Charles R. Douglass to Frederick Douglass, September 8, 1863
CHARLES R. DOUGLASS TO FREDERICK DOUGLASS
Boston[, Mass.] 8 Sept[ember] 1863[.]
I have just received your letter of Aug 28th with five dollars enclosed which I am very thankful for as I was in want of it very much. I have never brought any disgrace upon the family and I never mean to I have never stolen from any body a chicken or any thing else no one can bring any such thing up against me I have said that I would take a chicken or any thing else to eat when I was hungry but I have not done so I wrote that there had been chickens stolen by the boys in camp but as I have had to take charge of the camp I have never left it without permission and I have the praise to day of Gen. Peirce1A lawyer and justice of the peace in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Richard A. Peirce (1835?-69) also served as adjutant in a pre-Civil War militia unit. At the war’s start, Peirce served as a major on the staff of Brigadier General Ebenezer Peirce, who commanded a brigade of three-month Massachusetts volunteers rushed south to defend Washington, D.C., early in the crisis following Fort Sumter. Peirce then worked as inspector general on the military staff of Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew, and was promoted to brigadier general of the Massachusetts volunteers. In September 1862, Peirce was appointed commandant of Camp Meigs, at Readville, where he supervised the training of recruits and was the state’s chief of ordinance. Annual Report of the Trustees of Free Public Library of the City of New Bedford (New Bedford, Mass., 1870), 11-13; Massachusetts Registrar, 163; New Bedford Directory ... 1859, 5; Pearson, Life of John A. Andrew, 1:253. of keeping things neat and orderly about the camp when all were sick except myself I worked hard to supply all the wants of the sick as I was the only one able to do duty some nights I was up all night and stood over those that died and laid them out wrote to their friends and in fact done most all that was to do except doctor them and I felt after a while to get sick myself2 It is impossible to establish exactly what illness struck Charles’s unit at Camp Meigs, but some reasonable assumptions can be made. Poor camp conditions often led to outbreaks of dysentery, typhoid, and cholera. The most common, and therefore most likely, culprit for the sickness at Readville was dysentery, which is caused by drinking contaminated water. Heidler and Heidler,Encylopedia of the American Civil War, 2:603—04. I could not drink coffee sweetend with mollasses and of course I had to eat dry bread alone for we only got meat once a week and that was used to make soup for the sick we could say nothing to nobody against it I was the only one on the ground that could get a chance to speak the rest being sick I fell away like a skeleton. I spoke to the doctor about it he could not account for it nor did he care he had plenty, they would tell us that hospital rations were small and that, we could not draw full rations that is a funny way to starve a lot of men in a State where there is plenty We were used mean and when I wrote home I said any thing that came in my head. It dont seem to you that are home true that this can be but upon honor it is the truth and to day there are men dying out to camp I was out last night for the first time in a week and the boys said that there had been no doctor there all that day and there is one man there that will die and others that are very sick I am agoing to complain about it to day. We were treated like men when the Regt. was here but now they are treated worse than dogs I am treated better now that I am in the city and Lieut Wulff3The regimental history confirms that Lieutenant Erick Wulff (1837—?) was born in Sweden. He served in the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment from August to October 1862 and joined the Fifty-fourth when it was mustered in February 1863. He served on the staff of Camp Meigs’s commandant, Brigadier General Richard A. Peirce, from June 1863 until March 1864, when he left the Fifty-fourth to accept a captaincy in the Fifth Massachusetts Cavalry. He resigned from military service on 4 July 1864. Emilio, Brave Black Regiment, 334. is a man every inch of him he is a Sweede by birth but he is my friend he has done all he could to have the men satisfied but there are higher officers than him the fault les in the Quarter master it is for the benefit of his pocket that we dont have our rations. Lieut Wulff to day is agoing to establish a new camp new tents and every thing for the fifty fourth men that we are recruiting4The Battle of Fort Wagner, in which nearly half the unit’s soldiers were killed or wounded, took a heavy toll on the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts. The camp that Lieutenant Wulff worked to establish was for new recruits, likely replacements for the heavy casualties suffered in South Carolina. Emilio, Brave Black Regiment, 90-91. and he will have charge of every
thing commissary department and all and then our men will have what is right. I am well and in the office I stay in Boston altogether. I saw a discharged soldier yesterday from the fifty fourth and he told me that he saw Lewis the day he left and that Lewis had been sick (this the 17th of Aug) but that he was better again they have such poor water down there and a great many are sick from the effects of it5After the battle of Fort Wagner, the surviving troops of the Fifty-fourth returned to camp at nearby James Island. The camp, established on a swampy island under combat conditions as the unit lay siege to Fort Wagner, lacked proper sanitation, which allowed the spread of common camp diseases. Lewis might have been struck with typhoid fever at this time. Emilio, Brave Black Regiment, 105; Yacovone, A Voice of Thunder, 256.
I have been told that the fifty fourth would get their full pay in a month it has been explained that the U.S Government would pay us ten dollars per month and Massachusetts will pay the other three and that we will get just what was promised us I hope that our boys wont except of any less than what they enlisted for. I can get my full pay next month right here when any of my acquaintences meet me in the street they say why how thin you are I once could say that it was from sickness but this time it was from something else. give my love to all at home and dont think hard of me because of what I said a person will do most anything before they will starve and will say anything I did not starve but I felt myself falling away more and more and one while I did expect to be laid up sick.
Your Aff. Son. Please direct care LIEUT WULFF READVILLE
CHARLES R. DOUGLASS
ALS: General Correspondence File, reel 1, frames 847—49, FD Papers, DLC.