9 December 1861: “It would do you good to hear the slaves tell about their masters leaving”

Item description: Letter from Emmett Cole, Company F, 8th Michigan Infantry Regiment, to his sister, Celestia. His letter describes the work of striking camp at Hilton Head; the scenery while traveling by boat on the Port Royal River to Beaufort, Port Royal Island; picket guard and sentry duty; and food provided by slaves who had stayed behind when the plantation owners had fled.

Item citation: From folder 1 of the Emmett Cole Letters #5002-z, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

Beaufort Port Royal Island S.C.

Dec 9th 1861

Dear Sister.

I have written one or two letters since I have received any from you but by writing often perhaps we shall hear from each other oftener than we would if we should wait untill we received answers to each one sepparately. in the first place I am well, but a good many of our boys are sick. when I last wrote I told you I was working at the carpenters trade but before the ink was hardly dry we our Brigade received orders to strike our tents and prepare to march to Beaufort a town on Port Royal Island about 15 miles from hiltons head. this was at night and early next morning we moved down to the Dock and we commenced shipping our stores but it was not untill noon the next day that we were all on board. for we had to work alternately off and on as the Tide came in. for our Pier is not built out far enough to admit of large Boats running up very close. but when we were finally on board it was not a half an hour untill the whole line of Boats was in motion and away we went up Port Royal River the scenery on shore was beautiful as seen from the Boats. for the timber here is mostly Evergreen. there was not a white inhabitant to be seen. but the shore was thronged with Colored People of all ages waveing their Hats and hands to us as we passed. we was not long steaming up the river and at night found ourselves safely landed in Beaufort the famed resort of People from all ports of the south to spend the summer season and well they may for it is a most beatiful place. and it was not long untill we were in our quarters in a Live Oak Park and at nightfall when our Camp Fires were all blazeing beneath the wide spreading Branches of those beautiful Evergreen Trees. the scene was such as I have never before witnessed safe in imagination but I am a little ahead of my story as soon as we came on shore I with several other was detailed to clear out a store house for our Commissary Goods, and we had some fun at that but I was a tired bugger when I got through the floor of the store hose was covered with all sorts of rubbish but it all had to go out of the back door togeather. I’ll bet there was a cord of Account Books and other papers but that was the onely building we were alowed to ransack. the General issued orders positively forebidding any Oficer or Private entering a single House I went to bed that night tired and sleepy and the next morning early I was called out for Picket Guard we went five miles out in the forenoon scouting, and not seeing any of the Enemy we came in two miles toward camp at night and Posted the sentry and that night I never slept a wink for Pickets are not alowed to sleep at all. if they do their Doom is sweet Death. but I forgot to tell you what a time we had with the niggers. there are a great many of them left on the Plantations. they hid in the woods when their masters left. they gut us Hoe Cake milk Eggs Hony Chickens & finally every thing we wanted it was the best liveing I have had since I left home. toward night we killed a Beef and some Turkeys for our supper and Breakfast. the Negroes doing all the work and By Hoky we lived right on the top shelf. today about noon we came in camp bringing about 100 head of cattle and horses, and 30 or 40 contraband. but prehaps you would like to know how we shipped into this place so slick I can tell you when they heard the Guns on hiltons Head they thought it was about time to Mazee and only they went in to the main land I dont know how long we shall stay here we are liable to move any day for we want to keep an fresh track. it would do you good to hear the slaves tell about their masters leaving.

Tatro is Dead. he died on Hiltons Head the day we left one by one they keep dropping off and all we can say is let them rest. I left Leon Duffy & Bates in the hospital I guess they will get well. I will write no more at present but will write again soon. my respects to my friends. to Carly & Sarah Miller in particular let Carly read this for what I send to one I send to booth

Dont foreget to send me your Likenesses have them taken on Leather or composition so they will be light and direct yours letters the same as when I was at Hiltons Head to Emmett Cole Co. F 8th Michn– Inf–

Port Royal, S.C. via N.Y.

You must excuse this dirt paper fo it is all I have got. yours. Affectionately From your Brother,


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