While this story does not fit neatly in a sesquicentennial time line, it is mentioned in the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery’s regimental history alongside events from 150 years ago this month. So now’s a good time to bring it up! It involves this man:
In 1861, March Haynes was a thirty-five year old slave. Born in Pocataligo, South Carolina, he had spent some time in the Savannah, Georgia, area. He was hired out by his master as a boat pilot and stevedore. Deeply religious, Haynes served as a Deacon in one church (before having to relocate) and maintained membership in the First African Baptist Church of Savannah before the war. By October 1861 he was working as a carpenter at Fort Pulaski. … and he did appear in Confederate records:
I suspect he was still there when the Federals bombarded the fort, but can’t prove that. Haynes was among the slaves freed under Major-General David Hunter’s orders after the fall of Fort Pulaski (either being at the fort at the time, or escaping to the fort later). From that point forward, as many former slaves chose to do, Haynes became active in the war effort. He’d volunteered for some special duties:
Of course, in the Tenth Army Corps, there were a few daring spirits who volunteered to brave the hazards of secret service. Among those who made these solitary and perilous advances there was one whose name appears on no roll [Um… see below!], but whose services are worthy of honorable mention. We allude to March Haynes, a large, well-proportioned, sagacious negro, formerly a slave in Savannah, where, hiring his time of his master, he engaged as a stevedore and a pilot on the river. Comprehending the spirit and scope of the war, he was ready, on the capture of Fort Pulaski, to aid the Union and assist his fellow slaves in securing their freedom. By means of a suitable boat, that he kept secreted in a creek among the marshes, below Savannah, he brought into our lines, at different times, a large number of fugitives. Finally fearing detection, he came in himself, and brought his wife. Still he was intent on serving the Union cause.
He often made reconnoissances in the night, up the creeks along the Savannah, gathering information and bringing away boat-loads of negroes. General Gillmore furnished him with whatever he needed in his perilous missions. He ordered a stanch, swift boat, painted a drab color, like the hue of the Savannah River. He might select such negroes to assist him as he thought proper. Often he landed in the marshes below Savannah, and, entering the city in the night, sheltered and supplied by the negroes, he spent days in examining the forts, batteries, and camps of the rebels, bringing away exact and valuable information. On one of his expeditions, being delayed till after daylight, as he and his party were coming down a creek, they encountered six rebels on picket. Both parties fired. Three rebels were shot by Marsh, and fell dead; but Marsh himself received a bullet in his thigh. He, however, escaped capture.
In August 1864, Haynes formally enlisted in the 21st USCT.
Notice his mark.
Shortly afterwards, Haynes went north on recruiting duties according to his records. There was a period of confusion in regard to his status, but that was later cleared up. By the end of the war he was back in South Carolina with the regiment.
As his took on a four year enlistment, he remained in uniform after the war. However, he was discharged in March 1866, due to injuries, described as:
… greatly impaired use of right lower extremity from a gunshot wound received on a scouting expedition on the coast of South Carolina, on the 24th day of August 1864.
Haynes retired to Savannah, returned to his church, and became a Deacon.
Haynes is but one example of the experience of former slaves, contrabands, freedmen along the coasts during the Civil War. Specifically to the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia, Haynes is an example of the scouts who operated in support of Federal operations. While some uniformed personnel worked in this capacity, from the ranks of both white regiments and USCT, a number, like Haynes, were not military personnel in the strict sense of the word. Some were organized by Harriet Tubman. Their story has largely fallen by the wayside, not being as dashing or glamorous as as cavaliers and feathered caps. And worse, in recent years, some have even claimed they didn’t exist at all!
Clearly March Haynes existed.
(Frederic Denison, Shot and Shell: The Third Rhode Island Heavy Artillery Regiment in the Rebellion, 1861-1865, Providence, R.I.: Third Rhode Island Artillery Veterans Association, 1879, page 261.)