In the News: Capt. O. S. B. Wall, 104th USCI, an African American Commissioned Officer Writes to His Hometown Newspaper

From Joseph T. Wilson’s The Black Phalanx: African American Soldiers in the War of Independence, the War of 1812 & The Civil War

The Lorain County News, Oberlin, Ohio
July 19, 1865

Letter from Capt. O.S.B. Wall
PORT ROYAL, S.C.,
June 24th, 1865.

EDITOR OF THE NEWS, OBERLIN, O.:

I have thought for some time that it might not be amiss to drop you a line, with reference to myself since I arrived in this department, and to say something of other matters that may be of interest to a few of your many patrons.

About the 1st of last April, I was ordered to Savannah, Ga., to recruit for the 104th Regt., U.S.C.T., but about the time I got nicely under way, and was doing my part in filling the Regiment, the good news came that Richmond was occupied by our forces, and a little later, that Lee had surrendered his entire army to General Grant. I rejoiced, but recruited right on till on the 6th of May, I received orders to stop recruiting and report to Beaufort, which is the Head Quarters of Gen. Saxton, which I did in due time after settling my affairs in Savannah.

On the 16th of May, I was ordered to Charleston, S.C., on special duty. – Having completed the duties, I returned to Beaufort on the 20th inst.; am now at this place waiting the boat for Charleston, whence I am ordered back on special duty with reference to the Freedmen, consequently I shall probably be in Charleston, S.C. several weeks at least; and now propose, with your permission, to say something about Charleston and the people. – Where diversity, variety and change are as applicable to society at present as to the material world in obeying the laws of nature. Indeed, since the occupation of this fated city, on the 18th of February, 1865, commercial enterprise, from the old turban-headed colored woman, seated on a curb stone with a quart of pea nits and three bottles of sweetened water, to the whole sale Liquor Dealer on King street, has assumed a briskness even surprising to the natives; in fact, the importation of goods has been so large this Spring that stagnation or reaction has been feared; but more recently, since the removal of restrictions on trade and confiscation apparitions have disappeared, the obscure places in many instances have been very productive, in South Carolina staples – rice and cotton. The very side walks have been parted asunder that the excavations beneath might be relieved of many bales of cotton. Rice also, by thousands of bushels, is thrown into market that could not be found at first occupation of the city. The unexpected developments tend to give permanency to trade.

Truly, the Charlestonians are an humbled people. The tables have entirely turned. Instead of respectable colored people having to get permits to meet religiously or socially, to be broken in upon at any moment by rowdies, called patrol, with sundry other special municipal annoyances, too insulting to humanity to be enumerated, it is not uncommon now while passing on King or Meeting streets to see little groups of the former chivalry separate, and if necessary, get off the side walk to allow native Carolinians of African descent to pass.

While coming from Savannah, Ga., a few days ago, in company with quite a number of rebel exchange officers from Lee’s army, and feeling anxious to know the nature of their mediations, advanced and found it no hard task to get into conversation with them. They confessed they were fairly whipped, but were anxious to know what the government intended doing with them. I said to them at once, “that depends entirely upon your future action after you get to your respective homes,” &c. I was not aware at the time our President was in favor of reorganizing them politically about as they were before the rebellion, or I should have said to them, you have lost nothing by your treason, but four years time and a few thousand irresponsible traitors, which answer would have surprised them, of course.

But the colored people of Charleston, and also Savannah, Ga., have been very much annoyed and insulted by copperheaded Union officers and soldiers, stationed at these places. I speak from both observation and experience, myself not having been an exception to intended insults from some of the lowbreds of recent growth.

But we cannot afford to stop to find fault with any body, however low or high. We should look forward with patience and prayer, to the better time coming, and feel assured that our Father of Justice, who has in his hands the destinies of races of men, as well as those of nations, will not be turned aside from his great purpose of making the colored people of this country a part of this nation indeed, not only so far as tilling the soil and fighting its battles are concerned, but politically and religiously. It is only those of mustard-seed faith who become discouraged at temporary delays, even should the cause come from high places. The people here feel that the Government knew what it was about in putting Gen. O.O. Howard at the head of the Freedmen’s Bureau. One sure indication of his soundness, is his appointment as Assistant Commissioner of that true Christian gentleman and philanthropist, Brevet Major Gen. R. Saxton, to superintend the affairs of Refugees and Freedmen in South Carolina and Georgia, whose very name is a terror to traitors, and at the very same time, synonymous to Friend to the unfortunate.

Charleston has a population of about 50,000, about 30,000 of whom are colored. Between 4000 and 5000 colored children are organized into schools, by that indomitable friend of the race, James Redpath, who is hated by Copperheads and Rebs, but equally loved by all truly loyal.

I have very much more I should like to tell you of this department, but not knowing that this will be acceptable, I shall at present presume no further on your patience.

O.S.B. WALL,
Capt. Co. K, 104th Reg. U.S.C.T.


The Lorain County News, Oberlin, Ohio
July 19, 1865

Another Letter from Capt. Wall.

CHARLESTON, S.C.,
July 6th, 1865

MR. EDITOR: – The Fourth has passed, even in Charleston, S.C., and with it, one of the most depressing hot days I ever experienced. The degrees to which the mercury ascended the tube, was noticed with palpitating anxiety till to 95. The heat still increasing, I concluded that posterity should have no occasion to be indebted to me for a further prosecution of the investigation of that particular branch of science, but retired in appropria persona, to a cooler place, leaving the heat and mercury to settle the matter according to the South Carolina code.

Except the burning of government powder, by way of firing salutes, and some evolutions by the Mass. 54th Regt., and four companies of Home Guards, (both colored,) there was but little celebrating in the city so noted for its hostility to the Union.

I was almost in the very act of dropping you a line complimenting the government for the wisdom it seemed to display in postponing the appointment of a Provisional Governor for South Carolina, when, to my surprise, I learned that the President had already appointed Hon. B. F. Perry. I am afraid this appointment is premature, and may not prove to be conducive to the best interests of the state. South Carolina, of all other rebel states, should have remained at least one year longer under the military rule entirely. This is certainly the feeling of a majority of the loyal people of the state.

Mr. Perry seems to be a dginified gentleman, and may do as well for governor as any other Carolinian; but will these people, who are still full of hatred, and cursing the power that defeated them in their wicked designs, conform readily to the new order of things, when they are allowed, with so little punishment, to re-establish themselves almost as they were before the Rebellion? If treason is a crime of such magnitude as defined to be by the expounders of our fundamental law, then those who are guilty of such a crime should have at least as much restraint thrown about them as both National and State law requires meted out to any unfortunate person, who at some unguarded moment, passes a worthless dollar, only intended itself to represent a real dollar. Consistency “thou art a jewel,” when applied to crime, where circumstances are not allowed to alter cases.

I do think there may be much trouble yet between the whites and blacks of this state, if great care is not taken by the government to have full justice done both classes; and as coming events cast their shadows before, among the shadows is this slanderous croaking by Rebs here, and their sympathizers North, who seem to be anxious to make the impression general, that the freed people leave their former owners and flock to government posts, to be fed by government – that they, (the freed men) only understand Freedom to mean idleness and vagrancy.

Now sir, my present connection with the Freedmen of this department, warrants me in branding these statements false, except in individual cases. It is quite obvious that those who peddle these slanders are actuated by feelings of unjust prejudice. Furthermore, I do aver, that as a general rule, the freed persons of Georgia and South Carolina are industrious, and even enterprising, and as a class, are the only truly loyal and real producing element in this department. You find them in all the avocations of life, as hucksters, from a fifty cent fish peddler on the street, to the real estate broker. It is a fact, that nine tenths of the huckstering business of these southern cities, is conducted by colored people. For instance, here in Charleston, in a market house extending from Meeting street to East, in length probably 600 yards, is almost entirely occupied by the meat stalls of colored men, and vegetable stands of colored women, and on passing through this long market every day, and coming in contact with hundreds, you find them neatly dressed, polite, and always honest in their deal, with a few exceptions, the exceptions being those in whom white blood preponderates largely over the black; in which cases the subjects seem as naturally to take to tricks in trade, as a duck to water.

I have had occasion to pass through many plantations on both the main land and sea islands, occupied entirely by freed people, and find with but a few exceptions their truck patches and plantations fully as well cultivated as under the old whip and force system. – The great majority of these people are in the interior off these states, on the plantations of their owners, working on the share principle as established by the government, demeaning themselves well, I am told by reliable privates and officers who belong to commands stationed throughout these states, who visit my quarters almost daily, and talk freely about the Freedmen and their affairs.

Mr. Editor, in conclusion permit me to speak of one other matter of very great interest, which is the establishment of a newspaper in this city, edited by a man true to our cause and to the Union. There is no doubt about its success. There is only published here the Courier, whose greatest forte is to insert extracts from the N. Y. Times and World. Please agitate this matter, for I assure you I represent thousands, when I say we need a good newspaper here, more than we need three Provisional governors.

O. S. B. WALL,
CAPT. 104th U. S. C. T.

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