Out of concern that the Union army would attempt to take Charleston in 1863, Jefferson Davis requested South Carolina to raise a local defense which resulted in five regiments being organized that became known as the South Carolina State Troops. The initial enlistment was to be for 6 months but the men could be called upon to serve longer. The 1st Regiment, South Carolina State Troops was organized in July 1863. It was also known as Roberts’s Regiment and did not go into active service until 4 September 1863. They did not participate in any battles and they served until February 3, 1864.
In this letter written to his father in October 1863, Sergeant Major J. W. Norris of the 1st South Carolina State Troops discusses Yankee artillery firing into Charleston, poor Confederate provisions, and his need for warm clothing as colder weather approached. Norris opens the letter stating “we are still in Charleston, but with some prospect of being ordered to Greenville or Asheville, N.C.” He continues, “the Yankees are firing very rapidly & steadily for the past few days.” Since August Federal artillery had been harassing the city from their Marsh Battery position near Morris Island-including the brief use of a massive 16,500 pound Parrott rifle nicknamed the “Swamp Angel.” Norris notes, however, that “they have not thrown any more shells into the city since Monday as they burst their gun.” The gun he refers to was not the Swamp Angel, which burst in August, but of another gun firing from the same position. Norris then mentions “Williams’s Regt. of State Troops are gone to Greenville today,” referring to Colonel James H. Williams’s 5th State Line Infantry. He also mentions that James L. Orr, Confederate Senator and organizer of Orr’s Rifles, “came down & went over to the Island yesterday.”
Charleston, South Carolina
20th October 1863
We are still in Charleston but with some prospect of being ordered to Greenville or Ashville, North Carolina. I believe I would prefer remaining here. The Yankees are firing very rapidly & steadily for the past few days—nearly every fire causes the sash on our windows to rattle. They have not thrown any more shells into the city since Monday as they burst their gun.
William’s regiment of State Troops are gone to Greenville today. I have been suffering some this week from bowel affliction—not bad—think it will wear off soon.
I got Uncle Jess’s letter written while you were there. Also one he wrote to James Orr. The latter came down & went over to the Island yesterday. I got the provision sent down & they are serving a fine purpose. We cook the peas & rice together & the boys are very find of them & all want seed of the peas. The government issued to us red peas which have so hard a skin on them we can hardly eat them at all. We have not tried the fruit but I think I would have preferred the peaches. I am afraid they have let the works take my peaches at home unless they have been reminded to save them.
I stand in need of my undershirts & must trouble you to have them sent down by Mr. Avery or Caldwell who will be coming down next week. Towers will be apt to leave before you get this letter. Levi would be likely to know when Avery is coming & will probably be sending something by him. If you can’t learn anything from Levi, just send the shirts down to Avery by George. I think they are in my trunk over at home. Mattie can tell where.
We have warm weather this morning but these little cold snaps are very severe on us & we suffer severely. I had to put on my woolen shirt over the cotton. I don’t know that I can tell much about the wool upon which I have tax to pay. I know there is 8 or 9 lbs. that is not liable, being some I got from the mountains before the Tax Act. If they want a return of wool, you will have to weigh & make the return leaving out 8 or 9 lbs. out of the mountain wool. If they don’t allow us wheat & corn both, I would prefer paying out of the wheat the amount due for tax on wheat and keep back the corn but if too late for that arrangement, just let it go.
I have some blue stone upstairs at home in a gourd, nearly enough to soak the wheat. It had better be used.
Tell Mattie & Lula I have got some straw now & have a straw bed which does better than sleeping on the floor but I get very cold before day these cold mornings & would like to have Lula’s arms twine about my neck. there are very few nice clean children in the city. Most of them are dirty & bad looking. All the better sort have gone out to the country.
My love to Mother & the children. Respectfully yours, — J. W. Norris