27 March 1864: “They went for the purpose of burning the town of Swansboro…”

Item description: Letter, dated 27 March 1864, from James Gifford, a United States Navy paymaster steward, to his parents.  He write from aboard the U.S. Release while stationed off Beaufort, N.C., and describes a failed attempt to burn the town of Swansboro and a dispute regarding the presence of an African American visitor in the ship’s ward room. He also describes conditions in the Beaufort Harbor.

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Item citation: From folder 2 in the James Gifford Papers #4493-z, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Item transcription:

U.S. Ship Release

Off Beaufort NC

Mch 27th 1864

Dear Parents

I write you these few lines to let you hear how I am getting along my health is good.  It has been two weeks since I sent any letter to you the reason is I can find not much news to write about this is the eighth or tenth letter I have commenced since I wrote my last letter. I sent one to mag last monday which I had been trying to write all the month and I would not found news enough to write about then if it had not been for the arrival of my box of things.Everything suits and I have my clothes on now while I am writing this letter.,  I got a letter from you yesterday and one in the fore part of the week. I am pretty busy just about now and will be untill after the first of April making up our quar-terly returns which has to be sent on to Washington. It comprises everything in the Paymasters Department. A descriptive list of all the men, and all the provisions we have served out during the quarter also all we have received. I have been writing about all day to day making our provisions accounts.  This work has been very windy and I think we have had our line gale.  It was quite a stirring time in the harbor, quite a number of vessels dragged at there anchorage and two Schooners dragged ashore.  I have seen two or three capsized boats this week and we picked up two men in a boat which capsized not far off from the vessel last evening.  An Expedition sailed from here two or three days ago and took with them the launch which I write to you about once in a while, with them. in it was our howitzer. They went for the purpose of burning the town of Swansboro, but a gale of wind came up when they got there and the boats could not get ashore.  One of them made out to get in and they burnt the salt works and one schooner and captur-ed thirty contrabands.  When the steamer left here she had five or six lighters towing astern but when she came back she had none for it was so rough they had to cut them adrift.  They made out to save our howitzer.  The old doctor is in trouble all the time.  Yesterday he had a nigger in the ward room talking to him and on of our ensigns seeing a nigger in the ward room told him to  leave and not come in the ward room again. The old doctor thought it was rather hard that he could not entertain his friends in the ward room that he said he would report the Ensign to the captain which he did as soon as the cap-tain came aboard.  After he made his report  the ensign made his report to the captain.  The captain then called in the doctor and gave him a blowing up I notice today the doc has made a report to the Flag Officer  Fleet Captain.  The old doctor is lazy and thinks it hard work to get up out of his chair to wait on his patients he calls them in where he is sitting.  How it goes against a mans grain to have a stinking nigger in where he eats & sleeps and the doctor having a room for the purpose of doing business, it made the ensign mad to see him in there.  The book which you sent I have not had much chance to read for  I have been very busy Andrew Harvey who used to work with me in Alley’s store sent me quite a bundle of reading matter a day or two ago but I have had no chance to read.  This vessel is anchored near us. I can’t think of anything else to write about and I will close [?] write this in a great hurry and you must excuse bad writing.

Tell Sue I may write this week to her.  It is pretty well believed that a vessel is coming down to relieve us.  The fleet captain says a vessel is coming down here pretty soon.

All for the present from Jim

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