This letter was written by Lt. Henry H. Metcalf (1842-1904) of Co. C, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery while serving in the Post Adjutant’s Office at Hilton Head, South Carolina, in September 1863.
Edwin Metcalf (1823-1894) was a Harvard-educated lawyer and Rhode Island state legislator when he resigned his seat to join the war. Commissioned as Major of the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery, he immediately made a name for himself and the regiment when he led the first battalion in the battle of Secessionville, SC.
Promoted to Colonel and transferred at the governor’s request to command the new 11th Rhode Island Infantry, Metcalf was with the Army of the Potomac only a short time before being recalled to South Carolina. Yellow fever had swept the ranks and claimed Col. Brown of the 3rd RI HA, as well as several other officers, and Metcalf was seen as the one to revitalize the demoralized regiment. He commanded the regiment and served as Chief of Artillery until January 1864, when he returned to Providence on medical leave. He resigned due to illness on February 5, 1864.
[This letter is from the private collection of Greg Herr and is published on Spared & Shared by express consent.]
Headquarters U. S. Forces
Hilton Head, S. C.
September 11th 1863
Post Adjutant’s Office
Colonel [Edwin Metcalf]
Having finished my work on passes and of course you know that is no small job, I will endeavor to tell you the news. For the last week I have been acting post adjutant as George was sick with the fever but Sunday he begins again. We are all looking for your return but come come until you are strong.
This morning Gen. [Quincy Adams] Gilmore and his staff arrived from Morris Island. They visit Beaufort today and inspect the hospitals. Eighty-one prisoners came down with them—a hard-looking set. The Quartermaster has just come in and will send you a new South. Of course you have heard of [Forts] Wagner & Gregg being taken. Our boys are in first rate spirits and are to turn their guns toward Charleston. The other day Lieut. Irwin received an order to report to [ ]ick Light Co. E. Col. [John] Frieze is still engaged on the court martial and our camp looks about deserted.
Sunday I went to ride on Billy to Fort Mitchell. Lieut. [J. P.] James keeps everything in ship shape and while there, Col. [DeWitt Clinton] Strawbridge came. He inspected everything and said nothing could be better. Fred says tell you about the Post Fund. Gen. Gilmore has ordered that it shall not be divided but shall be used here in the Bakery and the Post Band is to be enlarged. Ingalls went North on the Arago. It has made quite a stir but I guess it has gone over. The Bakery is to be enlarged so as to bake 15,000 rations a day. Maj. Ames was down from Ft. Pulaski last week. To all accounts, Savannah is about scared to death. A deserter from there said there were only 15 men at Fort Jackson [on the Savannah river] and 300 at [Fort] Thunderbolt [on the Wilmington river] . A contraband came down yesterday and said Bragg’s forces were in Savannah, Burnside & Rosecrans having beaten them. Of course you know how to take such stories.
The last news from Wagner were our monitors were firing on Ft. Moultrie. One of them [the Weehawken] was aground fast and the others were trying to get her out or they never would have gone up there. The magazine of the fort had exploded. I taking Wagner, our forces of course got fooled. We bombarded the place two days and the assault was made on the 3rd day. During the night of the 2nd day a deserter came in and said they had vamoosed. Five me were sent forward and after looking round the fort, came back. Then the wildest confusion prevailed in the trenches. We took 15 men in the fort and then pushed on to Gregg. There we took 85 in the water. But if we had assaulted Wagner, we would have had our match. All around the ditch, pikes had been placed and between them were torpedoes. Everything would have gone against us but Gen. Terry says his plan would have taken the fort. Ahem.
Capt. [David B.] Churchill met with an accident the other night which has laid him up for a short time. His horse struck the chain at the barn and of course the Captain took French Leave but the horse followed him in his somerset and fell on his arm. Lieut. Robinson was mustered yesterday. Our new doctor has arrived and is now flying round with his red whiskers in the wind. I like this business first rate and Col. Strawbridge [of the 76th Pennsylvania Infantry] is a good commandant.
We have had quite cool weather since you have been North but no rain. Your horse the other night ran with me and there was music for a short time. That head would turn and look me right in the eye but the ring is too much for him. The old Orderly is back behaving himself first rate and everything is going just as you would like to have it (except the Post Fund). I hope you will soon be with us but don’t come until your health will permit it. Give my love to Mother & all hands. I send you a paper with this. Also a letter received here for you.
I am yours truly, — Henry H. Metcalf
We have got the meanest Navy the Lord ever did float.
And send their best respects and hope that you will soon join us.