|Lieut Col Liberty Billings
Lt-Colonel Billings was born in Maine in 1823. At 25 years of age he became an ordained Unitarian
minister. He enlisted in New Hampshire on July 29, 1862. He was commissioned an officer in
Company S, New Hampshire 4th Infantry Regiment on the same date. At some date he was a provost
marshall in St. Augustine under the 4th. He is listed however as the Chaplain in that unit.
He mustered out on November 4, 1862. According to the record of Thomas Wentworth Higginson,
who commmanded the First South Carolina Volunteers, Billings enlisted in that regiment before it was
renamed to 33rd USCT Infantry Regiment. See Army Life in a Black Regiment, written by Thomas
Wentworth Higginson. At 39, Billings was promoted to Lt Colonel on 31 Jan 1863. He was dismissed
by an examining board on July 28, 1863
He served on a recruiting mission to St. Augustine and brought back many of the soldiers listed with
recruitment dates around January 14, 1863. March 28, 1863 at a landing at Palatka. He was just
climbing up the wharf and had both hands up at the top of the ladder and a buckshot went
simultaneously through the fleshy part of each hand without touching the bone. He turned to retreat and a
spent bullet hit him lightly on the hip.
The wounded officer was Lt. Colonel Liberty Billings, a New Hampshire abolitionist that neither
Higginson nor Col. James Montgomery admired. Higginson wrote after the wounding: "I suppose Lt.
Col. Billings will be a hero at the North. A wound is a wound no matter if one stumbles into it, as was
undeniably the case with him. For myself I could spare him forever; he is absolutely worthless to me."
Higginson wrote further: "The lieutenant-colonel all but cried to go home and show his martyred hands to
the C---- ladies who had previously planned a festival for him in the City Hall! Heaven forgive me if I
wrong him, but he is an uncommon baby, for his size...The crack some jokes on him, the officers; some
say the rebels tried to crucify him; others that he knelt to pray for mercy and so the shots went through
the uplifted hands."
On to Jacksonville
In the attempt of General Saxton to secure Jacksonville, the entrance to all of Florida, the First South
Carolina Volunteers were among the regiments sent to occupy the state. They proclaimed freedom to
the enslaved first at Jacksonville, and they worked to fortify the Union forces in order to take control of
the entire state of Florida. Their occupation greatly antagonized the Confederates.
As detachments moved further toward Palatka up the St. John's River, they were attacked by
Confederate Captain Dickison and his forces. Billings was among those injured who survived, and the
group returned to Jacksonville. According to a communication by Brigadier-General Finegan, Billings
was wounded in four places. See Official records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865.
For a different view of Lieut Col. Billings Charlotte Forten Grimke a teacher at St. Helena's island writes
about him in her journal on December 25, 1862: "After the gifts were distributed, they were address by
Lieut. Col. Billings of the 1st reg. S. C. Vol. He is a N. E. man of very gentlemanly and pleasing
manners. A good man, and much interested in the people, I sh'ld think. I liked him." By January 1 her
view of him was dimming also: "....Dr. and Col were called away for a moment, and Lieut. Col Billings
coming in w'ld insist upon our going into his tent. I did not want to go at all, but he was so persistent we
had to. I fear he is a somewhat vain person. His tent was very comfortable too, and I noticed a quite a
large piece of "Secesh" furniture, something between a secretary and a bureau, and quite a collection of
photographs and daguerres. But I did not examine them, for my attention was occupied by Col H....."
"After being wounded in the Civil War, Billings was honorably discharged 1863 and in 1865 arrived in
Fernandina and purchased property. Billings championed black rights in Florida and was a leader in
Florida's Reconstruction politics. In 1870, he conducted the U.S. Census in Nassau County. From 1871
to 1877, he was a state Senator, representing Nassau, Duval and St. Johns Counties. Serving as
president pro-tempore of the Senate, he died in Fernandina in 1877
According to Pablo Rogers Co.. A, 21st Regiment, United States Colored Infantry "Col. [Liberty]
Billings had my discharge papers and he died with yellow fever and then his wife went-away and carried
my discharge papers with her."