HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE SOUTH, Hilton Head, S. C., April 30, 1863.
Honorable EDWIN M. STANTON,
Secretary of War, Washington:
DEAR SIR: With opportunities of observation larger and perhaps more closely improved than have fallen to the lot of any other general officer in the service, I am happy to be able to announce to you my complete and eminent satisfaction with the results of the organization of negro regiments in this department. We have now three regiments in operation, of which two have been in active service against the enemy, and two additional regiments, five in all, will be raised by the enrollment, under general orders, of all the surplus laborers inter Quartermaster's, Commissary, Ordnance, and Medical Departments, together with those employed as servants or laborers by the speculators and traders at the various posts.
In the field these regiments, so far as tried, have proved brave, active, docile, and energetic, frequently outrunning by their zeal and familiarity with the Southern country the restrictions deemed prudent by certain of their officers and never disgracing their uniform by pillage or cruelty;and so conducting themselves, upon the whole, that even our enemies, though more anxious to find fault with these than with any other portion of our troops, have not yet been able to allege against them a single violation of any of the rules of civilized warfare.
I find the colored regiments hardly, temperate, strictly obedient, possessing remarkable aptitude for military training, and deeply imbued with that religious sentiment (call it fanaticism, such as like) which made the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell invincible. They are imbued with a burning faith that now is the time appointed by God, in His All-wise Providence, for the deliverance of their race; and under the heroic incitement of this faith I believe them capable of courage and persistency of purpose which must in the end extort both victory and admiration. Their faith is childlike in its purity, fervor, and pathos. They accept with patience the slights and sneers occasionally thrown upon them by thoughtless or malignant hands, assured that inthe day of trial or conflict they possess and stand ready to evince those qualities of true manhood and soldiership which must redeem in the eyes of all just and generous men, however prejudiced, the misfortune of their darker skins and that condition of utter degradation out of which they feel themselves but now emerging.
And in this connection I am also happy to announce to you that the prejudices of certain of our while soldiers against these indispensable allies are rapidly softening or fading out, General Orders, Numbers 17, of this department (of which copy is inclosed*) having done much to allay the irrational bitterness of feeling fomented by pro-slavery, semi secession sympathizing officers. Under that order vast numbers of non-commissioned officers and deserving privates of our white regiments were recommended by their company, field, brigade, and division commandeers for promotion as commissioned officers of the colored troops, and with every appointment thus made made an increased respect for and interest in the organization and fortunes of the colored brigade became perceptible.
*See Series I, Vol. XIV, p. 1020.
12 R R-SERIES III, VOL III