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- Army Correspondence: July 22, 1865
By Chaplain Turner
Head Quarters, 1st U.S.C.T.
Roanoke Island, N.C.,
July 7th, 1865
Christian Recorder: July 22, 1865
MR. EDITOR:--The extreme sultriness and heat of the weather has for several days past palsied all my efforts to throw together a correspondence.
The 5th of July was surpassingly warm. The oldest inhabitants of this place speak of it as being one the warmest days witnessed here for many years. In the shade, the thermometer stood at 104 degrees. This kind of weather, as you are aware, is by no means aggregate to brain work. Though, I suppose, you will smile to yourself and say, “Where is the brain work about such letters as you write?” Well, I can only say as a reply, if they will pass for good nonsense, I shall regard myself as rewarded, for good nonsense is not unfrequently appreciated as our most interesting literature.
Roanoke Island is still the theatre of many interesting incidents. Every imaginable phase of characters, every question having….virtue, however, hatched with uncertainties through the phantasm scope of suspicion, or open in the vulgar revelry of the unconscionable audacious, are ever and anon before the bar of adjustment.
A strong, athletic young man is not satisfied with being granted the loan of a horse, by the Post commander; but if the horse should back his ears, and look rather earnestly at the fellow seeking to astride a lazy carcass upon his back, he will stop, and in a mass of deliberation, return to Head Quarters and report the disagreeable looking features of the horse. It is nothing uncommon to have reports of dogs barking, and such trivial affairs, handed in at Head Quarters.
Colonel Holman, however, listens to them all, passes judgment upon them, and the parties respectfully retire.
But here is a circumstance to which I most respectfully invite your attention. The narrative runs as follows: Near Edenton, (a place about one hundred miles from the island,) lives an old rich slave-holder, who in the days of southern rights wielded an immense power in that community, or, in other words, he was one of the lords of the land.
He visited Wilmington about twelve years ago, and there saw a very handsome mulatto girl, or rather a lady, around whom his licentious affections clustered. Thus, she was bought, and conveyed to his country mansion, and admitted to the lofty honors of sacred concubinage. In that very wholesome situation, she has remained ever since, giving birth to six children, all illegitimate production of purchased connection. Providentially, both of these individuals had business before the Colonel, and during the investigation, the Colonel’s attention was called to their mode of living. The matter was referred to the Chaplain for counsel and advice, as it was a subject of morality, who decided with the Colonel that he should marry her at once. But he (the slaveholder,) could not see the point; he showed many reasons why it would not do to marry a colored woman, in this part of the country. He argued skillfully in the false logic generally produced by slave-owners; finally, he was dismissed and left with an exultant sense of his victory over Yankee morality.
Colonel Holman, after weighing the matter again, sent for me, and finding the parties already there, rose upon his feet, and commenced as follows: “Sir, (looking at the slave-owner,) I have talked to you as a brother and friend: you have had this woman twelve years acting as your wife; she, in the sacred honesty of a lady, has in return given to you, your country and your God, six children: you brought her away from her home, her relations and friends, as a man would convey his wife; you have also devoured the flower of her youth, and torn from her cheeks the flush beauties of maidenhood; you have reaped and consumed these charms, which God gave her to find a happy partner in life, and make her existence pleasant to the grave, ay! and to an eternal future. You have desecrated the sanctity of the matrimonial institution by force and unjust authority. But your day is gone: this is my day, and this great nation’s day—and as an officer of the United States, invested with power to execute justice, and carry out the proclamations of the President,--I tell you and your comrades, I tell all in my military district, such conduct shall not be tolerated. You can take your choice, either marry the woman, or endow her and her children with property sufficient to support them for life, or I will demolish everything you have, hang, shoot or bury you alive, before you shall turn that helpless woman and your ill-begotten children away to die, or to be fed by my country, and your property given to hellish rebels. I will hang you on the tallest tree in the state of North Carolina. You starved our prisoners to death, you cut the throats of our soldiers and murdered in cold blood the best men God ever made, to sustain your infamous rotten oligarchy, and now, to add insult and injury, you propose to turn out your children. By the eternal God, I will sweep you all with one blast.”
At this point, he raised his head, and in a trembling voice said: “Colonel, you need not say anymore. I can’t marry Susie and stay here; but if you will give me time to dispose of my personal property, I will take her and go to the North, or to Canada and there marry her; I will sell my lower plantation, but my upper one I will hold on to.”
“Well,” said the Colonel, “do you promise in the presence of myself and the chaplain to marry Miss Susan?”
“Yes, sir, I will; for I know it is wrong to throw her and the children away, for Suse has been a mighty good gal.”
At this point, we all shook hands over the prospects, and the court adjourned, to meet again when he gets ready to marry Susan and go North.
The fourth of July was very enthusiastically celebrated here. Early in the morning, the course notes of the artillery began to proclaim its approach, and the bands broke out at several points in the sweetest melody. About ten o’clock 3000 persons had assembled before the Head Quarters to hear an address from the Chaplain. But knowing he had made a miserable failure at Norfolk, Va., could barely muster up the courage to speak, yet, after he started he did better than he expected. This same speaker, a week before, made the poorest effect in Norfolk I ever heard. The evening was disposed of in prayer meetings, singing parties, shindigs, &c.
Several marriages have taken place since our arrival here, and several more are in contemplation: officer’s wives are coming in from all quarters, and others are desiring leave of absence, in order to get married.
I expect soon to put my entire regiment through a course of a literary drill. Several young ladies, white and colored, are coming from the North to teach in my regiment, besides two young men from New York, who will soon be here also: we allow them $30 a month: our first school will be opened on Monday. I still hope to leave my regiment with every man in it reading and writing. If I can accomplish that, I shall say to myself, Well done!