A Ruined Land: The End of the Civil War / Edition 1

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Overview

As the Civil War drew to a close, its final battles and unsolved issues left a complex legacy of pain. Southern plantation owners stripped of their land struggled to find a way to survive amid shortages, and watched the growing changes around them with resentment and fear. Newly freed slaves searched for a way to make a home in a land that had viewed them as chattel. Northern reformers struggled to educate an enormous population of former slaves to prepare them for a new life.. "Michael Golay shows the impact of victory and defeat on the ordinary Americans who both influenced events and were caught up in them. Through careful research coupled with compassion, Golay takes a unique perspective by interweaving personal histories of soldiers and civilians with the larger events of the Civil War.. "Some of the chief characters whose stories unfold include Oliver Otis Howard, one of Sherman's generals and commissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau; Lew Wallace, an amateur soldier, author, and member of the courts martial for the Lincoln conspirators and the Andersonville commandant; Laura Towne, a northern volunteer teacher in the reformist community on the Sea Islands; George Julian, a Radical Republican congressman from Indiana and bitter opponent of President Andrew Johnson; and Emily LeConte, the teenage daughter of a slaveholding southern family.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With considerable agility, Golay (To Gettysburg and Beyond) combines both manuscripts and printed sources to paint a picture of the last months of the Civil War and the first months of peace. Golay takes the reader along with General William T. Sherman's veterans as they capture Savannah and then head north through the Carolinas, brushing aside meager resistance and spreading terror among the civilians in their path. Other selective pictures emerge throughout the book, including the evacuation and destruction of Richmond, President Lincoln's assassination and the subsequent trial of the conspirators, Andersonville commandant Henry Wirz's trial and execution, the return home of veterans and operations on the Mexican border. Following the end of hostilities, Golay looks at the plight of former slaves and President Andrew Johnson's bickering with Radical Republicans trying to protect the newly freed slaves. He uses letters and other writings from a number of soldiers and civilians to provide graphic portraits of life in the shattered South. This fascinating social history, through Golay's expert use of sources, brings to life a time in America's past that promised so much but delivered so little, especially to former slaves. 26 photos and 4 maps. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A tautly woven narrative history of the last months of an awful war and the early days of a necessary peace. No subject of American history is less in need of more coverage than the Civil War. Yet Golay (To Gettysburg and Beyond, 1994) has found a fresh way to explore the conflict. Based on apt (and some seldom used) manuscripts, letters, and diaries, his book chronicles the last months of war and the early months of peace through the lives of 21 little remembered figures—women as well as men, southerners as well as northerners. Lively and readable, the tale captures the struggles, costs, exhaustion, and despair of those who remained at home, as well as of those who fought. It's not a book that glorifies war. Instead it records the devastation of the Civil War to body, mind, spirit, and possession from the fall of Richmond in 1864 until after Lincoln's assassination, when peace fell again upon the land. But it does so by trying to reconcile the awful experiences of Unionists and Confederates while totally ignoring those in the middle: African-Americans, slave and free. Astonishingly, enslaved southerners, freed slaves, and northern freemen are scarcely in attendance here except as people done to rather than doing; and the fighting men and others we meet are either of the Southern plantation gentry or the solid Northern middle class—as if laboring and poor people in both sections weren't deeply affected by the war. No doubt their omission is due to the accident of surviving sources; the poor usually don't write long letters and leave them for their heirs. Nevertheless, as a result of such grave oversight, the book ends up being only a half-history of its promising subject,out of keeping with present knowledge and interpretation. A captivating, although deeply incomplete, book. (26 photos and 4 maps, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471183679
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.51 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author

MICHAEL GOLAY has published four books on nineteenth-century American history, including To Gettysburg and Beyond. He lives in Exeter, New Hampshire.
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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Honey Hill


VENTING CLOUDS OF OILY SMOKE, the troop transports cast off from Hilton Head, glided into the Broad River, and vanished behind streamers of fog drifting in off the Atlantic. The fog thickened and settled, merging sky, land, and tidewater. The Cosmopolitan, carrying the expedition commander, Brigadier General John Hatch, fell out of line and anchored to await daybreak. Other vessels blundered on through the opaque night. The Canonicus, with the engineer battalion, turned up a blind channel, hopelessly lost in the murk. At first light, on a falling tide, the Mary Boardman, the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry (Colored) aboard, ran gently into the muddy bank. The pilot, more skilled than the others or luckier, struck the shore just downstream from the objective: the landing at Boyd's Neck, ten miles below the Charleston & Savannah Railroad.

    Hatch, a West Point-trained cavalryman, commanded the newly formed Coast Division, assembled toward the end of November 1864 at Hilton Head in the Union-occupied South Carolina Sea Islands. His orders were to march inland and cut the railroad, which conveyed reinforcements and supplies to Confederate forces contesting the advance of Sherman's army through Georgia toward Savannah and the sea.

    General Hatch massed fifty-five hundred men for the expedition, stray units of the Department of the South: a dozen infantry regiments with supporting cavalry and artillery. The African American Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts had been summoned from the siegelines around Charleston. The Thirty-fourth U.S. Colored Troops were South Carolina men, former slaves. Four other black regiments withdrawn from coastwise garrisons, five white regiments, and a naval brigade of five hundred sailors and marines completed the Coast Division's order of battle.

    The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts had marched to the Folly Island jetty on Sunday, November 27, 1864, and boarded two coastal steamers for the short voyage to Hilton Head. Along with rations and ammunition, the regiment carried shelter tents and thick blankets, too, for an unseasonable cold had descended upon the Low Country: heavy frost for two nights past, and a skim of ice on the water pails in the morning.

    Lieutenant Colonel Charles Fox, commanding the Fifty-fifth, felt his spirits lift that morning with the purposeful confusion of breaking camp. The son of a Unitarian parson in the Boston horsecar suburb of Dorchester, he had experienced hard service in the Army of the Potomac with the old Thirteenth Massachusetts: the Shenandoah Valley, the Second Bull Run campaign, Antietam. The Fifty-fifth, one of the first of the African American regiments, had seen limited action so far, skirmishes on Charleston's outwork islands mostly, and a profitless expedition to north Florida early in 1864. It came as a relief to escape the saw-grass waste of Folly Island, the furious stinging of the sand flies, and the interminable fatigues of the Charleston siege. The inviolate city itself lay hidden from camp behind a screen of dunes. In the middle distance, beyond Morris Island, battered Fort Sumter formed a squalid hump under its pall of mingled brick dust and smoke from cooking fires, a symbol of the rebellion and a prize long just out of Union reach.

    Charley Fox judged the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts battleworthy now, fully recovered from a near mutiny over the issue of equal pay. Breaking a straightforward pledge, the War Department had tendered black enlistees $10 a month, $3 less than whites received, with another $3 taken out for clothing. The two Massachusetts regiments refused to accept the lighter pay packets. "I am not willing to fight for anything less than the white man fights for," announced Corporal John Payne, an Ohio schoolteacher serving with the Fifty-fifth. "If a white man cannot support his family on seven dollars per month I cannot support mine on the same amount." In July, seventy-four soldiers petitioned President Lincoln for full pay or discharge. "If immediate steps are not taken to Relieve us we will resort to more stringent measures," they wrote. Rumors reached Fox that the men were prepared to stack arms and refuse duty. Massachusetts governor John Andrew lobbied Congress to make up the $3 shortfall. The Commonwealth legislature voted to cover the difference and bill the Federal Treasury. Sergeant James Trotter, a Mississippi-born former slave and an unofficial regimental spokesman, replied that the Fifty-fifth appreciated the gesture, but rejected the compromise.

    "The men all say that they will not take anything but the full pay from the government while they are in the field," Sergeant William Logan wrote Edward Kinsley, a Boston merchant who had "adopted" the Fifty-fifth (he sent regular parcels of newspapers and tobacco to the sergeant's mess and donated a clarinet to the regimental band) and acted as the soldiers' banker. "They say it would not be right for the state to pay what the government owes them unless she chooses to draw us home and pay us the whole amount."

    The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts served without compensation for sixteen months altogether. The government relented finally, dispatching an army paymaster to Folly Island to deal out greenbacks at the rate of $13 a month. Trotter returned from an early-autumn furlough to find an astonishing change in the collective mood. "I tell you that the 55th Reg't seemed an entire new set of men from those I left," he wrote Kinsley. Trotter noted, too, that within a couple of weeks the two Massachusetts black regiments posted upwards of $100,000 home to their wives and children.

    So the Fifty-fifth took the field with an important battle honor already won. Colonel Fox felt more than a professional interest in the regiment's readiness, the expedition's objective, and General Sherman's whereabouts. When last heard from, his brother John, a company commander in the Second Massachusetts, had been in Atlanta with Sherman's Twentieth Corps. The surviving soldier brothers Fox (a third, Tom, died of wounds a few weeks after Gettysburg) hadn't met for two years. Charley looked forward to a Christmastime reunion in Savannah or Charleston. Then came "reliable" word that the western army had veered to the north and converted Augusta, Georgia, into a ruin. "It seems almost too good to be true," Fox wrote home. It was, so he learned; all the same, John could hardly be far off now.

    The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts had come ashore at Hilton Head on Monday the twenty-eighth, rested for a few hours, then reboarded the steamer for the ghostly glide up the Broad River. The troops clambered up the greasy bank early Tuesday and joined other Second Brigade units collecting at Boyd's Neck under the protection of navy double-ender gunboats that had found a path through the encircling fog. Hatch's headquarters boat hove into view in the forenoon. When the engineers with the landing stage for troops, guns, and animals failed to appear, the First Brigade infantry landed anyway. The men were lightered ashore in small boats, and the horses and mules were lowered over the side to swim for it. The brigade then marched off, but unwittingly in the wrong direction, and away from the objective, the Grahamville halt on the Charleston & Savannah.

    These misadventures frayed Hatch's nerves. The First Brigade discovered its error and doubled back, and other units arrived as the afternoon wore on. Hatch might have pushed inland with these troops. Instead, he sent word for the van—the Naval Brigade with eight sailor-drawn light cannon—to halt for the night at a sandy crossroads eight miles below the railroad.

    The advance resumed at sunrise on Wednesday the thirtieth, the column moving westward along a narrow road through a dark, neglected country of bogs, withered grass and gaunt trees. A breeze sprang up early and tore holes in the fog. After a while a figure appeared in the road—a slave sent down from Grahamville to call hogs as a warning of the Yankee approach. A detail of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts took him in custody.

    First Brigade skirmishers encountered Confederate light forces a mile or so beyond a ramshackle meetinghouse called Bolan's Church. Dense woods crowded the track to the left. The terrain opened up to the right, though the rebels were here setting fields of broom sedge and cotton stubble alight as they scampered back. The column pushed on through the roar, heat, and stinging smoke of the fires. The sun had nearly climbed to the overhead before the skirmishers, tired and scorched, caught sight of what appeared to be a formidable earthwork. The road crossed a swampy creek just ahead, then bent sharply to the left around the base of a thirty-foot-high bluff—Honey Hill, according to Hatch's sketch map. Evidently the brigadier and his staff had known nothing of this strongpoint; anyhow, nobody mentioned it to Colonel Edward Potter, commanding the First Brigade. Nevertheless, Potter reeled in the skirmish line and signaled the charge.

    The attack went off just as Confederate reinforcements were reaching the battlefield. For two weeks these troops, a division of Georgia militia, had retreated steadily before Sherman. They were jaded—"almost broken down by fatigue and want of rest," reported their commander, Major General Gustavus Smith. Even so, and over the protests of the men, who reminded their officers that, by law, Georgia forces were not to be sent beyond the state's borders, Smith had agreed to go into South Carolina to drive the Yankees back to their gunboats and hold the railroad until the regulars turned up.

    Smith's fourteen hundred infantry rode to Grahamville along the warped rails of the Charleston & Savannah, jumping down from the flatcars at daybreak Wednesday and double-timing to Honey Hill. Smith carried out a hurried deployment, then allowed the men a short rest. Potter's line of battle emerged from the swamp 150 yards to his front around eleven o'clock.

    Georgia infantry and the dug-in cannon swept the road, stopping the initial charge short of the redoubt. The Federals flailed about in dense undergrowth and standing water under a pelting fire. Hatch sent for the Second Brigade under Colonel Alfred Hartwell to move up in support of Potter. Hartwell formed the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts and part of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts in a double column in the road, here built up to form a causeway through the bog. Mishearing Hartwell, Charley Fox led three of his companies into a woods off to the right, away from the main action. The other five companies advanced at a jog trot four abreast up the causeway into a blast of Confederate fire.

    The attackers flinched, rallied, and surged forward a few rods, were stopped, rallied again. Canister tore into the mounted group at the head of the column, cutting men down, Hartwell wrote later from a Beaufort hospital, "like grass by a mowing machine." A ball pierced Hartwell's hand; then his horse reared and toppled over onto him. As he fought free of the terrified horse a musket ball ripped into his boot heel, searing his ankle. He regained his feet; a spent grapeshot knocked him down again. A canister slug struck Captain William Crane in the forehead, killing him instantly. A moment later Crane's friend Winthrop Boynton dropped to the ground dead. The color sergeant, Richard King, fell, his lifeblood draining out of him and mingling with the blood of Winthrop and Crane. James Trotter was hit. Within five minutes, a hundred officers and men of the Fifty-fifth lay dead, dying, or wounded.

    Trailing infantry, stretcher-bearers, supernumeraries, company officers, and befuddled aides milled aimlessly on the causeway in the immediate rear of the fight. Nobody seemed to have the least idea of what to do next.

    "Charge, charge!" shouted a flustered lieutenant colonel.

    "Where?"

    "Charge!" he repeated, wildly waving his arms in the direction of the Confederate redoubt.

    Two companies of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts obediently moved off through a thicket of vines and catbrier. Shaking out into line on a wooded rise overlooking the creek, they lay low against a heavy, accurate fusillade. Dense flights of minié balls passed overhead. Some of the men, veterans of a misbegotten assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston sixteen months ago, swore afterward they had never experienced a hotter fire. And their tormentors were not Confederate veterans at all, only tired, surly, half-mutinous militia.

    A lull fell over the battlefield with the collapse of Hartwell's effort. Fox left his three companies in the ooze along the creek and went off in search of the rest of the regiment. He learned on the causeway that Hartwell had delegated the brigade command to him. A few minutes later General Hatch sent word to suspend the attack. Toward sundown, when a captured rebel reported that regular infantry had reached Grahamville, Hatch ordered a retreat to Boyd's Neck, where the lead-colored gunboats lay at their moorings.

    Potter organized the withdrawal, which came off without incident in the gathered dusk. Details from the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth collected the wounded—always an urgent task for African American troops, for the Confederates were known as a matter of common practice to deal with blacks red-handed on the battlefield. Improvising stretchers from muskets, shelter tents, and blankets, they carried men too hurt to walk rearward to a makeshift aid station at Bolan's Church. The temperature fell sharply with nightfall. Troops massed at the crossroads around great bonfires of fence rails and brushwood.

    Fogbound in every sense, Hatch had thoroughly mismanaged the engagement at Honey Hill, showing off an encyclopedic ignorance of the terrain, the enemy, and the capabilities of his own troops. Coast Division losses for the day added up to 91 killed, 629 wounded, and 26 missing. Confederate casualties amounted to 8 killed, 42 wounded.

    "The affair was a repulse owing entirely to the strong position held by the enemy and our want of ammunition," Hatch reported. Major General John Foster, commanding the Department of the South, accepted the explanation without comment. Survivors of the battle knew better. "There appears to have been a lack of foresight in the preparations," a company commander in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts remarked dryly. Everyone wondered why Hatch had persisted in funneling troops down the narrow causeway into the heaviest concentration of enemy fire. "Hatch, why in hell didn't you flank them on the right?" Sherman himself would ask, riding over the battlefield with the chapfallen brigadier a few weeks later.

    "We have been driven back," Charley Fox wrote his wife, Mary, from under the navy's guns at Boyd's Neck, "and whatever may be said, for the time badly whipped. It seems almost wonderful that I am alive."


THE PORT ROYAL MISSIONARIES heard the gunfire at Honey Hill and saw columns of smoke rising into the sky to the northwest. They had made friends with officers of the black regiments, and some of the men in the ranks were native Sea Islanders. Judging by the din, the fighting off toward the railroad was no mere skirmish. The missionaries went about their affairs in the mild, quiet light of that short last afternoon of November and anxiously awaited word of the outcome.

    Hundreds of Northerners—Treasury agents, parsons, schoolteachers, traders, bagmen, sharps, and cotton speculators—had infiltrated the Union-occupied South Carolina Sea Islands since 1862. Some came in pursuit of cotton profits, and for the thrill of authority over former slaves. A few came to serve, to work out their humanitarian designs in the island enterprise known as the Port Royal Experiment.

    The teachers and clergymen—New Englanders, New Yorkers, and Pennsylvanians mostly—sought to uplift and make citizens of the emancipated people. Naive, sentimental, visionary, they regarded themselves, in the phrase of an ally and admirer, Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, as the advance installment of "a great national atonement" for the evil of slavery. "We've come to do antislavery work," Pennsylvanian Laura Towne had announced on her arrival in the spring of 1862, "and we think it noble work and mean to do it earnestly." They styled themselves Gideon's Band; they were a herald or pledge of better times for an emerging race.

    From the outset, the Gideonites clashed with the soldiers and the cotton traders. The common run of government men struck them as uncouth characters of doubtful honesty. They loathed the speculators. For their part, the army officers and Treasury men derided the volunteers as humbugs, frauds, and quacks, fuzzy-minded amateurs who spoiled the Gullah locals and wasted the government's time.

    Even soldiers of liberal inclination were chary of the missionaries. Charles Francis Adams Jr. was raised on abolition. It had been practically a proprietorial issue in his family. Adams's grandfather, a scourge of slaveholders, defended fifty-three murderous slave mutineers of the Amistad and won their freedom in 1841. His father, the elder CFA, ran for the vice presidency on the original Free-Soil ticket in 1848. Time had softened the senior Adams's views, and he sought accommodation with the South on the eve of secession. His son, faced now with the actual experience of emancipation, found himself ambivalent, too.

    Adams reached Beaufort on Port Royal Island with the First Massachusetts Cavalry in January 1862, only a few weeks after a Union expeditionary force had seized the region. A reluctant soldier, he had agonized for months before volunteering. At the least, the army offered escape from a slack, stultifying law practice. His father, now United States minister to Britain, tried to dissuade him. There could be no glory in fighting one's own countrymen. But the prospect of glory counted for less than the bite of the Adams conscience: that awkward, inconvenient, and uncomfortable sense of inherited obligation.

    "For years our family has talked of slavery and of the South, and been most prominent in the contest of words," Charles wrote his father a few weeks after the rebel attack on Fort Sumter, "and now that it has come to blows, does it become us to stand aloof from the conflict?"

    Yet he idled away the spring and summer of 1861. He saw friends and acquaintances off to Virginia with the Second Massachusetts. In his silent office, with its stacks of law books with pages uncut and the dust thick on the blinds, he thumbed restlessly through the newspapers and argued out the case with himself.

    "Why do I stay home?"

    He settled the question during a long October gallop through the Braintree Woods. The blaze of red and gold had faded to somber russet by then, matching his mood. The formalities were hastily arranged, and on December 28, 1861, he stood on a railroad siding at Readville, Massachusetts, in a cold drizzle of rain while the First Massachusetts Cavalry loaded onto the cars for the first stage of the trip to Port Royal.

    "I felt neither regretful nor sentimental," Adams wrote in retrospect. "I asked only to get away."

    The first signs of upheaval in the Sea Islands shook him badly. On picket duty on one of the outlying islands, he cantered up to an abandoned plantation house to find the garden filled with rubbish, with splintered furniture and scraps of letters and books from the ransacked library moldering in the grass.

    "I wandered round and looked out at the view and wondered why this people had brought all this on themselves," he wrote his mother, "and yet I couldn't but pity them. For I thought how I should feel to see such sights at Quincy."

    War was chaos itself; now the ultra-abolitionists were fomenting revolution. "Edward Pierce arrived here on Sunday in command of forty missionaries," Adams wrote his father in March 1862. "They had better have kept away; things are not ripe for them yet and they are trying to force the course of nature." Let the radicals stand aside while the army crushed the rebellion. They could practice their schemes later, after the war had been won.

    "There is no abolitionism in the army," he went on. "The ultras in their eagerness have spoiled it all."

    Adams and the First Massachusetts Cavalry were ordered away to the Virginia front in August 1862. With the arrival of the first African American regiments in 1863 and 1864, the Port Royal missionaries encountered soldiers of a more sympathetic bent. Some of the white officers of the black units (for now, all the officers were white) were birds of passage. A fair number, though, were committed emancipationists who shared the Gideonites' exalted view of the war's purpose and meaning. The Brahmin abolitionist Robert Gould Shaw had been killed, martyred, leading the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts at Fort Wagner. A son of William Lloyd Garrison himself served as a subaltern in the Fifty-fifth.

    Word spread swiftly that the Grahamville expedition had miscarried. The Gideonites thus learned firsthand how fragile a soldier's life could be. "We know that hundreds of wounded men are coming to Beaufort," Laura Towne wrote her family in Pennsylvania. "We met a pleasant gentleman at Coffin Point last Sunday—a Captain Crane, and to-day we hear he is dead."

    Miss Towne had found her true vocation in the Sea Islands. Thirty-nine years old in 1864, she had studied homeopathic medicine for a season, then drifted into teaching, supplementing a token charity school income with what she ironically termed "dowry money" from her father, a well-to-do cotton and sugar trader. By 1861 she and a teacher friend, Ellen Murray, were settled in Newport, Rhode Island, joined in the domestic arrangement nineteenth-century New Englanders dubbed a "Boston marriage."

    The war, with its implication of freedom for the South's 4 million slaves, stirred visions of heroic exertion in Laura Towne. Army and government service were closed to her, as to most women. Ladylike pastimes such as sewing comforters for the troops, however important, were an insufficient outlet for her energies and ambition. "We had a fine war sermon from Mr. Brooks," she wrote her sisters at home at Oakshade, near Philadelphia, a few weeks after the outbreak of war. "Really the little meek man seemed a cool six-footer, ready for any enemy." Robust, strong-willed, formidably intelligent, she felt just that way herself.

    Towne landed at Hilton Head in April 1862 with one of the first of the missionary contingents. Ellen Murray joined her a few weeks later and they took up residence at the Oaks Plantation on Saint Helena Island, where former slaves were raising cotton for the U.S. Treasury under Edward Pierce's supervision. Laura managed Pierce's household. Ellen taught ABC's to the grown people on the place.

    Before the war, the South Carolina Sea Islands—Port Royal, Ladies', Saint Helena, Hilton Head, Fripp, Edisto, and others lying between Charleston and Savannah—had produced the world's finest long-staple cotton. The planters fled to the mainland with the arrival of Union troops in November 1861, leaving their Gullah slaves behind, as many as ten thousand men, women, and children. In U.S. government jargon the Gullahs were contrabands—people in a state of transition, no longer enslaved nor yet entirely free.

    The Treasury Department intended at first only to supervise the contrabands in their traditional task. This answered two purposes, or seemed to: former slaves were to be paid wages and so could support themselves, and government sales of the cotton they produced would defray some of the cost of the war. Pierce, a Boston businessman, and other plantation superintendents came into the islands under Treasury colors. Teachers and parsons from the private abolition societies presently followed.

    For the Gideonites, the Sea Islands were a laboratory for a grand experiment in free labor, education, and citizenship. The cotton superintendents regarded the labor question as paramount and sought to run the abandoned plantations as profit-making enterprises. In the economic miracle they foresaw, former slaves would evolve into a bucolic version of Yankee mill hands, industrious wage earners turning out bumper harvests of the cash crop for Northern investors.

    The missionary ultras believed that schooling, land ownership, and political activity would create a new class of independent, self-sufficient citizen out of the shambles of slavery. "God's program," according to the Reverend Mansfield French, "involves freedom in its largest sense—free soil, free schools, free ballot boxes, free representation." The cotton men, so the ultras charged, regarded the Gullahs as a permanent helotry, a source of field labor and fit for little more.

    The Gideonites gained an unlooked-for ally in General Saxton, the military governor of Port Royal and (unusually for a soldier) a true believer in black emancipation. His abolitionism had come down to him from his father, an irascible radical of a familiar New England pattern. The Saxtons were an established family in the old Pioneer Valley town of Deerfield, Massachusetts. A lawyer by trade, Jonathan Saxton neglected his clients in favor of advanced social causes: abolition, utopian settlements, temperance, the Short-Skirts League. He counted George Ripley, the Brook Farm visionary, as a friend and reserved a place among Ripley's Associationists for Rufus. Doubtless in reaction to his father's radicalism, the boy followed a different drummer. Winning appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he handed down the Brook Farm billet to his younger brother Willard.

    Saxton graduated eighteenth out of forty-three in the West Point class of 1849. A Coastal Survey assignment brought him to the Sea Islands in the 1850s, where he had a first up-close look at slavery. He returned at the end of '61 with the Port Royal Expedition. The War Department detailed him a few months later to oversee the abandoned island plantations, put them in cotton-growing order, and protect the Gullahs and mainland refugees flowing into the Federal lines from rebel reprisal.

    With the appointment, Saxton rose in one long step from captain to brigadier. His rivals suggested that he had lobbied for the post for the jump in rank. He always denied the charge. "I would have preferred being in the field," he once said, "but I was ordered to do this thing, and I have tried to do it faithfully, till the Government gave me something else to do. I was educated in its school and for its service, and I thought it my business to do whatever it required." Whatever the motive, the family radicalism soon percolated to the surface. Saxton came to regard the Port Royal governorship as a sacred trust. The Sea Islands could be a model, he believed, for emancipation efforts everywhere.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Author's Note
Time Line
Cast of Characters
Pt. 1 War and Revolution 1
1 Honey Hill 3
2 The Laws of War 35
3 The Sherman Lands 65
Pt. 2 The End of the War 97
4 The Smoky March 99
5 The Shell of Rebellion 136
6 Booth and His Crime 172
Pt. 3 Something Like Peace 205
7 Exile and Return 207
8 Crime, Punishment, Absolution 242
9 Fallow and Neglected Lands 282
Coda: 1876-1877 322
Notes 342
Bibliography 369
Index 375
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First Chapter

Note: The Figures and/or Tables mentioned in this sample chapter do not appear on the Web.

Part One

War and Revolution

November 1864-January 1865

We do all stand in the front ranks

of the battle every moment of our lives;

Where there is a brave man there is

the thickest of the fight--

there is the post of honor.

Henry David Thoreau

Journal

1

Honey Hill

V ENTING CLOUDS OF OILY SMOKE, the troop transports cast off from Hilton Head, glided into the Broad River, and vanished behind streamers of fog drifting in off the Atlantic. The fog thickened and settled, merging sky, land, and tidewater. The Cosmopolitan, carrying the expedition commander, Brigadier General John Hatch, fell out of line and anchored to await daybreak. Other vessels blundered on through the opaque night. The Canonicus, with the engineer battalion, turned up a blind channel, hopelessly lost in the murk. At first light, on a falling tide, the Mary Boardman, the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry (Colored) aboard, ran gently into the muddy bank. The pilot, more skilled than the others or luckier, struck the shore just downstream from the objective: the landing at Boyd's Neck, ten miles below the Charleston & Savannah Railroad.

Hatch, a West Point-trained cavalryman, commanded the newly formed Coast Division, assembled toward the end of November 1864 at Hilton Head in the Union-occupied South Carolina Sea Islands. His orders were to march inland and cut the railroad, which conveyed reinforcements and supplies to Confederate forces contesting the advance of Sherman's army through Georgia toward Savannah and the sea.

General Hatch massed fifty-five hundred men for the expedition, stray units of the Department of the South: a dozen infantry regiments with supporting cavalry and artillery. The African American Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Massachusetts had been summoned from the siege lines around Charleston. The Thirty-fourth U.S. Colored Troops were South Carolina men, former slaves. Four other black regiments withdrawn from coastwise garrisons, five white regiments, and a naval brigade of five hundred sailors and marines completed the Coast Division's order of battle.

The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts had marched to the Folly Island jetty on Sunday, November 27, 1864, and boarded two coastal steamers for the short voyage to Hilton Head. Along with rations and ammunition, the regiment carried shelter tents and thick blankets, too, for an unseasonable cold had descended upon the Low Country: heavy frost for two nights past, and a skim of ice on the water pails in the morning.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Fox, commanding the Fifty-fifth, felt his spirits lift that morning with the purposeful confusion of breaking camp. The son of a Unitarian parson in the Boston horsecar suburb of Dorchester, he had experienced hard service in the Army of the Potomac with the old Thirteenth Massachusetts: the Shenandoah Valley, the Second Bull Run campaign, Antietam. The Fifty-fifth, one of the first of the African American regiments, had seen limited action so far, skirmishes on Charleston's outwork islands mostly, and a profitless expedition to north Florida early in 1864. It came as a relief to escape the saw-grass waste of Folly Island, the furious stinging of the sand flies, and the interminable fatigues of the Charleston siege. The inviolate city itself lay hidden from camp behind a screen of dunes. In the middle distance, beyond Morris Island, battered Fort Sumter formed a squalid hump under its pall of mingled brick dust and smoke from cooking fires, a symbol of the rebellion and a prize long just out of Union reach.

Charley Fox judged the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts battleworthy now, fully recovered from a near mutiny over the issue of equal pay. Breaking a straightforward pledge, the War Department had tendered black enlistees $10 a month, $3 less than whites received, with another $3 taken out for clothing. The two Massachusetts regiments refused to accept the lighter pay packets. "I am not willing to fight for anything less than the white man fights for," announced Corporal John Payne, an Ohio schoolteacher serving with the Fifty-fifth. "If a white man cannot support his family on seven dollars per month I cannot support mine on the same amount." In July, seventy-four soldiers petitioned President Lincoln for full pay or discharge. "If immediate steps are not taken to Relieve us we will resort to more stringent measures," they wrote. Rumors reached Fox that the men were prepared to stack arms and refuse duty. Massachusetts governor John Andrew lobbied Congress to make up the $3 shortfall. The Commonwealth legislature voted to cover the difference and bill the Federal Treasury. Sergeant James Trotter, a Mississippi-born former slave and an unofficial regimental spokesman, replied that the Fifty-fifth appreciated the gesture, but rejected the compromise.

"The men all say that they will not take anything but the full pay from the government while they are in the field," Sergeant William Logan wrote Edward Kinsley, a Boston merchant who had "adopted" the Fifty-fifth (he sent regular parcels of newspapers and tobacco to the sergeant's mess and donated a clarinet to the regimental band) and acted as the soldiers' banker. "They say it would not be right for the state to pay what the government owes them unless she chooses to draw us home and pay us the whole amount."

The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts served without compensation for sixteen months altogether. The government relented finally, dispatching an army paymaster to Folly Island to deal out greenbacks at the rate of $13 a month. Trotter returned from an early-autumn furlough to find an astonishing change in the collective mood. "I tell you that the 55th Reg't seemed an entire new set of men from those I left," he wrote Kinsley. Trotter noted, too, that within a couple of weeks the two Massachusetts black regiments posted upwards of $100,000 home to their wives and children.

So the Fifty-fifth took the field with an important battle honor already won. Colonel Fox felt more than a professional interest in the regiment's readiness, the expedition's objective, and General Sherman's whereabouts. When last heard from, his brother John, a company commander in the Second Massachusetts, had been in Atlanta with Sherman's Twentieth Corps. The surviving soldier brothers Fox (a third, Tom, died of wounds a few weeks after Gettysburg) hadn't met for two years. Charley looked forward to a Christmastime reunion in Savannah or Charleston. Then came "reliable" word that the western army had veered to the north and converted Augusta, Georgia, into a ruin. "It seems almost too good to be true," Fox wrote home. It was, so he learned; all the same, John could hardly be far off now.

The Fifty-fifth Massachusetts had come ashore at Hilton Head on Monday the twenty-eighth, rested for a few hours, then reboarded the steamer for the ghostly glide up the Broad River. The troops Lieutenant Colonel Charles B. Fox, commanding officer of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts (Colored). The endless war had taken a psychological toll on Fox, a veteran of hard fighting with the Army of the Potomac in Virginia. "One would scarcely imagine the fearful scenes [of Honey Hill] were possible," he wrote in December 1864, "or that the men would be ready to re-enact them." (Massachusetts Historical Society) clambered up the greasy bank early Tuesday and joined other Second Brigade units collecting at Boyd's Neck under the protection of navy double-ender gunboats that had found a path through the encircling fog. Hatch's headquarters boat hove into view in the forenoon. When the engineers with the landing stage for troops, guns, and animals failed to appear, the First Brigade infantry landed anyway. The men were lightered ashore in small boats, and the horses and mules were lowered over the side to swim for it. The brigade then marched off, but unwittingly in the wrong direction, and away from the objective, the Grahamville halt on the Charleston & Savannah.

These misadventures frayed Hatch's nerves. The First Brigade discovered its error and doubled back, and other units arrived as the afternoon wore on. Hatch might have pushed inland with these troops. Instead, he sent word for the van-- the Naval Brigade with eight sailor-drawn light cannon-- to halt for the night at a sandy crossroads eight miles below the railroad.

The advance resumed at sunrise on Wednesday the thirtieth, the column moving westward along a narrow road through a dark, neglected country of bogs, withered grass and gaunt trees. A breeze sprang up early and tore holes in the fog. After a while a figure appeared in the road-- a slave sent down from Grahamville to call hogs as a warning of the Yankee approach. A detail of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts took him in custody.

First Brigade skirmishers encountered Confederate light forces a mile or so beyond a ramshackle meetinghouse called Bolan's Church. Dense woods crowded the track to the left. The terrain opened up to the right, though the rebels were here setting fields of broom sedge and cotton stubble alight as they scampered back. The column pushed on through the roar, heat, and stinging smoke of the fires. The sun had nearly climbed to the overhead before the skirmishers, tired and scorched, caught sight of what appeared to be a formidable earthwork. The road crossed a swampy creek just ahead, then bent sharply to the left around the base of a thirty-foot-high bluff-- Honey Hill, according to Hatch's sketch map. Evidently the brigadier and his staff had known nothing of this strongpoint; anyhow, nobody mentioned it to Colonel Edward Potter, commanding the First Brigade. Nevertheless, Potter reeled in the skirmish line and signaled the charge.

The attack went off just as Confederate reinforcements were reaching the battlefield. For two weeks these troops, a division of Georgia militia, had retreated steadily before Sherman. They were jaded--" almost broken down by fatigue and want of rest," reported their commander, Major General Gustavus Smith. Even so, and over the protests of the men, who reminded their officers that, by law, Georgia forces were not to be sent beyond the state's borders, Smith had agreed to go into South Carolina to drive the Yankees back to their gunboats and hold the railroad until the regulars turned up.

Smith's fourteen hundred infantry rode to Grahamville along the warped rails of the Charleston & Savannah, jumping down from the flatcars at daybreak Wednesday and double-timing to Honey Hill. Smith carried out a hurried deployment, then allowed the men a short rest. Potter's line of battle emerged from the swamp 150 yards to his front around eleven o'clock.

Georgia infantry and the dug-in cannon swept the road, stopping the initial charge short of the redoubt. The Federals flailed about in dense undergrowth and standing water under a pelting fire. Hatch sent for the Second Brigade under Colonel Alfred Hartwell to move up in support of Potter. Hartwell formed the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts and part of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts in a double column in the road, here built up to form a causeway through the bog. Mishearing Hartwell, Charley Fox led three of his companies into a woods off to the right, away from the main action. The other five companies advanced at a jog trot four abreast up the causeway into a blast of Confederate fire.

The attackers flinched, rallied, and surged forward a few rods,* were stopped, rallied again. Canister tore into the mounted group at the head of the column, cutting men down, Hartwell wrote later from a Beaufort hospital, "like grass by a mowing machine." A ball pierced Hartwell's hand; then his horse reared and toppled over onto him. As he fought free of the terrified horse a musket ball ripped into his boot heel, searing his ankle. He regained his feet; a spent grapeshot knocked him down again. A canister slug struck Captain William Crane in the forehead, killing him instantly. A moment later Crane's friend Winthrop Boynton dropped to the ground dead. The color sergeant, Richard King, fell, his lifeblood draining out of him and mingling with the blood of Winthrop and Crane. James Trotter was hit. Within five minutes, a hundred officers and men of the Fifty-fifth lay dead, dying, or wounded.

Trailing infantry, stretcher-bearers, supernumeraries, company officers, and befuddled aides milled aimlessly on the causeway in the immediate rear of the fight. Nobody seemed to have the least idea of what to do next.

"Charge, charge!" shouted a flustered lieutenant colonel.

"Where?"

"Charge!" he repeated, wildly waving his arms in the direction of the Confederate redoubt.

Two companies of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts obediently moved off through a thicket of vines and catbrier. Shaking out into line on a wooded rise overlooking the creek, they lay low against a heavy, accurate fusillade. Dense flights of minié balls passed overhead. Some of the men, veterans of a misbegotten assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston sixteen months ago, swore afterward they had never experienced a hotter fire. And their tormentors were not Confederate veterans at all, only tired, surly, half-mutinous militia.

A lull fell over the battlefield with the collapse of Hartwell's effort. Fox left his three companies in the ooze along the creek and went off in search of the rest of the regiment. He learned on the causeway that Hartwell had delegated the brigade command to him. A few minutes later General Hatch sent word to suspend the attack. Toward sundown, when a captured rebel reported that regular infantry had reached Grahamville, Hatch ordered a retreat to Boyd's Neck, where the lead-colored gunboats lay at their moorings.

Potter organized the withdrawal, which came off without incident in the gathered dusk. Details from the Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth collected the wounded-- always an urgent task for African American troops, for the Confederates were known as a matter of common practice to deal with blacks red-handed on the battlefield. Improvising stretchers from muskets, shelter tents, and blankets, they carried men too hurt to walk rearward to a makeshift aid station at Bolan's Church. The temperature fell sharply with nightfall. Troops massed at the crossroads around great bonfires of fence rails and brushwood.

Fogbound in every sense, Hatch had thoroughly mismanaged the engagement at Honey Hill, showing off an encyclopedic ignorance of the terrain, the enemy, and the capabilities of his own troops. Coast Division losses for the day added up to 91 killed, 629 wounded, and 26 missing. Confederate casualties amounted to 8 killed, 42 wounded.

"The affair was a repulse owing entirely to the strong position held by the enemy and our want of ammunition," Hatch reported. Major General John Foster, commanding the Department of the South, accepted the explanation without comment. Survivors of the battle knew better. "There appears to have been a lack of foresight in the preparations," a company commander in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts remarked dryly. Everyone wondered why Hatch had persisted in funneling troops down the narrow causeway into the heaviest concentration of enemy fire. "Hatch, why in hell didn't you flank them on the right?" Sherman himself would ask, riding over the battlefield with the chapfallen brigadier a few weeks later.

"We have been driven back," Charley Fox wrote his wife, Mary, from under the navy's guns at Boyd's Neck, "and whatever may be said, for the time badly whipped. It seems almost wonderful that I am alive."

THE PORT ROYAL MISSIONARIES heard the gunfire at Honey Hill and saw columns of smoke rising into the sky to the northwest. They had made friends with officers of the black regiments, and some of the men in the ranks were native Sea Islanders. Judging by the din, the fighting off toward the railroad was no mere skirmish. The missionaries went about their affairs in the mild, quiet light of that short last afternoon of November and anxiously awaited word of the outcome.

Hundreds of Northerners-- Treasury agents, parsons, schoolteachers, traders, bagmen, sharps, and cotton speculators-- had infiltrated the Union-occupied South Carolina Sea Islands since 1862. Some came in pursuit of cotton profits, and for the thrill of authority over former slaves. A few came to serve, to work out their humanitarian designs in the island enterprise known as the Port Royal Experiment.

The teachers and clergymen-- New Englanders, New Yorkers, and Pennsylvanians mostly-- sought to uplift and make citizens of the emancipated people. Naive, sentimental, visionary, they regarded themselves, in the phrase of an ally and admirer, Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, as the advance installment of "a great national atonement" for the evil of slavery. "We've come to do antislavery work," Pennsylvanian Laura Towne had announced on her arrival in the spring of 1862, "and we think it noble work and mean to do it earnestly." They styled themselves Gideon's Band; they were a herald or pledge of better times for an emerging race.

From the outset, the Gideonites clashed with the soldiers and the cotton traders. The common run of government men struck them as uncouth characters of doubtful honesty. They loathed the speculators. For their part, the army officers and Treasury men derided the volunteers as humbugs, frauds, and quacks, fuzzy-minded amateurs who spoiled the Gullah locals and wasted the government's time.

Even soldiers of liberal inclination were chary of the missionaries. Charles Francis Adams Jr. was raised on abolition. It had been practically a proprietorial issue in his family. Adams's grandfather,* a scourge of slaveholders, defended fifty-three murderous slave mutineers of the Amistad and won their freedom in 1841. His father, the elder CFA, ran for the vice presidency on the original Free-Soil ticket in 1848. Time had softened the senior Adams's views, and he sought accommodation with the South on the eve of secession. His son, faced now with the actual experience of emancipation, found himself ambivalent, too.

Adams reached Beaufort on Port Royal Island with the First Massachusetts Cavalry in January 1862, only a few weeks after a Union expeditionary force had seized the region. A reluctant soldier, he had agonized for months before volunteering. At the least, the army offered escape from a slack, stultifying law practice. His father, now United States minister to Britain, tried to dissuade him. There could be no glory in fighting one's own countrymen. But the prospect of glory counted for less than the bite of the Adams conscience: that awkward, inconvenient, and uncomfortable sense of inherited obligation.

"For years our family has talked of slavery and of the South, and been most prominent in the contest of words," Charles wrote his father a few weeks after the rebel attack on Fort Sumter, "and now that it has come to blows, does it become us to stand aloof from the conflict?"

Yet he idled away the spring and summer of 1861. He saw friends and acquaintances off to Virginia with the Second Massachusetts. In his silent office, with its stacks of law books with pages uncut and the dust thick on the blinds, he thumbed restlessly through the newspapers and argued out the case with himself.

"Why do I stay home?"

He settled the question during a long October gallop through the Braintree Woods. The blaze of red and gold had faded to somber russet by then, matching his mood. The formalities were hastily arranged, and on December 28, 1861, he stood on a railroad siding at Readville, Massachusetts, in a cold drizzle of rain while the First Massachusetts Cavalry loaded onto the cars for the first stage of the trip to Port Royal.

"I felt neither regretful nor sentimental," Adams wrote in retrospect. "I asked only to get away."

The first signs of upheaval in the Sea Islands shook him badly. On picket duty on one of the outlying islands, he cantered up to an abandoned plantation house to find the garden filled with rubbish, with splintered furniture and scraps of letters and books from the ransacked library moldering in the grass.

"I wandered round and looked out at the view and wondered why this people had brought all this on themselves," he wrote his mother, "and yet I couldn't but pity them. For I thought how I should feel to see such sights at Quincy."

War was chaos itself; now the ultra-abolitionists were fomenting revolution. "Edward Pierce arrived here on Sunday in command of forty missionaries," Adams wrote his father in March 1862. "They had better have kept away; things are not ripe for them yet and they are trying to force the course of nature." Let the radicals stand aside while the army crushed the rebellion. They could practice their schemes later, after the war had been won.

"There is no abolitionism in the army," he went on. "The ultras in their eagerness have spoiled it all."

Adams and the First Massachusetts Cavalry were ordered away to the Virginia front in August 1862. With the arrival of the first African American regiments in 1863 and 1864, the Port Royal missionaries encountered soldiers of a more sympathetic bent. Some of the white officers of the black units (for now, all the officers were white) were birds of passage. A fair number, though, were committed emancipationists who shared the Gideonites' exalted view of the war's purpose and meaning. The Brahmin abolitionist Robert Gould Shaw had been killed, martyred, leading the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts at Fort Wagner. A son of William Lloyd Garrison himself served as a subaltern in the Fifty-fifth.

Word spread swiftly that the Grahamville expedition had miscarried. The Gideonites thus learned firsthand how fragile a soldier's life could be. "We know that hundreds of wounded men are coming to Beaufort," Laura Towne wrote her family in Pennsylvania. "We met a pleasant gentleman at Coffin Point last Sunday-- a Captain Crane, and today we hear he is dead."

Miss Towne had found her true vocation in the Sea Islands. Thirty-nine years old in 1864, she had studied homeopathic medicine for a season, then drifted into teaching, supplementing a token charity school income with what she ironically termed "dowry money" from her father, a well-to-do cotton and sugar trader. By 1861 she and a teacher friend, Ellen Murray, were settled in Newport, Rhode Island, joined in the domestic arrangement nineteenth-century New Englanders dubbed a "Boston marriage."

The war, with its implication of freedom for the South's 4 million slaves, stirred visions of heroic exertion in Laura Towne. Army and government service were closed to her, as to most women. Ladylike pastimes such as sewing comforters for the troops, however important, were an insufficient outlet for her energies and ambition. "We had a fine war sermon from Mr. Brooks," she wrote her sisters at home at Oakshade, near Philadelphia, a few weeks after the outbreak of war. "Really the little meek man seemed a cool six-footer, ready for any enemy." Robust, strong-willed, formidably intelligent, she felt just that way herself.

Towne landed at Hilton Head in April 1862 with one of the first of the missionary contingents. Ellen Murray joined her a few weeks later and they took up residence at the Oaks Plantation on Saint Helena Island, where former slaves were raising cotton for the U.S. Treasury under Edward Pierce's supervision. Laura managed Pierce's household. Ellen taught ABC's to the grown people on the place.

Before the war, the South Carolina Sea Islands-- Port Royal, Ladies', Saint Helena, Hilton Head, Fripp, Edisto, and others lying between Charleston and Savannah-- had produced the world's finest long-staple cotton. The planters fled to the mainland with the arrival of Union troops in November 1861, leaving their Gullah slaves behind, as many as ten thousand men, women, and children. In U.S. government jargon the Gullahs were contrabands-- people in a state of transition, no longer enslaved nor yet entirely free.

The Treasury Department intended at first only to supervise the contrabands in their traditional task. This answered two purposes, or seemed to: former slaves were to be paid wages and so could support themselves, and government sales of the cotton they produced would defray some of the cost of the war. Pierce, a Boston businessman, and other plantation superintendents came into the islands under Treasury colors. Teachers and parsons from the private abolition societies presently followed.

For the Gideonites, the Sea Islands were a laboratory for a grand experiment in free labor, education, and citizenship. The cotton superintendents regarded the labor question as paramount and sought to run the abandoned plantations as profit-making enterprises. In the economic miracle they foresaw, former slaves would evolve into a bucolic version of Yankee mill hands, industrious wage earners turning out bumper harvests of the cash crop for Northern investors.

The missionary ultras believed that schooling, land ownership, and political activity would create a new class of independent, self-sufficient citizen out of the shambles of slavery. "God's program," according to the Reverend Mansfield French, "involves freedom in its largest sense-- free soil, free schools, free ballot boxes, free representation." The cotton men, so the ultras charged, regarded the Gullahs as a permanent helotry, a source of field labor and fit for little more.

The Gideonites gained an unlooked-for ally in General Saxton, the military governor of Port Royal and (unusually for a soldier) a true believer in black emancipation. His abolitionism had come down to him from his father, an irascible radical of a familiar New England pattern. The Saxtons were an established family in the old Pioneer Valley town of Deerfield, Massachusetts. A lawyer by trade, Jonathan Saxton neglected his clients in favor of advanced social causes: abolition, utopian settlements, temperance, the Short-Skirts League. He counted George Ripley, the Brook Farm visionary, as a friend and reserved a place among Ripley's Associationists for Rufus. Doubtless in reaction to his father's radicalism, the boy followed a different drummer. Winning appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, he handed down the Brook Farm billet to his younger brother Willard.

Saxton graduated eighteenth out of forty-three in the West Point class of 1849. A Coastal Survey assignment brought him to the Sea Islands in the 1850s, where he had a first up-close look at slavery. He returned at the end of '61 with the Port Royal Expedition. The War Department detailed him a few months later to oversee the abandoned island plantations, put them in cotton-growing order, and protect the Gullahs and mainland refugees flowing into the Federal lines from rebel reprisal.

With the appointment, Saxton rose in one long step from captain to brigadier. His rivals suggested that he had lobbied for the post for the jump in rank. He always denied the charge. "I would have preferred being in the field," he once said, "but I was ordered to do this thing, and I have tried to do it faithfully, till the Government gave me something else to do. I was educated in its school and for its service, and I thought it my business to do whatever it required." 24 Whatever the motive, the family radicalism soon percolated to the surface. Saxton came to regard the Port Royal governorship as a sacred trust. The Sea Islands could be a model, he believed, for emancipation efforts everywhere.

The Gideonites were skeptical at first. Saxton, forty years old in 1864, struck them as just another regular soldier, clannish, narrow-minded, and remote. "It is a great pity that he does not come onto the plantations himself and learn something, personally, of their state and wants," one remarked. 25 But they soon discovered that the holy fire burned within him.

"He is a thoroughgoing Abolitionist," schoolmaster Arthur Sumner wrote of Saxton. "It is delightful to hear a military man express so strong a confidence in Absolute Truth, and let the consequences take care of themselves."

Saxton supplied Gullah families with cloth, farm tools, seed, forage from government stores, and draft animals from government corrals. He abetted their efforts to acquire land. He exposed and hounded corrupt, incompetent, or abusive plantation superintendents. Vain and temperamental, he used to fly out savagely at subordinates who crossed him. When the Treasury agent A. S. Hitchcock recommended chain gangs and workhouses for indigent former slaves, Saxton-- through his brother Willard, one of his aides-- fired off a scathing rebuke:

Your letter is false, and as cowardly as false, because it is calculated, under a pretended garb of friendship, to misrepresent a downtrodden and oppressed people. General Saxton directs me to express to you his sincere regrets that his Dep't, or his work, has ever been cursed with such an agent as yourself.

In due course the peremptory brigadier found romance as well as a calling in the Sea Islands. Rumors of his courtship of the striking Matilda Thompson, a Philadelphia schoolteacher whose journalist brother edited the radical Beaufort New South, titillated the close-knit volunteer community. "The general does not deny it when accused," Towne reported. By force of habit Saxton directed his brother, as aide and factotum, to arrange matters for him.

Willard Saxton handed over Rufus's written proposal of marriage at the end of a long canter through oak woods with Miss Thompson, an accomplished equestrienne. Distractedly stroking the neck of the lathered and blowing horse, she opened the note and read it through. Then she read it again, more carefully this time.

"' Goodbye, brother,' she said as I left," Willard wrote in his journal that night, "& she rode back & I rode home, the bearer of the glorious news of his success."

Parson French joined the couple in Saint Helena's Church, Beaufort, in March 1863. The marriage sealed Saxton's alliance with the Gideonites. French became a key Saxton loyalist. Towne trusted him wholly. She even named a horse after him. The teachers discovered that he could be relied upon for material as well as moral support. When Elizabeth Botume asked Saxton for stuff for her sewing classes, he responded with a donation of yards of a heavy hickory-brown twill from a warehouse full of confiscated cloth originally intended for Confederate army uniforms.

The Gullahs, their ambitions fixed on land, thought highly enough of Saxton to make him a gift of a ceremonial sword on the first anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1864. They appreciated, too, his strong backing of the missionary schools. Saxton took every opportunity to show them off to Northern visitors. A steady stream flowed through Lizzie Botume's school just outside Beaufort: evangelists, reformers of every description, ethnographers and ethnologists, musicologists, collectors of folklore, curiosity seekers.

A Yankee officer with one group catechized the students about their religious beliefs.

"Children, who is Jesus Christ?" he asked.

"General Saxby!" one of the boys shouted.

The Gullahs, as it happened, venerated no one among the Gideonites. They knew them far too well for that. The volunteers were intimately mixed up in their lives at school, in the settlements, and on the plantations. From the first, the Gullahs and the missionaries tested one another's endurance, patience, and faith.

The teachers found the Gullahs' English and West African patois impenetrable. Eccentric use of pronouns, multiple proper names for the same person, and a queer if expressive jargon created a babel of misunderstanding. "I never knew whether they were talking of boys or girls," Lizzie Botume confessed. "They spoke of all as 'him.' " Teacher Harriet Ware puzzled over why one of her little pupils should be called "Rode." His mother explained that she had delivered him along the sandy verge of the highway on invasion day in 1861 when the concussive effect of the Yankee bombardment sent her into an early labor.

Gullahs believed in the evil eye, in witches, and in spirits. They dreaded being alone after dark, or sleeping alone. " 'The hag will ride we,' " they would whisper. The Gullahs' uninhibited expression of their religion, a folk amalgam of African fetish and Protestant Christianity, shocked even the calm, tolerant Laura Towne-- anyhow at first. "I never saw anything so savage," she remarked after witnessing a "shout"-- the prolonged, intense and sweaty dance that followed praise meetings on some plantations.

The islanders mistrusted white people congenitally. Associating cotton with slavery, they went grudgingly into the fields; their resistance vexed the superintendents, who could achieve nothing without reliable labor. For their part, the local people found the Northern obsession irksome. "The Yankees preach nothing but cotton, cotton!" a Gullah complained to Towne. She took his point: "The negroes can see plainly enough that the proceeds of the cotton will never get into their black pockets." 33 Exotic, quirky, independent, the Gullahs chafed under Yankee tutelage and resisted Yankee ways.

The Gideonites were volunteers, though, and most of them met hardship and frustration with courage and spirit. They had left behind tranquil lives in the North, exchanging feather beds and fancywork counterpanes for mattress ticking stuffed with cornhusks or Spanish moss, and good order for the prospect of war. For some, the first shocks of slavery were severe beyond imagining. Nothing, Towne discovered, cast the Peculiar Institution in a truer light than the physical scars it left on its victims.

"Loretta showed me her back, arms and breast today," she wrote her sisters at Oakshade. "In many places there were ridges as high and long as my little finger and everywhere marks of the whip. She said that her children had been killed inside her by the whip. She says it was because when heavy with child she could not do the full work of a field hand. I suspect her also of being rather apt to resist and rather smart in speaking her mind, poor thing."

The missionaries adapted slowly, too, to the Sea Islands climate. They lived in dread of malaria, typhoid, and yellow jack. Summer sun parboiled, oppressed, and enervated them; winter east wind, fog, and rain brought on streaming colds and ague chills. Essentials-- flypaper, army hardtack, salt junk and sardines, tea, sugar, and salt-- were often in short supply, sometimes unavailable altogether.

And there was a whiff of danger. Through most of the war, the threat of a Secesh return seemed real enough, even if the fighting soldiers were disdainful. (" Our pickets stand and gaze placidly at the pickets of the enemy on the shore opposite," Charles Adams once wrote. "About three times a week one party or the other tries to cross in boats and gets fired at, but no one ever seems to be hurt." ) 35 Mainland Confederates launched raids into the islands to reclaim abandoned cotton or carry off contrabands. With the Union army preoccupied in Virginia, forces were rarely available to defend the outlying plantations.

At first glance, the islands struck most Northerners as a forlorn country. For hours on end only the monotonous booming of the surf, the dry rasp of the wind in the palmettos, or the sudden shriek of wildfowl in the myrtle broke the exhausted silence. The hot reek of salt grass suffused the air. In the pestilential heat of late summer, Hilton Head might just as well have been a Devil's Island-style penal settlement, or a leper colony.

A long, swaying wooden wharf ran out from a muddy foreshore. Army camps, storehouses, and sutlers' huts (Robber's Row, in soldier argot) straggled along the riverfront. Stands of windbent pine rose from the low sandhills behind the camps. Out in the islands the plantations were untidy, the great houses deserted and derelict, and the black settlements squalid, a slum of shacks hammered together out of rough-sawn pine boards with tiny openings for windows and floors of mingled sand and lime.

The languid beauty of the Low Country revealed itself in gradual stages, after the clamor of arrival had died down: on the journey into the islands from Beaufort, say, in the flare of an October sunset with the voices of the boatmen floating over a tidal inlet:

Jesus make de blind to see, Jesus make de cripple walk, Jesus make de deaf to hear, Walk in, kind Jesus! No man can hender me.

The tall, spiky palmettos, once one grew used to them, had a sort of homely charm. "They stand alone in the cottonfields like our elms in a meadow," Harriet Ware wrote, "though there are fewer of them, and they are stiff and straight." The island roads wound through groves of evergreen live oak hung seductively with long gray draperies of Spanish moss, through which the sun cast shadows of fantastic, everchanging shape.

The broad cotton clearings lay fallow every other year, giving the islands a pleasant chiaroscuro pattern, living green swatches (golden in high summer when the cotton flowers were in bloom) alternating with fields brown with last year's growth. Even Beaufort (byoo'fit, in the soft, slurred local accent), for all its wartime dilapidation, had a faded appeal, especially along the waterfront, where the planters' shuttered town houses loomed behind high oyster shell and mortar walls.

Gentle taunts crept into missionary letters home as the long autumn advanced. "Just think, you poor, freezing windpierced mortals! We have summer weather," Towne wrote her sisters around the time of the Honey Hill battle. "The fields are gay with white, purple and yellow flowers, and with the red leaves of sumach and other shrubs. Our woods are always green. You can't see a leaf. Chill November! I pity you." Looking ahead to her third winter on Saint Helena, she exulted in the consciousness of full health and strength: "I eat like a horse," she wrote, "sleep like a top, do any amount of work, and read nothing!"

Lizzie Botume taught letters, counting, and sewing in a new wooden schoolhouse with a piazza, glazed windows, an airtight cast-iron stove, pine benches for the scholars, and, for her, a high desk with a countinghouse stool. The Gullahs called this Yankee wonder the "Hooper Bell School," after the philanthropist friend of Lizzie's who had donated the bell. She insisted on its proper name: the Whitney School, after the abolitionist family from Belmont, Massachusetts, that helped finance it.

Towne and Murray conducted their school in the Brick Church just off the Saint Helena high road. Towne doubled as consulting physician for the island. When smallpox broke out not long after she arrived at the Oaks, she drew on her half-forgotten homeopathic training to bring such relief as she could to the settlements. Within a few weeks she had the rounds of five plantations. "I have had good luck with my patients," she reported with pride, "and my fame is tremendous." The school flourished, too. By the autumn of 1864 more than two hundred students were enrolled.

She and Ellen introduced the mysteries of the alphabet to islanders of all sizes, sorts, and ages at the Brick Church, a sturdy building,* but crowded and subject to pedagogical gridlock: one group misbehaving riotously while another shouted the lessons and a third puzzled out the hieroglyphics in a tattered book. The teachers, meantime, alternately bawled reproofs and corrected mistakes.

As 1864 drew in, Towne packed for a move to a new schoolhouse, partly for larger quarters, and partly, too, to escape the Brick Church Baptists, who found her cool Unitarianism too rational for their taste. The building would have been finished long ago but for the incompetence (if not ill-will) of the Treasury. The government paymaster was six months in arrears, obliging Towne's contractor to send his workmen away to "literally fish for themselves" in the tidal pools and creeks until the greenback supply began to flow again.

Towne planned to open the new school on the first day of 1865. She managed, just at the last, to cajole a couple of the handier of the missionary men into knocking together a belfry to surmount it. In the Sea Islands, a bell was no mere affectation. The Gullahs cared little for Yankee notions of clockwork time. They measured the day by the position of the sun, the state of the tide, or some other regular natural occurrence, such as "frog peep." Towne counted on the regular tolling of the bell to teach the islanders the lesson of punctuality.

In December 1864, though, the islanders, white and black, were listening for a deeper note on the southwesterly breeze-- the trumpeting of the guns. "Deserters say Sherman is coming," Harriet Ware whispered on December 4. And a week later: "Savannah is in Sherman's hands. We hope and trust this is no South Carolina rumor."

THE COAST DIVISION KEPT UP a steady pressure on the Charleston & Savannah. Colonel Potter's brigade pushed up the narrow peninsula between Tullifinny Creek and the Coosawhatchie River to within a thousand yards of the railroad. Firing 30-pounder Parrott rifled cannon from a slashing in the pinewoods, Potter's gunners sought to interrupt the running of the trains.

"Our guns now play upon the road and day before yesterday smashed a locomotive which was attempting to pass," reported John Gray, a staff officer with General Foster's headquarters who had accompanied Potter to the front. A young Boston lawyer with limited field experience, Gray doubtless exaggerated the shattering effect of the cannonade. And in fact the disabled locomotive, one shot-up box-car, and two or three lengths of broken rail were the sum of the damage. Even with fairly constant shelling, traffic continued to pass in both directions.

The Coast Division did, however, cause an anxious several hours for C & S passenger Louis Manigault, who set out from Charleston on December 4 for the family's rice plantation, Gowrie, on Argyle Island in the Savannah River. The panting locomotive dragged the shabby cars southward through the glittering Low Country swamps, past the war-zone hamlets of Pocotaligo and Grahamville, and over the Savannah seven miles below Gowrie.

The Manigaults of Charleston, Huguenot by ancestry, rich, widely traveled, and politically aloof, lived off a comfortable fortune (at least half a million dollars in 1861) built on trade and slaves. Charles Izard Manigault, the patriarch, had married well: Elizabeth Heyward, a daughter of one of the two or three largest slaveholders in America. A hard and canny capitalist, he acquired Gowrie in 1833 and added the adjoining plantation, East Hermitage, in 1849. Other holdings included Marshlands near Charleston (with views of Fort Sumter and the Atlantic beyond), the Silk Hope plantation on the headwaters of the Cooper River, the tall, elegant Parker-Drayton House on Gibbes Street in Charleston, and several rent-producing commercial properties in the city.

Louis Manigault, Charles and Elizabeth's second son, grew up swathed in privilege, with servants to attend him and humor his whims, private tutors, long stretches living, traveling, and studying in France, and two years at Yale. Quitting New Haven in 1849, he set out on a grand tour, following in the track of his father, whose merchant travels in the 1820s had carried him entirely around the world, with extended stops in China, the Philippines, and Chile. Returning home in 1853, Louis took up what he assumed would be his life's work, managing the family's rice holdings on Argyle Island.

A hundred slaves worked the Savannah River plantations. Slave mechanics and carpenters built and operated Gowrie's elaborate system of dikes, ditches, and floodgates. Slave field hands turned over the earth and set the rice plants into the ground. Parties of slave women and children patrolled the fields to drive off the bobolinks (rice birds, the planters called them) that flew over in sky-darkening flocks in the spring and fall. Slave gateminders flooded the fields at intervals to drown grass and weeds and, as the rice plants matured, to keep the top-heavy stalks from falling over. Laboring in the watery, stupefying heat of late summer, slave gangs reaped by hand, using sickles or rice hooks; they stacked the sheaves for threshing; and they ran the steam thresher in Gowrie's handsome three-story millhouse, the largest on the river.

Louis Manigault, thirty-six years old in 1864, was bland of feature, of average height and sturdily built, with thinning hair and a closely trimmed beard; and in a wartime photograph he wears the crabbed, resentful expression of an indulgent man too long denied his accustomed pleasures. He had seen no active service in the war. So far as he was concerned, his younger brothers Gabriel and Alfred, both long-service cavalrymen, had fulfilled the family obligation to the Confederacy.

Alfred, twenty-four, was in Charleston on convalescent leave. Racked with recurrent malaria, he awaited word on his application for a permanent posting there. Gabriel, thirty-one, a subaltern in the Fourth South Carolina Cavalry, had been taken captive at Trevilian Station, Virginia, in June. He reported tolerable conditions at the island prison of Fort Delaware below New Castle, Delaware. Louis had volunteered some months ago for duty as private secretary to Dr. Joseph Jones, a senior Confederate medical officer. Jones set out in September on an inspection tour of military hospitals and prison camps in central Georgia, taking Manigault along as companion and transcriber.

He had seen slaves whipped and shackled and studied the fever- season death lists for Gowrie settlement. He had passed through a north China village in the grip of a cholera epidemic and toured a Shanghai prison. But nothing in the Savannah bottomlands or the dungeons of the Middle Kingdom had prepared him for his first view of the hospital sheds at Andersonville.

"One can only compare it to a Hades on earth," Manigault wrote his wife, Fannie. The noisome wards of the "so-called hospital" (his phrase), housed in four long lean-to sheds, presented as harrowing a scene as the American Civil War could show. The camp, opened in February 1864, was designed for 10,000 men. With thousands of fresh prisoners taken in Sherman's Atlanta campaign, the population had climbed through 32,000 by late summer. In August alone, 2,992 Federal prisoners died at Andersonville.

"I supposed they would show us where to camp, but nothing of the kind," Samuel Miller, a Pennsylvania-born Indiana cavalryman captured during General George Stoneman's raid to Macon, recalled of his arrival at Andersonville's North Gate. "We walked around that afternoon, looking for some place to squat but found none. So for the first night we slept on the ground in one of the narrow streets, no supper and no breakfast."

Miller finally found something to eat: moldy corn bread, beans infested with black bugs, a strip of ancient bacon-- standard Andersonville fare. Scurvy was endemic. Men's gums would swell, their teeth loosen, and their toes rot off. Fecal debris poisoned the main water supply, a shallow, sluggish stream that dried to a trickle in late summer. Prisoners burrowed into the ground like animals for shelter from cold, rain, and blistering sun. Gangs of stronger prisoners preyed on the weak. Thievery, extortion, even murder were common. A man risked death merely for extending an arm across Andersonville's notorious Dead Line.

"Some starving every day," Ohioan Asbery Stephen, a hospital orderly who kept records of the sick, wounded, dead, and dying, noted in August. "From the 1st to the 15th their was 1700 men died in the prison. Myself not so well."

In September, after the fall of Atlanta, the Confederates shipped out several thousand Yankees, some to Millen in north Georgia, others to Savannah and Charleston. Even with the culling, one in every four or five prisoners lay dangerously ill; on average in mid-September a hundred men died every day of disease, malnutrition, and neglect. The overpowering odor of death floated permanently over the camp. Boiling clouds of green flies tormented the living and feasted off the dead. There were, according to Manigault, 9,266 Federal graves in the Andersonville cemetery.

"I am hungry."

The words were a refrain and a lament in the pocket diary of the Indiana soldier Henry Sparks, taken with eleven others near Richmond in January 1864. In late March, the guards marched his party out of Richmond's Belle Isle Prison, bound-- so Sparks persuaded himself-- for the exchange queue. Instead, after a long, slow, miserable journey by rail, he passed through the North Gate at Andersonville. On August 9, 1864, trooper John Lee died, the seventh of Sparks's arrival group of twelve to perish there.

"Am hungry."

Sparks hoarded his meat ration to barter for life-sustaining vegetables; he once negotiated a trade of a shaving of rancid bacon for a cube of soap. He judged it a fair exchange: a day without nourishment for a chance to wash away the pine smoke that stained his skin black. After a few weeks in camp, Sparks contrived to obtain a coveted appointment as a hospital orderly. He gave it up after a couple of days. "I can't bear to see so much misary here as there is among the sick," he wrote in his diary. Work in the wards robbed him of all appetite for the increased rations that came with the job.

The sheds held two thousand of the weakest cases, "miserable, complaining, dejected living skeletons," Dr. Jones said of them, "crying for medical aid and food." 50 A single medical officer attended the entire camp. A researcher mainly, Jones spent most of his time in the Dead House, performing autopsies, picking apart bowels, brains, and hearts, work that might have saved lives in some theoretical future, but brought no relief to Andersonville's still-breathing corpses.

Prisoners pegged out at such a rate that a volunteer Roman Catholic priest could not meet the demand for the sacrament of the dying. He only managed to get through his day's work by severely editing down the service. Trusties carried out 67 bodies on April 4; 114 on August 14. Surveying the hospital records, Dr. Jones observed that in only a few months the record keepers listed 500 deaths under the heading of morbi vani.

"In other words," he explained, "the men died without having received sufficient medical attention for the determination of even the names of the diseases causing death."

On September 17, 1864, while Jones worked up the notes of his inspection tour and Louis Manigault classified and copied them out, 130 prisoners died at Andersonville, a record for one day. "At almost every step Death is busily engaged selecting his victims," Manigault wrote his wife. "Some poor unfortunate is either breathing quietly his last in his wretched tent; or a corpse scantily covered with the Yankee blue-shirt is stretched across your walk, his mouth open, his eyes gazing wildly, hands clinched, and body drawn up." Somebody would turn up eventually to pin an identifying scrap of paper to the victim's vomit-stained shirt. Then a cart would come along and a trusty would jump down, collect the withered body, trundle it through the South Gate, and dump it into a ditch, close-packed with the rest of the day's dead.

"Saw some dreadful scenes and got some raw beef," Asbery Stephen recorded one August evening.

And a month later: "Dreamed of home and baked goose-- All vanity."

Were the Confederates criminal, heartless-- or merely incompe- tent and overwhelmed? Civilians in the neighborhood made some effort on the inmates' behalf, though not much. "A good many ladies came to view the prisoners but did not make fun of us," Henry Sparks noted pathetically in his diary. "9 died last night on this side of the camp." 54 Distressing as conditions were, Manigault could hardly fault the Confederacy, still less the camp commandant, Henry Wirz--" the old Captain," the Yankees called him, a dark and frail forty-one-year- old Swiss with a limitless capacity for enduring the suffering of others. It was General Grant, after all, in response to the Confederate refusal to treat Federal black troops as prisoners of war (some were shot on the battlefield; some were returned to their prewar owners; some were put on the auction block and sold into slavery), who suspended the regular exchange cartel.

Grant's policy kept his brother marooned in the Delaware River, Louis reminded himself. As for Gabriel, his views moderated with each passing week. "We are all very much interested in the subject of exchange, & I think that many officers here favor a yielding of the negro question on our part which prevents it," he wrote from prison in September. Richmond refused to compromise. For his part, Louis retreated in the evenings to his tent in the pinewoods upwind of the Dead House and hardened his heart, remembering that, collectively, the Yankees had "clad every one of our families in mourning."

Andersonville delivered the first sharp jolt to Manigault's planterclass equanimity, but only the first. Absent in Macon, Charleston, or Augusta for most of the war, he had left an overseer in charge at Gowrie-- William Capers, a distant cousin of his father's. Competent, trustworthy and quick with the whip, Capers managed the rice enterprise profitably and kept Louis, Fannie, and their children petit Louis and Josephine supplied with vegetables and pork when hunger began to gnaw at the Confederacy. In Augusta, meantime, wartime shortages and the boundless unreliability of slaves meant drudgery and hot work for Miss Fannie: she baked bread; she made soap; and she took up the mending, too.

Capers supervised a volatile community at Gowrie. Slaves there felt the pull of freedom from Port Royal; talk of escape and even of insurrection agitated the settlements. As early as 1862, in fear of an outbreak, Manigault had driven a coffle of two dozen of the more unruly hands upcountry to Silk Hope, out of range of the Yankee contagion.

Manigault and Capers suspected a carpenter named Jack Savage of stirring up most of the trouble. Illiterate but quick-witted and sly, Savage built and maintained the wooden floodgates and trunks essential to rice farming. Manigault thought so well of his work that he used to show it off to visiting planters. For all his artisan skill, Capers regarded him as lazy, insolent, and incorrigible. Savage lit out for the swamps in February 1862. With other fugitives, he subsisted in that decaying amphibian world for eighteen months before returning of his own accord, half-wild and in rags, but defiant still.

The overseer did not live to enjoy his triumph for long. Fever laid him low during the summer of 1864 and in October he died. (If he heard of it, Savage surely regarded Capers's end as just, for none of his own four children had survived Gowrie's deadly summers to live to adulthood.) So Manigault was on his way down to Argyle Island early in December to install Capers's successor.

He reached Gowrie without incident, though the army held up the cars at Grahamville for a couple of hours so troops could be rushed up the line to meet another Yankee lunge at the Charleston & Savannah. He knew of Sherman's approach; his Savannah acquaintances could talk of little else when he passed through late on Sunday the fourth. All the same, he went about his business at Gowrie as if nothing would ever change on the place.

"The Negroes all looked well, and seemed pleased to see me," Manigault wrote serenely in the plantation journal. The 1863 and 1864 rice harvests had been good in the circumstances-- around ten thousand bushels each year. With a little luck, things might turn out favorably yet for 1865. Manigault struck an agreement with a new overseer, J. W. Bandy. He brought the journal up to date. And he supervised the unpacking of his private library, shipped downriver from Augusta for safekeeping at Gowrie.

Then, all of a sudden, as though they had dropped out of the hazy late autumn sky, Sherman's vedettes appeared in the neighborhood. On the sixth, leading elements of the Federal Fourteenth Corps reached Sister's Ferry on the Savannah. Within a day or so Manigault could distinctly hear picket firing away to the north.

He boarded the cars for the return to Charleston on December 8. The army again halted the train near Grahamville. The Confederates were dropping back to the railroad under enemy pressure; Manigault here saw infantry in line of battle for the first time. "Minié Rifle balls were falling on the track, & the enemy only 3/4 of a mile from us," he wrote. "We were for a time in great danger of being captured. Wounded men, fresh from the battle field, were brought to the Pocotaligo Depot, whilst we took on the Cars the Bodies of several who had been killed." 59 Shaken but untouched, he reached Charleston that night and continued on early the next morning to Marshlands, the family country seat seven miles out of town.

"At breakfast," he noted complacently, "my Father & Alfred thought it very wise in my having returned before being cut off & congratulated me on my escape."

WHILE POTTER'S FIELD FORCE HARASSED the fare-paying passengers of the Charleston & Savannah, the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts marked time in the rearward defenses at Boyd's Neck. Word reached Charley Fox there on December 9 that one of his officers, Lieutenant Edwin Hill, on temporary loan to Potter, had been killed in the skirmishing south of the railroad: yet another casualty for the Fifty-fifth on this ill-omened expedition.

Honey Hill had come to obsess Fox. Something had gone obscurely wrong for him there. "This is a warm, pleasant, beautiful day, like a day in New England in early June, all around being apparently cheerful and happy," he mused in a letter to Mary at home in Dorchester. "One would scarcely imagine the fearful scenes of Wednesday were possible, or that the men would be ready to re-enact them." 61 Fox had never given anyone cause to doubt his steadiness under fire-- until now, for Major William Nutt had begun to wonder aloud where the colonel had strayed the afternoon of November 30, and for what purpose.

Fox could barely bring himself to put the insinuation into words. Nutt accused him of skulking; that was how he interpreted Fox's truant stroll into the pines with the leading companies of the Fifty-fifth. Fox had missed the charge up the causeway in consequence. As for Nutt, he'd handled himself well in the battle, as Colonel Hartwell acknowledged-- he even had shot a horse out from under him.

Nutt spoke openly and mockingly of the incident, but made no move to file a formal charge. In denying Fox a venue for a defense and judgment he intensified his discomfort, a lurking embarrassment he could not always hide behind the dark coil of his flowing beard. Fox tried, not very convincingly, to make light of it.

"I don't pretend to any great degree of courage, but certainly after the battles of Virginia I should not be apt to run away from Honey Hill," he wrote Mary.

Not a popular officer, Fox was yet a conscientious one, famous for his punctilio. He banned gambling in camp on Sundays. He enforced a no-fires-on-picket order to the letter on quiet Folly Island, prohibiting even tent candles. He made "such a pow-wow," one of his officers complained, "that one would really think we held an entrenched camp in the midst of the rebels and that they were intent on devouring us." 63 In fairness, Fox asked no more of others than of himself. At Boyd's Landing he slept with the troops under canvas in a rain-sodden field when he might easily have claimed a few feet of dry floor in an abandoned house nearby; nor would his conscience allow him to accept the navy's standing offer of a hot bath-- one of the manifold advantages of steam-- aboard one of the gunboats.

Fox's relations with James Trotter and the other black petty officers were no easier. Trotter had made his way from Cincinnati to Boston early in 1863 to enlist in the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts. Articulate and astute (he taught school in Ohio before the war), with a highly developed grasp of social circumstance, Trotter acted as a mentor to the junior noncommissioned officers. He pushed them to master drill, to carry out routine military tasks to perfection, to attend the regimental evening school sessions that taught reading and writing-- to force the officers to advance them. Many of the men who came into the Fifty-fifth had barely been able to make their mark. Alonzo Boon had been one such.

"I spoke to him of the importance of learning, telling him that I would gladly help him, and that when he could read I would recommend him for Sergt.," Trotter wrote after Boon's death in action at Morris Island. "Right manfully he took hold, and before he died he had acted as orderly Sergt., and could make out all the papers and [had] written three letters home."

Alfred Hartwell, Charley Fox's predecessor in command of the Fifty-fifth, had promoted Trotter to acting lieutenant and recommended him for the permanent rank. Governor Andrew drafted commissioning papers for Trotter and two other sergeants. When Hartwell moved up to command the brigade, Trotter expected Fox to follow through on the matter. He did not. Fox's views were equivocal, and the NCOs knew it.

Scouting Andrew's wishes, General Foster, the department commander, refused to discharge the sergeants so they could return as second lieutenants. Foster claimed that no law authorized the commissioning of black officers. "This is a model way to promote military discipline and efficiency," Trotter wrote acidly. "They differ with Napoleon. He always secured the perfect good behavior of his soldiers by promoting the deserving." 65 Fox made no effort to argue Foster around. Trotter and the others had been resentful ever since.

"An officer told me that it was 'too soon,' that time should be granted white officers to get rid of their prejudices," Trotter wrote Edward Kinsley in Boston. "So that a white Lieutenant would not refuse to sleep in a tent with a colored one. Of course he supposed that an objection of this kind would be made always by the white Lieut., and that educated decent colored officers would never object to sleeping with the former whatever might be his character. Yes, there is really more turning up the noise on account of the commissions in our very midst than elsewhere; and no other reason is given except Color."

Fox's tactless handling of the issue added fuel to the petty officers' grievance. When a newly commissioned white officer turned up at the Fifty-fifth's camp, Fox went out of his way to send for Trotter and explain that he had known nothing about the appointment. He failed to persuade him.

"How else could it have been done? Col. Fox dissented with Col. Hartwell when he recommended colored men for commissions."

There matters stood. As it happened, Foster eventually agreed to approve commissions for men of "ability, manners & education" on application from a regimental commander if the other regimental officers endorsed the arrangement. 68 Fox did not request the appointment of Trotter or anyone else. Even if he had, most of the white officers of the Fifty-fifth would have objected; several would have resigned on the spot.

Fox knew that the sergeants viewed him as an obstacle. He regretted that. All the same, he took pride in his record. He had, for example, once ordered a white soldier in arrest for addressing one of his men as "nigger," an insult so common many officers would simply have let it pass. Fox emphasized the point by sending the offender to the provost under an armed escort of blacks. The African Americans of the Fifty-fifth saluted him for it. "A few cases like this will teach these fellows to attend to their own business," Sergeant Richard White thought-- naively, as time would show.

Moody, saturnine, and intermittently depressed, Fox cut a forlorn figure even in palmy times. Honey Hill had multiplied his troubles. Had he funked it there? Nutt's sneering charge left him uneasy in his skin. As it happened, though, events were soon to chase away his private phantoms.

The roll of cannon fire could be heard from the direction of Savannah all through the morning of December 11-- Sherman's guns, Fox reckoned. A day later, one of Sherman's scouts made contact with Union warships in Ossabaw Sound. The navy obligingly ferried the ranger around to Hilton Head. Reliable witnesses reported actually sighting him there: incontestable evidence that the western army had materialized out of the Georgia barrens at last.

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