The following partial letter was written by Daniel Patch (1841-1862) of Co H, 8th Maine Infantry to an unnamed friend regarding his observations, expectations, and reactions about contemporary events in his life as a soldier. Notable is his rendering of a story about an African American soldier who “came across” his old master on the battlefield—a poignant and distinctly unusual event: “he up with his gun sys he to his mastar i have took of my hat to you Hundreds of times and now i want you to take yourn of to me if you don’t i blow your dam brains out and he did take it off.”
Although the first part of Patch’s letter is missing and its precise date and location are unknown, circumstantial evidence points to the time and place being the Fall of 1862 in the coastal southern region of South Carolina (most likely Hilton Head or the surrounding area). Elements of what eventually became the 1st SC Volunteer Infantry, Colored, were first organized in the Department of the South by Gen. David Hunter at Hilton Head in May of 1862 (and without official approval from Washington) by recruiting freed male slaves from the Hilton Head area, where Patch’s Regiment was present for at least some of the time. This was a period of frequent small skirmishes between Union and Confederate forces in the area and the 1st S. C. were known to have soldiers involved in some of these, so that it would not be surprising for a black soldier to come in contact with his ex-master (as either a Confederate soldier or sympathizer). It would also be quite possible for Patch to know about the event described in the letter since both the 8th Maine and 1st S. C. were located near each other, and, for that matter, as Patch himself mentions, multiple 8th Maine soldiers had already transferred to black units as officers. Finally, Patch is known to have died of typhoid on 11 December 1862 in a Port Royal Hospital so the letter would have to have been written prior to that time. Disease was particularly a problem for troops stationed in Southern coastal areas, with 11.6% of the 8th Maine soldiers, including Patch, dying of illness.
Although the striking confrontation described in the letter between the black soldier and his ex-master may be apocryphal, other references to such an occurrence exist, although none found by me are clearly tied to the letter’s description. In any event, the confrontation was striking enough to Pvt. Patch to include it in his letter home.
Daniel was the son of George Washington Patch (1809-1896) and Elizabeth Call (1816-1902) of York Village, Yorm county, Maine.
[Note: This letter is from the personal collection of Richard Weiner and was transcribed and published on Spared and Shared by express consent. Likewise, the research and description of the contents was provided by Richard.]
…and I expect to [see] some fighting before a great while and we are liable to fight everyday for the rebels on the other side of the river from us and they drive us off the island but they are afraid to try it for there is [too] many for them. There is 5 or 6 regiments and two batteries and one horse cavalry here and an expedition besides and they have got [authorization] from the government to get up nigger regiments here and they are going to get up 6 regiments of them here. And they have got two regiments [al]ready and we think the reason they are getting them up for is to keep them for the standing army to guard the forts after the war is over and they can stand the climate better than our folks can. But their officers is white men. We have had our 2nd Lieutenant and one of our sergeants go in one of their regiments and the niggers has the same [pay as] our soldiers—13 dollars a month—but they [have] them for five years.
Some of them will [fight] well for a squad of them was attacked by a few rebels and the niggers shot one of them prisoners and one nigger came across [his former] master. He up with his gun, says he to his master, I have took off my hat to you hundreds of times and now I want you to take yourn off to me. If you don’t, I’ll blow your damn brains out. And he did take it off and the nigger took him prisoner and brought him to Hilton Head and they put him in prison.
And so I give my love to you all and I will write to you as often as I can [and] let you know how things are and what happens. And I would like for you to write to me if you please and let me know [about the war] besides [what] is going on for I don’t hear about it here. They won’t let [us] have the papers and the reason is I think that the war is going to close soon and they don’t want us to know till we are discharged. And we get a mail as often as 2 or 3 weeks.
This is from your friend — Daniel Patch, 8th Main Regiment, US Vols.