July 9, 1864
THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER
For the Christian Recorder.
A SOLDIER'S LETTER.
55th Mass. Vols., Folly Island,
May 29th, 1864.
DEAR EDITOR: - I have attempted several times to give you a faint idea of the condition of things generally in my immediate neighborhood, concerning military affairs, and once more must I encroach upon your proverbial forbearance and generosity.
We cannot tell here at what moment the general aspect and relations of our present position may be entirely changed. When we enrolled ourselves into the ranks of the Union army, we did so with the understanding that we should be allowed the same pay, rations, clothing and treatment as the white troops. We were even promised this by Governor Andrews himself, who stated, at the same time, that he had authority direct from Washington, directing him to that effect. Under these circumstances, and knowing at the same time that Massachusetts had already done more towards the general welfare of our race than her mother or sister States, we at once resolved to enroll ourselves under the broad banner of freedom, and strike a decisive blow for God and the Union - aye, to lay down our lives and shed our best blood beneath the Stars and Stripes in order that our down-trodden and oppressed kindred might be elevated and brought more on an equality with the white race. Understand us: we do not mean by this that the black man's son should marry the white man's daughter, or the white man's son marry the black man's daughter - but we mean and allude to the exercise of our political, free, civil and public rights. We gave to Massachusetts the honor of having us enlist under her State flag - some from Indiana, some from Ohio, some from Missouri, Pennsylvania, New York State, Jersey, Maryland, Kentucky, and some from Canada. Great was the love shown by our race for Massachusetts, who flocked to her standard by thousands for the purpose of enlisting. But, for my part, if I had it to do over again, I would enlist in my own State, Pennsylvania.
If I should live to get home from this regiment, and the war still continues, I will join a Pennsylvania regiment.
A soldier's life, take it what way you will, is a hard one. I have seen a good bit of it. Being the steward of an officer on the Potomac, I had a chance of seeing and learning a great deal of how a soldier ought to be treated. Now I am going to address myself to the public, and shall endeavor to be as brief as possible. I shall not add, but rather diminish.
The 54th, our brother regiment, came in this department last summer, and made that gallant charge on Fort Wagner, on Morris Island, where many a brave man fell; I will not say soldiers, for in these two regiments we are only soldiers for the time being.
Shortly after this charge we landed on Folly Island, and soon after fatiguing duties began. We went to the front every night and day for six or eight weeks on a stretch, mounting cannon, pulling cannon, throwing up batteries, when I would much rather have taken my position in line of battle; for the seizing of Morris Island, preparatory to the siege of Charleston, was anything but a pleasant undertaking; so we fatigued from that time until the 13th of February, when we embarked for Florida. The 54th being several days in advance from Jacksonville, we marched to Barber's Station, en route to assist in making the attack at Olustee. Arriving at Barber's Station, and finding our troops on the retreat, we concluded to encamp there for the night.
The next morning found us retreating back on Jacksonville, where we were immediately set to work throwing up entrenchments and erecting batteries, building forts, and so on, which were all successfully completed. After remaining there a few days we were detached, part going to Palathi, and part to Yellow Bluff, where fatigue duty commenced. When we got through there we were ordered to South Caroline, leaving the 8th Pennsylvania regiment to enjoy the fruits of our labor, as we had often done to other regiments. So we entered South Carolina once more, and it was intimated by some prominent officers that by promising to do double duty we would be allowed to land, but not otherwise. However, we landed and commenced picket duty, each man coming off and going on the next day. This was kept up for some time. We were taken off that duty and put on fatigue duty on Saturday - all this going on, and we not receiving a cent of remuneration, after having been in the service for one year.
Now, friends, what do you think of such acts as these? Do you call it fair? Do you notice a semblance of justice in the fact that while many of our families, our poor wives and children, are at home crying for bread and the necessaries of life, their husbands and fathers are out upon the field battling in defence of the Union, without receiving a cent of pay? How long shall those pitiful cries roll sadly and unheeded up to heaven?
We have been told some monstrous falsehoods, and have been deceived and hoodwinked in various ways, and yet our officers reprimand us for complaining, which any reasonable man with a feeling heart could not do. Mostly all of the men that have died or fallen in the 54th, and all that have died in the 55th regiment, are brought in depot. What do you think of this? We do not wish to go home, but we came out here for our rights, and for [ ] promise given us is not made good, let Governor Andrews replace us where he got us from. But let him see to having us paid, and it will be all right.
Mr. Weaver, will you please insert this in your paper? We have no money now, but I hope we will have some one of these days. I live in your city.
There is a great many things which I have not mentioned. Mr. Weaver, please correct all mistakes.
One thing more I must mention. While we, the veterans of our race, are out here fighting for their and our rights, the cowardly villains at home are trying to bring our families to destruction by their villainous acts. It is an outrage on us. But if we live, we expect to get home some time, and such men may well look for our coming. They will not find as easy times as before we left for Massachusetts, as we have now become so inured that we could almost stand to go through fire, and not flinch in the greatest of danger.
But I must now bring my somewhat lengthy letter to a close, which is from a member of the 55th Mass.
Nothing more at present, but remain,
Your humble servant,
A Sergeant of the 55th Mass.
This is ITEM #61171 from the Accessible Archives, Inc. Database and Web site at http://www.accessible.com/. You or your organization must be a licensed subscriber to access the databases on its site. This letter is posted here with the kind permission of Mr. John Nagy, Accessible Archives, Inc.
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