|Return to Chase to Stanton
See also Port Royal Experiment
See also Department of the South
See also St. Augustine and the Civil War
|Pierce to Chase No. 1
May 12, 1862
War of the Rebellion Records
Port Royal, S. C., May 12, 1862
Hon. S. P. Chase:
Dear Sir: This has been a sad day on these islands. I do not question the purpose which has
caused the disturbance, as in many respects it is praiseworthy; but practical injustice and inhumanity
may often consist with a benevolent purpose.
Last evening (Sabbath) I received a messenger from General Stevens bringing an order from
General Hunter requiring all able-bodied negroes between eighteen and forty-five to be sent early
this morning to Beaufort, and from thense to go at once to Hilton Head, where they were to be
armed. Having communicated the order to the superintendents, with a request for their aid, I sought
at once General Stevens at Beaufort, whom I reached at 10 p.m., and in whose office I passed the
night writing and copying. From General Stevens I learned that without previous consultation the
imperative order had come from General Hunter, to be executed forthwith. He was going to seek
General Hunter by a boat leaving Beaufort at 6:00 a.m. and express his views. There were reasons
why it was best for me not to go in person at the same time, and I arranged to go a few hours later.
At once I wrote the inclosed letter to General Hunter, to be forwarded by the same steamer which
carried General Stevens down. You will there find my views of the proceeding. Leaving Beaufort
about 9 a.m., I reached there in an hour and a half. General Hunter received me civilly and said he
had read my letter. To my question if he was aware that he was thwarting a plan of the Government
which I had in charge, he said he could not help it if two plans of the Government conflicted.
To my question if he intended to enroll these people against their will, he said he did not.
To my question if I might so communicate to them, he said he preferred I should not, but he would
make the assurance to me. Later, however, and after a visit from John M. Forbes, who you
remember served with you in the peace congress, and now returns in the Atlantic, he sent for me
and told me he had changed his mind on that point; that such assurance might be given to the
negroes, and he had so telegraphed to General Stevens, adding that they were to be told that they
were to receive free papers at Hilton Head, and then return if they desired. I suggested the expected
coming of General Saxton, provided with new and ample instructions, after a conference between
the Treasury and War Departments. He said that it would then pass into General Saxton's hands
and he might do as he pleased. I told him I yielded full obedience and co-operation, but I trusted he
understood how totally his order conflicted with my views. He was gracious, but evidently felt
committed to something which must go through.
I sought General Benham and conferred with him. The result is that, as far as I can find, he (General
Hunter) has not consulted with any of his brigadier-generals and the project was exclusively his own.
He has never consulted me, or any of the superintendents, who come in direct contact with these
people, as to the plan or their feelings or disposition to bear arms---something of course essential,
in order to lay the basis for wise and steady action. A fortnight ago he sent me a letter by James
Cashman, a colored man, saying the bear was authroized to enlist 100 men on Ladies and Saint
Helena and desired my co-operation, which I at once gave. Cashman was getting recruits, and had
got perhaps twenty-five or fifty. I gave him a circular letter to the superintendents, requesting them
to encourage all persons disposed to enlist, however important to the plantations. That original plan
of General Hunter I agreed with, and I as much disagree with his last.
General Hunter has been evidently acting in this matter upon certain notions of his own which he
has been revolving in his mind, rather than upon any observation of his own or the testimony of
others as to the feelings and dispositions of these people, which was of course the first thing to be
considered. As a general rule they are extremely averse to bearing arms in this contest. They have
great fear of white men, natural enough in those who have never been allowed any rights against
them, and dread danger and death. They are to be brought out of this unmanliness with great
caution and tact, and the proceedings of to-day, managed as they have been with a singular
forgetfulness of their disposition, will only increase their aversion to military service.
I now come to the scenes of to-day, which have been distressing enough to those who witnessed
them. Some 500 men were hurried during the day from Ladies and Saint Helena to Beaufort, taken
over in flats and then carried to Hilton Head in the Mattano. The negroes were sad enough, and
those who had charge of them were sadder still. The superintendents assure me they never had
such a day before; that they feel unmanned for their duties, as as if their work had been undone.
They have industriously, as subordination required, aided the military in the disagreeable affair,
disavowing the act. Sometimes whole plantations, learning what was going on, ran off to the woods
for refuge. Others, with no means of escape, submitted passively to the inevitable decree.
To-morrow I shall address General Hunter with a more full description, and I will herewith send a
copy of the letter; also inclosing the testimony of some superintendents, and to the letter and
testimony I ask your attention. The mischief done cannot easily be remedied. The return of these
people will not remove it. The arming of these negroes by entirely voluntary enlistments is well, but
this mode of violent seizure and transportation even to Hilton Head alone, spreading dismay and
fright, is repugnant. It should not be done with white men, least of all with blacks, who do not yet
understand us, for whose benefit the war is not professed to be carried on, and who are still without
a Government solemnly and publicly pledged to their protection. I have been full in my report on this
matter, as General Saxton, not yet arrived, may not have been provided with power and instructions
to meet this difficulty. The subtraction of so large a field force leaves but a few more than are
necessary to cultivate the provision crop. What shall be done with the 5,000 acres of cotton planted,
most of which is up and growing?
Edward L. Pierce,
Special Agent Treasury Department
|General David Hunter
|Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase
|General Isaac Stevens
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