Monday, January 01, 2007

Civil War Remembered: January 1, 1863

On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. The United States was embarking upon its third year of bloody civil war. The proclamation declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."

On that January 1, Thomas Wentworth Higginson of Massachusetts, Colonel of the First South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, was preaparing his "colored" troops for their first real engagements with the enemy. This is his story and the story of the 1st.

By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
January 1, 2007

Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911) served as a schoolmaster, ordained minister and pastor, Congressional candidate, abolitionist activist, women’s rights activist and Captain for the Fifty-first Massachusetts Regiment.

But when he received a quite unexpected offer from General Rufus B. Saxon, his dream of advancing his most beloved cause came within his grasp. Saxon asked if Higginson was available to command the First South Carolina Volunteers: the first Union regiment recruited from the former slave population of the south.

Harrison had a reputation as a firebrand that wanted to see Black troops serving and fighting alongside their White counterparts. Army brass also knew that Higginson was a man of action. A member of the “Secret Six,” which funded John Brown’s abolitionist activities, Higginson was a man of his convictions and steely resolve.

“Had an invitation reached me to take command of a regiment of Kalmuck Tartars, it could hardly have been more unexpected,” Higginson wrote. “I had always looked for the arming of the blacks, and had always felt a wish to be associated with them…. But the prevalent tone of public sentiment was still opposed to any such attempts; the government kept very shy of the experiment, and it did not seem possible that the time had come when it could be fairly tried.”

He recorded some of the details of his decision to resign from the 51st Mass. and accept the position of Colonel of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers.

“My dear mother was wrong in regretting that I exchanged the certain for the uncertain,” wrote Higginson. “Everything I hear of this new opportunity the more attractive it becomes. My lot in the 51st regiment was too smooth; I already had the best company in what was regarded as the best of the 9 months regiments; three first class officers above me took off all difficult responsibility; it was becoming mere play.”

He continued, “Either of my lieutenants could take my work & carry it on well. Here is, on the contrary, a position of great importance; as many persons have said, the first man who organizes & commands a successful black regiment will perform the most important service in the history of the War….”

The First South Carolina Volunteer Infantry was first organized in the Department of the South by General David Hunter at Hilton Head, South Carolina, in May of 1862. Because Hunter had no authorization to recruit Blacks into the service of the United States and because his recruiting methods were questionable, this first group of Black recruits was disbanded. Later, General Rufus B. Saxon set about to make a second try to more appropriately recruit Black men into the First South Carolina. The going was tough. Memories of the failed “Hunter Experiment” discouraged Black men from joining up. Even so, one company was formed under the command of Captain C.T. Trowbridge.

And they wore red pants. The 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry would quickly earn a reputation for their determined fighting and their snazzy look!

General Saxton set out to showcase the fighting spirit and ability of the 1st S.C. when he dispatched them under the command of Colonel Oliver T. Beard of the 48th N.Y volunteer infantry on an expedition along the Georgia-Florida coast. Company A, 1st S.C. numbering 62 men, served under Captain Trowbridge.

Staring on November 3, 1863, Company A raided and harassed Confederate pickets, destroyed Rebel salt works and burned a saw mill. The unit liberated 155 slaves and captured valuable stores of rice and lumber. Almost 100 of the captured slaves joined the 1st S.C. and put on the blue uniform with red trousers.

Colonel Beard wrote, “The colored men fought with astonishing coolness and bravery. For alacrity in effecting landing, for determination, and for bush fighting, I found them all I could desire - more than I had hoped. They behaved bravely, gloriously, and deserve all praise.”

On November 10, 1862, Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson assumed command of the 1st S.C. This was several months ahead of the formation of the more widely known Black regiment, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw’s 54th Mass. which was celebrated in the film “Glory.”

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. Seven men were wounded by enemy action and one Black soldier was killed: Private Williams Parson of Company G.

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.”

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.”

On February 8, 1864, the regiment was re-designated the 33rd United States Colored Troops. Combined with two other regiments (one white and one black), the Black soldiers were now more or less “integrated” into the Army for the first time. But they were still in all Black units with White officers, a practice that would continue in the United States Army into World War II.
In May 1864, Higginson was wounded at Wiltown Bluff, S. C. and forced to leave the army due to the wound and malaria.

But the 33rd continued to expand upon its reputation.

On July 2, 1864, they made their first assault on a fortification at Battery Gregg on James Island, in Charleston. The combined forces began their attack on the 2nd, overwhelming the garrison and capturing the fort that day. In December, 1864, the 33rd participated with the 55th Massachusetts at the Battle of Honey Hill, an ugly Union defeat.

In the final year of their service, the men of the 1st S.C. served as part of the union garrison of Savannah and Charleston. They were mustered out of service on February 9, 1866 at Fort Wagner. In their final formation, they stood near the spot where Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was buried along with those lost from the 54th Mass. during the desperate attack of July 18, 1863.

After the Civil War, Colonel Higginson became a prolific writer and editor. Frequently published in the Atlantic Monthly, “a magazine of literature, art, and politics,” Thomas Wentworth Higginson corresponded extensively with Emily Dickinson for nearly 25 years. He also offered critiques to Walt Whitman several times in the public forum of the printed essay. His evaluation of Whitman included this gem: “It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass,’ only that he did not burn it afterwards.”

He also found time to serve as chief of staff to Mass. Governor John D. Long in 1880, was a representative to the state legislature in 1880 and 1881 and was state military and naval historian from 1889-1891. His published writings include histories, biographies and essays.

He critiqued, edited and gave advice to Emma Lazarus, the author of the poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore…..”).

Colonel Higginson always seemed the proper former pastor and Army man. But the diary of a pretty young Black school teacher named Charlotte Forten shocked the blue blood society of Boston. Charlotte wrote that she had an affair with the Colonel while he was on the Sea Islands near the Georgia coast. She was there too at the same time: making sure young Blacks had the education they needed to transition from slavery to freedom.

Higgingson described his Civil War experiences in “Army Life in a Black Regiment" (1870). He makes many observations in this book that we might not quite understand today. He records this impression of his first walk through the busy encampment of Black soldiers: “It was certainly odd to go about among five hundred men, and not a white face—to see them go through all their cooking & talking & joking (this was after dress parade) just as if they were white. They look so much alike at first too.”

A lifelong radical, in his old age (1906), Higginson joined with Jack London and Upton Sinclair to found the Intercollegiate Socialist Society.

He also contributed to the preservation of Negro Spirituals by copying the verses he learned from the soldiers and documenting the verses and music he heard sung around the regiment’s campfires.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson died in 1911. He is buried at Cambridge Cemetery, Middlesex County, Massachusetts.

See a portrait of Higginson at:

The Emancipation Proclamation:

With Iraq Taking Up Key Decision Makers Time; What Gets Overlooked?

By Richard A. Clarke
The WashingtonPost
Sunday, December 31, 2006; Page B01

In every administration, there are usually only about a dozen barons who can really initiate and manage meaningful changes in national security policy. For most of 2006, some of these critical slots in the Bush administration have been vacant, such as the deputy secretary of state (empty since Robert B. Zoellick left for investment bank Goldman Sachs) and the deputy director of national intelligence (with Gen. Michael V. Hayden now CIA director). And with the nation involved in a messy war spiraling toward a bad conclusion, the key deputies and Cabinet members and advisers are all focusing on one issue, at the expense of all others: Iraq.

National Security Council veteran Rand Beers has called this the "7-year-old's soccer syndrome" -- just like little kids playing soccer, everyone forgets their particular positions and responsibilities and runs like a herd after the ball.

In the end, there are only 12 seats at the conference table in the White House Situation Room, and the key players' schedules mean that they can seldom meet there together in person or on secure video conference for more than about 10 hours each week. When issues don't receive first-tier consideration, they can slip by for months. I learned this firsthand: In the early days of the Bush administration, I called for an urgent meeting to discuss the threat al-Qaeda posed to the United States. The Cabinet-level meeting eventually took place -- but not until Sept. 4, 2001.

Without the distraction of the Iraq war, the administration would have spent this past year -- indeed, every year since Sept. 11, 2001 -- focused on al-Qaeda. But beyond al-Qaeda and the broader struggle for peaceful coexistence with (and within) Islam, seven key "fires in the in-box" national security issues remain unattended, deteriorating and threatening, all while Washington's grown-up 7-year-olds play herd ball with Iraq.

Global warming: When the possibility of invading Iraq surfaced in 2001, senior Bush administration officials hadn't thought much about global warming, except to wonder whether it was caused by human activity or by sunspots. Today, the world's scientists and many national leaders worry that the world has passed the point of no return on global warming. If it has, then human damage to the ecosphere will cause more major cities to flood and make the planet significantly less conducive to human habitation -- all over the lifetime of a child now in kindergarten. British Prime Minister Tony Blair keeps trying to convince President Bush of the magnitude of the problem, but in every session between the two leaders Iraq squeezes out the time to discuss the pending planetary disaster.

Russian revanchism: When Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bush leave office in rapid succession in 2008 and 2009, it seems likely that Russia will be less of a democracy and less inclined to cooperate with Washington than it was six years ago, when Bush stared into the eyes and looked into the heart of the Russian leader. Given her extensive background in Soviet studies, Condoleezza Rice would have been a natural to work on key U.S.-Russian issues, first as national security adviser and now as secretary of state. But the focus on Iraq has precluded such efforts, even as the troubling issues multiply: Russian governors are no longer elected, but appointed; dissidents die mysteriously and probably at the hands of the new KGB; opposition media are suppressed; and corporate leaders are jailed or hounded out of the country.

Meanwhile, Moscow plays petro-politics by dramatically raising the cost of energy to former Soviet republics that do not toe the Kremlin's line, and by threatening to turn off the pipeline to European nations that don't cooperate. If Bush hoped that turning a blind eye to all this would help win Russian cooperation in Iraq and Iran, the strategy failed.

Latin America's leftist lurch: In the years before the Iraq war, U.S. presidents were welcomed at summits throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Indeed, the attacks of Sept. 11 found then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in South America, visiting one area of the world where U.S. policies had worked. Friendly, democratic governments were in power in every nation in the hemisphere except Cuba. Formerly debt-ridden economies were implementing pro-market reforms, and the United States was welcomed as a partner. Washington seemed confident that if and when Fidel Castro died (there was always some doubt), even Cuba might join the democracy/free market club.

Today, Castro has been replaced, but not just by another Cuban dictator. The leader of the hemisphere's new anti-Yankee alliance is Hugo Chávez, the democratically elected president of Venezuela. Chávez's anti-U.S. campaign is supported by Cuban intelligence and Venezuelan oil money. By 2006, Venezuela and Cuba were not alone in their opposition to Washington; kindred spirits have been elected in Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Having begun his administration pledging new cooperation with Mexico, Bush backtracked after Sept. 11, focusing instead on tightening immigration and border controls.

Africa at war: The genocide spilling from the Darfur region of Sudan into neighboring Chad has captured attention in the United States mainly because of (belated) media coverage and an aggressive advocacy campaign by concerned groups, but the prospects of Washington dealing with the problem seem slim. Darfur, however, is only one of a pox of conflicts that, together with HIV/AIDS, are depopulating parts of Africa and robbing it of potential wealth from mineral, oil and gas deposits. Wars have also raged in Chad, Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Somalia. Were it not for the Iraq war, Washington may have acted to stop what the Bush administration admits is genocide in Darfur, or taken steps to prevent the chaos sweeping Somalia after a group affiliated with al-Qaeda took over the country and left Ethiopia no choice but to invade in hopes of preventing a more disastrous war. Unfortunately, even designating a small presence of U.S. Special Forces to lead a U.N.-approved peacekeeping force in Darfur appears beyond the capability of the badly stretched American military.

Arms control freeze: Once atop several administrations' national security agendas, international arms control has received little White House attention since the Bush administration decided early on to walk away from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. National security adviser Stephen J. Hadley has extensive government experience working on arms control and he began to focus on this turf in early 2001, when he was number two at the National Security Council. But after 9/11, Hadley has had little opportunity to advance international efforts to control biological weapons, nuclear testing and proliferation, or the threat of nuclear or radioactive terrorist weapons. For a long time, the White House outsourced dealing with Iran's nuclear weapons to the Europeans, just as the onus of stopping North Korea's nuclear development was placed on Asian nations. The sustained senior-level attention that is needed to stop two nuclear weapons programs at the same time has simply not been available -- because of Iraq.

Transnational crime: In a nationally televised address in 1989, President George H.W. Bush held aloft a bag of cocaine that had been sold near the White House and declared a "War on Drugs." That initiative was later enlarged to target the international criminal cartels engaged in human trafficking, gun and contraband smuggling, money laundering and cyber fraud. The momentum from these efforts produced international treaties to combat hidden global crime conglomerates, but the White House leadership necessary to coordinate dozens of U.S. agencies and mobilize other nations has dissipated. Moreover, the world's international crime cartels received a major shot in the arm with the occupation of Afghanistan by NATO forces. From relatively low levels of heroin production in 2001, Afghanistan's economy is now dependent upon the widespread cultivation of heroin that is flooding black markets in Europe and Asia. With most of the U.S. Army either in Iraq, heading to Iraq or returning from Iraq, insufficient U.S. forces were available to prevent the once-liberated Afghanistan from morphing into a narco-state.

The Pakistani-Afghan border: Afghanistan increasingly receives the attention of senior U.S. policymakers, not because of the narcotics problem, but mainly because the once-defeated Taliban again threaten Afghan and coalition forces. However, if there is a solution, it lies on the other side of the Khyber Pass where a sanctuary has emerged, a Taliban-like state within a state in western Pakistan. Dealing with that problem is more than Washington has been willing or able to handle, for it involves the complex issue of who governs nuclear-armed Pakistan and how.

Thus far, Washington has accepted Gen. Pervez Musharraf's half-hearted measures for dealing with the nuclear proliferation network of A.Q. Khan, addressing the terrorist involvement of Pakistani intelligence and controlling the Taliban/al-Qaeda bases in Waziristan. Getting Pakistan to do more would require a major sustained effort by senior U.S. officials, including addressing the longstanding tensions with India. Because of Iraq, Washington's national security gurus do not have the hours in their days to manage that -- nor the troops needed to secure Afghanistan.

As the president contemplates sending even more U.S. forces into the Iraqi sinkhole, he should consider not only the thousands of fatalities, the tens of thousands of casualties and the hundreds of billions of dollars already lost. He must also weigh the opportunity cost of taking his national security barons off all the other critical problems they should be addressing -- problems whose windows of opportunity are slamming shut, unheard over the wail of Baghdad sirens.

Richard A. Clarke, former national coordinator for counterterrorism, is chairman of Good Harbor Consulting and author of "Against All Enemies" (Free Press) and "Breakpoint" (Putnam).