Beaufort, July 22,1868.
My Dear Sir:
You will probably receive an official report of the losses in the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts by the mail which leaves to-morrow, but perhaps a word from me may not be unwelcome. I saw the officers and men on James Island on the thirteenth instant, and on Saturday last saw them at Brigadier-General Strong's tent, as they passed on at six or halfpast six in the evening to Fort Wagner, which is some two miles beyond. I had been the guest of General Strong, who commanded the advance, since Tuesday. Colonel Shaw had become attached to General Strong at St. Helena, where he was under him, and the regard was mutual. When the troops left St. Helena they were separated, the Fifty-fourth going to James Island. While it was there General Strong received a letter from Colonel Shaw, in which the desire was expressed for the transfer of the Fifty-fourth to General Strong's brigade. So when the troops were brought away from James Island General Strong took this regiment into his command. It left James Island on Thursday, July sixteenth, at nine P.m., and marched to Cole's Island, which they reached at four o'clock on Friday morning, marching all night, most of the .way in single file, over swampy and muddy 'ground. There they remained during the day, with hard tack and coffee for their fare, and this only what was left in their haversacks; not a regular ration. From eleven o'clock of Friday evening until four o'clock of Saturday they were being put on the transport, the General Hunter, in a boat which took about fifty at a time. There they breakfasted on the same fare, and had no other food before entering into the assault on Fort Wagner in the evening.
The General Hunter left Coles's Island for Folly Island at six A.m., and the troops landed at the Pawnee Landing about half-past nine a.m., and thence marched to the point opposite Morris Island, reaching there about two o'clock in the afternoon. They were transported in a steamer across the inlet, and at five p.m. began their march for Fort Wagner. They reached Brigadier-General Strong's quarters about midway on the Island, about six or half-past six, where they halted for five minutes. I saw them here, and they looked worn and weary.
General Strong expressed a great desire to give them food and stimulants, but it was too late, as they were to lead the charge. They had been , without tents during the pelting rains of Thursday and Friday nights. General Strong had been impressed with the high character of the regiment and its officers, and he wished to assign them the post where the most severe work was to be done, and the highest honor was to be won. I had been his guest for some days, and knew how he regarded them.
The march across Folly and Morris Islands was over a very sandy road, and was very wearisome. The regiment went through the centre of the island, and not along the beach where the marching was easier. When they had come within about one thousand six hundred yards of Fort Wagner, they halted and formed in line of battle—the Colonel leading the right and the Lieutenant-Colonel the left wing. They then marched four hundred yards further on and halted again. There was little firing from the enemy at this point, one solid shot falling between the wings, and another falling to the right, but no musketry.
At this point the regiment, together with the next supporting regiments, the Sixth Connecticut, Ninth Maine, and others, remained half an hour. The regiment was addressed by General Strong and Colonel Shaw. Then at half-past seven or a quarter before eight o'clock the order for the charge was given. The regiment advanced at quick time, changed to double-quick when at some distance on. The intervening distance between the place where the line was formed and the Fort was run over in a few minutes. When within one or two hundred yards of the Fort, a terrific fire of grape and musketry was poured upon them along the entire line, and with deadly results. It tore the ranks to pieces and disconcerted some. They rallied again, went through the ditch, in which were some three feet of water, and then up the parapet. They raised the flag on the parapet, where it remained for a few minutes. Here they melted away before the enemy's fire, their bodies falling down the slope and into the ditch. Others will give a more detailed and accurate account of what occurred during the rest of the conflict.
Colonel Shaw reached the parapet, leading his men, and was probably killed. Adjutant James saw him fall. Private Thomas Burgess of company I told me that he was close to Colonel Shaw; that he waved his sword and cried out, "Onward, boys!" and, as he did so, fell. Burgess fell, wounded, at the same time. In a minute or two, as he rose to crawl away, he tried to pull Colonel Shaw along, taking hold of his feet, which were near his own head, but there appeared to be no life in him. There is a report, however, that Colonel Shaw is wounded and a prisoner, and that it was so stated to the officers who bore a flag of truce from us, but I cannot find it well authenticated. It is most likely that this noble youth has given his life to his country and to mankind. Brigadier-General Strong (himself a kindred spirit) said of him to-day, in a message to his parents: "I had but little opportunity to be with him, but I already loved him. No man ever wont more gallantly into battle. None knew him but to love him." I parted with Colonel Shaw between six and seven Saturday evening, as he rode forward to his regiment, and he gave me the private letters and papers he had with him to be delivered to his father. Of the other officers, Lieutenant-Colonel Hallowell is severely wounded in the groin; Adjutant James has a wound from a grape-shot in his ankle, and a flesh-wound in his side from a glancing ball or a piece of shell. Captain Pope has had a musket-ball extracted from his shoulder. Captain Appleton is wounded in the thumb, and also has a contusion on his right breast from a hand-grenade. Captain Willard has a wound in the leg. and is doing well. Captain Jones was wounded in the right shoulder. The ball went through and he is doing well. Lieutenant Homans wounded by a ball from a smooth-bore musket entering the left side, which has been extracted from the back. He is doing well.
The above-named officers are at Beaufort, all but the last arriving there on Sunday evening, whither they were taken from Morris Island to Pawnee Landing, in the Alice Price, and thence to Beaufort in the Cosmopolitan, which is specially fitted up for hospital service and is provided with skilful surgeons under the direction of Dr. Bontecou. They are now tenderly cared for with an adequate corps of surgeons and nurses and provided with a plentiful supply of ice, beef and chicken broth and stimulants. Lieutenant Smith was left at the hospital tent on Morris Island. Captain Emilio and Lieutenants Grace, Appleton, Johnston, Reed, Howard, Dexter, Jennison, and Emerson, were not wounded and are doing duty. Lieutenants Jewett and Tucker were slightly wounded and are doing duty also. Lieut. Pratt was wounded and came in from the field on the following day. Captains Russell and Simpkins are missing. The Quartermaster and Surgeon are safe and are with the regiment.
Dr. Stone remained on the Alice Price during Saturday night, caring for the wounded until she left Morris Island, and then returned to look after those who were left behind. The Assistant Surgeon was at the camp on St. Helena Island, attending to duty there. Lieutenant Littlefield was also in charge of the camp at St. Helena. Lieutenant Higginson was on Folly Island with a detail of eighty men. Captain Bridge and Lieutenant Walton are sick and were at Beaufort or vicinity. Captain Partridge has returned from the North, but not in time to participate in the action.
Of the privates and non-commissioned officers I send you a list of one hundred and forty-four who are now in the Beaufort hospitals. A few others died on the boats or since their arrival here. There may be others at the Hilton Head hospital; and others are doubtless on Morris Island; but I have no names or statistics relative to them. Those in Beaufort are well attended to—just as well as the white soldiers, the attentions of the surgeons and nurses being supplemented by those of the colored people here, who have shown a great interest in them. The men of the regiment are very patient, and where their condition at all permits them, are cheerful. They expressed their readiness to meet the enemy again, and they keep asking if Wagner is yet taken. Could any one from the North see these brave fellows as they lie here, his prejudice against them, if he had any, would all pass away. They grieve greatly at the loss of Colonel Shaw, who seems to have acquired a strong hold on their affections. They are attached to their other officers, and admire General Strong, whose courage was so conspicuous to all. I asked General Strong if he had any testimony in relation to the regiment to be communicated to you. These are his precise words, and I give them to you as I noted them at the time:
"The Fifty-fourth did well and nobly, only the fall of Colonel Shaw prevented them from entering the Fort They moved up as gallantly as any troops could, and with their enthusiasm they deserved a better fate." The regiment could not have been under a better officer than General Strong. He is one of the bravest and most genuine men. His soldiers loved him like a brother, and go where you would through the camps you would hear them speak of him with enthusiasm and affection. His wound is severe, and there are some apprehensions as to his being able to recover from it. Since I found him at the hospital tent on Morris Island, about half-past nine o'clock on Saturday, I have been all the time attending to him or the officers of the Fifty-fourth, both on the boats and here. Nobler spirits it has never been my fortune to be with. General Strong, as he lay on the stretcher in the tent, was grieving all the while for the poor fellows who lay uncared for on the battle-field, and the officers of the Fifty-fourth have had nothing to say of their own misfortunes, but have mourned constantly for the hero who led them to the charge from which he did not return. I remember well the beautiful day when the flags were presented at Readville, and you told the regiment that your reputation was to be identified with its fame. It was a day of festivity and cheer. I walk now in these hospitals and see mutilated forms with every variety of wound, and it seems all a dream. But well has the regiment sustained the hope which you indulged, and justified the identity of fame which you trusted to it.
I ought to add in relation to the fight on James Island, on July sixteenth, in which the regiment lost fifty men, driving back the rebels, and saving, as it is stated, three companies of the Tenth Connecticut, that General Terry, who was in command on that Island, said to Adjutant James:
"Tell your Colonel that I am exceedingly pleased with the conduct of your regiment. They have done all they could do."
Edward L. Pierce.