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    "It appears that with very few exceptions the negro is univercily hated among the souldiers"

    [Slavery]. Union Private William W. Shivers Civil War Letters (11) and Carte de Visite, dated October 1861 through September 1863, with fascinating content on battles and runaway slaves. Serving mostly on the islands off the coasts of South Carolina, Private Shivers witnessed several battles, such as the Battle of Fort Pulaski and Battle of Pocotaligo. Hailing from Pennsylvania, he also came in contact for the first time with runaway slaves. These letters written to his brother Charles offer a rare and fascinating perspective of how this soldier's personal opinions evolved from 1861 to 1863 away from his self-described abolitionist position ("I am some what changed. The niggers here is a lazy ornary set of people"). Herein he also discusses the 1st South Carolina Colored Volunteers, as well as President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. All items have been well cared for.

    A volunteer from York County, Pennsylvania, William Shivers mustered into Co. "D", Pennsylvania 76th Infantry on October 8, 1861. In 1862 he served at the Port Royal (South Carolina) General Hospital, later transferring to the Veteran Reserve Corps in June 1863. The date of discharge is unknown.

    All letters have their original transmittal envelopes (some are military stationery) and begin on October 19, 1861, at "Camp Cameron Near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania," shortly after Shivers enlisted. In the second letter (November 17, 1861, "Camp Cameron Near Harrisburg"), Shivers, a zouave, shares the first intimation that he is an abolitionist by expressing that he hopes to "help crush the tyrent that would bind thear children in slavery." In the only undated letter of the collection (likely early December 1861) from "Camp Hamilton Near fortress Monroe," Shivers shares his earliest encounter with runaway slaves: "There is a good many negroes here that has run away from thear masters. They live in and about the fort working if required. They are very black and cant read. . . . There is a large female seminary on the ground deserted by all the whites and inhabited by negroes." On December 23, 1861, Shivers writes from "Hiltonhead" on "Keystone Zouaves" military stationery about seeing many "curiositees for the first time," such as cotton fields. He also shares news of his first battle and more of his opinions of the slaves he saw: "I suppose you heard about our taking of this island by our fleet. They took it in 6 hours [the Battle of Port Royal]. The negroes say thear masters could not stand the rotton balls, Meaning the shells. . . . the negroes here is strange looking specimens of humanity."

    On April 16 [1862], at Fort Pulaski, just six days after the Battle of Fort Pulaski, Shivers records details of the bombardment for his brother: "Our Commander sent over a flag of truse and demanded a surrender of the fort and received an answer from the enemy that he was not put thare to surrender but to protect the fort which he did to his utmost accordingly our batteries opened fire between 8 and 9 oclock. . . . The next morning the firing increased and it was soon found that we had made a breach in one corner opposite the magizene the fire still continued strong from the enemy." The Rebels lowered "the Rebbel flag of which I send you a small piece and up went a white flag." Interestingly, Shivers details how the new "long Rifeled cannon [an innovation known as the James rifled cannon] done great execution."

    On February 1, 1862, at "Camp Hilton Head," Shivers complains that Union soldiers are being used to build quarters for runaway slaves: "They are putting up a great many buildings of different kinds but they are wood. They have built quarters to hold about 2000 negroes there. . . . Some of our souldiers find fault with there having houses and they live in tents. . . . I was on guard the other day at the negro quarters and was told by the overseer that the Government at different places was feeding one hundred thousand negroes." From Port Royal, South Carolina, on June 10, 1862, the private continues his complaints about the attention the runaway slaves are receiving at the expense of the soldiers: "The fighting ought to have been done here instead of building nigger quarters and fetching ladyes from the north to educate the niggers. . . . There is entirely to much sympathy for the niggers by the northern ladyes. If they would extend the sympathy to the poor Souldiers wife and children or to his orphans instead of sending them to the niggers down here that wont wash the hospital cloths."

    In the same June letter, Shivers mentions the first black regiment to serve in the Civil War, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers: "There has been a Ridgement of niggers formed here uniformed and armed called the first S. C. Volenteers. That caused a good deal of dissatisfaction among the souldiers. Two or three of our Officers resigned on account of it and I give them credit while two or three others accepted commishons among them to thear disgrace but I believe uncel Sam has put a veto on that Ridgment for the present and called General Hunter to an account for the responsibility he took upon himself to declare the niggers free in SC Georgia and Florida which I heard read hear on dress Parade." (In the spring and summer of 1862, General David Hunter, the commander of Union forces in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, took radical, unauthorized actions to free and enlist the slaves in those three states. In May, without consulting President Lincoln, Hunter issued his own emancipation proclamation freeing slaves in all three states under his command. Shortly thereafter, the general, again without authority, armed fugitive slaves forming the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. The U.S. Department of War, however, refused to clothe or pay them so Hunter disbanded them. President Lincoln reprimanded Hunter for his actions.)

    Reporting on a runaway slave serving as a Confederate spy, Shivers writes in that same June letter, "There was a nigger acting as spy for the rebels under pretence of selling little articles to our souldiers a short time ago but as he was about leaving seabrook [Island] one night in a boat the guard hailed him. Getting no answer he fired noticing the man lay down in the boat. In a day or two the boat drifted ashore and mister nigger had a ball through his head [with] a paper that proved him to be a spy." Then Shivers explains why he was no longer an abolitionist: "Charley I was once a pretty strong abolitionist but I am some what changed. The niggers here is a lazy ornary set of people. I am afraid if they ever go north it will make bad work."

    On December 26, 1862, Shivers gives Charles details about the Battle of Pocotaligo (near Yemassee, South Carolina). He also offers an opinion on President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which was issued on September 22, 1863, and applied on January 1, 1863, five days after this letter was written: "It will be a long time before Mr. Lincolns Emancipation Proclamation will go in to effect. I believe there is plenty of northern troops in the South that would sooner loose the war than the negroes should be free. It appears that with very few exceptions the negro is univercily hated among the souldiers."

    The carte de visite of Shivers was taken years after the war. It has been touched-up with a pencil and trimmed at the corners. Also included is a letter (with envelope) dated August 27, 1860, to Charles from another brother, Edgar Shivers, predicting that Stephen Douglas would carry Illinois and be the next president. With envelope.

    More Information:

    On August 31, 1862, while serving as a nurse at the General Hospital  in Port Royal, Shivers explains the worst part of working in the hospital: "The worst was to assist in the amputation of limbs but I soon got used to that."


    On April 2, 1863, from "Hilton Head S.C.," he writes, "There was a company of negroes brought here to day. 10 Rebel prisoners." According to this letter, Shivers is now in a company serving as bodyguards for General Hunter. Later on September 1, 1863, from "Fort Scuylar New York Harber," Shivers mentions one of the Battle of Fort Wagner in which his regiment fought. He includes a description of the fort.

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