Learning about the South

At the end of March, Charles sits down on a Sunday to write to his brother William in Charleston Township once more. The 8th Michigan has been stationed at Beaufort for nearly three months now and Cock is starting to get anxious to move on. He continues to hope that the war will end soon, indicating that the men had hoped they would be home by now. He seems to understand that he needs patience but still hopes to be returning north by summer.

In this letter, Charles describes the former slaves, described as contraband, who are residents of the area. He says that there are women from New York who are teaching the contraband to read and write. He seems perhaps a bit surprised that some of them are intelligent.

The term contraband to describe African Americans who had fled their slave masters was first used by Gen. Benjamin Butler. While President Lincoln was reluctant at this early stage of the war to emancipate the slaves or to encourage them to flee to Union lines, Gen. Butler was unwilling to force any African Americans to return to the plantations where they lived, particularly since some had provided information and advice on the strength and disposition of Confederate forces. Butler declared that such fugitives were contraband of war. This meant they were the confiscated property of enemy forces, just as military supplies were contraband. The refugees thus remained safe and effectively liberated.

Another surprise that Charles encountered was the dates on some tombstones and the age of some houses in Beaufort. Cock grew up in rural Kalamazoo County which had only been settled by non-native Americans in the 1830s. Consequently, graves that dated from a century earlier as well as hundred year-old buildings seemed quite ancient to the young soldier.


Beaufort S.C. March 30th/62

 Brother William

             I have just got in from Inspection & it is a half hour before church time    we have divine service every Sunday at 10 AM & 2 PM & Sunday school  Our Chaplain has got back again  The Rev Dr French of N. York preached for us while he was gone  he is the one that has charge of the Niggars on this Island there are also several women here from N Y that are teaching the contrabans to read & write  there are some quite smart & inteligent  Niggars amongst them  After dinner We had service in the Episcopalion church it is a very large one   Our Regt & the Penn 100th Round Head Regt wer seated without crowding   the Chaplain of R Heads preached, text Peter 1st 23d & a very good sermon.  there is to be Methodist class meeting this afternoon and Prayer meeting this evening.  Mr Jones going to preach in & another year:  The Artillery have just gone past on their way to the ferry & two loads of flat boat oars & I should not be much surprised if we wer Ordered out there before long & I sincerely hope we will for I have got tired of laying around here most of our boys expected to be home by this time.   but things do look a little more encourageing & I think they are going to hurry it up at any rate I hope they will & let us go towards the north before summer. 

“]I went with Ed Nye into the church yard burying ground after metting & in looking over the Inscriptions we found some very Old & curious ones   one of the Rev Wm E Graham of the Episcopal Church who died in 1800 aged 150 years and another of an Old lady who died in 1755.  but the Oldest one we found out side of the yard is of  black slate ston & bears the Inscription:  here lies the body of Col John Beamer/ who died June 25th1739/ with a deaths head & Cross boans cut on the top of the stone.   There are some of the homes in the city that look as if they had been built a hundred years   a good many of them are built of Oyster Shells & some very fine ones   they make line of Oyster shells here & build fences of them the Coosaw river is filed with Oysters   we can get all we want of a niggar for five cents  It is warmer today then it was any day last harvest & I guess I have written all there is to write this time  so good by for this time  write again soon

Your Brother


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