Army Correspondence: July 1, 1865

Army Correspondence

By Chaplain Turner

Head Quarters 1st U.S.C.T.,

Roanoke Island, N.C.

June 23, 1865


Christian Recorder: July 1, 1865

MR. EDITOR: - Since my arrival here, the duties devolving upon me are so weighty and responsible that I can rarely find enough of spare moments to write anything. Especially those connected with the post office. Prior to the war there had been no mail base established here, owing to the exorbitant price asked by the boat line plying between Norfolk and Newbern, N.C., consequently, all mail matters yet are partially conveyed through military channels. Still, we have a provisional post office, which supplies at least five thousand citizens exclusive of the military forces. So, on our arrival here, our gallant colonel (precious for his many virtues) requested me to take charge of this office, the duties of which nearly absorbs all my time.

So great has been the change of affairs on this Island that I would be at a loss for a starting point, where I to attempt a detailed narrative of things now, contrasted with them when we first landed.

We found thousands of colored people on the eve of starvation, while the parties authorized by the government to issue rations were cheating, stealing, and defrauding them of their lawful subsistence. We found hundreds of colored men with scraps of paper in their pockets, as the only reward for one and two years work, performed under the promise of being paid by the government, while the money had actually been drawn, and lavished upon the greasy carcasses of lazy thieves and their accomplices. But I forbear to tell more. However, Col. John H. Halmon, of the 1st U.S.C.T, is ferreting out matters as fast as possible and could send in a long list of impeachments, though I do not think he would strain every point, but simply make examples of the most prominent parties.

I also found the post office in a miserable condition, and have given out a large quantity of letters which have been lying here for months. But things otherwise are most excellent. Thousands of colored people, formally slaves, live on the Island, each having one acre of ground allotted to the family. Most of them have found houses and excellent gardens, streets, and avenues well laid off and arranged. Fish, eggs, poultry, and such like eatables are in great abundance and exceedingly cheap.

Women are here by thousands, while men are numbered by hundreds, as a great many soldiers wives live here. Children throng the highways and crowd the schools, and still, they clamor for more; while fleas and mosquitoes rove by the million, this keeping up a terrible scratching all day and night, for they make no allowance for company whatever. I found my fingernails very useful here both for digging and scratching.

The prevailing religions on the Island consist of Methodists and Baptists. The Methodists are under the auspices of the Zion brethren, and the Baptists are not disposed to claim relation to any organized body whatever but are simply Baptists. They have two or three churches of their own with colored pastors, but none of are ordained; still, they baptize and marry with as much boldness as if properly authorized, though Rev. Wm. A. Green, chaplain of the 37th U.S.C.T., would not allow them to do so in his presence.

Chaplain Green is a Baptist minister from Boston, Mass. Most of the Baptists here have those old worn out ideas still, that you must go under the waters before you are right; while a more liberal thinking portion regards true Christian fidelity as the standard of moral rectitude only. They are very orderly in their worship, observing Christian decorum in its high sense of appreciation.

I have only visited though, one church of each denomination. The Methodist church, which I visited twice unobserved by the members, appeared to worship under a low class of ideas, or to entertain a much cruder conception of God and the plan of salvation, than the Baptists – hellfire, brimstone, damnation, black smoke, hot lead, and etc, appeared to be presented by the speaker as man’s highest incentive to serve God. While the milder and yet more powerful message of Jesus was thoughtlessly passed by; that, of course, formed the key to their class of ideas. But, oh! what zeal and determination they manifest in their efforts to serve God! I have to admire it as much as I admire the soldier's prayer meeting in my regiment. I have repeatedly stood and looked at my soldiers, when holding their prayer meetings, until I cried like a child, standing out under heavens broad canopy singing and praying, in the most inclement weather, while it rained, blew, and thundered, and the water drenching them, and running in streams beneath their feet; that they would stand with twenty or forty in a gang, and their voices, clear in singing and impressively loud in prayer, never seem to quiver or break its euphony. I never see them do this without shedding tears, yet I have seen them repeatedly. I remember once looking toward heaven, and saying, almost unconsciously, “Oh rain, that meeting (pointing to the place where the soldiers were praying,) defies thy falling torrents.”

I was struck by a remark made recently by a gentleman:- “Do you hear those negroes over yonder making all that fuss,” said he. “Yes,” was the reply. “Well,” said he, “Some of those ignorant fuss makers will be living with God in peace when such fellows as you and I will be scrambling all over hell.” The uncouthness of the phrase did not in the least detract from the genuine meaning with which it was pregnant. However meager our moral and devotional conception may be of the intrinsic truths of the Bible, those who embrace them with an undeviating determination draw out a signal majesty from them, whose reactionary power will be felt and improved upon by the most hard-hearted sinner.

I sustained quite a disappointment a few days since by a flank movement by Rev. Bro. Hood, of the Zion church. Some fifty miles above here lies a little town, on the edge of the sound, called Edenton. The colored people there have a splendid Methodist Church, given to them several years ago by the whites. Hearing of it, I made several inquiries and finally came in possession of the most flattering accounts regarding my prospects in taking it into the A.M.E. Church. I, therefore, surveyed my ground, or, in short, counted my chickens by bearing of the eggs, supposing that it would take a small corps only to carry that point. I proposed to send Rev. John Hames with one division to engage them and draw their fire, so as to ascertain their strength and discover their topography. Afterwards, I would come with a reminder of the corps and carry everything by storm.

The day having arrived for the boat to leave, (as one only runs there once in two or three weeks,) I was expecting the first division to go forward. But as the boat steamed off, I looked, and lo! there stood General Hood armed to the teeth, with all his veteran force ready, and intent upon the capture of Edenton, after a forced march from Newbern, of nearly a hundred miles. So, like the man who lost his rabbit, I solaced myself by pronouncing Edenton, church and people all, dry meat, and poor at best. But Gen. Hood, not deterred by such trivial considerations in the least, went in, carried the place, left it well garrisoned, and returned yesterday, exultant in the glory of his conquest, and no one was more ready than I to lavish upon him my highest congratulations, and when I go there, I shall compliment them as highly as if I had taken them. But, at the same time, had I opened surmised Gen. Hood had any idea of the place, I would have been there before, yet I shall never wrangle, by the help of God, with a Zion brother.

This letter being too long already, I must stop.

H.M.T.