1st South Carolina Volunteers (USCT)

Robert Gray

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 24, 2012
Messages
1,405
#1
The First South Carolina Volunteers was a Union Army regiment during the American Civil War. It was composed of escaped slaves from South Carolina and Florida. There had been previous attempts to form black units in New Orleans and Kansas, but they were not officially recognized. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, whose exploits are memorialized in the film Glory, was formed afterwards and drew from free Northern blacks.
Department of the South staff officer James D. Fessenden was heavily involved in efforts to recruit volunteers for the 1st South Carolina. Although it saw some combat, the regiment was not involved in any of the war's major battles. Its first commander was Thomas Wentworth Higginson who was—as were all the other officers—white. A proclamation by Confederate President Jefferson Davis had indicated that members of the regiment would not be treated as prisoners of war if taken in battle. The enlisted men would be auctioned off as slaves and the white officers were to be hanged. The threat was not carried out officially.
The regiment was a step in the evolution of Union thinking towards the escaped slaves who crossed their lines. Initially they were returned to their owners. Next they were considered contraband and used as laborers. Finally the legal fiction that they were property was abandoned and they were allowed to enlist in the Army, although in segregated units commanded by white officers. Harriet Tubman served with these men as a cook, nurse, spy, and scout. Susie King Taylor, whose husband and other relatives fought with the regiment, also served as a laundress and nurse for the men from August 1862 until mustering out on February 9, 1866. As a hangover from the "contraband" days, black privates were paid $10 per month, the rate for laborers, rather than the $13 paid to white privates. The men served as the precedent for the over 170,000 "colored" troops who followed them into the Union Army.
Col. Higginson, a minister, author and abolitionist, documented the Gullah dialect spoken by the men and made a record of the spirituals that they sang.
The regiment was re-designated the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment on February 8, 1864.
1st South Carolina Infantry (USCT).jpg
 

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)

matthew mckeon

Colonel
Retired Moderator
Joined
Oct 3, 2005
Messages
13,229
#3
Higginson, who later was Emily Dickinson's editor, wrote a minor classic of the Civil War Army Life in a Black Regiment. Susan King Taylor also wrote about her experiences with the "First South" in Reminscences of My Life in Camp. As one of the earliest black regiments organized the "First South," later renamed the 33rd United States Colored Troops, attracted a good deal of attention. Charlotte Forten, a free black women from Philidelphia, wrote a great deal about the First South in her diaries, which have been published and worth reading. One of the sergeants of the regiment, Prince Rivers, went on to a career in the Reconstruction legislature in South Carolina, and was later a "trial justice" a type of justice of the peace.

Thanks for the photograph. A recent book on the First South is Firebrand of Liberty by Stephen Ash.
 

matthew mckeon

Colonel
Retired Moderator
Joined
Oct 3, 2005
Messages
13,229
#4
The red trousers, by the way were not popular with the men, since they were too "eye catching" in combat, and unpopular with Higginson, because he didn't want distinctions between black and white troops. I believe they eventually were issued blue trousers.

The First South is libeled in Glory as an ill disciplined rabble, the "contraband regiment." Higginson's command was not at all like this, although Montgomery's 2nd South Carolina "foraged" (looted) the countryside severely.
 

AndyHall

Colonel
Forum Host
Joined
Dec 13, 2011
Messages
13,145
#5
Higginson's camp diary, December 20, 1862, on the scarlet trousers:
I should think [the soldiers] would suffer and complain these cold nights; but they say nothing, though there is a good deal of coughing. I should fancy that the scarlet trousers must do something to keep them warm, and wonder that they dislike them so much, when they are so much like their beloved fires. They certainly multiply firelight in any case. I often notice that an infinitesimal flame, with one soldier standing by it, looks like quite a respectable conflagration, and it seems as if a group of them must dispel dampness.
 

Eric Calistri

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
May 31, 2012
Messages
2,986
Location
Austin Texas
#6
The red trousers, by the way were not popular with the men, since they were too "eye catching" in combat, and unpopular with Higginson, because he didn't want distinctions between black and white troops. I believe they eventually were issued blue trousers.

The First South is libeled in Glory as an ill disciplined rabble, the "contraband regiment." Higginson's command was not at all like this, although Montgomery's 2nd South Carolina "foraged" (looted) the countryside severely.
Historically it was the 2nd SC that accompanied the 54th MA on the Darien raid. I don't recall that was specifically mentioned in the movie, but Col Montgomery of the 2nd SC was played by Cliff DeYoung and commanded that expedition, in fact and in the movie. While DeYoung's portrayal seemed psychotic and over the top, it might not be too far off.
 



(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Top