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One of my favorite places to vacation is in the South Carolina lowcountry area, more specifically, in Beaufort. This little sleepy town of 11,000 residents is picturesque and harkens back to antebellum days.
Beaufort, founded in 1712, is perfectly situated within an hour’s driving distance of Savannah or Charleston. If you visit Beaufort you must stay at the Rhett House Inn.
The Inn is a 17 room classically restored Southern Antebellum structure. They offer everything you’d expect from a first-class bed-and-breakfast.
The Rhett House Inn is a AAA four-diamond BnB offering complimentary services like a full Southern breakfast, afternoon tea and pastries, evening hors d’oeuvres, nightly homemade desserts and unlimited use of bicycles, beach chairs and beach towels.
Here are some pictures of the Rhett House Inn from a recent stay.
The story of how the first black Union troops were officially approved of by the War Department and then finally raised and mustered in the field is very fascinating. We recently set the record straight on just what infantry was the first black Union men to serve (hint: it was NOT the 54th Massachusetts). Read more.
Another piece to the puzzle is understanding what took place in the Spring of 1862 regarding the interest on the part of some Union commanders in raising up blacks troops to serve.
In early 1862 several Union generals were interested in raising black troops to fight for the North. However, at the time, the official government policy forbid using black troops.
Major General David Hunter had petitioned the War Department in April 1862 to be able to raise 50,000 black troops to reinforce the Department of the South. Ironically, Hunter was one of the few abolitionists among senior level Union commanders in early 1862.
Not having formal permission yet, in May 1862, General Hunter dispatched white Union troops to basically round up contraband men ages 18-45 in the occupied Sea Islands area (see map). Thousands of black men were organized into units but the incident raised a tremendous outcry among the blacks who did not have an interest in serving. Hunter let those who did not want to serve go home. The rest remained in unofficial service for the Union, mostly stationed at Hilton Head.
Note: A letter the Civil War Gazette has recently acquired gives some interesting insight into the status of the black soldier prior to the war department’s official approval of raising black troops. Click here to read the full letter by Pvt W.H.H. Miles, Company E, 100th Pennsylvania; letter written May 12th, 1862.
As the summer of 1862 wore on the outcry from the grassroots reached the level of Congressional leadership. Hunter’s unofficial and non-sanctioned activities were exposed at the highest levels of the War Department and of Congress. Someone had to pay for not operating according to official War Department policy and so Hunter was targeted. He was forced to disband his Sea Island units on August 9th. Strangely, one Company did not receive the order to disband and so they remained in service at St. Simon’s Island on the Georgia Coast.
It would be just eleven days later (August 20) when Robert Smalls and Mansfield French (from Beaufort, South Carolina) would have an audience with Secretary Stanton and President Lincoln in which a formal plea would be made to allow for blacks to fight with the formal blessing of the War Department. The request was granted five days later (August 25th), and Sea Island contraband-blacks would be the foundation for the start of the first official Union blacks troops; otherwise known as the 1st South Carolina Infantry. See our previous post to read about the forming of the 1st South Carolina.
For more information and research
Books to read:
Report of Col. T. W. Higginson, First South Carolina Infantry (Union).*
ON BOARD STEAMER BEN DE FORD,
February 1, 1863.
GENERAL: I have the honor to report the safe return of the expedition under my command, consisting of 462 officers and men of the First Regiment South Carolina Volunteers, who left Beaufort on January 23, on board the steamers John Adams, Planter, and Ben De Ford:
The expedition has carried the regimental flag and the President’s proclamation far into the interior of Georgia and Florida. The men have been repeatedly under fire; have had infantry, cavalry, and even artillery arrayed against them, and have in every instance come off not only with unblemished honor, but with undisputed triumph.
At Township, Fla. a detachment of the expedition fought a cavalry company which met it unexpectedly on a midnight march through pine woods and which completely surrounded us. They were beaten off, with a loss on our part of 1 man killed and 7 wounded, while the opposing party admits 12 men killed, including Lieutenant Jones, in command of the company, besides many wounded. So complete was our victory that the enemy scattered and hid in the woods all night, not venturing back to his camp, which was 6 miles distant, until noon next day, a fact which was unfortunately unknown until too late to follow up our advantage. Had I listened to the urgent appeals of my men and pursued the fleeing enemy we could have destroyed his camp; but in view of the darkness, his uncertain numbers, and swifter motions, with your injunctions of caution, I judged it better to rest satisfied with the victory already gained.
On another occasion a detachment of about 250 men, on board the John Adams, fought its way 40 miles up and down a river regarded by the naval commanders as the most dangerous in the department — the Saint Mary’s –a river left untraversed by our gunboats for many months, as it requires a boat built like the John Adams to ascend it successfully. The stream is narrow, swift, winding and bordered at many places with high bluffs, which blazed with rifle-shots. With our glasses, as we approached these points, we could see mounted men by the hundred galloping through the woods from point to point to await us, and though fearful of our shot and shell, they were so daring against musketry that one rebel actually sprang from the shore upon the large boat which was towed at our stern, where he was shot down by one of my sergeants. We could see our shells scatter the rebels as they fell among them, and some terrible execution must have been done, but not a man of this regiment was killed or wounded, though the steamer is covered with bullet-marks, one of which shows where our brave Captain Clifton, commander of the vessel, fell dead beside his own pilot-house, shot through the brain by a Minie ball. Major Strong, who stood beside him, escaped as if by magic, both of them being unnecessarily exposed without my knowledge.
The secret of our safety was in keeping the regiment below, except the gunners; but this required the utmost energy of the officers, as the men were wild to come on deck, and even implored to be landed on shore and charge on the enemy.
Nobody knows anything about these men who has not seen them in battle. I find that I myself knew nothing. There is a fiery energy about them beyond anything of which I have ever read, except it be the French Zouaves. It requires the strictest discipline to hold them in hand. During our first attack on the river before I had got them all penned below they crowded at the open ends of the steamer loading and firing with inconceivable rapidity, and shouting to each other, “Never give it up.” When collected into the hold they actually fought each other for places at the few port-holes from which they could fire on the enemy. Meanwhile the black gunners, admirably trained by Lieutenants Stockdale and O’Neil, both being accomplished artillerists, and Mr. Heron, of the gunboat, did their duty without the slightest protection and with great coolness amid a storm of shot.
This river expedition was not undertaken in mere bravado. Captain Sears, U. S. Army, the contractor of Fort Clinch had urged upon the War Department to endeavor to obtain a large supply of valuable bricks, said to remain at the brick-yards, 30 miles up the Saint Mary’s, from which Fort Clinch was originally supplied. The War Department had referred the matter to Colonel Hawley. who approved my offer to undertake the enterprise. Apart from this, it was the desire of Lieutenant Hughes, U. S. Navy commanding U. S. steamer Mohawk, now lying at Fernandina, to obtain information regarding a rebel steamer, the Berosa, said to be lying still farther up the river, awaiting opportunity to run the blockade. Both objects were accomplished; I brought away all the bricks and ascertained the Berosa to be worthless.
I have the honor to states that I have on board the Ben De Ford 250 bars of the best new railroad iron, valued at $5,000, and much needed in this department This was obtained on Saint Simon’s and Jekyl’s Islands, Georgia, from abandoned rebel forts, a portion of it having been previously blown up and collected by Captain Steedman, of the Paul Jones. I have also eight large sticks of valuable yellow-pine lumber, said to be worth $700, which came from Saint Mary’s, Ga. There is also a quantity of rice, resin, cordage, oars, and other small matters suitable for army purposes. On board the John Adams there is a flock of 25 sheep from Woodstock, Fla.
I have turned over to Captain Sears about 40,000 large-sized bricks, valued at about $1,000, in view of the present high freights. I have also turned over to Judge Latta, civil provost-marshal at Fernandina, 4 horses, 4 steers, and a quantity of agricultural implements, suitable for Mr. Helper’s operations at that location.
I have seen with my own eyes, and left behind for want of transportation (and because brick was considered even more valuable), enough of the choicest Southern lumber to load steamers like the Ben De Ford–an amount estimated at more than 1,000,000 feet, and probably worth at Hilton Head $80,000. I also left behind, from choice, valuable furniture by the houseful — pianos, china, &c., all packed for transportation, as it was sent inland for safe-keeping. Not only were my officers and men forbidden to take any of these things for private use, but nothing was taken for public use save articles strictly contraband of war. No wanton destruction was permitted, nor were any buildings burned unless in retaliation for being fired upon, according to the usages of war. Of course no personal outrage was permitted or desired.
At Woodstock I took 6 male prisoners, whom I brought down the river as hostages, intending to land part of them before reaching Fer- nandina and return them on parole, but in view of the previous attack made upon us from the banks this would have seemed an absurd stretch of magnanimity, and by the advice of Colonel Hawley I have brought them for your disposal.
At the same place we obtained a cannon and a flag, which I respectfully ask for the regiment to retain. We obtained also some trophies of a different description from a slave-jail, which I shall offer for your personal acceptance — three sets of stocks, of different structure, the chains and staples used for confining prisoners to the door, and the key of the building. They furnish good illustrations of the infernal barbarism against which we contend.
We returned at the appointed time, although there are many other objects which I wish to effect, and our rations are not nearly exhausted; but the Ben De Ford is crowded with freight and the ammunition of the John Adams is running low. Captain Hallett has been devoted to our interests, as was also, until his lamented death, the brave Captain Clifton.
Of the Planter I have hitherto said nothing, as her worn-out machinery would have made her perfectly valueless but for the laborious efforts of Captain Eldridge and her engineer, Mr. Barger, aided by the unconquerable energy of Captain Trowbridge, of Company A, who had the command on board. Thanks to this they were enabled during our absence up the Saint May’s to pay attention to the salt-works along the coast.
Finding that the works at King’s Bay, formerly destroyed by this regiment, had never been rebuilt, they proceeded 5 miles up Crooked River, where salt-works were seen. Captain Trowbridge, with Captain Rogers’ company (F) and 30 men, then marched 2 miles across a marsh, drawing a boat with them, then sailed up a creek and destroyed the works. There were 22 large boilers, 2 store-houses, a large quantity of salt, 2 canoes, with barrels; vats, and all things appertaining.
I desire to make honorable mention not only of the above officers but of Major Strong, Captain James, Company B, Captain Randolph, Company C, Captain Metcalf, Company G and Captain Dolly, Company H. Indeed, every officer did himself credit so far as he had opportunity, while the cheerfulness and enthusiasm of the men made it a pleasure to command them.
We found no large number of slaves anywhere; yet we brought away several whole families, and obtained by this means the most valuable information. I was interested to observe that the news of the President’s proclamation produced a marked effect upon them, and in one case it was of the greatest service to us in securing the hearty aid of a guide, who was timid and distrustful until he heard that he was legally free, after which he aided us gladly and came away with us.
My thanks are due for advice and information to Captain Steedman, U. S. Navy, of the steamer Paul Jones; to Acting Master Moses, U. S. Navy, of the bark Fernandina; to Acting Lieutenant Budd, U. S. Navy of the steamer Potomska, for information and counsel, and especially to Lieutenant-Commander Hughes. U. S. Navy, of the steamer Mohawk, for 20 tons of coal, without which we could not have gone up the river.
I may state, in conclusion, that I obtained much valuable information, not necessary to make public, in regard to the location of supplies of lumber, iron, rice, resin, turpentine, and cotton, and it would afford the officers and men of this regiment great pleasure to be constantly employed in obtaining these supplies for the Government from rebel sources; but they would like still better to be permitted to occupy some advanced point in the interior with a steamer or two like the John Adams and an adequate supply of ammunition. We could obtain to a great extent our own provisions, could rapidly enlarge our numbers, and could have Information in advance of every movement against us. A chain of such posts would completely alter the whole aspect of the war in the sea-board slave States, and would accomplish what no accumulation of Northern regiments can so easily effect.
No officer in this regiment now doubts that the key to the successful prosecution of this war lies in the unlimited employment of black troops. Their superiority lies simply in the fact that they know the country while white troops do not, and, moreover, that they have of temperament, position, and motive which belong to them alone. Instead of leaving their homes and families to fight they are fighting for their homes and families, and they show the resolution and the sagacity which a personal purpose gives. It would have been madness to attempt, with the bravest white troops what I have successfully accomplished with black ones. Everything, even to the piloting of the vessels end the selection of the proper points for cannonading, was done by my own soldiers. Indeed, the real conductor of the whole expedition up the Saint Mary’s was Corpl. Robert Sutton, of Company G, formerly a slave upon the Saint Mary’s River, a man of extraordinary qualities, who needs nothing but a knowledge of the alphabet to entitle him to the most signal promotion. In every instance when I followed his advice the predicted result followed, and I never departed from it, however slightly without finding reason for subsequent regret.
I have the honor to be, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
T. W. HIGGINSON,
Colonel, Comdg. First Regiment South Carolina Volunteers.
Military Governor, &c.
*In February 1864, the designation of this regiment was changed to the “Thirty-third United States Colored Infantry.”
SOURCE: United States War Department. THE WAR OF THE REBELLION: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Volume 14. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.
“If the cotton states shall become satisfied that they can do better out of the Union than in it, we insist on letting them go in peace . . . . We hope never to live in a Republic whereof one section is pinned to another by bayonets.”
- Horace Greeley, editorial, December 17, 1860, The New York Tribune
South Carolina became the first southern state to secede three days later.
The bloody conflict between brothers, is closed, and “we come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” The South had $2,000,000,000 invested in Slaves. It was very natural thatthey should desire to protect, and not lose this amount of property. Their action in this effort, resulted in War. There was no desire to dissolve the Union, but to protect this property. The issue was made and it is decided.
- Letter from an Alabama Planter (Sterling Cockrill), to President Andrew Johnson, September 18, 1865
Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Civil War Quotations, page 51.
[Port Royal Island, S.C. African Americans preparing cotton for the gin on Smith's plantation].
O’Sullivan, Timothy H., 1840-1882, photographer.
The Library of Congress
This picture is of several slaves probably spanning three generations. Notice the two oldest women are on the extreme left and right. Look at the humbleness of their personal posture. The seated man (left) with cane and cigar has an interesting expression. He does not seem bowed or humbled. The man seated to his right, an older man, does seem humbled by life’s experiences. The two children, the girl and boy must be between ages seven and nine. Full of life, vigor, unbroken, still hopeful. The younger female, probably the mother of the children stands left. She seems resolved to her life as a slave but has the look of hope in her face that maybe her children will not always be slaves.
Let’s go back to the old woman on the far left. That is Harriet Tubman. Tubman was born in 1820 and died in 1913. She was one of the most powerful and influential characters in all of the Civil War; yet she was black, an escaped slave, and a woman! She had more influence and power than 99% of the formally recognized power-elites during her lifetime.
Tubman was a runaway slave from Maryland who became famously known for helping perhaps as many as 300 slaves escape to freedom during the Civil War era via the Underground Railroad. She was known as ‘Moses’ to the slave community. She endured great personal risk and injury several times as she led escapes to the North. There was even a bounty on her head for her capture in the tens of thousands of dollars. She also suffered all her life from an early childhood accident which resulted in her sporadically losing awareness – sort of blanking out for a few seconds.
She also worked as a spy for the Federal government and even led a military raid near Charleston South Carolina during the war. Tubman is an example of how the simple and the weak confound the wise and the strong.
Learn more about Harriet Tubman.
is awarded five cannisters
Robert Smalls (1839 – 1915) is a little known figure outside of South Carolina but he deserves to be known by everyone, especially by those who love great stories.
I stumbled upon the story of Smalls’s infamous escape as a slave during the American Civil War (May 1862) by accident. Several years later after thorough ongoing research has rewarded my diligence with finding this book by Billingsley.
The author takes a sociological approach throughout making it for an interesting angle to consider the life and accomplishments of Smalls.
There are several other fine books available about Robert Smalls – mostly out of print – so this edition is updated, accurate, fairly comprehensive and a rich source for understanding Smalls.
Well-documented and carefully researched.
Lt. David W. Poak of the 30th Illinois Volunteer Infantry was at Forts Henry and Donaldson, Corinth, Vicksburg, Atlanta Campaign ,March to the Sea, and the Carolina Campaign . He was awarded a 17th Corps Medal of Honor for the Battle of Atlanta when he was conspicuous in Rallying his men, advancing to the front, encouraging his men,firing muskets rapidly at the enemy, and by his service and gallant example materially assisting in bringing his regiment again into action.
30th Illinois Infantry
HdQrs 1st Brig 3rd Div 17th A.C.
It has been so long since I have written to you that I presume you are getting quite anxious to know something about me. Such being the case I have concluded to pen you a short note and try and send it off with a Refugee train that leaves for Wilmington early tomorrow morning. This is the Forty Forth day that we have been marching and Gen. Sherman says that we have not reached our true base yet so I suppose we have more marching before us yet. We crossed the Cape Fear river last night at Fayetteville and are now encamped about three miles from the river. We expect to move tomorrow morning in the direction of Goldsboro. May have a fight there. We have had a pretty hard Campaign.A good of skirmishing . No hard fighting. The weather was as a general thing very fine. Several boats have been up from Wilmington. They brought up some papers,no letters. I have been well all the time and have enjoyed the trip very much. I was up all night last night crossing the river and feel a little sleepy tonight. I have not time to write more . Remember me to any enquiring friend,
I remain Your brother,
Lt. David W. Poak of the 30th Illinois Volunteer Infantry was at Forts Henry and Donaldson, Corinth, Vicksburg, Atlanta Campaign , March to the Sea, and the Carolina Campaign . He was awarded a 17th Corps Medal of Honor for the Battle of Atlanta when he was conspicuous in Rallying his men, advancing to the front, encouraging his men,firing muskets rapidly at the enemy, and by his service and gallant example materially assisting in bringing his regiment again into action.
HdQrs 30th Ill Infy
On Board Str Gladiater
Dear Sister Sadie,
I take my pen this evening to drop you a few hasty lines. I can report to you my safe return from the expedition to Meridian under Gen. Sherman. We were gone just one month. Had some very hard marching and short rations. We returned to Vicksburg on the 3rd and are now on our way to Illinois . We expect to arrive at Cairo tonight or early tomorrow morning. I do not know whether I will be in Penn this time or not . It will depend a good deal on circumstances. The orderly of Co.”A” was severely wounded in a skirmish near Clinton Miss. He is recovering slowly. Nothing more. Write soon and address Aledo .
D W.P. /
P.S. I guess Robt. Tait will not want six cents in this. D.W.P.