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An African-American Soldier Fights "In Defense of My Race and Country"

This letter was written by an African-American soldier of the Massachusetts 55th Regiment in the midst of a heated battle to take the Confederate fortifications on Folly Island, South Carolina. It conveys the determination of black soldiers in the Civil War to "face the enemy with boldness." Note the frequent use of religious language (the letter was written to the soldier's church paper back home).

Folly Island, S.C., October 15, 1863

Dear Brothers in Christ:

. . . I pray God the time will soon come when we, as soldiers of God, and of our race and country, may face the enemy with boldness.  For my part, I feel willing to suffer all privation incidental to a Christian and a soldier.

This is the calmest day that I have witnessed on the Island.  Since I have been here I have been for some weeks or more in bombarding the enemy’s forts.  Thank God, we have silenced their batteries . . . I stood upon the parapets surrounding the “Swamp Angel,” (a large artillery gun) and saw men fall around me like hailstones.  I stood fast and kept the men that were working upon them together as much as possible.  The enemy fired shell and grape into us like hot cakes, but we kept at our work like men of God.  In conclusion, let me say, if I fall in the battle anticipated, remember, I fall in defense of my race and country.  Some of my friends thought it very wrong in me setting aside the work of the Lord to take up arms against our enemy. . .  Another excuse or reason they offered was, that it is wrong to take that which you cannot restore, but I am fully able to answer all questions pertaining to rebels.  If taking lives will restore the country to what it once was, then God help me to slay them on every hand. . .

I.H. Welch
Orderly Sgt.

Source | William E. Gienapp, ed. The Civil War and Reconstruction, A Documentary Collection (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001) 225-226.
Creator | Isaiah H. Welch
Item Type | Newspaper/Magazine
Cite This document | Isaiah H. Welch, “An African-American Soldier Fights "In Defense of My Race and Country",” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed October 18, 2018, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/947.

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