Three Months Before his Death Charging with the 54th Mass. at Fort Wagner, Colonel Putnam Writes of the Naval Bombardment of Charleston, the Burning of Jacksonville, and Black Troops
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“It is but just to say that the negroes behaved more decently than the White soldiers” HALDIMAN SUMNER PUTNAM.
Colonel in the 7th New Hampshire Regiment, Autograph Letter Signed (“H.S.P.,”) St. Augustine, Florida, April 26, 1863. 4 pp.
“…I observe your photograph does not do you justice- it is the fate of all great men to be “taken” badly. I always am. Well since I wrote you I started to make a little history…. General Hunter who was in the Bedford off the bar during the bombardment saw and heard too many rebel guns & forts & things to feel strong enough to land and make an attack. I think however much we regret not being in possession of Charleston, that an attack by land would only have caused us to lose more or less men, with precisely the same result. This of course is in view of the size of our force. The opening of the rebel forts & batteries on the monitors is described as an insignificant scratch. The monitors were all hit on an average about 50 times, and but one, the Keokuk damaged. The great fight lasted about two hours. It fully demonstrated the power of the iron-clads to withstand any conceivable amount of hammering but unfortunately their offensive power is comparatively small when opposed to a casemated fort... I came back immediately with my command of five companies after the attack had been abandoned... I am sorry you were not better satisfied with your place in the Grand Army... Moreover the idea that you are to be kept simply as a brigade quartermaster for any time is too ridiculous. Blood will tell my boy. And I shall not be startled to hear you a Lt. col. tomorrow- You know the sequl [sic] to the Jacksonville ‘Capture’- the colored braves were there for a day or two & sent for reinforcements, the 8th Maine & 6th Conn- went down to their rescue, two darkies having been hit in the meantime - I am told the Cols. of the White regiments had orders not to assume command though one outranked Col. [Thomas W ] Higginson. They all stayed there a week or longer together and evacuated the place for the third time. After having gone through the deep and unusual process of separating the lambs & goats & sending the former ‘over the lines’. Well when they came away they concluded the town had been taken or ‘captured’ often enough so they promptly burnt about two thirds of it to ashes. this considering Jacksonville was almost the only place in the Department that ever manifested the least symptom of loyalty since we came here, was rather edifying. Of course the ‘furniture hunters’ were close by & took good care to secure all the pianos, sofas, chairs, tables mirrors &c before burning... It is but just to say that the negroes behaved more decently than the White soldiers. the expedition was organized to secure a few hundred intelligent contrabands, to fill up the 2d S.C. Vols, they secured eighteen...”
Haldiman Sumner Putnam (1835 – 1863) was a West Point graduate, lieutenant in the Engineer Corps, and a colonel in the 7th New Hampshire volunteers. He was imprisoned while delivering a message to Fort Pickens in Florida but was released and participated in the First Battle of Bull Run, where he was brevetted major. He was promoted to colonel in December 1861 and stationed in Florida at Fort Jefferson, Tortuga and St. Augustine, and later, Port Royal, South Carolina, where he helped capture Morris Island. While acting as brigadier general, he was promoted to captain in the regular army. His 7th New Hampshire was rolled into the 2nd Brigade and together with the famous 54th Massachusetts (African American troops), assaulted Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863. During the battle, Putnam was killed by a shot in the head. The futile assault was memorialized in the 1989 film “Glory.”