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Chapter 9: Morris Island.

Our voyage from Florida terminated at Stono Inlet on the morning of April 18. The steamer thence proceeded up Folly River, but running aground, the leftwing companies were transferred to the steamer Canonicus. Disembarking at Pawnee Landing about 3 P. M., the Fifty-fourth at once marched to Lighthouse Inlet in a heavy rain-storm, and there crossed on a large flat boat to Morris Island. Shelter for the night was provided in the ordnance building for the men, the officers finding accommodations with friends. That evening Captain Emilio was ordered to command the outpost of Black Island with Companies C, E, and H, as the garrison.

Camp was established where the receding sand-hills formed a sort of natural amphitheatre, at a point about a mile up the beach, near the signal hill. There the regiment remained during its continuance on Morris Island. A company was sent to Fort Wagner that evening, and the next day suffered the loss of one man, killed by a shell.

Again the Fifty-fourth was upon the sand isle, which the winds and tides had perceptibly encroached upon during our absence. At the front the thunder of great guns rang out only occasionally, in place of incessant bombardment. Monitors, gunboats, and supply-vessels still rode upon the near waters; and blockaders appeared and disappeared along the horizon before the beleaguered port. But the [187] thousands of blue-garmented soldiery had departed for other fields, leaving but a remnant behind. Col. W. W. H. Davis still commanded, but had only his own regiment,—the One Hundred and Fourth Pennsylvania,—the Fifty-second Pennsylvania, and five companies of the Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery on Morris Island, and the Eleventh Maine on Black Island. Few events of importance had occurred during the winter months. Vessels still ran the blockade, but sometimes came to grief, as did the ‘Presto,’ which went ashore on Sullivan's Island February 2, and was destroyed by our guns. The navy lost the ‘Housatonic’ on February 17, sunk by a torpedo boat, the latter also going to the bottom with all on board. Sumter had been made stronger against assault, and a few guns were mounted on its channel face.

Black Island was reached by the three companies, after laboriously rowing up Lighthouse Inlet and the creeks, on the evening of the 18th. The Eleventh Maine was relieved there and departed the next day. This outpost, occupied by a portion of the Fifty-fourth until Charleston was evacuated, merits description. It was of small extent and almost the only dry spot amid the marshes between Morris and James islands. The safety of Lighthouse Inlet and the inland channel from Stono depended upon its safe maintenance. Our heavy guns, mounted there in August, 1863, had been removed. There was an enclosed work holding a single Wiard rifle-gun. As it was within range of the lower James Island batteries, bombproofs had been constructed. From a platform near the top of a tall pine-tree called the ‘Crow's Nest,’ commanding a fine view of the whole region, a constant watch was kept. Messages were sent to and received from Morris Island by signal flags [188] and torches. A foot-bridge over the marshes connected it with the main post. Stores had to be brought in rowboats. Much vegetation covered the ground, rendering it altogether a pleasanter spot than Morris Island. Some twenty-five men were detailed daily for guards and pickets. A non-commissioned officer and five men in each of two boats were sent at night to guard the water-ways toward James Island. Sergt. Joseph Sulsey of Company E was appointed acting sergeant-major. A detail of twenty-three non-commissioned officers and men was placed under instruction until proficiency was attained in artillery practice.

Colonel Hallowell assumed command of Morris Island on the 20th, relieving Colonel Davis, who, with the Fifty-second and One Hundred and Fourth Pennsylvania, departed for Hilton Head. The next day Colonel Montgomery arrived and relieved Colonel Hallowell. He brought the Thirty-fourth United States Colored Troops (formerly the Second South Carolina) and the Twenty-first United States Colored Troops. Col. William Gurney, with his regiment, the One Hundred and Twenty-seventh New York, came on the 23d, and in turn relieved Montgomery. In consequence of these frequent changes of postcom-mander some of the Fifty-fourth companies were as often shifted from one duty to another. On the 23d Companies B and G were made the provost-guard at Morris Island; but Company B was relieved therefrom in two or three days. Companies A, I, and K, under Lieutenant Leonard, were detailed for a few days as boat infantry. Captain Jones, with Company D, relieved a company of the Thirtyfourth United States Colored Troops as the garrison of Fort Shaw. [189]

A very heavy wind swept the island on the 25th, which blew down the Beacon house on the beach-front. This prominent landmark was a frame building, resting on a masonry foundation. On the northerly end was the chimney-stack, and surmounting the roof was a cupola. It had long been stripped of weather boarding, and stood, skeletonlike, in our daily pathway to and from Cumming's Point.

General Schimmelfennig, commanding the Northern District, and Colonel Gurney visited Black Island May 1, and after inspecting the post, viewed the enemy's lines beyond. About this period the commanding officer thus wrote:—

‘So near are we to the enemy on this island that we can distinctly hear the bands and drums on James Island, and see them drilling in the daytime. For the past few nights we could hear them having jolly times at Secessionville, cheering, etc., and from seeing regiments leaving in heavy marching order, with baggage-wagons in the rear, judge that the uproar was occasioned by these departures of troops, probably to join Lee.’

General Gillmore, on May 1, formally relinquished command of the department to General Hatch. Admiral Dahlgren, who had been North, returned that day and records in his journal: ‘Hatch says that Gillmore has taken off twenty thousand men, and leaves him no more than enough to hold on.’ On the 17th Dahlgren writes that Hatch had some fourteen thousand men remaining, ‘which were barely sufficient for the defensive.’

No mails came to Morris Island for many days, while the steamers were all employed in transporting troops North. The infantry regiments went out in regular turn for grand guard, and fatigue work, at the front, or at the ordnance and quartermaster's depots. Our artillerymen were throwing [190] about a dozen shells into Charleston daily. Against Sumter they were firing mainly with mortars at night. A new commander was in charge of the Confederates there, for Capt. John C. Mitchel, First South Carolina Artillery, relieved Colonel Elliott on May 4.

For some time a very few men of the Fifty-fourth had manifested sullenness and an indisposition to promptly obey orders, justifying their actions to themselves and others on the ground of non-payment. Advices from the North regarding Congressional action were surely discouraging. Mr. Wilson, on April 22, had moved to add the Equalizing to the Appropriation Bill, which was finally agreed to by the Senate; but the House amended it as to the amount of bounty and the clause authorizing the Secretary of War to allow full pay to those colored soldiers who had been promised it. In place, the House inserted a provision allowing full pay only to free persons of color who were enlisted. This the Senate refused to agree with on May 3. Two conference committees were appointed, but the House rejected their reports. Colonel Hallowell used every means to secure the just claims of the men by letters to their friends. His frequent applications for leave of absence upon this business had not been granted. When informed of the threatening disposition of the few men referred to, he visited each post, addressed the companies, explaining the causes of delay, and counselling patience still longer; but he warned the disaffected that orders must be obeyed, and set forth the sure penalty of disobedience. His words were disregarded in but two instances. On May 12, a private of Company B, for refusing duty, was slightly wounded by a pistol-shot from an officer; and on the 21st another man (of Company H) was shot at [191] and slightly wounded by an officer for a similar offence. This summary punishment inflicted was effective in its results to the command.

Colonel Hallowell on June 4 informed Governor Andrew that the regiment had not been paid, and requested that he demand of the Secretary of War that the Fifty-fourth be paid or sent to Massachusetts for muster-out, as the contract was broken.

For the further security of Black Island, early in May, Company E was ordered to encamp within the fort to guard against sudden attack; and Lieutenant Spear, in charge of the picket-boats from there, placed a boom of barrels, connected by chains, across the creek, in advance of his night stations. While visiting the pickets in the patrolboat after dark, Captain Homans on one occasion discovered a floating torpedo, which he secured and brought to Black Island. It was made of staves, cigar-shaped, with a large cap to explode by contact.

Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper assumed command of the ‘Defences of Lighthouse Inlet’ on May 7. They included Black Island, Battery Purviance, and Fort Green, on Folly Island, opposite Purviance. These two batteries mounted thirty-pounder Parrotts for offensive purposes against James Island. Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper made his headquarters at Fort Green. Captain Tucker, with Company H, left Black Island and relieved Lieutenant-Colonel Fox and Companies A and F, Fifty-fifth Massachusetts, at Fort Green on the 7th. Company I, under Lieut. Lewis Reed, took the place of Company H at Black Island.

A rude structure of logs raised above the marsh had been built by the Confederates near the water-ways toward James Island. We called it ‘Block House No. 1.’ Lieutenant [192] Spear made a reconnoissance of it on the night of the 8th, and was twice fired upon. Capt. T. L. Appleton, provost-marshal on Colonel Gurney's staff, had been for some time making preparations to capture this block house. With a party of Fifty-fourth men he went there on the night of the 14th, only to find it unoccupied. It was visited a number of times afterward by our officers from Black Island.

There was an utter stagnation of active operations in the department. Hatch was considering a plan of moving up the Wando River in connection with the ironclads, and a foray at Murrell's Inlet and Georgetown. Admiral Dahlgren had convened another council of his chief officers when the project of attack on Sumter was again negatived. He was contenting himself with a sharp bombardment of the fort with an ironclad or two for the purpose of preventing work there. The land forces were firing more briskly in unison with the navy. High tides somewhat damaged our works at Cumming's Point toward the close of May.

Further changes of station occurred for some of our companies, as, on the 18th, Captain Emilio, with Company E, relieved Company H at Fort Green, and the succeeding day Captain Bridge, with Company F, took post at Battery Purviance. Company H returned to Black Island, where Captain Homans was in command; and the garrison there was increased toward the last of May by a portion of Company F, under Lieutenant Edmands. Then the Fifty-fourth held all the posts about Lighthouse Inlet. Our men at Green and Purviance in a short time became efficient artillerists, as had those of Company H. Both works on Lighthouse Inlet were frequently engaged with the lower James Island batteries about Secessionville, at long range. [193]

General Hatch, having concluded to try to cut the railroad at Ashepoo, sent Brig.-Gen. William Birney with some sixteen hundred men to make the attempt. He landed at the mouth of Mosquito Creek on May 25, advancing about six miles in the evening. The naval vessels landed a force to co-operate on Johassie Island. The steamer Boston, on which were Colonel Montgomery and the Thirty-fourth United States Colored Troops, ran aground and was fired upon by the enemy with artillery, compelling her abandonment and destruction by fire. General Birney's force retired to Port Royal on the 27th.

Maj.-Gen. John G. Foster, a distinguished officer, who graduated from West Point in 1846, took command of the Department May 26. He was no stranger there, for in April, 1861, he was the engineer officer at Moultrie and Sumter, and in January, 1862, brought a large part of the Eighteenth Corps to South Carolina. Throughout the Civil War he suffered from a wound received in Mexico.

As Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper was detailed for courtmartial duty and Captain Emilio as judge-advocate at Hilton Head, on May 29, Captain Bridge took command of Lighthouse Inlet and Capt. T. L. Appleton of Fort Green. During the ensuing night some of our officers perpetrated a great joke on the Johnnies. Making the stuffed figure of a soldier, they took it out in a boat and stood it on top of Block House No. 1, placing an imitation gun in its hands. When morning broke, the Johnnies espied the supposed sentinel, and fired at him for half an hour, through which he seemed to bear a charmed life. When they opened, we replied from Green and Purviance.

Lieutenant Swails, when commissioned, was placed on [194] duty as an officer, but the application for his muster inaugurated a new struggle with the War Department. When the usual request was made, it was refused on account of Lieutenant Swails's African descent, although to all appearances he was a white man. After the regiment came under Colonel Gurney, Swails was ordered to discard his officer's uniform and take duty as an enlisted man. Colonel Hallowell, however, procured him a furlough, and sent him, provided with the necessary papers, to see General Foster at Hilton Head. There Lieutenant Swails presented his claims in person and received the general's recommendation for muster, to be forwarded to higher authority.

We had only seven monitors before Charleston June 1, with but four of that number serviceable, while the enemy had four ironclads. Their garrisons were depleted to the last man, artillerymen holding their forts with feeble supports. On James Island there was not a single infantry regiment; and for some time the Citadel Cadets, composed of youths, and some companies of city firemen, armed for the duty, served at that point. One of their supplysteamers grounded during the night of the 4th between Sumter and Johnson, and the next morning Gregg opened on her, and soon destroyed the craft. A few vessels, under skilful and daring officers, managed to run the blockade into Charleston. From first to last some sixtyseven steamers and twenty-one sailing-vessels eluded us, of which a large proportion were owned by J. Fraser & Co. With spool-cotton at $12.50 per dozen, sole-leather $9.25 per pound, writing-paper $72 per ream, steel pens $8.50 per gross, and other foreign goods in like proportion, enormous profits were realized, as the cotton exported [195] cost but little over the ordinary price. A clear profit of $150,000 for the round trip was not unusual. Captains of vessels frequently realized $5,000 for the voyage.

Colonel Hallowell having at last received permission to proceed North to press the claims of the regiment in person, left Morris Island on June 6, and Major Appleton assumed command. On the same day the great ironclad, New Ironsides, steamed away for the North. Our boat parties were spurred on to activity by General Schimmelfennig, who was desirous of obtaining information of the enemy's lines by such means, or from prisoners who might be secured. A steadier and increased fire on the city was ordered by General Foster.

General Jones, the Confederate Department commander, about this time bethought himself of an expedient by which he hoped to cause a cessation of our bombardment. He set forth his inhumane plan as follows:—

Charleston, June 1, 1864.
General Bragg,—The enemy continue their bombardment of the city with increased vigor, damaging private property and endangering the lives of women and children. I can take care of a party—say fifty—Yankee prisoners. Can you not send me that number including a general—Seymour will do—and other officers of high rank, to be confined in parts of the city still occupied by citizens under the enemy's fire?

In response to this telegram, Generals Wessells, Scammon, Shaler, Seymour, and Heckman, and forty-five fieldofficers were sent to Charleston and placed under fire, General Jones notifying General Foster of the fact on June 13. In compliance with General Foster's request [196] to the President, on the 29th Generals Gardner, Steuart, Archer, Jeff. Thompson, and Edward Johnson, besides fortyfive Confederate field-officers, were received at Hilton Head and confined on the brig Dragoon there. It was General Foster's purpose if necessary to imprison these officers under fire in retaliation.

Our Morris Island garrison was reinforced on June 13 by the return of the Fifty-second Pennsylvania, Col. H. M. Hoyt; and the next day the Thirty-third United States Colored Troops landed and camped above the Fifty-fourth. A company of the One Hundred and Twenty-seventh New York relieved Company G, of our regiment, from provost duty on the 15th. On the next day at 5 P. M. the enemy fired salutes of shotted guns from every battery in view, besides two rams, probably in honor of some success to their arms.

Lieutenant-Colonel Hooper returned on the 18th and took command of the regiment, Major Appleton assuming charge of the defences of the inlet. During May and June the following changes took place among the officers: Surg. Chas. E. Briggs and Lieutenants Fred. E. Rogers, Joseph E. Cousens, Chas. O. Hallett and Benj. B. Edmands, newly appointed, reported; Capt. R. H. L. Jewett and Lieutenant Littlefield re-joined from the North; Assistant-Surgeon Pease resigned; Assistant-Surgeon Bridgham, who had been reappointed, reported June 5, but went to Beaufort, sick, resigning there on the 16th. Lieutenant Tomlinson was discharged at the North.

There was variable weather the second week in June, but remarkably cool for three days previous to the 15th, with rain. Then the hot weather set in, the temperature often being 90° in the shade. Orders were given for thorough [197] policing, the burial of garbage, and the free use of disinfectants. Every man was required to bathe twice each week. Where practicable, sentry-boxes were built for shelter. The troops suffered from want of ice. Desiccated vegetables, soaked overnight and boiled with fresh beef, were issued twice a week. As fresh vegetables were sorely needed, Commissary-Sergeant Lee was sent to Beaufort and brought back a limited quantity.

Our daily duties of fatigue and grand guard went on unvaryingly week after week. The troops only looked forward to the arrival of the mails to bring news of events taking place elsewhere. Some sick and wounded comrades returned; and on June 20 we received twelve recruits for the regiment. That same day Quartermaster Ritchie recorded in his journal that he saw and talked with ‘Washington Smith just escaped from Charleston,’ who told him about the Fifty-fourth prisoners there. This seems to be the first news received of these men, then confined nearly a year.

Until late in June it was not expected that any active operations would be attempted, at least during the summer months. But on the 19th there were demonstrations made by our troops from Folly Island about the Stono. By the 29th evidences of some projected movement became apparent. Our scouting parties were urged to greater activity; boats were put in order, bridges toward James Island were laid, and ammunition was served out. The time seemed favorable, for the enemy were few in number, and did not expect attack.

Major Appleton, commanding Lighthouse Inlet, made a boat reconnaissance on the night of the 29th, nearly up to the enemy's lines at Secessionville. Orders were received [198] on the 30th for the Fifty-fourth, except Companies C, H, I, and part of F at Black Island, to move at sunset, with arms and intrenching tools. But at 9 P. M., after waiting three hours, the orders to march were countermanded for twenty-four hours.

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