Monday, July 10, 2006
These weekend as I was traveling from Charleston, SC to Beaufort, SC I was reminded of a piece in Mayflower : A Story of Courage, Community, and War by Nathaniel Philbrick. One of the things the Pilgrims found out when they settled Plymouth, was that walking a path in America was much different than walking one in England. As you walked you would come across posts in the ground which marked that something significant had happened at that particular place. Since there was no written history in the Native American culture, tribe members where to learn what each post meant and would pass it to the next generation. As Pilgrims would walk with their guides, they would hear fascinating stories of the past, stopping at each post as they walked.
As we drove, we must have passed 15 or so SC Historical Markers, from the Temple of Sport in Green Pond to Colonel Washington’s grave near Red Top to Battery Saxton in Beaufort I have passed them all hundreds of times and now barely give them a fourth thought, much less a second thought. I have though done my good parental duty and pointed them out to my kids a few times, even stopping to show them a few at one time or another.
This weekend, I found a new one. From 1980 – 1987 I lived on the banks of the Beaufort River at the United States Naval Hospital Beaufort. It was a great place to grow up, a self contained base that was small enough that everyone knew each other. It had a pool, a library, a small Exchange, and lots of other kids to play with. Two significant places where the snake pit ( a large crater that was about 10 – 15 feet deep and 100 feet wide that no one seemed to know why it existed) and Fort Frederick, actually the remains of a tabby fort that jutted out into the Beaufort River. Both places I spent a lot of time growing up at and enjoying life as only a kid/teenager can.
My parents still live in Beaufort but the house they are in now is not the same one. It does not hold the memories of youth and although I once called it home, doesn’t feel the same. So as my Mom and I do about once a year, we go visit the Navy Hospital and look around, reminiscing. This time I saw something new, two new signs. Actually quite sad, they had been around for 10 years, I just had never seen them before this due to the paths chosen or worse choose to ignore them as just something in the background.
For the past 10 years I have been searching for the Civil War and yet as a youngster, it was right there in front of me. All those days I played near the Snake Pit and Fort Frederick, I had been sharing the ground of Camp Saxton without even noticing.
Thank goodness we still have posts in the ground.
In front of the Naval Hospital
The Camp Saxton Site on the Beaufort River is nationally important as an intact portion of the camp occupied from early November 1862 to late January 1863 by the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first black regiment mustered into regular service in the United States Army during the Civil War. It is also significant as the site of the elaborate ceremonies held here on New Year’s Day 1863 which formally announced and celebrated the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in areas then “in rebellion” against the United States. Because the South Carolina Sea Islands had been captured by Union forces, the Emancipation Proclamation could actually take effect here before the end of the Civil War. The celebration at Camp Saxton heralded freedom to thousands of black inhabitants of the sea islands.
Near Fort Frederick
(Front) On New Year’s Day 1863 this plantation owned by John Joyner Smith was the scene of elaborate ceremonies celebrating the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation. Hundreds of freedmen and women came from Port Royal, Beaufort, and the sea islands to join Federal military and civil authorities and others in marking the event. After the proclamation was read, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers (Colored), the first black regiment formed
(Reverse) Camp Saxton Site
for regular service in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, received its national and regimental colors. Col. Thomas W. Higginson of the regiment wrote, “Just think of it!
— the first day they had seen which promised anything to their people.” This plantation was also the site of Camp Saxton, where the regiment (later the 33rd U.S.
Colored Troops) organized and trained from late 1862 to early 1863.
Erected by Penn Center and the Michigan Support Group, 1996