My mother was Susan Curtis Whitney, born April 9, 1808. She sometimes spoke of her childhood memories of the British attacks on coastal Connecticut towns in the War of 1812. Her father was a sea Captain who died at sea while she was still a young girl. She remembered how her uncles came to their house and claimed, quite legally, their father’s sea chest and pay from his final voyage, leaving her mother and siblings destitute. Her mother could sew and she started a tailoring business making coats and suits for ship’s officers. Susan helped her mother in this and continued in the tailoring business until she married.
My father, Bennet Whitney was born March 23, 1810, at Wilton, Conn. He learned his trade as a molder and a furnace man at the Gregory’s foundry, on the corner of Fairfield and Clinton Avenues, Bridgeport, Conn. In 1833, with his two brothers, he purchased the Gregory’s foundry and set up the first steam engine used in manufacturing in Bridgeport. They were pioneers in the iron fence business and the iron plow-point business.
Bennet was baptized in April of 1828 in the Baptist Church at Stratfield. A preacher who had a strong influence on Bennet and his choice to be baptized in the Baptist church was Rev. Calvin Philleo of the Second Baptist Church of Suffield (a neighboring town). Bennet was 14 or 15 when he heard Rev. Philleo preach. Bennet’s future bride, Susan Curtis, was a member of the Suffield church, and the two young people first met listening to Rev. Philleo’s sermons. Both of my parents credit Rev. Philleo with influencing their lives as Baptists and especially as abolitionists. Rev. Philleo staid a short time at my mother’s church in Suffield, 1821 – 25. Some years later, in 1834, Rev. Philleo came to the assistance of Prudence Crandall, in Canterbury, Connecticut, and the two soon married. Prudence Crandall is now famous for allowing a Negro girl to attend as a day student at her girls’ boarding school. Many parents withdrew their daughters from the school following public outcry over this “mixing of the races”. As public pressure mounted, William Lloyd Garrison and Rev. Philleo offered their assistance. Prudence reopened her school with negro girls from several states registered as boarding students. Threats were made in the town council meetings where city officials said they would arrest the negro girls as vagrants. One night, with Prudence, Rev. Philleo, and the girls huddled inside, every window in the school was broken while a mob threatened outside. No one in the town stepped forward to offer assistance at the time or in the days that followed. Prudence was forced to close the school and the girls to flee for their safety.
Years later the couple’s son, Calvin Wheeler Philleo, moved to Suffield, where his father had found success as a preacher, and became a noted writer and speaker on Antislavery issues. Several of his articles appeared in the New York Tribune.
On October 14, 1835 Bennet and Susan married at the home of her brother in Suffield. Susan’s pastor at the Second Baptist Church, Nathan Wildman, officiated. The young couple started a home in Bridgeport. A few years later my grandmother Sarah Bennet Whitney, my father, and some others worked to start a Baptist Church in Bridgeport and purchase the large St. John’s Episcopal Church building.
I was born December 10, 1844 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the fifth of eight children. My memories from my childhood were happy ones of a close, supportive, and loving family. Father involved us all in prayer and daily bible study. There was deep soul searching as we tried to understand our duty to God, our fellow man, our family, and ourselves. This was not an oppressive duty imposed on us by our parents, rather an internal need to understand God’s plan and our part in it. Our God was not the “fire and brimstone” God of some Baptists, rather a strict and love father who asked much of each of us but also gave much.
Another memory of my childhood in Connecticut is of playing and discovering many abandoned buildings and cellar holes in the woods and fields. My father explained that much of Connecticut’s population had left the state and moved west. As I grew my play turned to the work of helping in my father’s shop. As I learned more I began working with my father, uncles, and brothers, starting my long career as a machinist.
The 1830s and 40s were a time of growing awareness and activism over slavery among Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, and others. The Whitney family mirrored this growing involvement and we saw our duty as actively dealing with the slavery issue. My mother taught a Sunday school class for Negro children at our Baptist church. As the nation’s crisis deepened, we were concerned that Southern Baptist churches, like nearly all churches in the South, supported and even encouraged the holding of slaves as a “good Christian” practice. My father sister and her husband moved from our supportive Baptist community in Connecticut to the heart of the slave culture in Virginia. My Aunt and Uncle felt that they could bring the strength of their religious convictions to the religious community of the South. This turned out to be a dangerous move as the feelings in the South were already hardened at this point. Southern Baptists felt that their way of life was under attack and the Baptists that my parents had hoped to connect with were beyond reason and gentle persuasion at that point. They soon had to leave.
Our family also felt the urge to become a part of the forces for change and moved to Keokuk, Iowa, “the gateway to the great West of the future.” My mother’s sister and nephew, George Parsons, had moved there previously and wrote glowing letters. From Keokuk, our family moved by covered wagon across the prairie to Pella, Iowa.
My parents chose to live in the west because we had heard that frontier people and society were more open to change, encouraged in hope as they built a new and better world. In Pella we became friends with the Stoddards who had moved to Iowa, we felt, for similar reasons. They had returned from missionary work in India to find the United States in the social and political crisis of the 1850s. Ira always said it was Iowa’s drier weather that drew them west, but perhaps it was the frustrations they had felt in the eastern U. S. where the social and political climate seemed to allow no solution to the slavery issue.
The deep faith and religious commitment of the Stoddards could be seen reflected in the Baptist College and in the Pella Baptist Church’s involvement in the abolitionist cause. My parents worked closely with the Stoddards on church committees and secretly on Underground Railroad matters. I attended Central College and was privileged to work with Mrs. Stoddard. More importantly to my future, however, my 12 year old sister Jeanie became best friends with the Stoddard’s oldest daughter, 10 year old Bertha.
The Whitney family felt encouraged in 1860 when Abraham Lincoln became the nation’s President. Mr. Lincoln brought the western spirit of change to the East. Our family followed the President from the prairie to the Eastern seaboard. First we lived at 107 Neilson Street in Bridgeport, New Jersey, years later, in 1874, my parents moved to 49 Harrison Street, Rahway, New Jersey.
The war and the call for recruits in 1861 and ‘62 brought the Whitney family step by step into the conflict. First my older brother Eben left teaching to work in a hospital treating war wounded. It was not until Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, however, when the war was redefined as the battle to end slavery that we felt personally connected to the great effort. First my father felt called to volunteer as a soldier. My older brother Eben and I persuaded him to stay home and care for the family as we both took officer training and began our service as officers in command of colored troops. We were motivated, in part, by the threats made by the Confederacy against whites who were officers of Negro regiments. The Confederate Congress placed a law in their statute books providing that the death penalty could be invoked for these officers for “inciting servile insurrection.”
I entered the Free Military School at Philadelphia on the 14th day of Jan. 1864. The school was at 1210 Chestnut Street, Cheltenham, Penn. next to Camp William Penn. Camp William Penn was the government’s first recruiting and training center for Negro soldiers. The school had been open for only two weeks when I arrived. Classes were held six days a week, with three classes held each day. The morning class was from 9:00 to 10:30, followed by marching drill. The afternoon class was for the study of tactics and army regulations. We studied from 2:00 to 3:30 and again followed that with drill until 5:00, dress parade and dismissal. In the evening we had a class in mathematics. We also practiced our leadership by drilling Negro troops on land next to the Camp William Penn, using farm fields within easy sight of Lucretia Mott’s home.
Editor’s note: Edward M. Davis, Mrs. Mott’s son-in-law, on May 1, 1862, helped organize The Union League in Cheltenham Township to raise funds for distribution of Union propaganda and to counteract secessionist views. In 1863, following the Emancipation Proclamation, Davis offered some of his Oak Farm land, across the road from the Mott home, as the site for the barracks of Camp William Penn, a Union army military camp, set up exclusively to train federal “colored troops.”
Abraham Barker raised over $30,000 to help in recruit black soldiers. Thirty of the most outstanding black leaders in Philadelphia met in July, 1863 at The Union League to open the recruitment. Those inducted were the first black troops in the United States under federal jurisdiction, as distinguished from those in state regiments; therefore they had the unique distinction of bearing the title of United States Colored Troops.
Camp William Penn became the first recruiting and training center for Black soldiers to be operated by the United States Government. To assure its success the location was carefully chosen. The local citizens provided a great deal of religious influence at Camp William Penn. Rev. Robert J. Parvin of St. Paul's Episcopal Church visited the camp to preach and conduct Bible classes. The most famous preacher at the camp, however, was Lucretia Mott. As a Quaker, she was opposed to fighting of any kind, but as an abolitionist, she was deeply concerned for the welfare of the Negro troops. With her characteristic determination, she frequently stalked through the fields from her nearby home on Old York Road to visit the soldiers, and, using a large bass drum as her pulpit, she offered religious messages.
Extreme care was taken in the selection of the white officers who would lead these new recruits. Most officer candidates were chosen from regiments of white troops in the field. These experienced soldiers went before an examination board to be tested on army tactics, arithmetic, history, geography, & such. Those that passed the examination then were screened for moral character and command potential. The army wanted only the best to assure success of the new colored troops. By September of 1863, however, they were finding that 50% were not passing the examination board. To correct this problem a military officer training school was set up in late December, 1863 next to Camp William Penn. This “Free School,” was financed and operated by the "committee for the supervision of recruiting of colored troops.” This was the school that I attended in January of 1864 when the school had been open only a few weeks. I was successful in my training despite my lack of previous military experience. More than 90% of my fellow classmates had been recruited for training in the “Free School” from the ranks of combat tested troops.
Following six weeks of study, I was ready to appeared before the Board of Examiners at Camp Casey near Washington on Feb. 26th and passed as a 2nd Lieut. of the 1st class. I then went home stopping in Baltimore one night to see Eben and reached Bridgeport on the 29th.
Editor’s Note: In the first three months of operation the Free Military School received 1,691 applications, of which 843 were approved. Of the first 222 to actually attend, 72 had to withdraw, 56 were dropped, and 94 graduated. Of the 94 graduates,90 were approved for commissions by Casey’s board and 4 were rejected, 39 of these 94 graduates were listed as “civilians” with the notation that “Many of these had previously been in the three months’, nine months’ and three years’ service, from which they had been honorably discharged.” These statistics show Henry’s accomplishment as a pure civilian to be rather unique.
I remained at home one week and then returned to Philadelphia where I waited for my appointment. I received it on the 31st of March.
Thus began my service in the army, a career that had three chapters or phases:
- I was first assigned to recruit Negro troops in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
- My second role was to supervise the movement of Colored Troops from training at
Camp Casey to places where they were needed. I was most proud of this role as it
showed that the army recognized by skills to lead men in the often chaotic situations
faced in travel. They also trusted me to make quick decisions with no superior officer
to turn to. There is almost no other situation where a 2nd or 1st Lieut. does not have a
Captain or other higher officer looking over his shoulder. The army trusted me to
present myself and my men in a professional manner as we came in contact with the
public in the course of travel.
- My third role was that of peace keeper. I supervised troops in Texas where there was
a need for a military presences to keep the peace.
Recruiting in Clarksburg, West Virginia
My brother Eben was assigned to the 30th United States Colored Infantry (U.S.C.I.) stationed at a camp near Baltimore. I was assigned to the 45th U.S.C.I. and ordered to report to Clarksburg, West Virginia, where a recruiting camp had been set up on the grounds of an Academy. At first I stayed at the Bartlett Hotel, at my own expense, but when Lieut. Wm. Roberts and I where assigned an office in an Academy building to care for the Quartermaster’s property and to open a recruiting office, we moved from the hotel and lived in our office.
The Academy stood on a slight elevation north of town facing to the south. About one hundred yards east of it was the church where we quartered part of our Regiment. The church faced towards the academy and was on the extremity of the elevation which immediately behind and to the north of it descended with a steep bank nearly to the level of the river. The river watered the town flowing to the north and after passed by the church at the distance of about 300 yards to the east of it turned to the west and flowed behind the academy about 200 yards off. The river, west of the town, was joined by one somewhat larger. North of the Academy and beyond the river was the railroad. The depot was most half a mile north east of the town, the largest part of which (the town), was inside the angle formed by the turn in the river.
Passing down the street that runs south from the academy we crossed the two main streets of the town. They ran parallel with each other crossing the river by means of two bridges to which they descend by a long hill. Most of the houses of the town were on these two streets. There were several stores and two or three Hotels in the place.
Clarksville had five meeting houses but meetings were held in but one of them. It seemed as though the town had seen its best days and was now decaying. There was a hill several hundred feet high just north of the depot from the top of which an excellent view of the country can be obtained. It was later fortified and had guns pointing towards the town.
On my first recruiting trip I walked to Bridgeport with two of the 1st Lieuts. We went to see if we could not pick up some recruits there but found that they were very scarce being all carried off in the rebel raid of last spring. It is a little place 4 miles east of here on the railroad. We walked down and back passing through the long tunnels. A train was expected in a few moments so we went through just about as quick as we could. About one third of the way is arched with stone and is narrow so that if the train had come while we were in there we should have been obliged to lay flat in the mud at the side of the track. However we got through all right. When we had looked around Bridgeport we went back in the country and came back by a pike that gave us a long walk and brought us home about tired out.
Other recruiting trips were made to Charleston, Martinsburg, and all other towns in that part of West Virginia.
I kept a journal which I mailed home in sections to my parents. A typical entry read:
It is now about 8 o’clock and I am sitting here at the desk which is a clothing box
set upon the side and covered with a rubber blanket. The tallow candle stands on
a little pine board and does very well for a light. On one side of me is a bright
warm fire of soft coal and in the corner beyond two of the boys are sitting on the
boxes of clothing and one is telling the other about some battle that he saw when
he was with Gen. Averill and the old 8th at whose yell the rebs would “git up an
run jes as fast as thar legs could ear-run.” According to his account it must have
been the most brilliant battle of the whole war and every man of them should be
promoted immediately. The one that is telling it has seen some of the war. He
was our first recruit has been a slave in southern West Va. Has worked on the
fortifications before Richmond, has escaped three or four times, and been retaken
but finally got away and is now going to fight for the Union. The other day I let
him tell how slaves were treated in Richmond and where he had lived. It was
like Uncle Tom’s Cabin but not so refined. Of course I can’t tell how much truth
he tells but he seems honest and reliable.
My feelings ran high at that time and I expressed them in my journal:
Today is the beginning of another month, the month of flowers. One month ago
today I was with Eben in Baltimore. Probably before the beginning of another, he
will have seen at least one battle and I hope the next battle will thoroughly avenge
the murder of our troops at Fort Pillow and forever decide the question whether
Union troops of whatever color are to be treated as prisoners of war or butchered
while crying for quarters or rather hope it will prove that the latter cannot be done
without provoking sure and awful retaliation.
At other times I wrote of the fun there was in camp:
The weather was fine on the 4th of July and camp saw a lively time. At 8 o’clock
we formed the Brigade consisting of the 43 & 45th Reg’ts and marched to
Jenkentown about two and a half miles east of here and raised a flag pole and
then listened to speeches till noon when we marched back another way.
Everyone spent the P.M. as they pleased until Dress Parade. After that the
boys amused themselves by climbing a greased pole and playing catch with
eyes blindfolded in doing which they had a rope stretched for the boundary and
then several would be blinded and chase one who had a bell to ring when he
pleased and had five or six bags of hay lying round in the circle. It was amusing
to see him stand behind a bag and ring his bell and then spring away while 3 or
4 would go tumbling over the bag and pile themselves up in heaps on the other
side. Then two blinded would touch each other in passing and simultaneously
make a grab for each other while each would feel for the handkerchief of the
other. Lt. Roberts had stepped into the ring to bind their eyes and was standing
there when he was suddenly seized by the biggest of the blindfolded players.
The crowd set up such a shout that the young man thought he had certainly got
somebody and the more Roberts tried to get away the tighter he was hugged
while the fellow proceeded to feel for the handkerchief. When he didn’t feel a
blindfold on Lt Roberts, he concluded that he had the man with the bell, but at
last woke up to the fact that he had hold of the wrong man and very kindly let
go his hold before he had quite crushed him. Roberts said he was well
squeezed but had furnished more amusement than any other man in camp. In the
eve we had some grand fireworks outside the camp and though I expected that
some of the men would be missing we did not lose any from our Regiment.
Altogether it was a very pleasant 4th.
Another time I wrote of an officer who had a wonderful sense of humor:
After supper he was playing ball with the other officers of the Reg’t here. After
a while he got tired of it and the next thing we saw was him taking a very tall
man about the camp for the boys to laugh at. He had put one man on another’s
shoulders and by putting a blanket over both it looked very much like a very
tall and slender man. Oh what a hubbub there was as he went round and made
immense bows to them. Every fellow seemed to stretch his throat to its utmost
capacity. After that had been around he sent another one which was “the
elephant.” He was made by two men who stood one behind the other and
bending down till their backs were horizontal They threw a blanket over them
and made some kind of a trunk to hang down from the first one’s head and
then the elephant waddled around swinging its body to and fro in a manner
that called out immense applause from the spectators. After that we watched
the boys run races and such till dusk.
Leaving West Virginia
June 3, 1864 I received orders that brought this first part of my service to a close:
2nd Liut Henry Whitney 45th Regiment U.S Colored Troops is hereby relieved
from Recruiting service in West Virginia and will proceed without any
unnecessary delay and report for duty to the commanding Officer at Camp
Wm. Penn near Philadelphia, Pa
We brought 232 new West Virginia soldiers to join those men recruited in Pennsylvania. Then the entire 45th USCT were sent for training at Camp Casey, outside Washington D. C. After a couple of months the 45th was sent to the front to fight at such battles as Arlington Heights, Chaffin’s Farm (September 27 ’64), Fair Oaks (October 27, ’64), the Petersburg Campaign (April ’65), and the Appomattox Campaign.
Lieut. Roberts and I expected to go with our men to the front but were ordered to remain at Camp Casey. I can only guess at the reasoning of our commanders, but it would appear that they felt that the 45th had more than enough good officers. The Pennsylvania officers remained with the troops while the recruiters who had worked in West Virginia were given the responsibility of transporting troops from Camp Casey to their various assignments. I would like to think that we had done our task well taking the men from West Virginia to Camp Wm. Penn and from there to Camp Casey. I can say that our troops showed good discipline and we had very few desertions. It is during troop movements that most desertions occur.
What ever the army’s reasons, Lieut. Roberts and I received these orders soon after the 45th departed:
Sept 10, 1864 -- Lieut. Henry Whitney, 45th U.S.C.T and Lieut. W.P. Roberts, 45th
U.S.C.T. will embark with one hundred and seventy men, from the foot of the 6th
Street wharf, Washington D.C. on board the mail boat at 1:00 P.M. the 11th inst.
and proceed to City Point, Va. on the James River
My Trip to Hilton Head, S.C.
I must have proven myself, because soon after we returned I was sent on a much longer mission as the single officer to accompany 132 men to Hilton Head, S.C. and responsible for $2700 and supplies. My orders were written:
Oct 16th 1864 Lieut. Henry Whitney, 45th U.S.C.T. will embark with one hundred
and thirty two men of the 102nd and 32nd U.S.C.T. from Alexandria, Va. On board
the U.S. steamer “Idaho” at 12 o’clock October 17 and proceed to Hilton Head, S.C.
I was sick with a sort of colic when I received word that I was to start to Hilton Head the next day with the men for the 32nd and 102nd Regiments. The sickness, however, passed off at night and I said I could go. This disappointed Brooks, another officer, who wished to go in my place. It was so late that I did not do anything that night except complete my unfinished business and get my things ready as much as I could. A squad of 42 men were added to the 4 companies that day, and, as I was responsible for their things, I had to make out the papers. The squad of men filled the 4 companies to 100 men each and they were all excellent men from Ohio who could read and write and some of whom had graduated at Oberlin. The 8 men put into Co. B could read and write so we were provided for without depending on rascally Sergeants any longer. The two “smartest” of whom were reduced to the ranks about 2 weeks ago. The 42 men form the most intelligent squad of men that I have seen but were as awkward as Shanghai chickens whom they resembled more in length of limb than is size of body.
Found I was to take rolls for 90 men in one squad and 40 in the other but also found that in the three days that passed since the 90 came from Washington where they were drafted or substituted there were 16 deserted so I did not bring quite so many as was expected that I would, having in all 112 men.
As I was to leave Alexandra at 12:00, I had to stir round but it was nothing compared to my other trips to the front for I had the men on my hands before and the rolls were all straight so at 10:30 A.M. we started off with everything snug and right and I myself feeling that I was all right and had control of the Squad. As the 90 squad had not received their bounty, Col. Geoman determined to not pay the men the whole but to send it by me to be paid at the end of the trip so as to keep them from deserting and so they would not be cheated out of it before starting. So I had charge of over 2700 dollars for them. We did not start from Alexandria till 3 P.M.
The propeller ship Idaho carried nothing but our squad and one white Sergeant who belonged to a N.Y. Regiment that was down there. So we had plenty of room. I was the only officer on board and there were no other passengers so I had as good as the boat could afford in the way of accommodations which was a good state room and a good saloon. Besides that the Captain was from New London and his wife and child were on board with him having come on to Balto to visit him and determined on taking a cruise. Mrs. Holmes was a very nice woman so much like mother but not quite so old I think. The child was about 11 years old and was a good deal like Jane only not so bashful. The Captain is a fine man and is like Mr. Kimball. In fact they are New England people that have been outside of New England and made the ship as like home as can be, especially when Mrs. Holmes came on the upper deck with her green sunbonnet on just such as mother used to wear as long ago as I can remember. The Captain wanted to get out to sea by noon but the Pilot would not run on the river at night though every one else did and there was so full a moon.
In the morning we left Fort Monroe behind us and started out to sea. Captain Holmes said we would be to sea by 12 o’clock. He predicted a northeaster and the wind was soon with it. I knew we were getting to sea when I felt the ship roll somewhat. I went once out to look and then went to bed expecting to wake up Oh! so sick.
I awoke the next morning, October 19th, without feeling sick but found that the sea was rough and as soon as I arose to dress I became sick so that I had to lie down again. However I got dressed at length and bolted for the side of the vessel. There I vomited 3 times in an hour and got over it by laying down till towards noon when it was smooth and I could stay up. I was not much sick except while throwing up and that would last only a minute. Capt. said I got off very easy. The Sergeant was sick all day and is not over it yet.. Mrs. Holms and Annie were quite sick but were on deck last eve and are well today. For my part I have been sicker on shore but never quite in that way. They told me that I would wish I had never seen the ocean and think that I never would feel well again but I did not experience any such feelings and felt like laughing with the sailors at the funny appearance I presented to them. So I think I could make a sailor without much trouble, however it was not a storm. It was smoother towards night and this morning when I came out of my room the water was almost as smooth as glass.
A dolphin was taken on hook this morning but I did not see it die for which I was sorry. We saw porpoises in great numbers and some flying fish. At ten o’clock I went to the masthead and while up there a whole school of them came round the bows of the boat plunging and diving furiously. It was indeed interesting to see them so plainly sporting round the vessel. There was a shark seen yesterday and I think I saw one this morning. About 9 o’clock the Capt saw a something white about a mile to the right of us and turned the vessel course in that direction and on getting to it it was found to be a boat belonging to some Man of War. It is in good order and worth a hundred dollars the Captain thought. By 7 o’clock that evening we were off Charleston and expected to be down to Hilton Head the next morning.
On Friday, October 23, we arrived at Hilton Head at ten A.M. and landed immediately. I reported to the Provost Marshal and found the HdQt of the32nd were 2 miles back of town but the adjt being in town took charge of the men and said he would send the receipt for the things in at once to the Provost Marshals. I concluded that I would not wait for them but would go at once to Beauford to the 102nd Reg’t on the boat that went at 3 o’clock P.M. As I was going towards the wharf I met Capt Crissey who was going to Company B on the same boat. It seemed like meeting a brother and the more so as he thought of anything but seeing me. He said he had a good mind to kiss me right there in the street.
We went up and arrived at Company B at 7 o’clock. We found the 102nd half a mile behind the town and turned the men over. The next morning I got the receipts for them. I expected to return to 8 o’clock A.M. but as Crissey stayed there I concluded to remain with him and see the town as I had till next Saturday before I could leave this part of the country I could see the whole as well as the part. There were 5 companies of the 32nd there and five of us officers found a team and started for the Port Royal ferry to exchange papers under a flag of truce with the rebels. The Lt. in command of the picket, however, could not allow it so we were disappointed in that but saw the famous shell road for 10 miles and the country and cotton fields.
One of the Captains knew a woman from Maine who carried on a plantation and we went to call on her. She is all alone near the outer picket with no white person near but a school teacher from the north. She has successfully carried on a cotton plantation and raised 2500 lbs of cotton in spite of the army worm which nearly destroyed it. We returned to town late in the evening hungry as bears and well satisfied with the day’s ride.
The next morning we came back to Hilton Head and I stayed here at the Provost’s barracks where two Cos of the 32nd are with Capt Plumer a military School friend and who has always been very friendly to me. There were a good many in the Reg’t with whom I was acquainted and the rest were all friendly as I am introduced by Crissey. He calls me Henry and could not seem more like a brother if he really was so. I went to the camp the next morning and expected to enjoy myself well that week.
I found that I was to go north on the steamer myself the next Saturday. On the 25th the Head Quarters of the 32nd was moved to Seabrook the west side of the Island and all the 10 Companies sent to that side to act as pickets. Captain Crissey and his company were stationed at HeadQuarters and in a very nice place. I went over there with him (it is about 6 miles from this side) and to do it we marched into town and took the boat instead of going overland for a distance of 4 miles. It is the way they do in this Department. After seeing how things are done in the army of the Patomic where they have about two teams to the regiment it seemed strange to see a Company here provided with 8 or more teams to move their stuff but the reason of it is that the troops are recommended to floor their tents and raise them from the ground. The men had bought or stolen enough boards to floor their tent, the flooring was picked up for them and went to the new camp. Camp was broken up camp at 2 P.M. Wednesday and we lay on the boat all night. The next day the men spent the day fixing up the new camp.
Captain Chrissy had to go on “Officer of the ‘Piequet’” last night and as he had two horses he offered one to me to go the rounds with him at 12 o’clock and I accepted it gladly. It was a beautiful night and we had a good time riding round to the posts through alternate patches of brushland and open fields. At the last post there were some orange trees and we obtained some specimens left by chance, getting a beautiful branch of green oranges which I am taking with great care to one of his particular friends. I saw some fine palmettos with leaves longer than a man. I would have brought some of the leaves home but had my things nearly full.
I was expecting to come to town on a horse that the major promised to lend me but as an ambulance was coming in at 1 o’clock P.M’ I cane by that and getting my things from Captain Plumer’s I came to the “Port Royal House” in time for supper and shall remain here for breakfast in the morning and then take the boat “Fulton” at 10 o’clock for N.Y. Capt R-auld have kept me there but he has the chills and fever and is somewhat crowded already so I could not make up my mind to trouble him any more. It was half past seven and I was in my room thinking over the past week which does not seem much like being in the war myself but nearly a spectator and is a vacation to me in which I have visited my friends and found a most hearty welcome and kindness from all in the Reg’t whose acquaintance I have made. Capt. C has been so like a brother to me that the time has passed pleasantly indeed. But I will close for the present and perhaps write a little more on board. ship.
We did not start from the Head till 2 o’clock yesterday and did not get dinner till 4 which rendered me hungry as I had not ate anything but some apples since supper the night before. Something that I ate at the “Port Royal House” or else the freshly parched peanuts that I ate in the day made me sick all Friday night and left me without appetite on Saturday morning.
The state rooms accommodate two persons and I had No. 13 but I changed with Lt. Whithington who had a friend in my roommate and in changing got in with a man who is act Y State Commissioner sent down to obtain the soldiers vote. There was a great deal of drinking going on yesterday on board and he seemed to be the ringleader of it. A great many had to retire before night but he kept up till late and then came to his room to drink with a friend. This morning he was up early and picking up his bottle of choice spirits he found he had drank it almost all up. He remarked that he believed he took almost all he could carry last night and I told him that I agreed with him. He tried hard to have me drink with him last night and was greatly astonished at my refusal but was so
Oct 30th On board the steamer Fulton
It is now evening and we are about half way on our voyage. So if nothing untoward happens we shall be in New York by Thursday morning. The wind has freshened this eve and the sea will probably be rough in the morning. So I am expecting sea sickness again. I have not described the boat and don’t think I shall attempt it but it is the largest and best that I was ever a passenger on was formerly run between NY and ----- is elegantly furnished and I think has on board the largest number of drunk or drinking army officers that I have ever seen together. I have been talking this eve with a man who is carrying on a plantation on Lady Island near Beaufort. He has 83 hands the largest number employed by overseer on the island. He is a young man not much over twenty one years of age, was down here surveying and in March last bought a plantation paying about 6000 dollars. ¼ down and the rest at the end of 3 years getting this advantage by having been in the army. He planted 100 acres in cotton and the expenses have been between 5 and 6000 dollars. The crop this year averages about ½ being destroyed by the army worms or caterpillar. He will get seventeen thousand dollars for the crop but says his is better than the average. I was asking him what a man could do without capital to commence on and he told me it could be done by beginning small. There are chances to get in it a man only could watch for them. For instance he says there is a man on board who owns a large plantation who offered him a large sum of money if he would get him a man who would carry on the plantation next year. He will pay the expenses and I think he said put in 200 acres and let it on shares if he can the man who is reliable and will carry it on as if it was his own. If I was out of the army and had one or two thousand dollars I am pretty sure Father and I would try a trip south for two years or more.
This man that I was talking with said he could make 10,000 dollars out of that job on shares. I am told that a man can himself take care of 10 acres which at 150 dollars per acre is not to laugh at but seriously considered. The cost of getting down there and back and of living is pretty dear 50 dollars from N.Y. to Hilton Head and 12 dollars more for food and board. If I had a friend who had wished to go down I could have taken him as a servant I think without any trouble and what a grand opportunity it would have been if Father could have been in Washington at the time I started all ready for a short trip to the Dept of the South.
Back at Camp Casey I received orders to assist in the transportation of more troops:
Dec 8th 1864, The detachment of 157 recruits belonging to different regiments in
the army of the Patomac and the Army of the James who are now stationed at
Camp Casey Va, will proceed to the front without delay. The detachment will be
under command of 2nd Lieut. Henry Whitney, 45th U.S.C.T. and will report for
transportation at 6th St. wharf tomorrow, Dec 9th, 1864 at 9 ½ o’clock A.M.
promptly. Having turned over the recruits to the proper authorities, Lt. Whitney
will return and report to the Commanding Officer at Camp Casey Va. without delay.
January 6th 1865 Lieut. Henry Whitney, 45th U.S.C. Troops with a detachment of 95
men now at Camp Casey, Va. Belonging to the 7th, 9th, and 29th U.S.C.T., will
embark on the U.S. transport at 6th Street wharf on this city tomorrow, at 12
o’clock proceed to Marina Landing, Va. on the James River…
There were more assignments. The most rewarding of which was on March 4th. President Lincoln requested the commander of Camp Casey to send a Company of Colored Troops to march in the Inauguration parade and to be the color guard at his second Inauguration ceremony. This was the first time Negroes would have any role in Inauguration ceremonies and the President and the army commanders were especially concerned that these soldiers be good and proud representatives. I was, therefore, extremely proud to be the officer selected for this highly visible and important ceremonial role.
I did not have much time to think about this honor as I was soon sent on another mission. On March 20, I accompanied 36 recruits from Camp Casey to Chattanooga, Tenn..
On August 20, 1865, I was promoted from 2nd Lieutenant to 1st Lieutenant in the 45th U.S.C.T. Following the end of hostilities, I rejoined the men of the 45th as we were assigned to go to Texas, along with many other colored troops, to assure order was maintained along the Mexico boarder.
In Texas I became very good friends with a fellow officer in the 45th, Captain Elon Francis Brown. Elon had served with the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteers prior to attending officer training school and being assigned to the 45th USCT. He joined the 2nd Wisconsin, Company H as a private under the command of Captain Randolph, May 20, 1861. He fought and was injured in the great battles at South Mountain and Antietam where he was promoted “for meritorious conduct.” Although injured, Elon continued to march and fight in the campaigns that followed, including Chancellersville. He never truly regained his health. Elon mustered out and was honorably discharged on the 29th of June, 1864. Seven days later, July 5th, 1864, he enlisted again, this time as Captain in the 45th Regiment of the United States Colored Troops commanded by Col. Doubleday. He was mustered into the service on the 27th of July, 1864 by Captain Clay in Philadelphia.
I greatly respected Elon for the experiences he had prior to becoming an officer of Colored Troops. If asked, Elon would tell stories of these earlier experiences. The following two stories, taken from his journal, show how Elon was concerned about slavers even before joining the 45th:
While marching though Virginia, we came to a large brick mansion near which stood
several huts, the habitations of slaves. In front of one of the huts sat an old colored
woman who saluted us with, “Good evening, Massa’s.” We asked to be directed to the
spring. She insisted on having us sit down and rest while she brought us some water
although she was bent nearly double with the infirmities of age. We, however, went to
the spring ourselves and being refreshed by the purest beverage nature yields, returned
to the hut. There the old lady said that the plantation was owned by Col. John A.
Washington and that he was drowned going “across the sea to fight, for they had sent
“Oh,” said I, “this was the home of Col. John A Washington was it? He was killed by
a picket about a year and a half ago.”
“No,” she replied, “he was not killed, he was drowned going away over the sea to
fight; they had sent for him.”
I asked her of the time he was drowned and it agreed with the date of the death of Col.
Washington (a rebel officer and a relative of the immortal George Washington.) He
was shot by a Union picket in the fall of 1862. I think this is the same officer she had
She was very old and when I asked her age she replied, “I’m more’n a hundred years
old. I was a slave until I got too old to work and Massa set me free. I’ve been free
She said she had seen old Gen. Washington and all the rest of the Washingtons.”
At another time I took my canteen of water and went into one of the houses occupied by
the slaves where I made a cup of coffee and ate my breakfast of hard tack. All the
slaves had left the plantation except a few who are unable to leave on account of age.
They don’t seem to understand the object of the war at all but to say they hoped
“Masser Lincoln” will stick to it until they were all free. They had no idea of the
meaning of the word “government” and I was never more puzzled than in trying to
explain its meaning to them in answer to their questions.
Elon told these two stories as examples of how slave owners denied knowledge to their slaves. These same slave masters, he noted, would then use this ignorance that they themselves had intentionally fostered as “evidence” of Negro inferiority.
Elon’s sense of duty and commitment to the Union cause is illustrated in the following story:
In the army there is a class of men known in army phrase as “stragglers.” These are
men who cowardly sneak to the rear in time of battle not willing to risk their lives even
after taking solemn oath of fidelity to the cause. These men are far too numerous in the
army, and I would rejoice to see the death penalty attached to such an offense. Better
they be a deserter than a straggler; the former is more honorable, more just. In the one
case the man breaks all obligations between himself and the government, does no duty
and expects no pay; in the other case the man continues nominally on duty, draws his
pay and is of no real use to the country. If the straggler would only assist in alleviating
the wants of the wounded who are carried to the rear it might lesson this offense, but
not the coward. He cannot muster courage to look the brave soldier who returns from
the field with honorable wounds, in the face. He goes by himself and tries to hide from
the face of every human being except those of his own class. When the danger is all
past, he sneaks back to his company, is put under guard, perhaps at hard labor for a
few days, perhaps forfeits a months pay and has to hear the jests and sneers of his
comrades; but all this he can stand, and so lost is he to sense of shame, would rather
stand, than risk himself in battle. Gen. Hooker played them a good joke though and
one that I think will go farther, has gone farther, to correct the evil than any other
punishment. He put all stragglers that could be taken into companies and battalions
and marched them to the front. If any man refused to go he was shot down; this
enforced discipline and some of the most desperate fighting of that battle was done by
This final story serves to explain why Elon transferred to work with Colored Troops and surround himself with officers who shared his beliefs.
I have seen much death and horror as a soldier, yet the worst I witnessed was cruelty in
camp toward a negro. The man, who has been employed by a Sergeant, was taken sick
and lay unable to help himself in the least degree, even to turn over. Since his sickness
he had received no care whatsoever from the soldier who employed him and but little
from any one else. He appeared unable to speak. A piece of tent had been drawn over
him for shade but the Negro man spent days upon the ground with nothing under him. I
got a blanket and with assistance lifted him up and drew it under him. I appealed to
Dr. Arnadt, our 1st Asst Surgeon, but he was a cold hearted brutal man and seemed
afraid to touch him because he was black. Dr Babcock, 2nd Asst Surgeon, had done a
little for him but did not do all that was in his power to do. I pointed out that it was
known that we were to march from there in a day or two and it was their duty to send
him away while they could, for when we marched he would otherwise be left to die. We
all knew that they would not encumber the ambulances with a colored man. It might
seem unfair to soldiers to use army ambulances to carry contrabands but humanity
demands that we do it or else prevent their following the army. They are very useful as
servants but every mortal is liable to sickness or accident at any moment and if it is for
our benefit to employ them, it is but just to take care of them.
The next day we were ordered to prepare for marching. As I expected would be the
case, the sick man was left to die alone. A short time before we marched the doctors
and field officers assembled around the sick man in consultation as to what to do with
him. The doctors gave it as their opinion that he would not live twenty-four hours.
There were no spare ambulances and he was left by himself. The Colonel tried to get
one of the other colored men to stay with him but the request was an unreasonable one
as it was known that the country was full of gorillas and as soon as we were gone of
course they would be into our camp to see what we left and if any colored man were
found he would be either killed or hurried south into slavery. It was known for several
days that the man was helpless and it was repeated we would march. Ample time was
given to take proper care of him and for that neglect there can be no excuse. Food and
water were left within his reach but he was unable to move and of course would not
help himself to them. He probably died within a day or two but Oh what cruelty to
allow him to be left to die alone and lie for days upon the ground.
During the march from Edinburg to Brownsville, Texas, in October of 1865; much of the way, sometimes for several successive miles he was compelled to wade in water from four inches to three feet deep and frequently deeper, and to sleep in wet clothing; that before the march was completed he was too weak to continue and was left to complete the march by steamer, that then and there a violent cold was taken which on account of continued exposure could not be thrown off, and soon resulted in a confirmed cough; that during the following month, he, with a detachment of four Companies of his Regiment, and several detachments from other commands, made the voyage to New Orleans on a small steamer employed by the government in a crowded and uncomfortable condition having a very stormy passage, occupying sixteen days (instead of three or four as is usual); that there was no medical officer on board, with only the medical officer on duty with the Regiment for some months previous having been drowned at Bragos, Texas, after the regiment was mustered out—and that on his arrival at New Orleans he was unable to perform any military duty in consequence of cough and physical weakness, that near New Orleans he remained in camp with his regiment seven days most of this time without tents (the old ones having been turned in a Brownsville)
The men of the 45th were mustered out of the army on October 7th 1865, in Edenburg and Brownsville, Texas. I strongly considered staying in the army but my asthma was giving me much trouble, especially in the dust of Texas. I found some relief from my asthma symptoms by following a local custom of smoking the leaves of hemp plants. But it was not enough and I resigned November 4th, 1865.
Captain Elon Francis Brown of Company D, 45th Regiment U.S. Colored Troops, also mustered out November 4. At my invitation my friend came home with me and stayed with the Whitney family to recuperate. I believed my sisters would love him as I did and nurse him back to health.
On December 10th Elon and I moved to Bridgeport, in the state of Connecticut, and spent the winter at school. I was concerned that Elon’s cough continued. In April in the year 1866, Elon moved to Manchester, Hillsborough County, New Hampshire and engaged in teaching in the New Hampshire Business College. A year later, my sister Sarah married Elon on April 9th, 1867. Our joy was tempered however as Elon’s cough continued and his hearing was impaired in one ear, he partially lost his sense of smell, and he occasionally spit blood. The following year, just as his son Norman was born, Elon entirely lost hearing in one ear and his hearing was so impaired in the other ear that he was forced to give up teaching. Elon died on August19, 1869
I was also concerned for my health as I was in such a sad state of mind following the war and losing my good friend and “brother” Elon Brown. The climate in New Jersey did not sit well with me and I tried finding work in West Virginia. Nothing worked for me and I was soon back living with my family in New Brunswick, New Jersey.