Commander of the U.S.S. Dale to the Commander of the South Atlantic Squadron

St Helena Sound S.C.  June 13th 1862

Sir;  This morning at 4 o'clock it was reported to me that there was a large fire on Hutchinson's Island, and shortly after that a preconcerted signal that the enemy were in the vicinity had been made from the house of our Pilot.  I immediately started in the gig accompanied by the tender “Wild Cat,” Boats'n Downs, Launch, Act'g Mid'n Terry, 1st Cutter, Act'g Master Billings, 2d Cutter, Act'g Master Hawkins, and 3d Cutter Cox'n Shurtleff, up Horn, or Big River Creek, in the direction of the fire.  Soon after leaving the ship a canoe containing three negroes was met, who stated that the rebels, three hundred strong were at Mrs. March's plantation killing all the negroes

As we advanced up the creek we were constantly met by canoes with two or three negroes in them, panic stricken, and making their way to the ship while white flags were to be seen flying from every inhabited point around which were clustered groups of frightened fugitives.  When about two and half miles from Mrs March's, I was obliged to anchor the “Wild Cat” from the want of sufficient water in the channel with orders to be ready to cover our retreat if necessary.

On arriving at Mrs. March's the scene was most painful; her dwelling and chapel were in ruins, the air heavy with smoke, while at the landing were assembled over one hundred souls, mostly women and children in the utmost distress.–

Throwing out a picket guard, and taking every proper measure against surprise, I satisfied myself that the enemy were not in our immediate neighborhood, the negroes assuring me that they had left the island and returned to Fort Chapman.–

I then gathered the following particulars: The rebels during the night landed on the island from Fort Chapman with a force of unknown numbers and guided by a negro who for a long time had been on Otter Island in the employ of the army, surrounded the house and chapel in which a large proportion of the negroes were housed, posting a strong guard to oppose our landing.

At early dawn they fired a volley though the house; as the alarmed people sprang nearly naked from their beds and rushed forth frantic with fear, they were shot, arrested or knocked down.  The first inquiry of the rebels was for the “d—d Yankees,” and at what time we were in the habit of visiting the Islands, mingled with exclamations of “be quick boys the people from the ship will be up,”–“Lets burn the houses,”–“Not yet, they will see the fire from the ship and come up.”–

Having collected most of the chickens and despoiled many of the poor people of their very wretched clothing, and telling them that as they belonged to the estate or others nearly adjoining they would not molest them, they fired the buildings and fled.–

As the people were clamorous to be removed I filled the boats with them and pulled down to the Tender on board of which they were placed.  On our return for the remainder they were observed as we approached the landing to be in the utmost confusion, dashing wildly into the marshes and screaming, “the Secesh are coming back;” on investigation however it proved to be that the enemy in full sight about two miles off crossing an open space of ground were in hasty retreat instead of advancing.  On our first visit they must have been concealed in a patch of woods not more than half a mile from our pickets.–

Having succeeded in removing or in providing with boats all who wished to remain to collect their little property, I returned to the ship bring with me about seventy, among them one man literally riddled with balls and buck shot; (since dead); another shot through the lungs and struck over the forehead with a clubbed musket laying the bone perfectly bare; one woman shot in the leg, shoulder, and thigh; one, far gone in pregnacy, with dislocation of the hip joint and injury to the womb caused by leaping from a second story window, and another, with displacement of the cap of the knee, and injury of the leg from the same cause.–

It appears that the negro who guided the party had returned to them after the evacuation of this place, told them all the troops had been withdrawn and that the Islands were entirely unprotected except by this ship; I am therefore at a loss to account for their extreme barbarity to negroes, most of whom were living on the plantation where they had been born, peacefully tilling the ground for their support, which their masters by deserting had denied them, and who were not even remotely connected with the hated Yankee.–

I would respectfully request that whenever one of the light draft steamers, such as the Planter, or the Ellen, can be spared for a day or two she may be allowed to visit this place.  The Tender is, owing to the prevalence of sea breezes, almost useless in the narrow creeks except in advancing.–  The occasional trip of a small steamer up the Ashepoo would make the wooding and watering of this ship less hazardous.

I trust you will approve my sending the contrabands to Hilton Head:  had I not been unable to provide for such a large number, and so much embarrassed by the frequent demands made upon me for provisions by new arrivals, I should have waited for your orders in the matter.–

Last Tuesday we had an arrival of thirty from the main-land, and scarce a day passes without one or more arrivals always in a half-starved condition, whose appeals for food I have not yet been able to resist, though trespassing rather largely on the ships stores.  All the new arrivals give the same account of the want and scarcity of provisions among the white population, and of their own dangers and sufferings in effecting their escape.–

Though exercising no control over the negroes on the neighboring islands I have, ever since the withdrawal of the troops, urged them to move to Edisto or St. Helena, and warned them that some night they would be visited by the rebels, but the majority insisted on remaining because it was their home while all seemed to have the most perfect faith in the protection of the ship though perhaps as was the case last night, ten or twelve miles distant from her.  Very Respectfully Your obdt. servant

(signed)  W. T. Truxtun

Lieut. W. T. Truxtun to Flag Officer S. F. Du Pont, 13 June 1862, enclosed in Flag Officer S. F. Du Pont to Hon. Gideon Welles, 16 June 1862, South Atlantic Squadron, Letters from Officers Commanding Squadrons, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records & Library, Record Group 45, National Archives.

Published in The Destruction of Slavery, pp. 125–28, and in Free at Last, pp. 52–56.