Tag Archives: Documents

Col. James C. Beecher on the Massacre of Wounded Black Troops at Olustee

Olustee
Black Union troops marching into battle at Olustee
(Lithographic print, 1894)

Some of our readers may know that a controversy has arisen been promoted by neo-Confederates over a proposal to memorialize Union solders killed in the bloody Battle of Olustee (or Ocean Pond, as Northerners remembered it), which took place in Florida in February 1864. As Brooks Simpson reports on his excellent blog, at least one Confederate veteran recalled pretty clearly that black Union soldiers were murdered as they lay wounded in the aftermath of the battle. That assertion is supported by evidence from the papers of Colonel James C. Beecher, who commanded the 35th USCT (formerly the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers) at Olustee. Writing to his wife two months after the events, Beecher insists:

Olustee Monument 1912
Confederate survivors of Olustee, 1912: Memorializing Race Massacre?

“…there is now no doubt that all of my wounded men left on the field at Olustee were bayoneted in cold blood. It is said to have been done by some South Carolina troops.

The enemy report only 18 prisoners from my command. At least fifty were known to have been left on the field and at the depot at Sanderson and Berbers Station.

You may judge this does not make me particularly happy. Especially when the new man came to relieve Gen. Seymour.* While he pities the poor ‘Loyal Floridians’ who suffer so much from the effects of the war [he doesn’t] see anything particularly out of the way in this. Says he has no doubt my wounded were murdered, but that its “very hard to restrain men when their blood is up” etc etc.

If there were but ten stupid Generals in the whole army of the United States, each one of the ten would be assigned to command a district, and there wouldn’t be but ten districts made unless an eleventh stupid G. could be put in charge of it.”

Source: J. C. Beecher (Jacksonville) to ‘My beloved’, 13 April 1864, James C. Beecher Papers, Radcliffe College, Schlesinger Library

*General Truman Seymour was relieved of his command after the Olustee disaster and replaced by General John B. Hatch, who would later come into confrontation with freedpeople in Charleston over his leniency toward former Confederates.

Images courtesy of Florida State Archives, Florida Memory

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Documents from the Slaves’ Civil War: Union Troops Return a ‘Fugitive Slave’ at St. Augustine

“I regret to inform you that I found the place [St. Augustine] full of open and avowed traitors. I was insulted in the streets by secession females. I learned that there were women residing there whose husbands are in the rebel service, and who are receiving rations from our Government. Seventy-five slaves are receiving wages from our people, who are owned by rebel masters, and their wages are paid over to the agents of these masters.

St Augustine Slave Market
The ‘Old Slave Market’ at St. Augustine, ca. 1886
Courtesy of Southern Methodist University, DeGolyer Library

[Recounting an incident involving a slave handed over to his ‘master’ in Florida]: While I was in St. Augustine, I was informed…that a fugitive slave who ran away from his rebel master—a man named Col. Titus (of Kansas notoriety)* and who holds a commission in the rebel army—was delivered up to said Titus by virtue of an order signed by Capt. Foster [in] circumstances…so disgraceful to our army that I felt it my duty to report them. This negro came to our lines from his rebel master heavily [wounded], having traveled a distance of eight miles in this condition to our pickets. He remained with our troops until [Titus] came with an order signed by Capt. Foster…directing Col. Sleeper to deliver him to his owner. He was delivered to Col. Titus. On receiving this negro Col. Titus put a slipping noose rope around the negro’s neck, with a timber pitch at his arm, mounted his horse and dragged the poor victim off in the presence of our troops….

On the day of my arrival [at St Simon’s Island, Georgia] a party of rebels came over to the island for the purpose of murdering the negroes. They were immediately attacked by the negro pickets and surrounded in a swamp. There were about twenty men on either side, and quite a brisk action occurred. The negroes lost two killed and one wounded severely. The rebel loss is not known, as they fled, and succeeded in making their escape from the island….”

General Rufus B. Saxton to Edwin M. Stanton, 20 Aug 1862, Rufus and S. Willard Saxton Papers, Sterling Memorial Library: Yale University

* Colonel Henry T. Titus (after whom the town of Titusville, Florida, is named) was a northern-born Confederate who before the war had traveled to Kansas to join proslavery ‘border ruffians’ there, playing a prominent role in the sacking of Lawrence and at one point reportedly holding two of John Brown’s sons as prisoners.

Documents from the Slaves’ Civil War: “A storm am brewin’ in de Souf”

Rice
Antebellum Georgetown was key to South Carolina’s lucrative rice industry: like much of the Carolina lowcountry it was home to large slave majorities

In his Life in Dixie Land, or the South in Secession Time, ‘Edmund Kirke’ (pen name for the New York journalist James R. Gilmore) records the following conversation he had with a slave teamster in 1862. According to Kirke, his driver was African-born, and had been brought to the Carolinas at a young age via Cuba, eventually ending up working as a porter on the streets and wharves of Georgetown, 65 miles north of Charleston. Kirke remarks that “three days with him (a ‘remarkable negro’ of ‘superior intelligence’) banished from my mind all doubt as to the capacity of the black for freedom, and all question as to the disposition of the slave to strike off his chains when the favourable moment arrives. From him I learned that the blacks, though pretending ignorance, are fully acquainted with the questions at issue in the present contest.” As an example Kirke recalls the response he received (rendered ‘in dialect’) when he suggested that the war would leave the slaves “no better off”: “No, massa, ‘t won’t do that. De Souf will fight hard, and de Norf will get de blood up, and come down har, and do ‘way wid de cause ob all de trubble–and dat am de nigga…. When (the South) fight de Norf wid de right hand, dey’ll hev to hold de nigga wid de the leff.”

Bright Side
Winslow Homer’s “Bright Side” (1865) depicts black teamsters at rest in a Union Army camp

As an example of the slaves’ familiarity with the essence of the war, Kirke recalled the words of a song “then current among the negroes of the district.” Its content is the more remarkable for the fact that it seems to have foreseen enlistment of black northerners in the Union Army:

Hark! Darkies, hark! It am de drum

Dat calls ole Massa way from hum,

Wid powder-pouch and loaded gun,

To drive ole Abe from Washington;

Oh! Massa’s gwine to Washington,

So clar de way to Washington–

Oh! wont dis darky hab sum fun

When Massa’s gwine to Washington!

Ole Massa say ole Abe will eat

De niggas all, excep’ de feet–

De feet, may be, will cut and run

When Massa gets to Washington.

Dis nigger know ole Abe will save

His brudder man, de darky slave,

And dat he’ll let him cut and run

When Massa gets to Washington.

The next is in similar vein:–

A storm am brewin’ in de Souf,

A storm am brewin’ now,

Oh! hearken den and shut your mouf,

And I will tell you how:

And I will tell you how, ole boy,

De Storm of fire will pour,

And make de darkies dance for joy,

As dey neber danced afore.

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And I will tell you how.

De darkies at de Norf am rise,

And dey am comin’ down–

Am comin’ down, I know dey is,

To do de white folks brown!

Dey’ll turn ol’ Massa out to grass,

And set de niggas free,

And when dat day am come to pass

We’ll all be dar to see!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And do de white folks brown!

‘Den all de week will be as gay

As am de Chris’mas time;

We’ll dance all night and all de day,

And make de banjo chime–

And make de banjo chime, I tink,

And pass de time away,

Wid ’nuff to eat and ’nuff to drink,

And not a bit to pay!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

And make de banjo chime.

Oh! make de banjo chime, you nigs,

And sound de tamborin,

And shuffle now de merry jigs,

For Massa’s ‘gwine in’–

For Massa’s ‘gwine in,’ I know,

And won’t he hab de shakes,

When Yankee darkies show him how

Dey cotch de rattlesnakes!

So shut your mouf as close as deafh,

And all you niggas hole your breafh,

For Massa’s ‘gwine in’–

For Massa’s ‘qwine in,’ I know,

And won’t he hab de shakes,

When Yankee darkies show him how

Dey cotch the rattlesnakes!*

*symbol for the state of South Carolina

Source: Edmund Kirke, Life in Dixie Land, or The South in Secession Time (London, 1863), 14-16.

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: The 1st SC Regiment Marches into Beaufort

1st South Carolina Infantry (USCT)

I do not think I ever had quite so proud a day…. Today, for the first time I marched my whole regiment through Beaufort & back. They did march splendidly, as all admit. The dear 51st did not compare with them… To look back on twenty broad double ranks of men, (for we marched by platoons) every polished musket with a black face at the side of it, every face steady to the front, marching on into the future; it was magnificent, and when we returned, marching by the flank, (this is in fours,) with guns at “support arms,” & each man covering his file leader, (the prettiest way of marching in the world) the effect was as fine. I had cautioned them before we left, not to be staring about but to look straight before them, & with their accustomed fidelity they did it. One of them said, since, “I didn’t see anything in Beaufort–every step was worth half a dollar,” & they all stepped as if it were so. It was just the way my old company used to do in Worcester–only think of the difference–what character & culture did there–here the evoked self-reliance of a race does with drill & personal magnetism of course added in both cases. And whereas there, as rival Captains indignantly averred, we [“]had the whole town to blow for us,” this was marching through throngs of prejudiced critics, officers & privates, who had all drilled as many months as we had weeks, & who were absolutely compelled to admit how admirably the regiment appeared. Dr. Rogers & others rode about among officers who came jeering and contemptuous, & had to say at last “they do splendidly,” one Captain in the N.H. 4th, the best drilled regiment here, & he bitterly pro slavery said in the hearing of our LtColonel [sic], to a circle of officers, “There is nothing in this Department that can excel them.” And indeed one of our recruits, who did not march with the regiment, watching the astonishment of some white soldiers, said, “De buckra soldiers look like a man who done steal a sheep“! i. e. I suppose sheepish.

from the War Journal of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Camp Saxton [Port Royal, SC], 19 January 1863 (pp. 88-9)

Documents on The Slaves’ Civil War: Skirmishing with Confederates near Kingstree, SC

This section of the country from the Santee to the Pee Dee River is almost entirely open to the enemy, with the exception of a very small Cavalry force between this place and Georgetown, say one hundred men. So far this small force has been able to check their advance any distance into the interior. They have been up our Rivers, took and destroyed every thing, set the negroes free and in many places armed them, and they (the negroes) have given us battle in two instances. Recently they have reinforced their forces at Georgetown with a negro Regiment, and landed fifty waggons and two hundred mules. This evidently means an advance into the country; in fact we have reliable information that they are making preparations to move through this section….

R. C. Logan (Kingstree, SC) to Governor Andrew G. Magrath, 5 April 1865

 

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: 8000 Slaves Employed on SC Fortifications in the First 18 Months of the War

When I was in Charleston in the first part of last month, you will recollect I called your attention to the manner in which the negroes we had sent to work on the fortifications were managed. I complained that they were not divided off and assigned to the control or command of practical men acquainted with negroes and how to get work done, and so forth. You observed that you intended to have them divided off and strictly attended to. I know it is almost impossible to have anything done right, particularly if not in the direct line of military duty and service. There has been great irregularity in the manner of executing the requisition for negroes. Parts of neighborhoods have been taken down and others not even notified. The negroes have been retained beyond the time they were taken down for, and this too without giving any notice to their owners or agents. You know that all such things produce great dissatisfaction and complaint. If notice were given in advance, when negroes are absolutely required to remain, as a military necessity, it would be better. We have sent down in all some eight thousand negroes, and this produces in the aggregate much derangement in getting crops, so necessary for winter support. I hope it will not be long now before you can discharge all that belong to the country, and impress those who are in and around the city to finish as the work necessary to get in provisions is not required in and around the city, and there are many necessarily idle all the time in such a place. It strikes me too that, after cool weather, our soldiers could be directed to do much work, such as is done in other armies…. I tried to make a system last spring, by which a corps of negroes could be attached permanently to the army as Spades-men and axe-men, under military discipline and army regulations. I still think it could be done, and it would be far better than to derange agricultural labor in the rural district, by constantly calling for negro labor at times occasionally deeply injurious to raising or gathering of crops.

Governor Frances W. Pickens (South Carolina) to General P. G. T. Beauregard, 5 November 1862

Yorktown, Virginia (vicinity). Confederate fortifications reinforced with bales of cotton
Confederate fortifications reinforced with bales of cotton

 

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: Growing Resentment towards Slaveholders in the Confederate Ranks

There is at present as far as we can learn, a general feeling of depression among the South Carolina troops, which possibly may eventually develop into a Union sentiment. The feeling the soldiers express is: “We have no negroes to fight for, while the slave-owners have all taken good care to retire to the interior of the State where they can live in safety.” The question is beginning to pass among them, “Why should we stay here to be shot, when those who have caused the war have run away?” This is dangerous talk, and, we are told, officers have great difficulty in maintaining the organization of their Regiments. At least these are stories brought by the negroes who are continually escaping to our lines, and the unanimity of their reports seems to lend the appearance of truth to them. The fact is, the frightful effects of the explosions of the 11-inch shell which some of our gun-boats carry, have produced a great panic among the land forces of South Carolina. Negroes from Charleston report the city in a great fright, the inhabitants making preparation to leave at the sound of the first note of alarm. I hope we may catch old [John] Tyler. It would do me a deal of good to see the traitor sent North to be dealt with properly. There is a strong contrast between the treatment of our prisoners, and that received by the unfortunates who fall into the hands of the “chivalry.”

William Thompson Lusk [HQ, Second Brigade: Beaufort, SC] to Elizabeth Freeman Adams Lusk, 9 Jan 1862, in War Letters of William Thompson Lusk, 113-4

Confederate Troops
Confederate Troops

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: A ‘Demoralized Spirit’ among the Slaves

The slave population of this district is very numerous—whilst the white is extremely small. For the purposes of police, there are not left us along the Rivers, men enough in any neighborhood to form a suitable Patrol. The government of the Police Court is the sole authority remaining to us to control the negroes and to keep order. The constant presence and proximity of the enemy exercise an unhappy influence over them and it has been the duty of the Police Court to resort to severe measures, in order to repress their demoralized spirit. In the past three years, eleven have accordingly been sentenced to suffer the extreme penalty of the Law and have been executed, and others have been punished for offenses committed against the peace and good order of the community—a condition of perfect quiet now exists here among us. …the status of the Police Court ought to be sustained, with a view to its dignity and usefulness, or its existence abolished.

Francis L. Parker, President of Police Court of Georgetown District to Governor Andrew G. Magrath, 24 December 1864

 
 

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: “My Children Sold as Pocketmoney”

[The author of the letter quoted below, Captain Percival Drayton, was a native of Charleston who served as ship commander in the Union naval fleet that captured Port Royal, SC, in November 1861. Remarkably, the Confederate defense at Port Royal was directed by his brother, the lowcountry planter Thomas F. Drayton (see the photo of his emancipated slaves below) of Hilton Head. Lydig M. Hoyt was a prominent New York socialite with whom Captain Drayton corresponded through much of the War. Drayton is writing here from aboard the USS Pawnee at Port Royal on the 24th of March, 1862.

As with all the documents included in the After Slavery website, we have chosen not to edit out racist and denigrating terms (eg ‘darkies’, ‘nigger’) that were commonly used by whites at the time, but to retain the language of the original: obviously this should not be read as an endorsement of such language.]

Slaves of Rebel Genl Hilton Head, LoC
Handwriting reads “Slaves of the Rebel General Thomas F. Drayton, Hilton Head”

“As we can scarcely expect to hold the South as a conquered people, at least with any comfort, the difficult part of the operation will still remain, even after armies and navies have performed their designated duties. I for one can see no peace while the slavery question remains unsettled, and while any portion of the community consider it a higher and more holy duty, to sell niggers than to have free institutions or civilization, and so far I doubt if our victories have as yet even weakened this belief. I must confess that after what I have seen here, of the horrors of the institution I would be willing to do anything except to destroy the Constitution that the power to do evil to ones fellows which can be and is exercised in many cases here, should within some named time cease, but believe that to make this feasible there must be a great deal more fighting. We meet here as you may suppose, with a good many remarkable cases bearing on the nigger question. One particularly which one of the officers related to me the other day would answer for Greeley. On Doboy Island, near St. Simons and Brunswick, they found one poor old man left, and fearing he might starve an offer was made to take him away, which he refused, as he said he had buried his wife only a little before on that spot, and preferred dying there. Some one asked him but have you had no children, yes massa thirteen but they were all sold for pocketmoney, and now that my wife is dead I am all alone. The officer who related the circumstance says, that the piteous manner in which this was said, so affected his companion and self that for some time neither felt like speaking. We have another fellow at present on board of my ship, who had been living in the bush for a year, because as he says he was so cruelly treated that death was better than being a longer subjectted to it [sic]. And he must be a pretty determined fellow, for he has been shot at, and bears many marks of what he calls nigger dogs. Now I don’t want to take away property enjoyed under the safeguard of the Constitution, but I do say that these horrors should cease by law in the nineteenth century.”

Percival Drayton to Lydig M. Hoyt, March 24, 1862, in Naval Letters from Captain Percival Drayton, 14-15

Percival Drayton.jpg
Union Naval Commander Percival Drayton

Documents on the Slaves’ Civil War: Charleston “Ripe for a Rebellion”

At Richmond and Wilmington…I found the slaves discontented, but despondingly resigned to their fate. At Charleston I found them morose and savagely brooding over their wrongs. They know and they dread the slaveholder’s power. They are afraid to assail it without first effecting a combination among themselves, which the ordinances of the city, that are strictly enforced, and the fear of a traitor among them, prevent. But if the guards who now keep nightly watch were to be otherwise employed—if the roar of hostile cannon was to be heard by the slaves, or a hostile fleet was seen sailing up the bay of Charleston—then, as surely as God lives, would the sewers of the city be instantly filled with the blood of the slave masters. I have had long and confidential conversations with great numbers of the slaves here, who trusted me because I talked with them, and acted toward them as a friend, and I speak advisedly when I say that they are already ripe for a rebellion, and that South Carolina dares not…secede from this Union of States. Her only hope of safety from wholesale slaughter is THE UNION. Laugh the secessionists to scorn, ye Union-loving sons of the north, for the negroes are prepared to “cement the Federal compact” once more—and really it needs it—with the “blood of despots,” and their own then free blood, too, if the “resistance-to-tyrants” doctrine in practice shall call for the solemn and voluntary sacrifice.

James Redpath, The Roving Editor: or, Talks with Slaves in the Southern States, 52-3