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This is an eight page letter on two fold out letter sheets. The letter is legible and in good condition, except for a one and a half inch separation at the fold. I have shown the first and last page in the scans.
The letter is dated April 15th (1862) and is written to his wife, Ri. Major General David O Hunter served on the Union side. His history follows the transcription. It is a very long letter so I have cut out some of the personal content. Almost all of the content deals with preparations for battle, life on the islands, and there is a hint of what would become a cause of Hunter’s, the abolition of slavery.
"This day week we went for the second time to Tybee Island, expecting to open fire on Wednesday the 9th but finding things not quite ready I postponed it to the 10th. We were gone five days and very uncomfortable days they were, for we had no accommodations on shore, and on the steamer, where I had a beautiful cabin, bath room, and really all the modern improvements, it was so rough that I could not keep from being sea sick. A north east gale has been blowing for several days, and the sea has washed up within two feet of our house, and I find it underminding the little garden of geraniums, roses and cactuses...The fall of Pulaski is going to make quite a change in the notions of our old ? with regard to the value of our old forts. Col. Totten wrote Gen Gillmore, or rather Gen Totten the Chief Engineer wrote him that to breach the wall from Tybee Island, out nearest battery being near a mile off, was simply impossible, and that the ammunition would be completely wasted. Other great engineers expressed the same opionion. Gen Robert E Lee of the Rebel Army, wrote Col. Olmstead, the Rebel Commander of the Fort that we might fill up the interior of the Fort with iron from our mortars, but that he might rest content we could never breach is walls. I find the water here does not agree with me, as it is somewhat brackish, and also sulphury, but as long as I can get ice I shall of course avoid bad water. I have too, plenty of congress water and plenty of good claret...
This is a cheerful lively place. All the Navy ships not immediately employed in the blockade are anchored here. The Wabash, one of the largest and finest Steamers in the Navy is Commodore Du Pont’s flagship and drawing a great deal of water. This is the only harbor she can enter on this coast-the result is she is here all the time. I look out from my windows...on the pier, where vessels are always discharging, and on the harbor, where from twenty to thirty vessels (part steamers) are always riding at anchor...Commodore Du Pont and myself are getting on nicely-I invited him to send us a hundred men to assist in making our Batteries at Pulaski, and this pleased them very much. On my return they had all their men up in the rigging, to cheer us as we passed.
I had a nice ride today and went to a plantation on the island of Hilton Head, (this island) about five miles off. This, I suppose, is a pretty fair specimen of the places on this, and the neighboring Islands. I found seventy Negroes on the place-the white family had run off the first arrival of the troops here, taking with them what they could pick up in a hurry. They were probably entirely depending on this plantation for a support, and are now living on the charity of their friends...The Negroes are working on their old plantations, under charge of men sent by the Treasury Department from the North. I feel the plan is not a good one, but I shall not find fault with it till I have had time to look full into its workings.
This Island is about fifteen miles long and has on it a number of plantations, all in about the situation I have described. The roads are good, and the young men of my staff are all fond of riding, so I think for the sake of the exercise and seeing the country, I shall visit all the plantations. We have plenty of our old Mexican enemy, the fleas. A man brought a caterer two drum fish weight 40 or 50 pounds each. Love. Most affectionately, your D Hunter general in the Rebellion. (signed on the left edge).
Here is a brief history on Hunter that is relevant to the period in which this letter was written. http://www.nps.gov/fopu/historyculture/david-hunter.htm
In March 1862 Hunter was transferred again to command the Department of the South.
Hunter arrived at Hilton Head, South Carolina, in March 1862. Preparations to retake Fort Pulaski in the Savannah River from Confederates were already underway. Hunter sent a flag of truce to the fort that was immediately ignored. Union troops opened fire on Fort Pulaski on April 10, 1862, and within 30 hours had forced the surrender of the massive fortress.
As the Commander of the Department of the South, Hunter made a pronouncement that caused controversy across the United States. Hunter, a strong advocate of arming blacks as soldiers for the Union cause, issued General order No. 11, emancipating the slaves in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida.
General Order No. 11 - HDQRS Dept. of the South, Hilton Head, Port Royal, S.C.
"The three States of Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, comprising the military department of the south, having deliberately declared themselves no longer under the protection of the United States of America, and having taken up arms against the said United States, it becomes a military necessity to declare them under martial law. This was accordingly done on the 25th day of April, 1862. Slavery and martial law in a free country are altogether incompatible; the persons in these three States — Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina— heretofore held as slaves, are therefore declared forever free."
Maj, General David Hunter
After General Order No. 11, Hunter began enlisting black soldiers from the occupied districts of South Carolina and formed the first such Union Army regiment, the 1st South Carolina (African Descent),which he was initially ordered to disband, but eventually got approval from Congress for his action. This order was quickly rescinded by Abraham Lincoln, who was concerned about the political effects that it would have in the border states, driving some slave holders to support the Confederacy. (Lincoln's own Emancipation Proclamation was announced in September, taking effect in January 1863.) Nevertheless, the South was furious at Hunter's action and Confederate president Jefferson Davis issued orders to the Confederate Armies that Hunter was to be considered a "felon to be executed if captured."
http://www.drbronsontours.com/bronsongeneraldavidhunter.html I found this link the most helpful on Hunter. It seems he was better known for his friendly relationship with Abraham Lincoln which led to several important assignments including presiding on the court-martial of Fitz John Porter and presiding at the trial of the Lincoln conspirators. He also ordered the burning of the buildings of the Virginia Military Institute and made strenuous efforts (some opposed by Lincoln) to free slaves and arm them for the Union cause.