] the professional drumsticks. “Cunnel,” said he, “if I was to get killed, and had n't had something to defend myself with, I should feel bdd” --which seemed so just that I at once sent in a requisition for drummers' swords.

.. . I wish more people wrote to me. If they only would take my note (of hand) to answer them after I get home. Nothing so rare as epistolary disinterestedness; the most self-denying saint hints at an answer in the postscript. Stephen is splendid about sending me papers; in a better world somebody will send him Paradisaic Journals and Saturday Evening Heavenzettes.


Thanks for the maple sugar which we have for dessert; also I offer it to guests instead of whiskey, now that our blessed Florida syrup is getting low.

May 7

It is a funny life we lead here, even beyond the average fun of this oddest of planets. From the time we first went to housekeeping . . . everything has been upside down. I undress according to the weather; if it is bright moonlight I turn in very thoroughly; if it is very dark and a trifle rainy, I undress as Suvaroff [a Russian field marshal] did when very lazy — take off one spur. One wakes up in the middle of the night and has a horse saddled to go and inspect pickets, or is waked up with some difficulty, to be told that somebody is somewhere firing at something, which always settles itself, like Napoleon's unanswered letters.


Advanced Picket Station, May 18
Dearest Mother:
. . We miss grass ... grass and female society I might say .... General Lander's widow ... came out hoping it was war and she was to be head-nurse. She was Miss Davenport, an actress, and quite an intelligent and earnest person; English, dignified, and rather fine-looking. Little touches of the stage are entertaining — rising and stepping to the door to see if Major-- , her lodger, had come in-“Ha! It is the major?” then, half turning her head, with a waving of the hand to me from the doorway--“'T is he”

I have an impression that there are people at the North who occasionally ask what they can do for such as me. No matter who they are, tell them to write letters, without expecting answers. To that rarest and loftiest test of human virtue, how few respond!

. .. It is nice to get letters and carry round the officers' to them — I often do it just to see how pleased they look. It would amuse you, though, to see what a tight rein I keep on them — sending them my compliments (in the style of Sprague and the regular army) and I should be glad to see them for a momentwhen I wish to mildly annihilate them on arrival. They say that when the Colonel “makes a little suggestion,” it is as formidable as a General Order--and indeed it rarely has to be repeated.

Advanced Picket, May 25

Only think of a picnic here the other day! Mrs. [202] Lander got one up at the Barnwell place, the most beautiful on the island, and I helped her a good deal. It was got up for a young Mr. Hay, President Lincoln's private secretary, a nice young fellow, who unfortunately looks about seventeen and is oppressed with the necessity of behaving like seventy. He wrote about Ellsworth... in the “Atlantic,” and is staying with General Saxton. ... It was entertaining to see the ex-actress's eye for effect — a tablecloth here, a scarlet-lined coat there, Miss Brown's curls in an available vista, and blackberries and black sentinels in the background. About four came the band, the officers, the young ladies, General Saxton without his livelier half, Mr. Hay laboring not to appear new-mown. It went off better than the average; the place was beautiful, old trees and a view across Broad River to the rebel shore, a great sail-cloth laid down to dance on; General S. leading out Mrs. L. in lingering widow's weeds, his dancing as direct, grave, and simple as his policy, hers graceful as if she were sweeping the boards, technically so called. We all like her. She is so off the stage what she was on it, simple, earnest, high-minded, sensible. We had blackberries and milk, and after this pastoral entertainment galloped home through the wood paths by the young moon.

I forgot to tell Mr. Hay for Old Abe's delectation that the little drummer boys of Mrs. Dewhurst's school all nodded eagerly when she asked if they knew who was President of the United States. On her requesting them to name him, they burst out in an eager chorus, “Uncle Sam.” [203]

The Department of the South had earlier been described as a “military picnic.”

About this time the chaplain of the regiment, when on a scouting expedition with some of the men, was captured, and imprisoned for a year.

No news of the chaplain except sometimes through fugitive slaves, who report that the rebels pronounce him “a d — d saucy Yankee as they ever met,” which I can easily credit. Under the new agreement about chaplains he would be released did he not belong to a colored regiment — and may be as it is. Somehow it is impossible for any of us to speak seriously of the chaplain's being a prisoner; we always laugh because we all have a feeling that the rebels must have the worst of it.

The following extract, which Colonel Higginson said could only be appreciated by one who knew the first lessons in drill, is taken from the journal of 1863:

It is a ludicrous travesty of the passage in the Tactics... . The very first question asked my lieutenant-colonel was, “What is the position of a soldier without arms?” which he could not answer. . . . So Captain Rogers asked it of one of his men and wrote down the following in return:

Position of a Sojer widout no gun

Heels extendina a inch apart.

Toes extendina not quite a-elbow.

Body extendina right plump.

Hands extendina down side of pants. [204]

Little finger extendina seam of breeches.

Head flare to the front, extendina on de ground fifteen paces.

Hat square on de head.

Some of these men have splendid memories. One sergeant, who cannot read, calls the roll from memory. One of our ablest sergeants, a carpenter, paid his master $365 a year for his time for several years; think of it! He used to make $2.50 a day, erected buildings on contract, etc. He and six others built the town of Micanopy on contract. Henry McIntyre is his name, a light mulatto. He would never learn to read, because it exposes them to so much more suspicion and watching.

How could I ever tell you all the funny things I hear? Yesterday a noble-looking old woman, as stately as Mrs. Le Baron, came to explain gravely to me the wrongs her son endured from a bad wife, which culminated in the following ignominious scene. “Dey got a-tangling, and she took his foot and kick he out of de door!”

May 29

Ever since I made my officers understand that they were to be kept down to a valise apiece, and no stealing, they have delighted in inveigling me into any small luxuries, a chair, a desk, etc.; and my exhibiting a sheet at last produced a thrill of triumph; and now that Montgomery's regiment is just off (which did stealing for a dozen), James Rogers has just seduced me into an enchanting mosquito netting ... of whose [205] Jacksonville origin there can be no reasonable doubt. . . . I assure you that the transparent drapery, caught up in the middle over a vista of crimson blanket, quite enhances the beauty of the apartment ...

General Hunter's new letter to Jeff. Davis is a very unfortunate one, like many of his impulses. The threat to execute his prisoners, unless J. D. revokes, would only make the latter smile, for he must know that it would never be carried out — because public sentiment would not sustain it. But public sentiment will sustain retaliatory acts and the threat of those carries a weight which the more extravagant threat only impairs.

. . . If he [General Saxton] once did a dishonorable act I should forever lose my faith in him and with it in human nature, as I once heard old Samuel Hoar say of Charles G. Loring. I wonder what saucy things little Mrs. Tillie will say to Old Abe. Do you know she can imitate perfectly her husband's handwriting?--General Hunter's, President Lincoln's, General Scott's, Mr. Seward's and even the sacred Mr. Spinner's who signs the greenbacks. I have seen them.


We have lost our first officer, Lieutenant Gaston, who was accidentally shot by one of his own [men] in a little reconnaissance across the river yesterday morning. . . . To-night we had funeral services here just at dusk, and it was one [of] the most impressive funerals I ever knew. . . . Just at the beginning up rode Mrs. Lander and Mr. Page, “Tribune” correspondent. The latter looked at it as an item; but [206] Mrs. L. was exceedingly affected by it. I was so absorbed in our men that I forgot all about her widowhood. It would have affected anybody, though; there is something so plaintive about the whole condition of these grown — up children, at any time; A — would shed rivers of tears over almost anything they do, whether they laugh or cry; there is a sort of mute appeal about them unknown to themselves. It is very hard to punish them; they seem like dumb or blind babies, or maimed animals. There is infinitely less of the defiant or dangerous element about them than I expected; very few devils in the regiment; but the same soft texture which nothing but the contact with gunpowder seems to harden.

May 30, 1863

Went down in the early morning, a few of us, to take Lieutenant Gaston's remains to the beautiful green quiet cemetery around the old Episcopal church [Beaufort]. It is small, high-walled with stone, and filled with old monuments of stately Carolinian families — Middleton, Barnwell, De Saussure — all buried in masses of green shade. As I sat in the empty church the doves cooed into the window and the mocking-bird trilled, and then the cavalry bugles rang through with their shriller sound; and then I walked out again among the luxurious Southern growths, and thought there could not be in a strange land a sweeter resting-place for a discarded body.

Montgomery was then making “some capital raids” near Georgia and Colonel Higginson wrote of him: [207]

Advanced Picket, June 5
Montgomery's raid was a most brilliant success, though I don't believe in burning private houses, as he does. Nearly eight hundred contrabands!

Dr. Rogers met one old Uncle Tiff, pockets, hands, and mouth full of bread. “You're happy, are n't you?” quoth the Doctor. “Bress you, massa,” said the poor old soul, “I ain't had so much to eat in nine years

June 10

He is an unequalled guerilla, but has no system. After all one must consume his share of red tape as of dirt, nor have I ever tried to cut it without having to tie it together again in the end. It takes a great deal of machinery to keep nine hundred men in good condition, let alone a larger number.

June 19

Montgomery's ... brigand practices I detest and condemn. ... It is perfectly easy to restrain the negroes; they are capable of heroic abstinence. I will have none but civilized warfare in my regiment, but the public may not discriminate.

Hilton Head, June 26
Montgomery and the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts are recalled from St. Simon's Island and put here for a time, or just across from here on St. Helena Island, where I shall hardly see them. The officers of the Fifty-Fourth have never had a glimpse of my regiment; this I mention because Stephen seemed to confound [208] their criticisms on Montgomery's guerillas with “Cunnel Higginson's reg'lars” as mine call themselves.

Last night on dress parade a white soldier said audibly behind me, “By--, to think of my living to see a nigger regiment drill better than the One Hundred and Fourth Pennsylvania” . . .

My claims of superiority to the white regiments here in soldierly appearance may seem extravagant, but you must remember that there are no good white regiments anywhere except regulars and a few others, chiefly from Massachusetts, and then that my men have some great advantages. All white soldiers look dirty, whether they are or not, from the sunburn and the beard, whereas my men's complexions are the best possible to hide it; a shiny black skin always looks clean. Then the light blue pantaloons of our army have the same disadvantage over the dark blue of my regiment. I observe this difference in the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts. Then the artistic effect of the line of white officers against the sombre and steady background is very good. Any artist would prefer to have his soldiers black.

One of our prime favorites is dear old York, our “Uncle Tom,” who takes care of Dr. Rogers, a perfect type of well-bred respectability as to the outward, and inwardly a saint. In Sunday services, when we wish to get particularly near to Heaven, we have Uncle York sit upon the platform during the services, or make a little prayer. Imagine our dismay when he dropped some hints, the other day, that he had not always been so beautiful, and had had his period of [209] wild oats. At length the officers, probing him farther, began to approach the details of these early transgressions. The veteran shook his head over the retrospect, and confessed, “Used to dance — and t'ings.” What the t'ings were, which came in as milder etcetera after the one great remorse of dancing, we shall never know.

Have I ever said what is the favorite reading-primer of our drummer boys? McClellan's Bayonet Exercises. Large type, short words, subject intelligible, pictures fascinating; it contains all merits. “Ac-vance, retreat, leap to de front, leap to de rear,” and so on. Think of the great dethroned idol, banished from all other temples, still reigning in the primary schools of the Ethiopians!

. . Montgomery has been a sore disappointment to me and to General Saxton, with whom he is at sword's point; I did not desire to be brigaded with him, because he would chafe so much at being under me and I should have such hard work to coerce him into my notions of civilized warfare. He had one of his men shot without trial for desertion the other day, and was about to shoot two others when Dr. Rogers's wonderful power of influence made him change his plans. Yet he is not a harsh or cruel man, but a singular mixture of fanaticism, vanity, and genius.

Colonel Higginson was wounded in July, 1863, and went home for a month. His friend, George William [210] Curtis, noticed a changed expression in the face of the returned colonel — the change so noticeable after the Great War in the faces of those who fought in France. Mr. Curtis wrote: “I see in your face .. . the same influence which has touched all the true soldier faces I have seen, and of which we who stay at home are not unconscious. Fire purifies, but it tries.”

The next extract describes his return to Beaufort.

Headquarters, First S. C.V., Beaufort, August 22
As the Arago came up to the pier on Thursday, at Hilton Head, sudden movements were observed among the soldiers detailed for duty on the wharf; arms were raised, fingers pointed, glances interchanged, and an evident mutual proclamation of “de Cunnel.” No cheering — they seldom cheer — but Nature, in vindication of the oppressed, instead of tongues gave them teeth, and the end of the pier might presently have been a procession of elephants, so magnificent was the display which spread along the line. ... I think no single flower of speech on my return impressed me so much as that which dismissed my departure. “You's a mighty big rail out ob de fence, sa.”

On his return the Colonel found that illness and absence had made great change in his officers.

August 26
. .. We have a new lieutenant: Childs, of juvenile look and soft manner, and one of his company was [211] trying for his name this morning. “Dunno he name, sa; speck he name Lieutenant Baby, sa.” It seems incredible that it should be serious, but I verily believe it was.

Headquarters, First S. C.V., September 8
You don't know what an improved set of officers I've got. Captain-- I shall have court-martialed and dismissed the service as soon as he comes from the North, and Captain — I have a plan to dispose of, and then I shall feel as happy as Tom Beecher when two out of his three church committee were in the state prison.

September 12

I see Mariotti, the new “Times” man whom I remember of old at Cambridge, being freshly arrived, burst out in amazement at the buttonless condition of our American army. This morning I had occasion to go before a board of officers--four of them, a lieutenant-colonel, a captain, and two beside. All should have been in full dress. Not one had his coat buttoned; only two had anything to designate rank, and indeed one of these was absolutely out of uniform, in civil costume. They were no doubt as good officers as the average, but I think of Lieutenant-Colonel Maggi's dismay. . . .

Apparently all American officers in white regiments (except from Massachusetts and a few batteries) have the proverbial souls above buttons. I'm sure I wish they had n't.


The allusion to Colonel Maggi is explained by an earlier letter written from the Worcester camp.

I have been amused at the feuds between the colonel of our Twenty-First Regiment, a free and easy, slipshod country squire, utterly incapable of military system, and his lieutenant-colonel, Maggi, an European martinet. The latter was exasperated at entering an officers' meeting and finding the colonel in an old brown linen sack with his feet on the window seat; and then somebody came in with a red shirt and no coat at all. “Colonel,” said Maggi, “is this one of your vagoners?” “Why, no! This is Captain Washburn, don't you know him?” “Good Heaven Colonel, when you expect any discipline in the army, if captains come to officers' meeting in his sleeve-shirt! ”

While a patient in the Officers' Hospital, the Colonel wrote, October 10, 1863:

The pleasantest person in the house is a young Dr. Willard, of the navy .... After I had cross-questioned him and fitted him with a cousinry, I told him that people from Boston and that region did n't bore each other worse than any other people after they had got the genealogical arrangements fairly settled and found out who was who. Up to that time they were, of course, intolerable — until all the cross-questioning was ended.

The Oaks Plantation, St. Helena Island, Two miles from Beaufort, October 24
An old Aunt Phillis, the plantation patriarch, was [213] here this morning, sighing over an impracticable little boy she has the care of. “Mus' take 'urn to de wood for whip 'urn,” she averred. “Why so?” I asked. “No use for whip 'ur in de house, massa. Miss Laury [Towne] hear de very first slap come flyina, say, ‘ Stop Stop! No for whip!’ So everybody take he child to de wood, far place, for whip 'um! Can't fotch up boy widout whip!”

This picture of the whole maternal population of the place scudding for the woods, with children under their arms, to enjoy a season of undisturbed chastisement, beyond reach of Miss Laury, was too much for me.

The Oaks, Sunday, October 25
The weather is growing cold; to-day it is quite raw and uncomfortable. The family have partly gone to the church where it is Communion Sunday. They have it once in three months, and they say the elders pull away at the wine in a style which is quite vivacious; they use a dozen bottles for several hundred people, and then take up a collection to pay for it.

Camp Shaw, November 13
. . . There is a perpetual chatter of jackdaws, a black, glossy bird, intermediate between the blackbird and crow in size, which congregates in immense flocks at this season, soaring and alighting in great armies.

November 21

I believe I have a constitutional affinity for undeveloped races, though without any of Thoreau's [214] anti-civilization hobby. I always liked the Irish and thought them brilliant. It is the fashion with philanthropists who come down here to be impressed with the degradation and stupidity of these people. I often have to tell them that I have not a stupid man in the regiment. Stupid as a man may seem if you try to make him take a thing in your way, he is commonly sharp enough if you will have patience to take him in his own. ... A figure, a symbol, they always comprehend, and sometimes, when they seem dullest, they have a meaning of their own. To-day Abram Fuller — certainly one of the poorest specimens of brain we have had, if not the poorest — came for his discharge papers, he having been discharged for physical disability. After I had explained to him that he was no longer a soldier and told him how to get his pay by these papers, he said, looking at me in a sort of unintelligent way, “I in dis army still, Cunnel.” Oh, dear, thought I, you certainly are hopeless, and began again to convince him that he was discharged from the army, and no longer responsible to me, etc., when he stopped me with “I mean to say, dat I in dis army still,” with a kind of flourish of the hands; and I felt my own head “growing thinner,” as the men say when a thing dawns on them, and I fathomed that he meant that in the great warfare for freedom he wished still to be counted on, though discharged from First S. C.V. He had completely shot over my head with the fineness and elevation of his ideas, and left me no resource for my Caucasian intellect except to employ him as my private tutor. It is not the only time I have had just such a rebuke.


Beaufort, November 24
. . . Bear meat is delicious; it is like beef that has been fed on honey; alligator steaks are a kind of racier fried halibut; but I see that 'possum is one of the great compensations of Nature, given to elevate and idealize the lives of these unsophisticated Africans. What does abolitionism, what did Mrs. Kemble know of 'possum? They feel, these poor people, what it is to them, and speak of it with a kind of unctuous reverence. Doubting whether to send a savory morsel of it to Dr. Rogers, in town, we consulted Uncle York, the veteran, his personal attendant, as to whether he would probably eat it if sent. Uncle York opened his eyes, eyes that had seen generations of 'possum, and answered with smiling certainty, “Eat 'um, sa? oh, yes, sa. If he eber taste 'um, he eat 'um, sure,” and the thing was sent.

December 21

Another frivolity is court-martials. I find that every colonel is court-martialed first or last as every child has measles. Of five colonels here, one, Colonel White, was court-martialed before I came here, another (Colonel Rust) afterwards. I have sat upon Colonel Sammons, the third and now am sitting on Colonel Van Wyck, the fourth. When this is over I shall be the only one left.

Hilton Head, January 8, 1864
Nothing gives a Democrat a better glimpse of aristocratic privileges than to travel in a military department. When men see you are a colonel, all [216] difficulties are smoothed and all privileges accorded, unless a general heaves in sight, and then you are nothing; and it is astonishing how soon one learns to claim for one's self these special privileges as if made of better clay. It must be far more so with noblemen born, since they have nothing else from childhood; and no doubt they easily convince themselves that it is in the fitness of things. It is rather despicable in this military case, but sometimes very convenient.

Beaufort, S. C., January 22
.. . Just now a steamer went down the river with five hundred men of the Fifty-Fifth Pennsylvania, going home to reenlist, in great spirits, on thirty-five days furlough. With them goes Colonel---, the most cultivated and congenial officer here, and quite a crony of mine, though the furniture of his tent is said to be four barrels of whiskey and one three-legged stool.

. . . The first night in my new tent I went to bed leaving the stove door open, and my great handsome pussy sitting winking at the flame. After going to bed I found my feet were in danger of being cold and thought to myself, if she would only lie on them, and at the very thought up jumped she and lay there till morning. Is not that a treasure?

January 30

They [the negroes] have some phrases as poetic as the Portuguese. The reverberations of the noonday gun, which are often very beautiful, they call “bush-take-'um,” [217] meaning that the land takes up and echoes the sound. In describing a particularly severe whipping, the major has heard them say, “Mause t'row de stick till de bush take 'um.” So “throw the stick” is to whip, and this was done till it echoed again. The phrase is pretty, though the thing is ugly.

Camp Shaw, February 11

On the 4th inst. I found the bloodroot in bloom; there is a quantity of it just outside our camp lines. Last year also I found it early in February; two war winters rolling over its head and just the same white creature here as in Massachusetts. It symbolizes military life, though, whose forms and pageants are all innocent enough to look at — baby watches dress parade every day — till some morning unearths the ensanguined root of it all. Well, if Nature has room for the bloodroot, I suppose it has room for us.


I believe I never wrote about the prisoner our men took in the Battle of the Bloodhounds. He was a specimen of what our men call “de clean cracker,” or the unadulterated poor white. Thus--“Where do you live?” “Oh, a piece up yonder.” “What county?” “Dunno about what county; I live in Picken's Deestrict.” (There's Southern life for you; his geography lies in the name of his Congressman.) “Many men left there?” “Oh, yes, there's right smart of shavers there yet.” “Have you ever been mustered into the army, ever signed your name on the muster roll?” It turned out, of course, that he could [218] not write, and few of the company could. “But,” he added, “some of our sergeants are right smart scribes.” I believe I could say that of ours.

Advanced Picket, March 13
At this very moment the burly major is just swinging in the hammock on the piazza and talking with a squad of women whom he brought from St. Simon's Island, and who stand in their clean Sunday array, erect and stately as Nubians, recalling past days. He is asking them how about Mrs. Kemble, whose neighbors they were, and they are putting together their scraps of reminiscence about her which amount to only two, though they lived on the next plantation; and one of these two at least would make a sensation among polite readers, perhaps, if appended to the next edition of her book. “Use to row-boat, sa, I seen her” --“I neber seen her wid de boat, sa, but I seen her wid de oars” --“Use to row-boat well.” Then was extorted the last item of biography, the one trait sufficiently impressive to reach the next plantation. The narrator, half covering her face with her hand and turning slightly away, “Used to stop and pull up she stock'n ‘s-an’ --garters anywhar. Right in de 'treet!” (street).

What a singular commentary on the compensations of the universe, and the way in which the seeds of the finer instincts are sown broadcast throughout the human race, that these poor creatures, whose utter abasement she has delineated for the world to read, should have been slyly criticizing her all the while for [219] an inelegance which was serious enough from their point of view to remain a tradition of her for twenty years.

. . . All these women had husbands or sons in this regiment, whom they came to visit; one is the mother of Sammy Roberts, the youth who speculated on the taillessness of the Yankees.

This boy, according to “Army life in a black regiment,” was puzzled to find no proof of his master's statement that the Northern soldiers had tails.

April 21
. . . It is not uncommon, in riding about the plantations, to find three or four mere babies, from three to six years old, seriously “shouting” on a doorstep. I have noticed, too, that the one pet song of these children is almost always the most grimly melodramatic of the elder incantations.

What make old Satan for follow me so?
Satan ain't got not'ina to do wid me!
Chorus) Hold your light! Hold your light!
Hold your light on Canaan's shore.

It seems pathetic that these little innocents (straight and black as so many short lead pencils) should thus early appreciate the peripatetic habits of the Evil One.

April 25

Last night our attendant urchins got up a “shout” around a tree just by the house, four of them stamping round and round and singing with a rhythmic foot-fall, [220] and sometimes a hollow clapping of hands, and they happened upon one of the oddest chants that even their taste for the religious melodramatic has produced After their favorite “What make ole Satan for follow me so,” which is the special cradle hymn of these dusky innocents, they brought out the same old offender in a disguised aspect.

I see de old man sitting!
Glory Hallelujah!
He sit in de chimley corner!
Glory Hallelujah!
He wash he face in ashes!
Glory Hallelujah!
He call he name Jesus!
Glory Hallelujah!
But I know he by he clump-foot!
Glory Hallelujah.
Chorus) Hold your light, brother Benjie, hold your light.
Hold your light on Canaan's shore.

April 25

. .. I never yet saw a chapter in life which was not good, no matter what people called it.

During the last months of Colonel Higginson's stay in camp, a curious accident happened which left a permanent scar on his forehead. He thus wrote about the event.

March 11, 1864
It rained furiously night before last, and. when I sat down at my desk after breakfast, Dr. Minor pointed out a crack in the plaster of the ceiling, where it was wet, and said, “Colonel, that will come down.” “Oh,” said I, “my head is hard; I am fitted by nature [221] to command a colored regiment.” And in about five minutes there came a crash as if the sky was falling and I the lark which was caught. It partially knocked me over, but did not stun me nor make me faint afterwards. ... I had to keep still that day, feeling rather as if I had been in a cavalry fight, which had turned out better than I could have expected.

Not recovering from the effects of his wound received the previous year, Colonel Higginson was obliged to resign from the army in April, 1864. The remaining letters were written after Higginson's return to the North, to his mother and sisters.

Worcester, September 30, 1864
I hear good accounts from my regiment and a funny description of dear old Uncle York asleep beneath a tree, primer in hand, while a pet crow belonging to the regiment hops stealthily up, steals the book, and flies to a branch above the slumbering veteran's head, where he awakes him by tearing out the leaves and throwing them down to him, one by one. This scramble for literature between two black bipeds would furnish the most inimitable sketch. The major writes that York's gesticulations of wrath against the unapproachable bird were infinitely funny — the more so, as the soil yields no stones for missiles.

October 21

I have letters from the regiment, where all seems to go well. They are at Cole's Island, opposite Folly, and [222] deserters often come in. One floated five miles for the purpose with the tide, being unable to swim, and having four beef bladders tied on a cord under his arms to support him. In this he emulated our regimental pig, who came to the officers as a present from those of the Montauk Monitor. On one occasion going up the river to engage some batteries, they left piggy on an island, and on their return could not find him and suspected desertion, which he disproved by swimming out to join the next gunboat that came up the Stono River, the McDonough, from which the Montauk afterwards reclaimed him. Now he inspects the regiment daily at dress parade and afterwards marches up with the line of officers to salute the commandant. This Dr. Minor writes.

Worcester, October 28
To-morrow I may go to Boston chiefly to see on business Colonel Hartwell, of the Massachusetts Fifty-Fifth, just from Folly Island, and may either go to the opera or to a Republican dinner to Sumner and Wilson. I hanker after opera, and indeed after all the vanities of life; one returns from the seat of war with a wholesome appetite for luxuries....

Mary declares that in reading to her from Trowbridge's letter something about tales of rebel atrocities, I stopped and groaned, as she supposed for the atrocities, until I added, “He spells tales tails.” He is shady in his spelling, yet I think he ought to be promoted. [223]

. . During the Board of Foreign Missions here, a particularly stout Board, a perfect joist, came to stay with the Firths and was taken to see the organ, then in process of building. Crossing a narrow board, narrower than himself, the human Board fell in and went crashing down among the harmonies — till he reached a stop, I suppose. At any rate, he was thoroughly lamed and the Board limped out of town on two sticks.

Theophilus Brown's toast (Paine and Plunkett being Democratic candidates for Governor and Lieutenant-Governor)--“Paine, Plunkett, and Pendletonthree real Peas-men. May the rebels shell them.”

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Barnwell Court House (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Auburn, Va. (Virginia, United States) (1)
Alabama (Alabama, United States) (1)
Adam (Florida, United States) (1)

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January 25th, 1862 AD (1)
1862 AD (1)
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