Tuesday, February 25, 2014

February 21, 1864

February 21, 1864

---Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a Boston aristocrat, notable abolitionist (one of John Brown’s Secret Six who supported his raid on Harper’s Ferry), and now commander of the 1st South Carolina Infantry (U.S.), a black regiment, writes to the editor of the New York Times in his quest to get equal pay for black troops:

The Pay of Colored Soldiers.
Published: February 21, 1864

To the Editor of the New-York Times:

May I venture to call your attention to the great and cruel injustice which is impending over the brave men of this regiment?

They have been in military service for more than a year, having volunteered, every man, without a cent of bounty, on the written pledge of the War Department, that they should receive the same pay and rations with white soldiers.

This pledge is contained in the written instructions of Brig.-Gen. SAXTON, Military Governor, dated Aug. 25, 1862. Mr. Solicitor WHITING, having examined those instructions, admits to me that "the faith of the Government was thereby pledged to every officer and soldier under that call."

Surely if this fact were understood, every man in the nation would see that the Government is degraded by using for a year the services of the brave soldiers, and then repudiating the contract by which they were enlisted. Yet this is what will be done should Mr. WILSON’s bill, legalizing the back pay of the army, be defeated.

We presume too much on the supposed ignorance of these men. I have never yet found a man in my regiment so stupid as not to know when he was cheated. If the fraud proceeds from Government itself, so much the worse, for this strikes at the foundation of all rectitude, all honor, all obligation.
Mr. Senator FESSENDEN said, in the debate on Mr. WILSON’s bill, Jan 4, that the Government was not bound by the unauthorized promises of irresponsible recruiting officers. But is the Government itself an irresponsible recruiting officer? and if men have volunteered in good faith on the written assurances of the Secretary of War, is not Congress bound, in all decency, either to fulfill those pledges or to disband the regiments?

Mr. Senator DOOLITTLE argued in the same debate that white soldiers should receive higher pay than black ones, because the families of the latter were often supported by Government. What an astounding statement of fact is this! In the white regiment in which I was formerly an officer (the Massachusetts Fifty-fourth) nine-tenths of the soldiers’ families, in addition to the pay and bounties, drew regularly their "State aid." Among my black soldiers, with half pay and no bounty, not a family receives any aid. Is there to be no limit, no end, to the injustice we heap upon this unfortunate people? Cannot even the fact of their being in arms for the nation, liable to die any day in its defence, secure them ordinary justice? Is the nation so poor, and to utterly demoralized by its pauperism, that after it has had the lives of these men, it must turn round to filch six dollars of the monthly pay which the Secretary of War promised to their widows? It is even so, if the excuses of Mr. FESSENDEN and Mr. DOOLITTLE are to be accepted by Congress and by the people.

Very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,

Colonel Commanding 1st S.C. Volunteers.
(Source: Seven Score and Ten http://gathkinsons.net/sesqui/ )
Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, comm. 1st South Carolina (U.S.) Infantry Regiment


---Susan Bradford Eppes of Florida records her reactions to the Battle of Olustee:

February 21st, 1864.—Yesterday a terrible battle was fought at Ocean Pond, or Olustee, both names are used in the news sent to us of the fierce struggle between the Yankees and our troops. Many are dead on both sides and our loss would have been heavier if the Yankees had been better shots. Our soldiers are, the most of them, wounded in the head and the ground was fairly covered with small branches cut from the pines above. Those same pine trees were a great item for our men, they fought behind the trees like the Indians and like General Washington did, in his fights with the French long ago. The dispatch said "Lieut. Holland killed," so Mr. Robinson went down today with a casket to bring his body home. His wife wants him buried in Tallahassee, where she expects to make her home with her sister. The Holland family are grieving deeply, for he was the only son and brother.

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