This morning the Planter, with Capt. [Charles T.] Trowbridge's and Capt. Rogers' companies, met us in St. Simon's Bay. They have not been idle. They left Cumberland Bay the day before yesterday and taking the inside route, destroyed some salt works, which operation has damaged the rebels to the extent of about twenty five thousand dollars. They met with no opposition, but had a hard time dragging their boats through a marsh. The marshes, or savannahs, in this part of the country, which border the rivers, are almost impassable for human beings, yet many a slave has waded through them toward the north star of freedom.
Today I find a formidable sick list, the result of huddling so many men together in the hold of the John Adams, but I think nothing serious will come of it. The officer in command at Fernandina has no authority to send out a flag of truce with prisoners, so we take all ours to Beaufort. I am exceedingly glad of it, since I have found, through Robert Sutton, that one of them shot a man while he was trying to escape to the “yankees.” After I had dressed Robert's wound, this morning, he took me to the rebel and ingeniously made him say: “No, you are mistaken, the gun went off accidentally.” “And besides he was not killed, but died of fever.” “Then,” said I, “you did threaten to shoot him?” “Yes, but intended it only as a threat.” Robert said “I know you killed him;” and I to Robert, “The testimony of black men is legal now in Florida.”
We are taking several white soldiers and officers from Fernandina to Hilton Head. Their prejudice against our soldiers is amusing. We happen to have command of this steamer and, of course, have the best places. I find white soldiers sleep on deck rather than go below with our men. Last evening I saw a Lieutenant getting two of our soldiers to take his trunk down to the cabin and he was rather suddenly informed by Lieut. West that United States soldiers were not to be called upon to do menial service. Another Lieut. expressed the opinion to our rough and ready Capt. [George] Dolly, that “these niggers never would fight much. Dolly, in his fearful way, said; “You d----d fool; these soldiers have already fought more bravely than you ever will, you who have lived a couple of years on Uncle Sam without earning a cent for him.” The Lieut. did not think it safe to reply. I fancy Dolly. He is a vandal, but generous and brave. His men love him and fear him. His orders are somewhat terse, when in battle. I happened to be standing by him when he gave the command, “Cease firing, but if they fire again, “give ’em hell.”
The Colonel's daring bravery has deepened the love and admiration of his men and officers. I have been a constant source of annoyance to him by words of caution, but am happy to know that they were heeded. The death of Capt. Clifton was a terrible confirmation of all I have said, and I doubt if the Major [Strong] again puts himself unnecessarily in the way of so much danger. I could not get the ball that passed through the mess room where I was writing, but I picked one up in the prisoner's room, adjoining. Had we been the prisoners, our place would have been on the upper deck, where they begged we would not put them, and where no one dreamed of putting them. All of them, except Mr. B., are now forward with the soldiers.
Our expedition has been a capital success. We have had our soldiers three times under fire and know that they only care to face the enemy. We know also, that they can be trusted with the conquered foe. Not a single unbecoming act have I seen or heard of on the part of the guards, skirmishers or pickets. It was not for want of temptation, and I am led to wonder at their self-control. The material benefit to the Government, of the expedition, is not inconsiderable. We are more than ever satisfied that the blacks must help us in this war.
The next question to solve, is, how to penetrate far enough into the interior to free them. Possibly it remains for our regiment to solve this problem. Give us a good gunboat and plenty of ammunition to help us into the midst of them and I think we may trust God and our determination for the result.1
1 Colonel Higginson's report of this expedition up St. Mary's River is in [the] Records of the Rebellion, xiv. 195.
SOURCE: Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Volume 43, October, 1909—June, 1910: February 1910. p. 354-6