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VIII. Civil War

Black faces in the camp
Where moved those peerless brows and eyes of old.

From the time of my Kansas visit I never had doubted that a farther conflict of some sort was impending. The absolute and increasing difference between the two sections of the nation had been most deeply impressed upon me by my first and only visit to a slave-mart. On one of my trips to St. Louis I had sought John Lynch's slave-dealing establishment, following an advertisement in a newspaper, and had found a yard full of men and women strolling listlessly about and waiting to be sold. The proprietor, looking like a slovenly horse-dealer, readily explained to me their condition and value. Presently a planter came in, having been sent on an errand to buy a little girl to wait on his wife; stating this as easily and naturally as if he had been sent for a skein of yarn. Mr. Lynch called in three sisters, the oldest perhaps eleven or twelve,--nice little [236] mulatto girls in neat pink calico frocks suggesting a careful mother. Some question being asked, Mr. Lynch responded cheerfully, “Strip her and examine for yourself. I never have any secrets. from my customers.” This ceremony being waived, the eldest was chosen; and the planter, patting her on the head kindly enough, asked, “Don't you want to go with me?” when the child, bursting into a flood of tears, said, “I want to stay with my mother.” Mr. Lynch's face ceased to be good-natured when he ordered the children to go out, but the bargain was finally completed. It was an epitome of slavery; the perfectly matter-of-fact character of the transaction, and the circumstance that those before me did not seem exceptionally cruel men, made the whole thing more terrible. I was beholding a case, not of special outrage, but of every-day business, which was worse. If these were the commonplaces of the institution, what must its exceptional tragedies be?

With such an experience in my mind, and the fact everywhere visible in Kansas of the armed antagonism of the Free State and pro-slavery parties, I readily shared the feeling-then more widely spread than we can now easily recall — of the possible necessity of accepting the disunion forced upon us by the [237] apparently triumphant career of the slave power. It was a period when Banks had said, in a speech in Maine, that it might be needful, in a certain contingency, “to let the Union slide;” and when Whittier had written in the original form of his poem on Texas,--

Make our Union-bond a chain,
We will snap its links in twain
We will stand erect again!

These men were not Garrisonians or theoretical disunionists, but the pressure of events seemed, for the moment, to be driving us all in their direction.

I find that at the jubilant twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society (January 2, 1857) I said, in Faneuil Hall, “To-morrow may call us to some work so stern that the joys of this evening will seem years away. To-morrow may make this evening only the revelry by night before Waterloo.” Under this conviction I took an active part with the late Francis W. Bird and a few other Republicans and some Garrisonian Abolitionists in calling a state disunion convention at Worcester on January 15, 1857; but the Republican party was by no means ready for a movement so extreme, though some of its leaders admitted frankly that it was well for the North to suggest that freedom was [238] more valuable than even the Union. The Kansas question, it must be remembered, was yet impending, and it was obviously possible that it might result in another Slave State, leading the way to others still. Moreover, passports were now for the first time refused to free colored men, under the Taney decision, on the ground of their not being citizens of the nation. It was also understood that, under this decision, slaveholders would be protected by the Supreme Court in carrying their slaves with them into Free States and holding them there. Such things accounted for the temporary development of a Northern disunion feeling about that time; and a national convention at Cleveland, following the state convention, had been fully planned by a committee of which I was chairman,--the call for this receiving the names of more than six thousand signers, representing all of the Free States,--when there came the formidable financial panic which made the year 1857 so memorable. As this calamity had begun in Ohio, and was felt most severely there, it was decided that the convention should be postponed, and this, as it proved, forever.

In the following year Senator Seward made his great speech in which he accepted fully the attitude, which was the basis of our position, that the whole anti-slavery contest was a thing [239] inevitable,--“an irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces,” --and that the United States must and would “sooner or later become entirely a slave-holding nation or entirely a free labor nation.” Either, Seward said, the plantations of the South must ultimately be tilled by free men, or the farms of Massachusetts and New York must be surrendered to the rearing of slaves; there could be no middle ground. Lincoln had said, in the controversy with Douglas, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” In view of these suggestions, some of us were for accepting the situation, after our fashion, and found ourselves imitating that first mate of a vessel, who, seeing her to be in danger, and being bidden by his captain to go forward and attend to his own part of the ship, came aft again presently, touched his cap, and said, “Captain--, my part of the ship is at anchor.” It was doubtless well that the march of events proved too strong for us, and that the union feeling itself was finally aroused to do a work which the antislavery purpose alone could not have accomplished; yet we acted at the time according to our light, and we know from the testimony of Lincoln himself that it was the New England Abolitionists from whom he learned that love of liberty which at last made him turn the scale. [240]

Then came the John Brown affair, as described in a previous chapter; and there followed after this, in the winter of 1860, a curious outbreak in New England itself of the old proscriptive feeling. There ensued an interval when the Boston Abolitionists were again called upon to combine, in order to prevent public meetings from being broken up and the house of Wendell Phillips from being mobbed. Phillips was speaking at that time on Sundays at the Boston Music Hall, and it was necessary to protect the assembly by getting men to act together, under orders, and guard the various approaches to the hall. I was placed at the head of a company formed for this purpose, and it was strange to find how little advance had been made beyond the old perplexity in organizing reformers. There was more willingness to arm than formerly, but that was all. Mr. George W. Smalley has lately given a graphic description of that period, and has described those lovers of freedom as being “well organized;” but he was not wholly in a position to judge, because he and another young man — the John W. LeBarnes already mentioned in connection with the abortive Virginia foray-had chivalrously constituted themselves the body-guard of Wendell Phillips, and were at his side day and night, thus being [241] in a manner on special service. Their part of the work being so well done, they may naturally have supposed the rest to be in an equally satisfactory condition; but as a matter of fact the so-called organization was only the flimsiest shell. It consisted, while nominally under my command, of some forty men, half of these being Germans, half Americans: the Germans were inconveniently full of fight, and the Americans hardly awakened to the possibility of it. After going through the form of posting my men at the numerous doors of the Music Hall, each as it were on picket duty, I almost always found, on visiting them half an hour later, that the Americans had taken comfortable seats inside and were applauding the speakers, as if that were their main duty; while the Germans had perhaps got into some high discussion in the corridors, ending in an exhibition of pistols and in being carried off by the police. Expostulating once with one of my nominal lieutenants, an American, I referred to a certain order as having been disregarded. “Oh,” he said calmly, “that was an order, was it? I had viewed it in the light of a suggestion.” Inasmuch as one or two public meetings had been broken up by gentlemen of property and standing, who at least obeyed the directions of the bully who led them, this attitude of the [242] defenders seemed discouraging. It was too much like that croquet party in “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,” where the game was disturbed by the fact that the attendants who were expected to stoop down and officiate as wickets kept constantly straightening themselves up and walking away.

I spent one night on guard at Phillips's house with his young henchmen, and was struck, then as before, with his high-bred bearing. Always aristocratic in aspect, he was never more so than when walking through the streets of his own Boston with a howling mob about him. It was hard to make him adopt ordinary precautions; he did not care to have the police protect his house, and he would have gone to the scaffold if necessary, I firmly believe, like the typical French marquis in the Reign of Terror, who took a pinch of snuff from his snuff-box while looking on the crowd. This was never more conspicuously the case than at the annual convention of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, just after a meeting on the anniversary of John Brown's execution had been broken up by a mob of very much the same social grade with that which had formerly mobbed Garrison. I did not happen to be present at the John Brown gathering, being in Worcester; but at the larger convention [243] January 24, 1861), held at Tremont Temple, I was again in service with the same body of followers already described to defend the meeting and the speakers, if needful. The body of the hall was solidly filled with grave Abolitionists and knitting women, but round the doors and galleries there was a noisy crowd of young fellows, mostly well dressed and many of them well educated, who contrived, by shouting and by singing uproarious songs, to drown the voices of the speakers, and to compel Phillips himself to edge in his sentences when the singers were out of breath. The favorite burden was,--

Tell John Andrew,
Tell John Andrew,
Tell John Andrew
John Brown's dead;

with more ribald verses following. It was not many months before those who took part in the meeting and those who tried to suppress it were marching southward in uniform, elbow to elbow, singing a very different John Brown song.

There was one moment during this session when it seemed as if an actual hand-to-hand conflict had come. There was a sudden movement at the doors, and a body of men came pressing toward the platform, along each of the aisles; and I know that I, for one, had my [244] hand on my revolver, when the invaders proved to be Mayor Wightman with aldermen and police, on an apparently peaceful mission. He turned and announced, however, that he came to dissolve the meeting by request of the trustees of the building. This being promptly denied by the trustees, who were present, and who compelled him to read their letter, it was shown that he had been requested to come and protect the assembly instead,--and this, with curious changeableness, he proceeded to attempt; at least securing partial order, and stopping the mob from throwing down cushions and furniture from the galleries, which it had already begun to do. The speakers at this session were Phillips, Emerson, Clarke, and myself, and it was on this occasion that Phillips uttered a remark which became historic. Turning from the mob, which made him inaudible, he addressed himself wholly to the reporters, and said: “When I speak to these pencils, I speak to a million of men. . . . My voice is beaten by theirs [those of the mob], but they cannot beat types. All honor to Faust, for he made mobs impossible.” At last the mayor promised the chairman, Edmund Quincy, to protect the evening session with fifty policemen; but instead of this he finally prohibited it, and when I came, expecting to attend it, I [245] found the doors closed by police, while numerous assailants, under their leader, Jonas H. French, were in possession of the outer halls. A portion of these, bent on mischief, soon set off in search of it among the quarters of the negroes near Charles Street, and I followed, wishing to stand by my friends in that way, if it could be done in no other. Lewis Hayden afterwards said that I should not have done this, for the negroes were armed, and would have shot from their houses if molested. But there was only shouting and groaning on the part of the mob, with an occasional breaking of windows; the party attacked kept indoors, and I went home undisturbed.

All these things looked like a coming storm. It was observable that men were beginning to use firearms more, about that time, even in New England. I find that in those days I read military books; took notes on fortifications, strategy, and the principles of attack and defense. Yet all these preliminary events were detached and disconnected; their disturbances were only like the little local whirlwinds that sometimes precede a tornado. There was a lull; and then, on the day when Fort Sumter was fired upon, the storm burst and the whole community awaked. One of the first things thought of by all was the unprotected condition [246] of Washington. It seemed to me that there was one simple measure to be undertaken for its defense, in case of danger; so I went, on the very day when the news reached us, to several leading men in Worcester, who gave me a letter of recommendation to Governor Andrew, that I might ask him to appropriate a sum from his contingent fund, and to let me again summon Montgomery and his men from Kansas; going with them into the mountains of Virginia, there to kindle a back fire of alarm and draw any rebel force away from Washington. Governor Andrew approved the project, but had no contingent fund; Dr. S. G. Howe entered warmly into it, and took me on State Street to raise money, as did Mr. S. G. Ward, afterwards, on Wall Street in New York. One or two thousand dollars were pledged, and I went to Harrisburg to see Governor Curtin, of Pennsylvania. He said that he would give a thousand dollars if John Brown could be brought back to life, and had my plan under consideration, when the rapid progress of events strengthened the government enough to make any such irregular proceeding quite undesirable.

Coming back to Worcester, I was offered the majorship of the Fourth Battalion of Infantry, then hastily called into the United States service; and when I declined this, the position [247] was offered to my old schoolmate, Charles Devens, who, though almost wholly ignorant of military drill, accepted it on condition that our best local drill-master, Captain Goodhue, should go with him as adjutant. My reasons for not accepting were various: first, that I doubted my competency; secondly, that my wife, always an invalid, was just at that time especially dependent on me; and lastly, that it was then wholly uncertain whether the government would take the anti-slavery attitude, without which a military commission would have been for me intolerable, since I might have been ordered to deliver up fugitive slaves to their masters,--as had already happened to several officers. I have often thought what a difference it might have made in both Devens's life and mine if I had accepted this early opportunity. I might have come out a major-general, as he did; but I dare say that the government gained by the exchange a better soldier than it lost. Meanwhile I went on drilling and taking fencing lessons; and a few months later, when the anti-slavery position of the government became clearer, I obtained authority from Governor Andrew to raise a regiment, and had about half the necessary ten companies provided for, in different parts of the State, when one of the sudden stoppages of recruiting occurred, and [248] the whole affair proved abortive. It was understood with Governor Andrew that while I was to raise the regiment, I was to be only second in command, the colonel being Captain Rufus Saxton, U. S. A., an officer with whom, by a curious coincidence, I was later to have the most intimate connection. I had been engaged upon this organization between October, 1861, and February, 1862, and the renewed disappointment was very hard to bear. In several of my printed essays, especially at the end of that called “A letter to a young contributor,” I find traces of this keen regret; and when finally a new nine months regiment, the Fifty-First Massachusetts, was called out, in August, my wife being in somewhat better health, I could keep out of the affair no longer, but opened a recruiting office in Worcester. Being already well known among the young men there, through the athletic clubs and drill clubs, I had little difficulty in getting much more than the required number, giving a strong nucleus for a second company, which was transferred to the command of my friend John S. Baldwin, now of the “Worcester Spy.”

It is almost impossible here to reproduce the emotions of that period of early war enlistments. As I ventured to say in the preface to “Harvard memorial biographies,” “To call it a [249] sense of novelty was nothing; it was as if one had learned to swim in air, and were striking out for some new planet.” All the methods, standards, habits, and aims of ordinary life were reversed, and the intrinsic and traditional charm of the soldier's life was mingled in my own case with the firm faith that the death-knell of slavery itself was being sounded. Meanwhile, the arts of drill and the discipline were to be learned in practice, and the former proved incomparably easier than had been expected; it turned out that there was no department of science in which the elements were so readily acquired. As to the exercise of authority, however, it was different. It was no longer possible to view a command only “in the light of a suggestion.” Moreover, we were dealing with a democratic society, on which a new temporary aristocracy of military rank was to be built, superseding all previous distinction; and the task was not light. Fortunately, I was older than many raw officers,--being thirty-eight, -and had some very young men in my company, who had been confided to me by their parents as to a father. Within my own immediate command I had hardly a trace of trouble; nor did I find the least difficulty in deferring to the general in command of the camp, who was by occupation a working mechanic, and [250] uneducated except in war. But the trouble was that he was on duty only by day, returning to his home every night, during which period the regiment became a heterogeneous mass of men, as yet little trained either to command or to obey. Discipline was not easy, especially in the case of some newly arrived company, perhaps in a high state of whiskey; and we had to learn to bear and forbear. I know that in the effort to enforce order I fell rapidly out of popularity, usually for my merits; and then inexplicably fell into it again, sometimes through acts of negligence. But nobody denied that my own company was at least in good condition, and from the moment we had a permanent colonel, and an admirable one,--afterwards General A. B. R. Sprague, since mayor of Worcester,--all went as it should. I was only a month with the regiment, but the experience was simply invaluable. Every man is placed at the greatest disadvantage in a higher military command, unless he has previously sown his wild oats, as it were, in a lower; making his mistakes, suffering for them, and learning how to approach his duty rightly.

There came into vogue about that time a “nonsense verse,” so called, bearing upon my humble self, and vivacious enough to be widely quoted in the newspapers. It was composed, I [251] believe, by Mrs. Sivret, of Boston, and ran as follows :

There was a young curate of Worcester
Who could have a command if he'd choose ter,
But he said each recruit
Must be blacker than soot,
Or else he'd go preach where he used ter.

As a matter of fact it came no nearer the truth than the famous definition of a crab by Cuvier's pupil, since I had never been a curate, had already left the pulpit for literature before the war, and was so far from stipulating for a colored regiment that I had just been commissioned in a white one; nevertheless the hit was palpable, and deserved its popularity. I had formed even in a short time a strong attachment to my own company, regiment, and regimental commander,--and one day, when the governor of Rhode Island had made his first abortive suggestion of a black regiment, I had notified my young lieutenants, John Goodell and Luther Bigelow, that such an enterprise would be the only thing likely to take me from them. A few days after, as we sat at dinner in the Worcester barracks, I opened a letter from Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton, military commander of the Department of the South, saying that he had at last received authority to recruit a regiment of freed slaves, and wished me to be its colonel. It was an offer that took [252] my breath away, and fulfilled the dream of a lifetime. This was long before Massachusetts took steps in the same direction; Kansas was, however, enlisting a regiment of free negroes, and three similar regiments, formed by the Confederates in Louisiana, had been turned into Union troops by General Butler; but the first regiment of emancipated slaves as such had yet to be mustered in. There remained but one doubt: would it really be a regiment, or a mere plantation guard in uniform? This doubt could be determined only on the spot; so I got a furlough, went to South Carolina to inspect the situation, and saw promptly that General Saxton was in earnest, and that I could safely leave all and follow him.

The whole condition of affairs at what was to be for me the seat of war was then most peculiar. General Saxton, who had been an Abolitionist even at West Point, was discharging the semi-civil function of military governor. Freed slaves by thousands, men, women, and children, had been collected on the Sea Islands of South Carolina, and were being rationed, employed, and taught under the direction of missionaries, agents, and teachers from the North; these being sometimes admirable, but sometimes incompetent, tyrannical, or fanatical. Between these and the troops there existed a constant [253] jealousy, and General Saxton, in a position requiring superhuman patience and tact, was obliged to mediate between the two parties. Major-General Hunter, at the head of the department, had been the very first to arm the blacks (in May, 1862), and had adhered, after his fashion, to that policy,--my regiment being a revival of that early experiment; but some of his staff were bitterly opposed to any such enlistment, and thwarted him as soon as his back was turned,--a thing not difficult, as he was indolent, forgetful, changeable, and easily accessible to flattery. While, therefore, my regiment had a nominal support, it was constantly hindered: there were difficulties as to uniforms, medicines, and guns; it was often necessary to struggle to obtain more than a Cinderella's portion. This had the farther disadvantage that it tempted us, perhaps, to be sometimes needlessly suspicious; nor was our beloved General Saxton always free from oversensitiveness. Incidentally, also, we found that in all connection with the regular army we must come in for our share of its internal feuds; and we discovered that old West Point grudges were sometimes being wreaked on our unoffending heads, General Saxton's enemies occasionally striking at him through us. He, on the other hand, distrusted the intentions of [254] certain officers in regard to us, feared lest we should be sacrificed under any orders but his, and sometimes held us back from service when he might better have risked us. All these drawbacks were trifles, however, beside the pleasure of being fairly in military harness, and of bringing into the public service the warlike material which most persons regarded with doubt.

There was also a happiness in dealing with an eminently trustful and affectionate race, and seeing the tonic effect of camp discipline upon the blacks. In this respect there was an obvious difference between them and the whites. Few white soldiers enjoyed serving in the ranks, for itself; they accepted it for the sake of their country, or because others did, or from the hope of promotion, but there was nevertheless a secret feeling in most minds that it was a step down; no person of democratic rearing really enjoys being under the orders of those who have hitherto been his equals. The negroes, on the other hand, who had been ordered about all their lives, felt it a step upward to be in uniform, to have rights as well as duties; their ready imitativeness and love of rhythm made the drill and manual exercises easy for them; and they rejoiced in the dignity of guard and outpost duty, which they did to perfection. It is, however, a great mistake to [255] suppose that slavery, as such, was altogether a good preparation for military life; and the officers who copied the methods of plantation overseers proved failures. It was necessary to keep constantly before the men that they were much more than slaves, to appeal to their pride as soldiers, to win their affection also, and then to exercise absolute justice; and the officer who did all this could wind them round his finger. Through such influences it was needful to teach them, among other things, to obey the non-commissioned officers of their own color, and this they at first found hard. “I don't want him to play de white man ober me,” was a frequent remark in such cases, and the objection had to be patiently met by explaining that color had nothing to do with it; that they obeyed their sergeants only as those sergeants obeyed their captains, or the captains yielded to me, or I took my orders from the general. In a little while this became perfectly clear to their minds, and they were proud, not offended, when sent on some expedition under a sergeant of their own race. This was made easier by the fact that we had among the non — commissioned officers much admirable material; and the color-sergeant, Prince Rivers, was not only a man of distinguished appearance, but superior in the power of command to half of the white [256] officers in the regiment. He had previously been the most conspicuous private coachman in Charleston; there had been a reward of one thousand dollars offered for him when he escaped from slavery; and once, when visiting New York as General Hunter's orderly, he had been mobbed in the street for wearing the United States uniform, and had defended himself successfully against half a dozen men, taking his position in a doorway. After the war he was appointed a justice of the peace in South Carolina.

It was a fortunate thing for both General Saxton and myself that each of us had been satisfied in advance of the essential courage of the blacks. In my case this was the result of a little experience, previously related, at the Bums riot,--when a negro stepped into the Court-House door before me; in Saxton's case it came from his participation in the war between the United States troops and the Florida Seminoles, when he had observed, having both blacks and Indians to fight against, that the negroes would often stand fire when the Indians would run away. We were thus saved from all solicitude such as beset for a time the mind of that young hero, Colonel Robert Shaw, when he took the field, six months later, with his Massachusetts colored regiment. When I [257] rode over to his camp to welcome him, on his first arrival, he said that while I had shown that negro troops were effective in bush-fighting, it had yet to be determined how they would fight in line of battle; and I expressing no doubt on this point, he suggested that it would always be possible to put another line of soldiers behind a black regiment, so as to present equal danger in either direction. I was amazed, for I never should have dreamed of being tempted to such a step; and he learned a lesson of more confidence when his men followed him upon the parapets of Fort Wagner, after a white regiment, in a previous assault, had lain down and refused to face the terrific fire from that almost impregnable fort.

The colored soldiers caused me, and I think caused their officers generally, no disappointment whatever in respect to courage or conduct. As General Saxton wrote to a Northern committee of inquiry as to the freed blacks, they were “intensely human.” They were certainly more docile than white soldiers, more affectionate, and more impulsive; they probably varied more under different officers and were less individually self-reliant, but were, on the other hand, under good guidance, more eager and impetuous than whites. They had also, in the case of my regiment, a valuable [258] knowledge of the country. They were very gregarious, and liked to march together even on a fatigue party, singing as they marched, whereas white soldiers on such service were commonly to be seen tramping along singly. In regard to courage, there was not, I suspect, much difference. Most men have the ordinary share of that attribute; comparatively few are adventurous; the commander of any regiment, white or black, soon knew perfectly well just which of his men would be likely to volunteer for a forlorn hope. Whether the better education and social position of white soldiers brought them more under the influence of what Sir Philip Sidney calls “the great appetites of honor” I cannot say; this being, it will be remembered, Sidney's reason for expecting more courage from officers than from enlisted men. It is quite certain, on the other hand, that any want of such qualities was more than balanced by the fact that the black soldiers were fighting for their freedom and that of their families, this being the most potent of all motives. They used often to point out, in conversation, that they had really far more at stake than their officers had, since, if the Confederates conquered, or even if it were a drawn game, the negroes would all relapse into slavery, while their white officers would go back [259] to the North and live much as before. This solicitude was at the foundation of all their enthusiasm; and besides this there was their religious feeling, which was genuine and ardent, making them almost fatalists in action, and giving their very amusements that half-pious, half-dramatic character which filled the camp every evening with those stirring songs that I was perhaps the first person to put in print, and that have reached so many hearts when sung by the Hampton singers and others. Riding towards the camp, just after dark, I could hear, when within a half-mile or thereabouts, the chorus of the song and the rhythmical clapping of hands; and as I drew nearer, the gleam of the camp-fires on the dusky faces made the whole scene look more like an encampment of Bedouin Arabs than like anything on the Atlantic shores.

Before I had joined the regiment, detachments of recruits had been sent down the coast of South Carolina and Georgia to destroy saltworks and bring away lumber; and after it had grown to fuller size, there occurred several expeditions into the interior, under my command, with or without naval escort. We went by ourselves up the St. Mary's River, where the men were for the first time actively under fire, and acquitted themselves well. The river [260] itself was regarded by naval officers as the most dangerous in that region, from its great rapidity, its sudden turns, and the opportunity of attack given by the projecting bluffs. To this day I have never understood why our return was not cut off by the enemy's felling trees, which could have been done easily at several points. We were on a “double-ender,” --a steamer built for a ferry-boat, and afterwards protected by iron plates. There was often no way of passing a sharp curve, in descending, except by running one end ashore and letting the swift current swing the other extremity round, after which we steamed downwards, the engine being reversed, till the process was repeated. At these points the enemy always mustered in numbers, and sometimes tried to board the vessel, besides pouring volleys on our men, who at such times were kept below, only shooting from the windows. The captain of my boat was shot and killed, and I shall never forget the strange sensation when I drew his lifeless form into the pilot-house which he had rashly quitted. It was the first dead body I had ever handled and carried in my arms, and the sudden change from full and vigorous life made an impression that no later experience surpassed.

A more important enterprise was the recapture [261] of Jacksonville, Florida, which had been held by the Union troops, and then deserted; it was the only position that had been held on the mainland in the Department of the South, and was reoccupied (March, 1863) by two black regiments under my command, with the aid of a naval gunboat under Captain (afterwards Admiral) Charles Steedman, U. S. N. We took a large supply of uniforms, equipments, and extra rations, with orders, when once Jacksonville was secured, to hand it over to white troops that were to be sent under Colonel John D. Rust; we meanwhile pressing on up the river to Magnolia, where there were large unoccupied buildings. These we were to employ as barracks, and as a basis for recruiting stations yet farther inland. It was of this expedition that President Lincoln wrote to General Hunter (April I, 1863): “I am glad to see the account of your colored force at Jacksonville. I see the enemy are driving at them fiercely, as is to be expected. It is important to the enemy that such a force shall not take shape and grow and thrive in the South, and in precisely the same proportion it is important to us that it shall.” Our part was faithfully carried through, and no disaster occurred, though I had to defend the town with a force so small that every resource had to be taxed to mislead [262] the enemy into thinking us far more numerous than we were; this so far succeeding that General Finnegan-afterwards the victor at Olustee — quadrupled our real numbers in his reports. We fortified the approaches to the town, drove back the enemy's outposts, and made reconnoissances into the interior; and Colonel Rust with his white troops had actually appeared, when General Hunter, with one of his impulsive changes of purpose, altered his whole plan, and decided to abandon Jacksonville.

Once again, after the arrival of General Gillmore, we were sent up a Southern river. A night was chosen when the moon set late, so that we could reach our objective point a little before daybreak; thus concealing our approach, and giving us the whole day to work in. It was needed on the South Edisto, for we found across a bend of the river a solid structure of palings which it took the period of a whole tide to remove, and which, had not my lieutenant-colonel (C. T. Trowbridge) been an engineer officer, could not have been displaced at all. Even then only two out of our three small steamers could ascend the shallow stream; and of these, one soon grounded in the mud, and the other was disabled by a shore battery. The expedition — which should never have been sent [263] without more accurate local reconnoissances — failed of its nominal end, which was the destruction of a railway bridge utterly beyond our reach. My own immediate object, which was recruiting, was accomplished, but at the final cost of health and subsequent military opportunities. As I stood on the deck, while we were in action with a shore battery, I felt a sudden blow in the side, doubling me up as if a Sullivan or a Fitzsimmons had struck me. My clothes were not torn, but very soon a large purple spot, called “ecchymosis” by the surgeons, covered the whole side, and for weeks I was confined to bed. I had supposed it to have been produced by the wind of a ball, but the surgeons declared that there could be no ecchymosis without actual contact, and that I must have been grazed by a grapeshot or an exploded shell. This was to have found myself only half an inch from death, yet, in Mercutio's phrase, it was enough. I was long in hospital, my life being saved from the perils of peritonitis, I was told, by the fact that I had never used whiskey. I came North on a furlough in 1863; went back too soon, as men often did; found the regiment subdivided and demoralized; and having to overwork in bringing it into shape, with the effects of malaria added, I had ultimately to resign in the autumn of 1864, [264] after two years service, foregoing all hopes of further military experience. Up to this time I had stood the influence of a malarial climate better than most of my officers, and had received from the major, a somewhat frank and outspoken personage, the assurance that I was “tougher than a biled owl.”

During a part of my invalidism I was sheltered — together with my surgeon, who was also ill — by my friend Mrs. Jean M. Lander, widow of the celebrated General Lander, and well known in earlier days on the dramatic stage; a woman much respected and beloved by all who knew her fine qualities. She had tried to establish hospitals, but had always been met by the somewhat whimsical opposition of Miss Dorothea L. Dix, the national superintendent of nurses, a lady who had something of the habitual despotism of the saints, and who had somewhat exasperated the soldiers by making anything like youth or good looks an absolute bar to hospital employment; the soldiers naturally reasoning that it assisted recovery to have pleasant faces to look upon. One of Miss Dix's circulars read thus: “No woman under thirty years need apply to serve in government hospitals. All nurses are required to be very plain-looking women. Their dresses must be brown or black, with no bows, no curls or jewelry, [265] and no hoopskirts.” Undaunted by this well-meant prohibition, Mrs. Lander, who was then a little more than thirty, but irreclaimably good looking, came down to Beaufort, South Carolina, accompanied by her mother, in the hope of establishing a hospital there. A sudden influx of wounded men gave General Saxton, erelong, the opportunity of granting her wish, and she entered with immense energy into her new task. She had on her hands some fifty invalid soldiers, and took for their use an empty building, which had yet to be fitted up, warmed, and properly furnished; even the requisite beds were difficult to obtain. She would come in abruptly some morning and say to Dr. Rogers and myself, “Gentlemen, to-day I must remove every bedstead in this house to the hospital building. You have blankets?” We could only meekly respond that we had blankets, and that the floor was wide. Twenty-four hours after, it would be, “Gentlemen, this day the cooking-stove goes! Your servants can cook by the open fire?” Oh yes, our servants could easily manage that, we replied, and accepted the inadequate results. One day there came a rap at the old-fashioned door-knocker, and Mrs. Lander, passing swiftly through the hall, flung the portal open regally, as if it were in Macbeth's palace. We heard a slender voice explaining [266] that the visitor was the Reverend Mr. So-and-So from New York, just arrived by steamer. “Mr. So-and-so?” said our prima donna. “Delighted to see you, sir! Can you dress wounds?” --this in Siddons tones. The poor man started back, and said apologetically, “Spiritual wounds, madam!” “No time for that, sir, now,--no time for that; there are still thirty men in yonder hospital with no beds to lie on; we must secure the common comforts first.” Timidly explaining that he had come from the North to Beaufort for his health, and that he had been recommended to her for “a comfortable lodging,” the pallid youth withdrew. It was no fault of his that he was forlorn and useless and decidedly in the way at an army station; but I could not help wondering if, after his return, he would preach a sermon on the obvious deference due to man as the military sex, and on the extreme uselessness of women in time of war.

I have given few details as to my way of living in South Carolina and Florida, because much of it was described a few years after in a volume called “Army life in a black regiment,” which was translated into French by Madame de Gasparin in 1884. There was plenty that was picturesque about this experience, and there were some things that were dangerous; we all fought, for instance, with [267] ropes around our necks, the Confederate authorities having denied to officers of colored regiments the usual privileges, if taken prisoners, and having required them to be treated as felons. Personally, I never believed that they would execute this threat, and so far as we were concerned they had no opportunity; but the prospect of hanging was not a pleasant thing even if kept in the background, nor was it agreeable to our friends at home. In other respects my life in the army had been enjoyable; but it had been, after all, one mainly of outpost and guerrilla duty, and I had shared in none of the greater campaigns of the war. I had once received from an officer, then high in influence, what was equivalent to an offer of promotion, if I would only write a letter to Senator Sumner asking for it; but this I had declined to do. As my promotion to a colonelcy had come unsought, so, I preferred, should any higher commission. For nominal rank I cared little, and I should have been unwilling to leave my regiment; but I should have liked to see great battles and to fill out my experience through all the grades, if it had been possible. I came nearest to this larger experience in the case of the aimless but bloody engagement of Olustee, where I should have commanded a brigade had not my regiment been ordered [268] back, even after being actually embarked for Florida.

I never felt at all sure how far up in the service I might have climbed, even under the most favorable circumstances; for that was always a hard thing to predict of any one, in those days, even apart from the frequent occurrences of favoritism and injustice. I saw around me men who had attained a much higher position than mine without a greater outfit, perhaps, of brains or energy; but whether I could have shown that wide grasp, that ready military instinct, which belong to the natural leader of large forces, I can never know; and I am afraid that I might always have been a little too careful of my men. Certainly, I should have been absolutely incapable of that unsparing and almost merciless sacrifice of them which made the reputation of some very eminent officers; while for the mere discharge of ordinary duty I might have been as good as my neighbors. After all, it must be admitted that marked military talent is a special gift, and a man who has not had the opportunity can no more tell whether he would have displayed that faculty than a man who has never learned chess can tell whether he might or might not have developed into a champion player. For the final result, my [269] sagacious elder brother felt content, he told me, that I should leave the army with the rank of colonel only. He said, with his accustomed keen philosophy, “A man may go through his later life quite respectably under the title of colonel, but that of general is too much for a civilian to bear up under, and I am glad you stopped short of it.” For myself, I felt that to have commanded, with fair credit, the first slave-regiment in the Civil War was well worth one man's life or health; and I lived to see nearly two hundred thousand (178,975) black soldiers marching in that column where the bayonets of the First South Carolina had once gleamed alone.

When I left the service, two years of army life, with small access to books, had so far checked the desire for active literary pursuits, on my part, that I should actually have been content not to return to them. I should have liked better to do something that involved the charge and government of men, as for instance in the position of agent of a large mill or a railway enterprise. This mood of mind was really identical with that which led some volunteer officers to enter the regular army, and others to undertake cotton-raising at the South. In few cases did this impulse last long; a regular army career in time of peace usually proving [270] unattractive, as did also the monotony of the plantation. In my own case this unsettled feeling soon passed away, and the old love of letters rapidly revived;--the editing of the “Harvard memorial biographies” affording an easy transition, as was also the work of translating the noble writings of Epictetus, of whom I could think with satisfaction that he was himself a slave, and was the favorite author of Toussaint L'Ouverture, the black military leader. Moreover, my wife had removed for health's sake to Newport, Rhode Island, and I found ready distraction in the new friendships and social life of that attractive place of residence. Of this portion of my life I have already given some glimpse in the novel called “Malbone” and in the collection of sketches called “Oldport days,” so that I will not dwell further upon it here.

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