Saturday, March 16, 2013

March 16, 1863: From "Army Life in a Black Regiment"

Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson's 1st South Carolina Volunteers was encamped at Jacksonville, Florida. Higginson recorded anecdotes regarding his interactions with the local Southerners.
"March 16, 1863.

"Of course, droll things are constantly occurring. Every white man, woman, and child is flattering, seductive, and professes Union sentiment; every black ditto believes that every white ditto is a scoundrel, and ought to be shot, but for good order and military discipline. The Provost Marshal and I steer between them as blandly as we can. Such scenes as succeed each other! Rush of indignant Africans. A white man, in woman's clothes, has been seen to enter a certain house,—undoubtedly a spy. Further evidence discloses the Roman Catholic priest, a peaceful little Frenchman, in his professional apparel.—Anxious female enters. Some sentinel has shot her cow by mistake for a Rebel. The United States cannot think of paying the desired thirty dollars. Let her go to the Post-Quartermaster and select a cow from his herd. If there is none to suit her (and, indeed, not one of them gave a drop of milk,—neither did hers), let her wait till the next lot comes in,—that is all.—Yesterday's operations gave the following total yield: Thirty 'contrabands,' eighteen horses, eleven cattle, ten saddles and bridles, and one new army-wagon. At this rate we shall soon be self-supporting cavalry.

"Where complaints are made of the soldiers, it almost always turns out that the women have insulted them most grossly, swearing at them, and the like. One unpleasant old Dutch woman came in, bursting with wrath, and told the whole narrative of her blameless life, diversified with sobs:—

"'Last January I ran off two of my black people from St. Mary's to Fernandina,' (sob,)—'then I moved down there myself, and at Lake City I lost six women and a boy,' (sob,)—'then I stopped at Baldwin for one of the wenches to be confined,' (sob,)—'then I brought them all here to live in a Christian country' (sob, sob). "Then the blockheads' [blockades, that is, gunboats] 'came, and they all ran off with the blockheads,' (sob, sob, sob,) 'and left me, an old lady of forty-six, obliged to work for a living.' (Chaos of sobs, without cessation.)

"But when I found what the old sinner had said to the soldiers I rather wondered at their self-control in not throttling her."

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