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  • Writer's pictureRichard Condon

"...our feet struck the sand of South Carolina." - A Pennsylvanian's Recollection of the Lowcountry.

As the Federal government tightened its grip on Port Royal Sound in early November 1861, Confederates from Hilton Head's Fort Walker and Bay Point's Fort Beauregard were driven toward the Lowcountry mainland. With a Union stronghold established in the Beaufort and Port Royal region, northern troops began to filter into the area.

Bombardment of Port Royal Sound - November 7, 1861 (LOC)

For many northerners, an expedition into the swampy South Carolina terrain was a bit of a foreign undertaking. A majority of those from western Pennsylvania, in particular, had never experienced the nuances of southern culture - whether it be culinary contrasts, drastic changes in weather conditions, or the abhorred institution of slavery. Many members of the 100th Pennsylvania Infantry, for example, better known as the "Roundheads," kept accurate written records of their observations while stationed in the area.

While there were several thousand troops stationed in Port Royal and Beaufort following the engagement in November 1861, inland Pennsylvanians experienced an exceptional feeling of unfamiliarity during their stay in the Lowcountry region of South Carolina. Many homes that had been evacuated by former slaveowners were now occupied by Federal troops. One in particular, the William Trescott House on Barnwell Island, was enjoyed by the men of Company C, 100th Pennsylvania Infantry. At the time, Trescott was known as former President James Buchanan's Assistant Secretary of State. William J. Redick of Butler, Pennsylvania recorded this experience:

A letter authored by William J. Redick, Company C, 100th Pennsylvania Infantry

"We have advanced 10 miles on the rebels. We are on picket guard now. We are the furthest in sight of the enemy. I was upon a tree with a spy glass today and I spied a rebel. We are quartered in a fine frame house which contains about 20 rooms and our company is quartered in said house. I hear a tremendous firing in the direction of Savannah but can’t tell what it means.

As for a history of my voyage out here, I would tell in one word it was not very pleasant. We left New Brighton on the 26th of Dec 1861. Had dinner at 11 o’clock and started 20 minutes afterwards in Pittsburgh. We changed cars and run on through to Harrisburgh. Land there at 3 and 1/2 o’clock in the morning and there was marched into the depot and there remained until 9 1/2 o’clock in the morning before we got our breakfast. Our breakfast consisted of bread and coffee... That was the first that I knew what a soldiers life was but said nothing... About 3 in the evening was marched to Camp Curtin, then was sent to Baltimore and from there to Fortress Monroe and after we landed at Monroe we was sent back to Baltimore and from Baltimore was sent to Philadelphia and from there to New York and lay there 2 weeks and then started for Port Royal. The second day after we was on the ocean we met with a terrible storm. We was sitting talking about the boys being sick whilst a gale of water came splashing in on us. We was all wet as drowned cats and directly another and some commenced shouting that we was shipwrecked - and others were swearing. But the majority were praying. I heard some very honest praying. We were 5 1/2 days on water and after our feet struck the sand of South Carolina..."

William Trescott House in Beaufort, South Carolina

Corporal Phineas Bird, also of Company C, confirmed Redick's entry on March 10, 1862:

"Marched from Beaufort to Barnwell Island and took up our quarters in the Trescott  House."

Although the Trescott house had been constructed on Barnwell Island in the early 1850s, it was eventually moved to Beaufort in 1876, and a century later to its current location near the University of South Carolina, Beaufort Campus. While the home remains in private hands today, it retains the same "fine frame house" exterior as documented in 1862 by its temporary occupants.

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