May 28, 1864
THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER
For the Christian Recorder.
FROM THE SEVENTH REG., U.S.C.T.,
COL. SHAW, JR., COMMANDING.
MR. EDITOR: - Your paper is a frequent and welcome visitor to our camp; and as we have been forced to know so much of you and your paper, it is strictly in keeping with our selfishness to force an acquaintance and insist that you know something of us.
The general condition of things "a la militaire" here is so often told you through the medium of your correspondents in other regiments, that it is needless for me to enlarge upon the subject. This regiment arrived here on the 14th of March, in good condition, and full of men and fight, well officered and superbly disciplined; fresh from "Old Maryland, my home," and thoughtful of our first impressions received from our champion leader, Brig. Genl. William Birney.
I was agreeably surprised, on coming here, to find that even Florida - geographically proverbial for its marshes and alligators - is yet a "garden spot" in the "sunny South." The people here are less a people than any I have seen; they do not seem to understand anything, but that they are the most God-forsaken looking animals on earth, and all miserable accordingly. They look mean; they live meanly, act meanly, and they don't mean to be anything but mean; and it is safe to assert that they are very mean. To think that these fellows voted Florida out of the Union without the aid of the primitive inhabitants - alligators - is simply preposterous.
I was agreeably surprised to find that we are not suffocated by the intense heat of this torrid climate; the weather is warm - the sun is powerful, yet withal it is pleasant. We have fine land and sea breezes daily, and while I write I feel as pleasant as though in the enjoyment of a stroll on the beach at Cape May and that at ten o'clock, A.M.
Upon the whole, I like Florida very well, and if we but get the right men to command us here we will teach these "ginger-colored gentlemen" their duty to civilization and Christianity. In the short time we have been here we have had four commanding generals. The first Seymour, was removed for good reasons; the "battle of Olustee" proved that he was not the man to command colored troops; and we do not desire to see any more of his experiments. The next was removed to give place to Brig. Genl. Birney; and he, after thoroughly organizing the district, and capturing $2,000,000 worth of property for the government, was removed because of seniority of Genl. Gordon, who is now in command.
I do not desire to detract from the military worth of the commanders in this department, or show a want of confidence in them; but I am certain that there is but one man that can make the "Florida Expedition" a perfect success, with the forces composed chiefly of colored troops, and that man is Genl. Birney. The men of this regiment would follow him anywhere, and our confidence in him is unbounded.
It is my fond hope that he may be returned to us. He is a stern soldier, but his heart is in the right place; and he feels that it is a part of his mission on earth to elevate our race.
A great many verbal encomiums have been showered upon our regiment, since we have been here, but your correspondents have thus far failed to give us a passing notice. This regiment, according to the best military critics, is the best disciplined, and the best deported of any regiment in the service; and, with Birney for our commander, we promise that there will be no more Olustee's. Though our assertion seems a broad one, we challenge contradiction, and will face the music with proof.'p>
In your issue of April 23d, I noticed a communication from a soldier of the 8th U.S.C.T. I felt sad to peruse this article, for there are assertions therein that are seriously exaggerated: there is no duty imposed upon colored soldiers here, that is not shared by their white brothers in arms; and, our camp equipage and other necessaries, are just the same as those furnished to white troops, and in better condition than theirs. With regard to rations, I must flatly contradict the soldier's assertion: after an experience of eight months in this regiment, and extensive observation in others, I have come to the conclusion, that these troops are the best fed men in the service; and, if there is any fault, it should fall upon the regimental Q.M. department, and not upon the General Government.
The government has been tardy in its justice to colored troops, but there are many reasons for these delays: the strongest opposition has been evinced even in the ranks of the Republican party. Yet, in the face of these innumerable obstacles, things have been accomplished, which the most sanguine of our race had no reason to expect: a few short months, and behold, a nation of men formerly despised, rise upon their greatness and offer their lives a sacrifice upon the altar of their country's liberty. Without remuneration, without promise of reward or advancement, have these men come out in the storm of our national difficulties and asked but the opportunity to prove to the world, that the bulwark of human liberties will henceforth rest upon the invincible black army of America.
This, in return to our government for what they have done for our race. They have made us men and citizens, and will not cavil about technicalities, but perform our duties faithfully and fearlessly, as sovereigns of this vast country, trusting to our own worth and merit for that advancement which is inevitable to the deserving.
The American people have been taught, in this bloody school, to be just, and I do not hesitate to assert, that the complaints of our people will soon be hushed, and give place to praise for a people whom God has taught the necessity of recognizing equal human rights.
We are now, in common with the whole force in this district, enjoying the sweets of "glorious inactivity," with nothing to break the monotony but our usual drills and dress parades. How long this will last is doubtful; we cannot advance successfully as yet, with the handful of men we have, although we have reason to think that the rebel force is not superior to ours. Should Birney return to us soon, I think we will be able to write something of our achievements.
I rather like the article of James Lynch, missionary and government superintendent at Beaufort, and think his propositions good; but I think that the influences should be brought to bear, so that men who have been some time in the field should be recommended for commissions, and allowed to go on detached service to recruit. A man without military experience, is not in all respects qualified for the highest positions in a regiment. Let the Board at Washington be opened for the examination of colored men, and I have no fear for the result.
This thing must be done, and until it is done the working machinery of the colored troops will be shade and uncertain. I have full faith that there will be nothing left undone to give us justice.
Jacksonville, May 17th, 1864.
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