Voices from the Past: “The Glorious News from Port Royal”

After the Union victory at Port Royal, Major General George Brinton McClellan wrote the following letter to his wife, Mary Ellen Marcy McClellan.

“Nov. 1861. — You will have heard the glorious news from Port Royal. Our navy has covered itself with glory and cannot receive too much credit. The thing was superbly done and the chivalry well thrashed. They left in such haste that officers forgot even to carry away their swords. But one white man was found in Beaufort, and he drunk! The negroes came flocking down to the river with their bundles in their hands, ready to take passage. There is something inexpressibly mournful to me in that — those poor, helpless, ignorant beings, with the wide world and its uncertainties before them; the poor serf, with his little bundle, ready to launch his boat on the wide ocean of life he knows so little of. When I think of some of the features of slavery I cannot help shuddering. Just think for one moment, and try to realize that at the will of some brutal master you and I might be separated for ever! It is horrible; and when the day of adjustment comes I will, if successful, throw my sword into the scale to force an improvement in the condition of these poor blacks. I do think that some of the rights of humanity ought to be secured to the negroes. There should be no power to separate families, and the right of marriage ought to be secured to them. . . .”

Source: McClellan, George Brinton. “Letter from George Brinton McClellan to Mary Ellen Marcy McClellan, November, 1861,” in McClellan’s Own Story: The War for the Union (New York: C.L. Webster, 1887).

Image Credit
: 11 January 1862 edition of Harper’s Weekly.

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