Return to Chase to Stanton
See also Port Royal Experiment
          Department of the South
          General David Hunter
G. M. Wells to Edward L. Pierce, No. 7
May 13, 1862
War of Rebellion Records
No. 7
Mrs. Jenkins' Plantation
Saint Helena Island, S. C.

E. L. Pierce, Esq.:

Dear Sir: The quiet of the last Sabbath morning was broken in upon by one whom I shall call in this
connection an intruder, Mr. Phillips. I saw that he was laboring under some excitement, which
excitement was communicated to me through the medium of a circular from General Stevens, which
Mr. Phillips very privately submitted for my perusal and benefit, with also an order from yourself
authorizing me to act in accordance with the spirit and letter of the military command. At half-past 1
a.m. of Monday a detachment of three soldiers, in command of a corporal, were admitted to my
house and quartered, also breakfasted in the morning. After which preparation was made fo rthe
execution of the "order." As we left the house we saw where had been but a few moments before
field hands, hard at work, nothing but horses and plows without drivers, and idle hoes. On inquiry
we found that no one could tell the whereabouts of any of the "able-bodied men." The fact was they
had smelt a very large rat," and according to the expression of an old man on the place, had found
it "very necessary to go to the woods to split rails." The soldiers went to the cabins and to the
woods some quarter of a mile distant and brought in all but two of the men "capable of bearing
arms." The two men had eluded the vigilance of the soldiers and could not be found. The people
were not told the object for which they were taken until they were brought to me. I tried to explain to
them why they were to be carried away, cheering and encouraging them by every means in my
power. All seemed disheartened and sad, throuh none were stubborn or used harsh words. The
soldiers used them very kindly and made no decided demonstration of authority. The scene at the
house was strange and affecting. Women and children gathered round the men to say farewell.
Fathers took the little children in their arms, while the women gave way to the wildest expressions of
grief. When the women first came up several of them had axes in their hands. My foreman also
carried his ax about with him for some time, but no threat or attempt to use them was made. I think
the axes were those which the men had used in the woods for railsplitting, but when the time came
to march these were laid aside, and a moaning and weeping such as touches the hearts of strong
men burst forth, an evidence and sure witness that there is a fountain of love and humanity in the
hearts of the poor negroes of South Carolina that can be opened and will overflow with the
sentiments which characterize the heart of mankind that is impressed with the image of God. My
attempts to comfort the hearts and quiet the apprehensions of the mourners were quite
unsuccessful, and i left them to join the new recruits, they "refusing to be comforted." One woman
told me she had lost all her children and friends, and now her husband was taken and she must die
uncared for. Many expresions of a like nature were made to me, while all felt and believed this to be
a final separation. My protection was claimed, but I was to give "such aid as was in my power" for
the execution of the order. I reserved, by advisement of the corporal, the foreman on all my places.
At the Doctor Croft plantation but two men were taken, the others with the foreman escaped to the
woods, having gained information in regard to the movement from a woman who had seen the
soldiers at Mrs. Jenkins' plantation. Some of the remain hands protested that they would not work
any longer on the plantations, but have concluded, since I have talked with them, to go on with their
labors, and a few are willing to do more than before. This conscription, together with the manner of
its execution, has created a suspicion that the Government has not the interest in the negroes that
it has professed, and many of them sighed yesterday for the "old fetters" as being better than the
new liberty. My own heart, well-nigh failed me, and but for the desire to still sympathize with this, as
they call themselves, "short-minded' but peculiar people, I should desire to commit my charge to
some person with a stronger mind and sterner heart than my own.

It gives me pleasure to state today that there is something less of the demonstration of grief than
yesterday, though their hearts are still large with thoughts of the separation.

With much respect, I subscribe myself, your humble servant,
G. M. Wells,
Superintendent of Plantations