Original reporting from the battle zone
Civil War correspondent James Yerrington, reporting from Hilton Head, South Carolina, for the Wisconsin State Journal, Madison, Wisconsin, Saturday, 20 June 1863.
“Colonel Montgomery’s raid - The Rescued Black Chattels - A Black she “Moses” - Her Wonderful Daring and Sagacity - The Black Regiments - Col. Higginson’s Mistakes - Arrival of the 54th Massachusetts, &c., &c.
Correspondent of the State Journal Fernandina, June 6th, 1863
Affairs in this Department seem, for the moment, to indicate more vigor and activity, though perhaps in a small way. At Beaufort, a few days since, I had the satisfaction of witnessing the return of the gallant Col. Montgomery from a successful raid into the enemy’s country, having with him the trophies of war in the shape of 780 black chattel, now recreated and made freemen, and thousands of dollars worth of rice and other property.
As I witnessed the moving mass of recreated black humanity on its way from the boat to the church at Beaufort, where they were quartered for the moment, with the filth and tatters of slavery still hanging to their degraded persons, my heart went up in gratitude to God for the change which had been wrought on South Carolina soil. The emblem of liberty and the nations’ glory, as it floated over these poor, defenseless children of oppression, never looked to me so glorious, and never thrilled my heart with a more honest pride, and in my elation I almost anticipated the time when, “everywhere under the whole Heaven,” it should be recognized as the emblem of freedom, and on its ample folds should appear the glorious inscription, “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable.”
I doubt whether the church was ever before filled with such a devout crowd of worshippers - whether it was ever before appropriated to so good a purpose - whether so true a gospel had ever before been preached within its walls. I certainly never felt such swelling emotions of gratitude to the Great Ruler as at this moment.
Col. Montgomery and his gallant band of 300 hundred black soldiers, under the guidance of a black woman, dashed into the enemies’ country, struck a bold and effective blow, destroying millions of dollars worth of commissary stores, cotton, and lordly dwellings, and striking terror to the heart of rebellion, brought off near 800 slaves and thousands of dollars worth of property, without losing a man or receiving a scratch! It was a glorious consummation.
After they were all fairly disposed of in the church, they were addressed in strains of thrilling eloquence by their gallant deliverer; to which they responded in a song—
“There is a white robe for thee.”
A song so appropriate and so heartfelt and cordial as to bring unbidden tears.
The Colonel was followed by a speech from the black woman who led the raid, and under whose inspiration it was originated and conducted. For sound sense and real native eloquence, her address would do honor to any man, and it created quite a sensation.
And now a word of this woman - this black heroine - this fugitive slave. She is now called “Moses,” having inherited the name for many daring feats she has accomplished in behalf of the bondmen and the many slaves she has set free. She was formerly a slave in Virginia - she determined upon “freedom or death,” and escaped to Canada. She there planned the deliverance of all her kindred, and the nine successful trips to different slave states, effecting the escape of over 180 slaves and their successful establishment in Canada. Since the rebellion she has devoted herself to her great work of delivering the bondmen, with an energy and sagacity that cannot be exceeded. Many and many times she has penetrated the enemy’s lines and discovered their situation and condition, and escaped without extreme hazard. True, she is a “ni**er” at that, but in patriotism, sagacity, energy, ability, and all that elevates human character, she is head and shoulders above the many who vaunt their patriotism and boast their philanthropy, swaggering of their superiority because of the cuticle in which their Creator condescended to envelop them.
The 2nd South Carolina regiment, with the accessories gained from this raid, every man of whom is anxious to enlist for the war, will now be full, and under Col. Montgomery will achieve glory and honor for the black soldiery.
As I anticipated in my letter after the move at Jacksonville, the 1st South Carolina regiment is rendered almost useless, under the mistaken course of its Colonel [Higginson] in treating his men as more or less than human.
The 54th Massachusetts black regiment, with full ranks, arrived at Beaufort on the day after Col. Montgomery’s return, and was hailed with immense enthusiasm. It is a splendid regiment, and if a chance is given, it will wipe out on South Carolina soil the insults and injuries inflicted in time past on Massachusetts seamen and citizens by her lordly slaveholding aristocracy. God speed the day!
The vessel which brought the 54th returns immediately to bring the 55th, (colored,) which is being organized. Fred. Douglass has two sons in the 54th. When it moves it will strike terror to the hearts of the rebel slaveholder . . .”