Journal of an Expedition against Charleston


Journal of an Expedition against Charleston


In this journal entry, Union soldier John Westervelt discussed his view of African Americans. Although he disapproved of the inequitable treatment of African Americans in the Union army, he supported the idea that enslaved African Americans were inferior.


John Henry Westervelt


John Henry Westervelt, “Journal of an Expedition against Charleston,” Diary of a Yankee Engineer: the Civil War Story of John H. Westervelt, Engineer, 1st New York Volunteer Engineer Corps, North’s Civil War, edited by Anita Palladino (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), 43-45.






September 29th. Sumter seems determined to carve itself a name in future history. Our heavy batterys have been battering away at her again for the last two days trying to utterly destroy and make the fort intolerable. Sumter reminds me of my boyhoods days when I used to knock down hornets nests with stones for artillery. I have spent many hours knocking down a single nest and got many a sting by the courageous little garrison as a reward for the invasion to their little citadel. Even after I had ultimately destroyed their stronghold they would remain in the vicinity of the naked branch for several days, sometimes making an attempt to re-build, but I was too much of a general to allow them to make much progress before a second attack as I always found them disheartened after the first defeat and did not allow much time to elapse to recruit their courage or numbers. If some of our leaders would act on the same principle perhaps our cause would make more rapid progress. Like the hornets the rebels still hang about the ruins of the fort, and although they can do us no injury still it does not suit the Genl to have them there, and everybody is anxious to see the legitimate flag of the union flying over the ruined mass of brick and mortar.

I cannot pass further by without again referring to our colored troops. I mean those enlisted at the north. As I said before they are much more intelligent and require different treatment from those of the south. The prejudice of the white soldier is gradually wearing away as their usefulness can no longer by denied. Now I am far from being what is termed a nigger worshiper, but still I cannot help but notice that they are an ill used race, ill used by those whose duty it is to look after their interest and see them get what Uncle Sam intends to provide for all alike both white and black. I believe none of them have been paid yet by government as they refuse to receive less than 13 dols per month the same as white infantry. There is some dispute about this matter, the paymasters claiming that government enlisted them for 11 dols per month which they deny. I cannot undertake to say how it is but I cannot see why they should not receive the same pay as the white soldier. They certainly do more fatigue duty, and I believe there is no longer any question about their being good fighters. They are put at the hardest as well as the meanest kinds of work. I have seen them policing (cleaning up filth and rubbish) white regiments camps. If a spirited white soldier were to do this except as a punishment for some offence I think he would die first.

From my own observations and what some of them tell me, they do not get the same allowance of rations. We have numbers of them to do the labouring work at the depot and it is a common thing to see them waiting around our cookhouse to get what bean or pea soup we leave. It is allowed in plentifull quantities by government and goes begging with us, by they receive it with eagerness and swallow it with voracity. Bread is served them only once a week they tell me. When they first came out they were willing and took pride in doing as much as they could and doing it well, but although they are far superiour to the southern blacks (whom I hate) yet their unrewarded exertions are discouraging and demoralizing them as fast as possible. They object strongly to working under white infantry, considering themselves as equals but say they are willing and like to work under Engineers as they should as mechanics be over them. But I suppose I have said enough on the subject, if I say more you will accuse me of being an abolitionist. That is not the case but my love of the rights of man, whether black or white has induced me to extend my sermon to this perhaps inexcusable length. Justice should be though the heavens should fall.


Copy the code below into your web page





John Henry Westervelt, “Journal of an Expedition against Charleston,” The State of History, accessed May 20, 2024,