Two accounts of commanding coloured troops in the field
Joshua Addeman served as a captain commanding the coloured soldiers of the 14th Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment. His concise personal first hand account brings focus to the activities of African-Americans within the little reported service of the artillery. It is filled with useful information making it a valuable source work of the period.
Higginson's account of the regiment he commanded in the Civil war has justly become one of the most important works of the African-American experience. His regiment, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers was the first ex-slave regiment mustered into the Federal Army during the Civil War. Naturally Higginson was very much a man of times, but nevertheless the pride and affection he felt for his men shines through every page. Available in soft cover and collectors’ hard cover with dust jacket.
Meanwhile, Trowbridge was toiling away at the row of piles, which proved easier to draw out than to saw asunder, either work being hard enough. It took far longer than we had hoped, and we saw noon approach and the tide rapidly fall, taking with it, inch by inch, our hopes of effecting a surprise at the bridge. During this time, and indeed all day, the detachments on shore, under Captains Whitney and Sampson, were having occasional skirmishes with the enemy, while the coloured people were swarming to the shore, or running to and fro like ants, with the poor treasures of their houses. Our busy Quartermaster, Mr. Bingham—who died afterwards from the overwork of that sultry day—was transporting the refugees on board the steamer, or hunting up bales of cotton, or directing the burning of rice-houses, in accordance with our orders. No dwelling-houses were destroyed or plundered by our men,—Sherman’s “bummers” not having yet arrived,—though I asked no questions as to what the plantation negroes might bring in their great bundles. One piece of property, I must admit, seemed a lawful capture,—a United States dress-sword, of the old pattern, which had belonged to the Rebel general who afterwards gave the order to bury Colonel Shaw “with his niggers.” That I have retained, not without some satisfaction, to this day. <br>
A passage having been cleared at last, and the tide having turned by noon, we lost no time in attempting the ascent, leaving the bluff to be held by the John Adams, and by the small force on shore. We were scarcely above the obstructions, however, when the little tug went aground, and the Enoch Dean, ascending a mile farther, had an encounter with a battery on the right,—perhaps our old enemy,—and drove it back. Soon after, she also ran aground, a misfortune of which our opponent strangely took no advantage; and, on getting off, I thought it best to drop down to the bluff again, as the tide was still hopelessly low. None can tell, save those who have tried them, the vexations of those muddy Southern streams, navigable only during a few hours of flood-tide.<br>
After waiting an hour, the two small vessels again tried the ascent. The enemy on the right had disappeared; but we could now see, far off on our left, another light battery moving parallel with the river, apparently to meet us at some upper bend. But for the present we were safe, with the low rice-fields on each side of us; and the scene was so peaceful, it seemed as if all danger were done. For the first time, we saw in South Carolina blossoming river-banks and low emerald meadows, that seemed like New England. Everywhere there were the same rectangular fields, smooth canals, and bushy dikes. A few negroes stole out to us in dugouts, and breathlessly told us how others had been hurried away by the overseers. We glided safely on, mile after mile. The day was unutterably hot, but all else seemed propitious. The men had their combustibles all ready to fire the bridge, and our hopes were unbounded.<br>
But by degrees the channel grew more tortuous and difficult, and while the little Milton glided smoothly over everything, the Enoch Dean, my own boat, repeatedly grounded. On every occasion of especial need, too, something went wrong in her machinery,—her engine being constructed on some wholly new patent, of which, I should hope, this trial would prove entirely sufficient. The black pilot, who was not a soldier, grew more and more bewildered, and declared that it was the channel, not his brain, which had gone wrong; the captain, a little elderly man, sat wringing his hands in the pilot-box; and the engineer appeared to be mingling his groans with those of the diseased engine. Meanwhile I, in equal ignorance of machinery and channel, had to give orders only justified by minute acquaintance with both. So I navigated on general principles, until they grounded us on a mud-bank, just below a wooded point, and some two miles from the bridge of our destination. It was with a pang that I waved to Major Strong, who was on the other side of the channel in a tug, not to risk approaching us, but to steam on and finish the work, if he could.<br>
Short was his triumph. Gliding round the point, he found himself instantly engaged with a light battery of four or six guns, doubtless the same we had seen in the distance. The Milton was within two hundred and fifty yards. The Connecticut men fought then: guns well, aided by the blacks, and it was exasperating for us to hear the shots, while we could see nothing and do nothing. The scanty ammunition of our bow gun was exhausted, and the gun in the stern was useless, from the position in which we lay. In vain we moved the men from side to side, rocking the vessel, to dislodge it. The heat was terrific that August afternoon; I remember I found myself constantly changing places, on the scorched deck, to keep my feet from being blistered. At last the officer in charge of the gun, a hardy lumberman from Maine, got the stern of the vessel so far round that he obtained the range of the battery through the cabin windows, “but it would be necessary,” he coolly added, on reporting to me this fact, “to shoot away the corner of the cabin.” I knew that this apartment was newly painted and gilded, and the idol of the poor captain’s heart; but it was plain that even the thought of his own upholstery could not make the poor soul more wretched than he was. So I bade Captain Dolly blaze away, and thus we took our hand in the little game, though at a sacrifice.<br>
It was of no use. Down drifted out little consort round the point, her engine disabled and her engineer killed, as we afterwards found, though then we could only look and wonder. Still pluckily firing, she floated by upon the tide, which had now just turned; and when, with a last desperate effort, we got off, our engine had one of its impracticable fits, and we could only follow her. The day was waning, and all its range of possibility had lain within the limits of that one tide.