Commander of a North Carolina Black Regiment to the Commander of a Black Brigade

Folly Island [S.C.]  Sept. 13th 1863.

General   It is reported to me on good authority that men of my command ordered to Morris Island on fatigue duty, are put to work laying out and policing camps of white soldiers on that Island.  I am informed that to day a detachment of 60 men properly officered, having been ordered to report to a Major Butts of some New York Regiment were set to work levelling ground for the Regimental Camp, digging wells &c pitching tents and the like.

Since the commencement of the war I have never before known such duty imposed upon any Regiment; it being (unless I am greatly in error) the custom of New York and other Regiments to pitch their own tents and lay out their own camps a privilege, by the way, which my men have had little time to enjoy by reason of constant detail on fatigue.

As you are aware–the fatigue duty of my regiment has been incessant and trying–so that my sick list has increased from 4 or 5 to nearly 200 in a little over one month; and I respectfully protest against the imposition of labors which by no principle of custom or right devolve upon my command.  I respectfully protest against this particular imposition because of its injurious influence upon the men in another respect.

They have been slaves and are just learning to be men   It IS a draw-back that they are regarded as, and called “d—d Niggers” by so-called “gentleman” in uniform of U.S. Officers, but when they are set to menial work doing for white regiments what those Regiments are entitled to do for themselves, it simply throws them back where they were before and reduces them to the position of slaves again.

I therefore request that you will entertain this my protest; and, if you find no objection to the matter or manner of the same, will forward it through the proper Channel to the General Commanding the Department–  If these men do their duty in the trenches, and in the field, I do not believe that he will make them hewers of wood and drawers of water for those who do no more.  I am General Very Respectfully Yours

James C. Beecher

Col. James C. Beecher to Brig. Genl. Edward A. Wild, 13 Sept. 1863, Letters Received, 35th USCI, Regimental Books & Papers USCT, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives.

Published in The Black Military Experience, pp. 493, in Free at Last, pp. 459–60, and in Freedom's Soldiers, pp. 112–13.