Learning Lincoln On-line
FROM-- SET FIVE, CIVIL WAR STUDIES
Susie King Taylor (August 6, 1848 – October 6, 1912) was the first Black Army nurse. She tended to an all Black army troop named the 1st South Carolina Volunteers (Union), later redesignated the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment, where her husband served, for four years during the Civil War. Despite her service, like many African-American nurses, she was never paid for her work. As the author of Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33rd United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers, she was the only African-American woman to publish a memoir of her wartime experiences.
She was also the first African American to teach openly in a school for former slaves in Georgia. At this school in Savannah, Georgia, she taught children during the day and adults at night. She is in the 2018 class of inductees of the Georgia Women of Achievement.
An Excerpt from: Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp (1902)
Susie King Taylor, a former slave, joined the all-black SC Volunteers, that later became the 33rd US Colored Troops. In her memoir, she recounts her experiences as a woman in the regiment. At first, she was secretary, due to her ability to read and write. Later, she traveled with her husband who soldiered with the 33rd, and then became a nurse and laundress.
FORT WAGNER being only a mile from our camp, I went there two or three times a week, and would go up on the ramparts to watch the gunners send their shells into Charleston (which they did every fifteen minutes), and had a full view of the city from that point. Outside of the fort were many skulls lying about; I have often moved them one side out of the path. The comrades and I would have quite a debate as to which side the men fought on. Some thought they were the skulls of our boys; others thought they were the enemy’s; but as there was no definite way to know, it was never decided which could lay claim to them. They were a gruesome sight, those fleshless heads and grinning jaws, but by this time I had become accustomed to worse things and did not feel as I might have earlier in my camp life.
It seems strange how our aversion to seeing suffering is overcome in war,—how we are able to see the most sickening sights, such as men with their limbs blown off and mangled by the deadly shells, without a shudder; and instead of turning away, how we hurry to assist in alleviating their pain, bind up their wounds, and press the cool water to their parched lips, with feelings only of sympathy and pity.
About the first of June, 1864, the regiment was ordered to Folly Island, staying there until the latter part of the month, when it was ordered to Morris Island. We landed on Morris Island between June and July, 1864. This island was a narrow strip of sandy soil, nothing growing on it but a few bushes and shrubs. The camp was one mile from the boat landing, called Pawnell Landing, and the landing one mile from Fort Wagner.
Colonel Higginson had left us in May of this year, on account of wounds received at Edisto. All the men were sorry to lose him. They did not want him to go, they loved him so. He was kind and devoted to his men, thoughtful for their comfort, and we missed his genial presence from the camp.
The regiment under Colonel Trowbridge did garrison duty, but they had troublesome times from Fort Gregg, on James Island, for the rebels would throw a shell over on our island every now and then. Finally orders were received for the boys to prepare to take Fort Gregg, each man to take 150 rounds of cartridges, canteens of water, hardtack, and salt beef. This order was sent three days prior to starting, to allow them to be in readiness. I helped as many as I could to pack haversacks and cartridge boxes.
The fourth day, about five o’clock in the afternoon, the call was sounded, and I heard the first sergeant say, “Fall in, boys, fall in,” and they were not long obeying the command. Each company marched out of its street, in front of their colonel’s headquarters, where they rested for half an hour, as it was not dark enough, and they did not want the enemy to have a chance to spy their movements. At the end of this time the line was formed with the 103d New York (white) in the rear, and off they started, eager to get to work. It was quite dark by the time they reached Pawnell Landing. I have never forgotten the good-bys of that day, as they left camp. Colonel Trowbridge said to me as he left, “Good-by, Mrs. King, take care of yourself if you don’t see us again.” I went with them as far as the landing, and watched them until they got out of sight, and then I returned to the camp. There was no one at camp but those left on picket and a few disabled soldiers, and one woman, a friend of mine, Mary Shaw, and it was lonesome and sad, now that the boys were gone, some never to return.
Mary Shaw shared my tent that night, and we went to bed, but not to sleep, for the fleas nearly ate us alive. We caught a few, but it did seem, now that the men were gone, that every flea in camp had located my tent, and caused us to vacate. Sleep being out of the question, we sat up the remainder of the night.
About four o’clock, July 2, the charge was made. The firing could be plainly heard in camp. I hastened down to the landing and remained there until eight o’clock that morning. When the wounded arrived, or rather began to arrive, (© Routledge) . . . the first one brought in was Samuel Anderson of our company. He was badly wounded. Then others of our boys, some with their legs off, arm gone, foot off, and wounds of all kinds imaginable. They had to wade through creeks and marshes, as they were discovered by the enemy and shelled very badly. A number of the men were lost, some got fastened in the mud and had to cut off the legs of their pants, to free themselves. The 103d New York suffered the most, as their men were very badly wounded.
My work now began. I gave my assistance to try to alleviate their sufferings. I asked the doctor at the hospital what I could get for them to eat. They wanted soup, but that I could not get; but I had a few cans of condensed milk and some turtle eggs, so I thought I would try to make some custard. I had doubts as to my success, for cooking with turtle eggs was something new to me, but the adage has it, “Nothing ventured, nothing done,” so I made a venture and the result was a very delicious custard. This I carried to the men, who enjoyed it very much. My services were given at all times for the comfort of these men. I was on hand to assist whenever needed. I was enrolled as company laundress, but I did very little of it, because I was always busy doing other things through camp, and was employed all the time doing something for the officers and comrades.
[Source: Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops Late 1st S. C. Volunteers (Boston: Published by the Author, 1902), 31–35.]
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