Return to St. Augustine and the Civil War

33rd USCT
Thomas Wentworth Higginson
Early Years
His father, Stephen Higginson  was a merchant and philanthropist in Boston and steward of Harvard
University from 1818 until 1834. His grandfather, also named Stephen Higginson, was a member of
the Continental Congress. He was the tenth child of Louisa Storrow and his dad's 15th.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on  December 22, 1823. He
went to a woman's school until he was eight. Then from eight to thirteen in the school of William Wells
a school regarded at that time as being on par with Boston Latin School for the best place to fit for
Harvard. He liked the wholesome athletic activity of the school. Mr. Wells taught nothing but Latin and
Greek. He learned French from Mr. Well's eldest daughter.

In his lifetime, he was widely known as a man of letters and prolific essayist, a radical theologian, a
suffragist and outspoken defender of equal rights for women, founder of Intercollegiate Socialist
Society, and a prominent abolitionist.

First Encounter (from Part of a Man's Life by Higginson)
"If I may refer to my own experience as one of the younger Abolitionists, I can truly say that my
discovery of the negro's essential manhood first came, long before I had heard of the anti-slavery
agitation, from a single remark of a slave made to my mother when she was traveling in Virginia in my
childhood. After some efforts on her part to convince him that he was well off, he only replied, "Ah!
Missis, free breath is good!"There spoke, even to my childish ear, the instinctive demand of the
human being.

His uncle in Virginia held slaves. On visiting his uncle he could find nothing to contradict his aunt's
assertion that "they loved him, and would be sorry to be free." His only glimpse of the other side was
"from overhearing conversation between the overseer and his friends, in which all the domestic
relations of the negroes were spoken of precisely as if they had been animals."

He attended Harvard College (at age 13) was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa at 16. He graduated in
1841 (second in class) and became a schoolmaster for two years. After college he taught for six
months as usher in Mr. Stephen Minot Weld's boarding-school at Jamaica Plain. He was a private
tutor for the three sons of his cousin, Stephen Higginson Perkins.  He became engaged to Mary
Elizabeth Channing (his second cousin they were married in 1847.)   He obtained a degree from
Harvard Divinity School in 1847.In 1848 he was a candidate for Congress on the new "Free Soil"
party.  Higginson studied theology at Harvard Divinity School but left after a year to oppose the
impending war with Mexico.  Believing the Mexican War was an excuse to expand slavery, Higginson
responded to the crisis by writing abolitionist poetry and collecting signatures for anti-war petitions.  
He spent three years lecturing in different cities. Eventually Higginson returned to divinity school and
later entered the ministry.

His understanding of abolition was influenced by two books Harriet Martineau's tract, "
The Martyr
Age in America," and Mrs. Lydia Maria Child's "Appeal for that Class of Americans called Africans."

He was asked to preach as a candidate before the First Religious Society at Newburyport, a two
hundred year old church of Unitarian faith but having no denominational name. He became pastor at
the First Religious Society of Newburport, Massachusetts. He was ordained by the society. He invited
Theodore Parker, Ralph Waldo Emerson and William Wells Brown to speak at the church. However,
his radical abolitionist sermons proved to be too much for his first congregation and he was forced to

September 18, 1849 (
Letters and Journals)
Well, Sunday I offered my resignation in due form. Most expected something of the sort, though
some old ladies did go home in tears declaring that "they didn't expect this," and "somebody ought to
have told them." I tried to soften all and not exasperate, and succeeded;... It produced a very
favorable effect all round, and some have taken occasion to declare themselves my friends of whom I
did not expect it, especially Mr. Morss, the editor and thinker-general for Newburyport, who has
always fought my views vigorously, through cherishing a "sneaking kindness" for me personally.
Indeed, now that it is settled, there are symptoms of a sort of reaction, and the murmur of previous
discontent is drowned by the chorus of female wailings...

The state of sentiment among the ladies of the Pleasant Street Society, wedded and single, is
peculiar, unanimous, and need not be dwelt upon. Let Anna (his sister) imagine herself in their
situation---what would you say or do to the men, my dear? Husbands and fathers have to hold their
tongues at home, I fancy, and go and let it out at the Reading Rooms.

In 1849 He spent two years lecturing in different cities.

In 1850 with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, Higginson became outraged, believing that God's
law called Christians to oppose the Act he joined the Boston Vigilance Committee, an organization
which protected fugitive slaves. He ran for congress as the Free Soil Party candidate, but lost. In
1853 he helped form the Worcester City Anti-Slavery Society.

His first experience with fugitive slaves was with the Thomas Sims case. They couldn't find a way to
get him safely out of the Federal courthouse where he had to be held since he hadn't committed a
state crime.

He was friends with Abby and Stephen Foster, whose farm was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
He was also friends with Lucy Stone a women's rights activist. In a sermon entitled "Massachusetts in
Mourning," Higginson challenged his congregation to end the scourge of slavery by any means:  "If
you take part in politics henceforward, let it be only to bring nearer the crisis which will either save or
sunder this nation€�.

He went on to become pastor of the Free Church in Worchester, Massachusetts in 1852. He was a
founder of the city's Natural History society and the Worcester Public Library. It was what was termed
a "Jerusalem Hellcat" church. It had no church membership or communion service and did not call
themselves specifically Christian, but resembling an ethical societies.

In 1853, Higginson escorted Stone and Abby Foster to the World's Temperance Convention in New
York. When Higginson nominated Susan B. Anthony and then Stone to serve on the committee on
credentials, a debate erupted: some of the men present did not feel that women should serve on the
committee. Higginson said that if women were barred from participating in the World's Temperance
Convention, then it would only be a Half World's Convention. He left and invited
people to attend a Whole World's Convention he would hold at the same time.

Arthur Burns
On May 26, 1854, Higginson participated in an attack on the Boston Courthouse in order to free a
slave, Anthony Burns. In 1851, when the escaped Anthony Burns was threatened with extradition
under the Fugitive Slave Act, Higginson led a small group who stormed the federal courthouse in
Boston with battering rams, axes, cleavers, and revolvers. They could not prevent Burns from being
taken back to the South. Higginson received a saber slash on his chin; he wore the scar proudly for
the rest of his life. A deputy was killed in this action which was the first act of violence in the
antislavery war. It was the opening round for Higginson who would be involved from Kansas through
John Brown to the Civil War. He was arrested a few days later. Higginson was indicted, with many
other people, for being involved in the riot, but charges against him were later dropped.

Undated Letter on Butman affair (Letters and Journal)
I have been busy about the Butman affair, and my Italian lecture. Arrests have been made...They
(the accused) are to be examined next Wednesday; meantime S. F. (Stephen Foster) stays in jail, on
non-resistant principles. I visited him to-day; he seemed very happy---only the sixth time he has been
imprisoned for righteousness' sake. We may have an anti-slavery meeting Sunday night and Wendell
Phillips and I speak...

Senator Sumner (Letters and Journals)
I had various Kansas and other experiences, saw "old Captain Brown," but not Governor Robinson.
Captain B. expects quiet till spring, and then another invasion, and is trying for means to repel it.

The best thing I did, you will think, was to see Mr. Sumner at the Athenaeum Library. He seemed at
first very well, looked as usual, while seated, and spoke as easily and in as firm a voice as ever. But
finally I proposed to him to go up and see Page's Venus in the upper hall, of which I had the key, and
when he rose I saw the change. He rose slowly...holding both hands upon his back, and walked with
a cane and quite feebly, instead of his peculiarly vigorous stride. He thinks of going to Washington
this month, but I suspect he will be persuaded not to do it till the end of the session, if at all. He is
obviously unfit to deliver his future speech, which, he says, will be his last one "what first proof
brandy is to molasses-and-water." "I think I shall probably be shot," he added; "I don't see what else
they can do." Perhaps it is so, though he had better not say it, still it was simply uttered, and I never
saw him appear nobler or abler. But I do not think he will ever be, physically speaking, what he was.

The first issue was the blocking of the Missouri River. He was a member of the Free Soil party. When
the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was passed, Higginson helped bring weapons and ammunition to
anti-slavery settlers in Kansas.  Higginson travelled to Kansas Territory with a company of free state
settlers in fall 1856. He published his letters from there in the
New York Tribune with the signature

Worcester Disunion Convention
In 1857 Higginson's radicalism came to a head when he led the Worcester (Mass.) Disunion
Convention.  During the convention he urged Bostonians to consider "the practicability, probability,
and expediency, of a Separation between the Free and Slave States, and to take such other
measures as the condition of the times may require."  

In 1859, leading up to John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Higginson joined a group of prominent
men in financially supporting the raid; a group that came to be known as the "Secret Six." (Rev.
Theodore Parker, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, George Luther Stearns, Franklin Sanborn, and Gerrit
Smith.) When Brown's raid failed Higginson raised money for Brown's defense.  And while the other
five members of the Secret Six fled, fearing capture, Higginson refused to flee.

Harriet Tubman (Letters and Journals)
Worchester, June 17, 1859
Dearest Mother:
We have had the greatest heroine of the age here, Harriet Tubman, a black woman, and a fugitive
slave, who has been back eight times secretly and brought out in all sixty slaves with her, including
all her own family, besides aiding many more in other ways to escape. Her tales of adventure are
beyond anything in fiction and her ingenuity and generalship (Editor: John Brown called her General
Tubman) are extraordinary. I have known her for some time and mentioned her in speeches once or
twice---the slaves call her Moses. She has had a reward of twelve thousand dollars offered for her in
Maryland and will probably be burned alive whenever she is caught, which she probably will be, first
or last, as she is going again. She has been in the habit of working in hotels all summer and laying
up money for this crusade in the winter. She is jet black and cannot read or write, only talk, besides

Civil War
"He met a slave and made him a man." Captain Jackson

Higginson would use as his manual to train his regiment Silas Casey's
Infantry Tactics, for the
Instruction, Exercise, and Manoeuvres of the Soldier, a Company, Line of Skirmishers, Battalion,
Brigade, or Corps d'Armee, 3 Vols. (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1862.)

His commitment to racial justice led him to volunteer during the Civil War as Captain for the Fifty-first
Massachusetts Regiment. He abandoned this position for the chance to serve in 1862 as Colonel in
the United States' first regiment of African Americans, the
First South Carolina Volunteers (which
later became the thirty-third U.S. Colored Troops).

November 16, 1862
I found this (Saxton's) letter on my table. It may change all my plans. I have telegraphed to Governor
Andrew at Washington for leave to go to Beauford and see
General Saxton, there to decide on
accepting the post, which is, of course, in itself very attractive. Nevertheless I have almost decided
not to sacrifice a certainty for an uncertainty, and not resign my present post till I am sure of a more
important one. It came very unexpectedly. Yesterday I came in and told Mary...Then I went to Boston
and saw Edward Hooper...and others who have been at Port Royal, and their information leaves me
still in doubt how far it will be a desirable situation. But if I can get a temporary furlough, I shall
certainly go in a few days to New York, there to await the steamer for Port Royal, as its going is very
irregular. If I cannot get this leave of absence, I shall probably forego the Saxton offer rather than
resign on an uncertainty.

Camp Saxton, Beaufort, S. C.
December 1, 1862
....General Saxton has lent me a horse and I had a ride through the plantation to a strange old fort,
of which there are two here, like those in St. Augustine, built by a French explorer about the time of
the Pilgrims, and older, therefore, than any remains in New England, even the Higginson house at
Guilford, Connecticut.

In November, 1862, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson assumed command of the 1st S.C.
It was under Higginson's command that the 1st reached full strength. Higginson drilled the troops
until they reached "fighting order." In fact, because of Higginson's hard work, the 1st S.C. was now
seen as fully combat ready and on a par with any other Union regiment of troops.

On January 23, 1863, Higginson led the regiment on an expedition up the St. Mary's River along the
Georgia-Florida state line. This is in an area just north of today's Mayport, Florida.
On January 26, the 1st S.C. was engaged in a skirmish near Township Landing, Florida.

February 24, 1863
Colonel Montgomery arrived last night, with one hundred and twenty men as the nucleus of his
regiment, and he will be sent with us wherever we go, probably. His military experience will be of
unspeakable value to me

Who should drive out to see me today but Harriet Tubman who is living in Beaufort as a sort of nurse
and general care taker...All sorts of unexpected people turn up here..."

Up the St. Mary's (M. T. Higgison)
Higginson wrote of the engagement, "Braver men never lived. . . It was their demeanor under arms
that shamed the nation into recognizing them as men. They had home, household, and freedom to
fight for."

January 21, 1863 Camp Saxton
Our danger in such expeditions is not nearly so great as one would think, as we have cannon and
the rebels have not, and they would run away from them. But I think they would run away from our
men, even without the cannon---I should think they would----I should. They are perfectly formidable."

After the battle, surgeon Seth Rogers reported that one man with two wounds walked more than two
miles carrying two muskets from the battle scene. Another, with three wounds (one in the skull) would
not tell of his wounds until ordered by his immediate officers. Rogers said of this man, "he is perfectly
quiet and cool, but takes the whole affair with religious bearing of a man who realizes that freedom is
sweeter than life."

Col Higginson's Report on Expedition Up the St. Mary's

On February 8, 1864, the regiment was re-designated the 33rd United States Colored Troops.
In May 1864, Higginson was wounded at Wiltown Bluff, S. C. and forced to leave the army due to the
wound and malaria.

Up the St. Johns (Occupation of Jacksonville, March 1863) (See letter of Abraham Lincoln to
General David Hunter)
In March Col. Higginson was given orders by General Saxton for an expedition up the St. Johns river
to occupy Jacksonville. This would be the 3rd occupation of Jacksonville. Accompanying Higginson
on this expedition would be
Col James Montgomery with his newly forming regiment of the 2nd South
Carolina. These soldiers were recently recruited from Key West.

General Saxton's Orders

April 23, 1863
I hope you have not been troubled by the attack on me by "Conservator" in the "Evening Post," As to
the putting on shore of furniture, etc., at Jacksonville, I certainly did it; for it was a choice between
furniture and life. The crowding on board those boats was fearful, and nobody suffered more by it in
the end than those very people whom I had partially relieved by clearing the vessel. I had my men
busy removing the cannon that morning, while the town was already burning, and when I came to put
the men on board ship, I found one half the hold of my principal vessel full of an immense
accumulation of furniture. The captain entirely refused to take on more than three companies and I
had six to place there; so the only possible way was immediately to put on shore whatever could be
got at, leaving only the trunks of the people. As it was, we nearly had a pestilence on board that
vessel solely from overcrowding and had to put all the soldiers on shore at the mouth of the river and
cleanse out the ship.

Why Higginson Never Tried to be a General (Thomas Wentworth Higginson by M. T. Higginson)
A proposition that Colonel Higginson should write Senator Sumner and present his claims to be
appointed Brigadier-General in command of colored troops---this appeal to be fortified by an urgent
letter from General Saxton, himself,---was thus noted in the War Journal:---

"I told him (General Saxton) with some indignation that if I could be made a Major General by writing
a note ten words long to a Congressman I certainly would not do it; that I never yet had asked for any
position in life and never expected to; that a large part of the pleasure I had had in commanding my
regiment grew out of the perfect unexpectedness of the promotion....Emerson says no man can do
anything well who does not feel that what he is doing is for the time the centre of the universe---I
thank heaven that I never yet have supposed for a moment that any brigade or division in the army
was so important a trust as my one regiment---at least until the problem of Negro soldiers was
conclusively solved before all men's eyes."

Colonel Higginson was wounded in July, 1863 on a voyage up the South Edisto and went home for a
month.  He received a sudden blow to the side with his clothes not torn put a large purple spot called
"ecchymosis" happened. He was probably grazed by a grapeshot or an exploded shell. While a
patient in the Officers' Hospital, the Colonel wrote, October 10, 1863: The pleasantest person in the
house is a young Dr. Willard, of the navy...After I had cross-questioned him and fitted him with a
cousinry, I told him that people from Boston and that region didn't bore each other worse than any
other people after they had got the genealogical arrangements fairly settled and found out who was
who. Up to that time they were, of course intolerable---until all the cross-questing was ended.

He was under the care of Mrs. Jean M. Lander the widow of General Lander. He said that she had
"tried to establish hospitals, but had always been met by the somewhat whimsical opposition of Miss
Dorthea L. Dix, the national superintendent of nurses, a lady who had something of the habitual
despotism of the saints, and who had somewhat exasperated the soldiers by making anything like
youth or good looks an absolute bar to hospital employment."

Camp Shaw, Nov. 26, 1863 (M T Higginson)
We have had quite an excitement in a fight of some of our men on the main land where they brought
away 27 colored people and 2 rebel pickets and beat off a cavalry company headed by five blood
hounds, all of whom were killed. We have the body of one which James Rogers has skinned and
taken to N. Y. to be stuffed and shown. Two of my men were drowned and six wounded--One edifying
result is that there was a flag of truce a few days after and the rebel officers readily held official
communication with our officers which last summer they wouldn't do.

On February 8, 1864, the regiment was re-designated the 33rd United States Colored Troops.
In May 1864, the effects of his wound at Wiltown Bluff, S. C  forced to leave the army due to the
wound and malaria.

(from M. T. Higginson)
Forty years later the officers met in Boston. Higgison was unable to be present so they made a
memorial and sent it to him:

"In those brave days you were not alone our commander; you were our standard also of what is
noble in character. We were young and untutored; we saw in you a model of what, deep in our
hearts, we aspired to be. Your example was a rebuke to our shortcomings, and from your contact our
feebler virtues took healthier tone. Though you parted from us your influence remained with us, a
constraint from what is unworthy, and an incentive to what is high. We cannot say that through these
many years we have been faithful to the standard; but we may say that in its presence it has been
easier to be noble and harder to be mean."

They dropped like Flakes-
Emily Dickinson

They dropped like Flakes -
They dropped like Stars -
Like Petals from a Rose -
When suddenly across the June
A Wind with fingers - goes -

They perished in the Seamless Grass -
No eye could find the place -
But God can summon every face
On his Repealless - List.

Post War
After the war, Higginson settled first in Newport, Rhode Island and later returned to Cambridge. In
Newport he became chairman of the school committee and integrated the public schools. He also
became a director on the Library Corporation.

In 1869 he joined Lucy Stone to form the American Woman Suffrage Association and became co-
editor of her newspaper
, Woman's Journal. He became an active public figure, speaking at meetings
of the Free Religious Association and serving as its president, as well as holding a seat on the
Massachusetts Board of Education (1880-81) In 1880 he was appointed to the military staff of John
Davis Long, the Governor of Massachusetts. He also served in the Massachusetts legislature in
1880 and 1881. He helped guarantee that children in public schools should not be compelled to read
from the Bible against the wish of their parents, and also the bill giving to the Normal Art School a
building of its own. He also worked on eliminating the poll tax and gaining the woman's right to vote.
He supported the election of President Glover Cleveland. Higginson ran for congress on the
Democratic ticket in 1888 but failed to win office.

His correspondence with Emily Dickinson, the Amherst, Massachusetts poet whom he mentored and
visited, spanned decades; Higginson went on to assist in the editing of her Poems in 1891 (with
Mabel Loomis Todd), the event for which he is probably best remembered today. He encouraged
Susie King Taylor (teacher, nurse and former slave) to write her own memoir entitle
d Reminiscences
of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Volunteer
s, Late 1st South Carolina

Emily Dickinson
His correspondence with Emily Dickinson, the Amherst, Massachusetts poet whom he mentored and
visited, spanned decades; Higginson went on to assist in the editing of her Poems in 1891 (with
Mabel Loomis Todd), the event for which he is probably best remembered today. After her death he
helped edit and publish Dickinson's highly unconventional poetry.  Emily Dickinson sent four poems
to Higginson after reading an essay he wrote in the Atlantic Monthly, which was meant to encourage
aspiring writers. Higginson and Dickinson corresponded until her death in 1886.

Higginson's writings include: Does Slavery Christianize the Negro? (1855); Malbone: An Old Newport
e (1869); Army Life in a Black Regiment (1870); A Book of American Explorers (1877),
Common Sense About Wom
en (1882); Margaret Fuller Ossoli (1884); The Monarch of Dreams
; Travellers and Outlaws (1889) ;The Afternoon Landscape (1889), poems and translations;
Cheerful Yesterday
s (1898); Women and the Alphabet (1900); Henry Wadsworth Longfellow[(in
American Men of Letters series, 190
2) John Greenleaf Whittier (in "English Men of Letters" series,
1902) an
d Part of a Man's Life (1905).

Some Writings on Lin
The Tongue: Two Practical Sermons                                         Lydia Maria Child
Does Slavery Christianize the Negro                                          Emily Dickinson's Letters
Massachusetts in Mourning                                                        William Loyd Garrison
The Snowing of the Pines and The Baby Sorceress                   The second war for independence
The Spanish discovers                                                                 Nat Turners Insurrection
Cheerful Yesterdays                                                                    Carlyle's Laugh, and other surprises
Part of a Man's Life                                                                       Army Life in a Black Regiment
Letters and Journals of Thomas Wentworth Higginson 1846 - 1906
Black Rebellion: 5 Slave Revolts

Later Years
When his wife died in 1877, he returned to Cambridge and married, Mary Thacher of Newton, MA in
1879. She was the daughter of Cambridge lawyer Peter Thacher. Their daughter, Margaret, was
born in 1880. During the 1880s Higginson served in the state legislature. He fought for civil service

Higginson advocated equality of rights for women, publishi
ng Common Sense about Women in 1881
d Women and Men in 1888.

In 1891 Higginson became one of the founders of the Society of American Friends of Russian
Freedom (SAFRF). He edited its public appeal "To the Friends of Russian Freedom". Later, in 1907
Higginson was the vice-president of the SAFRF.

Higginson and his family traveled through Europe in 1901. Higginson and Samuel Clemens (Mark
Twain) met in 1905 through the Dublin Society and became good friends. He continued to write until
his death on May 9, 1911.

For His Eighty-third Birthday
William Braithwaite

BENEATH the bare-boughed Cambridge elms to-day
Time takes no flight in his unwintered heart;
Where fourscore years and three came to depart,
The vision shines that cannot burn away.
In perils of change his voice is still our stay,
Who kept the true direction from the start.
He knew no deed born from his thoughts apart --
And held his pen Truth's summons to obey.

O reverend head, take this our crown of praise,
On this, thy Birthday, hallowed by our love;
A soldier's honor and a poet's bays;
In public heed thy virtues held to prove --
Though long, we wish thee longer, length of days,
To lead us up the heights where we would move.

He died in Cambridge May 9, 1911.He was survived by his second wife, Mary Thacher Higginson and
his daughter.

The service was held in the First Parish Church in Cambridge. The escort to the church was
furnished by the Thomas Wentworth Higginson Post. The Loyal Legion conducted the military part of
the service and the casket was borne up the aisle, to the sound of muffled drums, by young Negro
soldiers. His verses, "Waiting for the Bugle," and his hymn "
To Thine Eternal Arms, O God," were

Waiting for the bugle.
We wait for the bugle; the night-dews are cold,
The limbs of the soldiers feel jaded and old,
The field of our bivouac is windy and bare,
There is lead in our joints, there is frost in our hair,
The future is veiled and its fortunes unknown,
As we lie with hushed breath till the bugle is blown.

At the sound of that bugle each comrade shall spring
Like an arrow released from the strain of the string;
The courage, the impulse of youth shall come back
To banish the chill of the drear bivouac,

by: Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911)

BLEW, I blew, the trumpet loudly sounding;
I blew, I blew, the heart within me bounding;
The world was fresh and fair, yet dark with wrong,
And men stood forth to conquer at the song--
I blew! I blew! I blew!

The field is won, the minstrels loud are crying,
And all the world is peace, and I am dying.
Yet this forgotten life was not in vain;
Enough if I alone recall the strain,
I blew! I blew! I blew!
Thomas Wentworth Higginson
Col Thomas Wentworth Higginson
Thomas Wentworth Higginson
Col Thomas Wentworth Higginson
Emily Dickinson
Senator Charles Sumner
Harriet Tubman
John Brown
New York
My Dear Little girl:
"This morning I went along a great big street called
Broadway and what do you think I saw? Why, you
and me riding on the tricycle; that is I saw the
picture in a window, where the same photographers
who took us have a store here in New York! Some
people stopped to look and one of them said, 'I
wonder who that man is with a little girl behind him.' I
could have told him, but I didn't. I might have said,
'That's Margaret Higginson and I think the man must
be her papa.'
Good-bye, darling.
Your own Papa.