Voices from the Past: "A Slow Affair"

Posted: 11/7/2011
Author: Laura June Davis
Fleet Bombarding of Port Royal, SC from a November 1861 Harper's Weekly

William Thompson Lusk (May 23, 1838 – June 12, 1897) was an American obstetrician, who left medical school to join the Union Army. Lusk participated in the Battle of Port Royal and wrote about his experiences. Unusually, Lusk did not vilify the Southern soldiers he encountered; he seemed to regard the Southerners highly, often criticizing the "Yankee hordes" who invaded the Southerners' "splendid plantations.

The following excerpt is from the 9 November 1861 letter to his mother, Elizabeth Freeman Adams Lusk.

…We have been many days on shipboard, 1700 of us all together, on board the good ship "Vanderbilt" which bravely rode the storm, while other good ships foundered in the sea. But the storm abated, and the winds went down, and we were lying off the coast of South Carolina. Then we thought that a death struggle was about to commence, for were we not to lock arms, and wrestle, with traitors at the very headquarters of rebellion? We lay off Beaufort Harbor some sixty hours in idleness, waiting for the ball to open. That navy though is a slow affair, and we abused it mightily, being impatient to decide the fate of the expedition. Our naval commanders -- Commodore Dupont and Secretary of Navy Welles -- received most unflattering notices. Why would they not begin? Finally the old concern got a working -- the "Wabash" led off, and was followed by a whole fleet of minor vessels. They sailed into line, and soon were sharply engaged with the forts protecting the entrance to the Harbor. For four hours shot were poured thickly into the defenses of the besieged, and nearly as long a time the besiegers sent destruction among our ships. But the terrible explosions of our shell, the steady broadsides poured from the Frigate "Wabash," and the sure-aimed missiles sent from the little gunboats that would run up close to the shore, ensuring thus accuracy of aim -- all these things were terrible in their effect upon the foe. At last a white flag floated from the parapet of their fortification, and quickly a white flag was despatched from the "Wabash" to the shore. Hip, Hip, Hurrah! We see -- ay we rub our eyes -- is it really true? We see the American banner once more floating on the soil of South Carolina. All this time we were looking on, silent spectators of the scene. But now the harbor rings with the shouts of applause, with which we greeted the great naval victory. We forgot for a moment how slow Secretary Welles is, and how dreadfully slow are all the operations of the Navy. And now we vile Yankee hordes are over-running the pleasant islands about Beaufort, rioting upon sweet potatoes and Southern sunshine. Hilton Head is a sandy island but beautiful with palmetto leaves, cotton fields, magnolia and orange groves, and plantations of sugar cane…

 

Source: Lusk, William Thompson. "Letter from William Thompson Lusk to Elizabeth Freeman Adams Lusk, November 9, 1861," in War Letters of William Thompson Lusk: Captain, Assistant Adjutant-general, United States Volunteers, 1861-1863 (New York: W.C. Lusk, 1911).

Image Credit: Harper's Weekly courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center.
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