Camp of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers
April 24th, 1863.
I have waited, before I
wrote you, until I had become fully con-
versant with the facts of which you
wished me to write you, and can now
speak from my own observation and experience,
as well as the concurrent testimony of the
clearest heads here, for I find that those
who have thought into the heart of the
question, are apt to think precisely alike.
I am sorry I cannot give you
a better report of the condition of things
here - there is a terrible amount of routine
in this department, with the spirit left out.
Some of the white regiments are demoralized
beyond the extent which I supposed any in
the service were - I found the men, in the
three regiments I have seen the most of, at
Beaufort, and in going down, and returning from
Jacksonville, Florida, profoundly discouraged
utterly disgusted with their officers,
who treat them as arrogantly as if they
were a different race of men, and who
mostly neglect all the duties they can, and
spend their time, loafing, and drinking -
In these regiments at least, the virus of
West Point has done its work.
The management of the Black troops
is being conducted in a half-way spirit
and the experiment is being muddled-
for instance - only yesterday, I saw two men
released from arrest in this regiment,
when confined for deserting the third or
fourth time, and excused from the pending
court-martial, the loss of a few months pay
being substituted - the effect of such management
on the discipline and spirit of the men, is
terrible, and comes out in many forms - looseness
in obedience of officers, nervousness before the
enemy in firing before they come in proper
range, increased desertion, &c - I give this merely
as an instance of the spirit in which things
are conducted, of which I have seen many
There is no seeking yet for earnest Anti-
Slavery men to officer the black regiments.
Those in command have not yet found out
that it takes longer to turn a competent
officer into a thorough Anti-Slavery man,
than a thorough Anti-Slavery man into a
competent officer - for there must be free
spirit put into these blacks to make them
really effective troops.
There would, at present, be no chance
of your obtaining a position at all worthy
of you, and perhaps none at all.
If you ever did come, you would find
letters of recommendation from Governor
Wendell Phillips, &c of great use to you.
I can see or hear of nothing here
which it would be particularly useful for
you to do
, which needs and can be done.
Everything is systematized and formalized, but
not yet spirit-ized.
I am afraid I should discourage you,
if I were to tell you all the unfavorable
things I know of this regiment.
The 2d Regiment S.C.V.'s, is
up of drafted men, except two fine companies
Key West, Florida, all the able-bodied
men there having volunteered splendidly, many
of them having exchanged $2 or $3. a day for $13 a month,
and in spite of being subjected to even worse
abuse than the negroes of these Sea Islands.
The conscription embraces all the able-
bodied men on these plantations, &c, and they
come very reluctantly, much more than nine
tenths shamming sick or pretending to be disabled
which many of them stick to, even after they are
mustered into the regiment. Most of them, according
to the stories they tell, have been run over by a cart,
and one fellow declared he had been run over by
Those left on the plantations, the old men,
disabled men, or those who have procured surgeon's
certificates of exemption as such, and the women, earn
twenty-five cents a day, and have land & time to
their own food-supplies, working for the Government, under
The labor system is a poor one and ill-conducted.
The negroes know much more about farming than those set
over them, many of whom scarce ever saw a farm.
Government now owns most of the lands, having
sold some of them a short time ago to speculators,
who are of a better and more Anti-Slavery class
than could be expected, or would be the case if
the lands of the South were to be sold in a like manner.
The most important measure I see to be
done at the North at present, is to circulate
the idea, so as to force Congress to early adopt
it, of giving to every negro, when he enters
the army, either as volunteer or conscript, fifty
acres of cleared land, if possible on the
plantation from which he comes, on which his
family can be placed at once.
This would make them self-sustaining
and furnish the men a motive to fight hard,
and the rest a motive to labor hard,
& releive the men of any anxiety about their
families, by making their interest and the
interest of their families, coincide with the
interest of the government and the country.
If this is not done, these people will
fall into the condition of a degraded peasantry
(I speak of the South in general, in case we
conquer it), who will be ground down by
speculators, as no peasantry in Europe is -
I think they have as much to fear from the
Avarice of the North, as of the South, for the
position and opportunity to accumulate rapid
fortunes, would be apt to
much and corrupt good
men, and of
course bring the worst out of bad men.
Yankee shrewdness will grind this
poor people to powder, if they have not
land enough to stand upon - then, it
will help them as much as it would
One of the main reasons of reluctance
these men have in going into the army,
besides the discouragement produced by abuse,
and those things which are discourageing to
us, (besides cowardice, for these negroes are
the lowest of the whole country, having almost
a seperate dialect, which in some, we and
even the Florida blacks could not understand),
is their unwillingness to leave their families.
The whole thing here is muddled -
It had already served its purpose, in prooving
and convincing the North that negroes will
work without the lash.
I find many of the officers and black
soldiers, all whom I have spoken with about
it, agree with me, that men taken fresh from
Slavery, and taught that they must earn
their own liberty with arms
in their hands,
would in a very few weeks, make for better
soldiers than these of
half a year's drilling - yet these could be
made of good use, if the right system
were severely adopted.
I know these things look fairer on
paper as they reach you through the press
at the North - take the Expedition to
Jacksonville for instance - the truth is,
it was a contemptible fizzle - they were
sent there to raise black troops - the net
results of three weeks time and great
expense, were fifteen prisoners, some plunder,
half a dozen killed and wounded on each
side, much powder wasted, and fifteen
recruits, between the two regiments, when
in a third of the time, by a little vigor
they could have had a thousand - I
speak from thorough knowledge of the
ground, verrified by a number of men
from the spot, 50 to 100 miles from
Jacksonville - in fact
wanted to do just what I had seen
ought to be done.
Jacksonville, which we left three
weeks ago, was not more than a tenth
part burned, though I presume you
heard it was burned up.
I sat on the deck of the steamer
enjoying the magnificent beauty of the
fire-king's short reign, with much pleasure
A week previously, I had the satisfaction
of burning with my own hand, by permission
of the officers, half a dozen houses, when
the town was being reduced to a convenient
size for holding - It was a new feeling, to
be burning Southern houses under Government
authority, by a John Brown man & go
I have submitted plans of special
operations to those in authority, being warmly
recommended, by some of the highest & they are
I am not yet in a regiment, though
I was acting as officer a few days at
I find a bitter, crushing opposition to me
from those I had the best right to expect would
be my friends, which has thus far kept me out.
But for it, it was already settled I should have
a position far higher than what I asked for, and
they boast of having kept me from getting even a Lieutenant's
place. I have had to hunt down slanders - one that
I deserted, and threatened to betray John Brown.
[In left margin ] I am sorry to say that this originated with
C.P. Tidd, who thought it
convenient to charge upon me,
what he had been guilty of, and so shelter himself from suspicion, though we
all kept it sacredly secret,
though it did not amount to more
than fractiousness and disobedience.
I was stupefied when I heard it came from
I have stuck and hung thus far,
and have not given up yet -
I speak of the work, not the place,
Ullman offered me a commission,
in a black regiment, which I declined,
knowing I could be of more use in
this region than his.
I have found some who take hold
of the matter almost as warmly as I do.
The negroes are none too liberty-loving,
& they need to have all the available
Anti-Slavery of the North brought
down and poured into them -
I find some splendid, manly fellows
among them, and in general, they will
be very good material, with which can
be produced the highest results, if used
in just the right manner, and very
poor material, if used in a poor manner.
I should hardly dare to tell you all I know unfavorable
about this regiment, and it is so unfortunate, for so much
depends upon this experiment - Col. Montgomery is open in his expression
of contempt of Col. Higinson as a military man,
& he blundered sadly at
Present my regards to your wife.
I should be glad to hear from you.
My Address is,
Beaufort, South Carolina.
Let my writing on my knee in a tent,
excuse the poor writing.
You might find it a pleasant
pleasure-trip to come down here, but
not as much so as I thought in
Perhaps the country pales beside my
Hayti recollections - still, it is
tropical, though sandy.
All this region is level and the soil
is very loamy for sand, and very sandy
for loam, though very productive when cultivated.
Things are in a transition state here now.
For the general war news of this department,
you are probably better posted through the
papers than I.
The expedition has sailed again for
Charleston, this time to take it, if possible.
I think highly of Gen.
I must bring my long letter to a close.
Yours, Francis J. Meriam.