Susie King Taylor, Memoirs, 1862-1865

Article excerpt

Two or three times a week I walk the path to Fort Wagner overlooking Charleston. Outside the fort, skulls lie on the ground.

Toe them out of the path. Sharp with reflected white. Eye-holes deep as falling.

Tooth-smooth, they scrutinize. Which side were they on?-some say enemy skulls, some say the skulls of our boys.

It's hard to tell what a thing is. Magnolia blooms' distressed hands.

I carry carved water in a wooden bucket. Thin sun today, like the paper we used to wrap our secret books in on our way to reading lessons downtown Savannah in the L kitchen.

First mission-our boys leave for Edisto and the camp turns lonesome, we know some of them might never come back. Mary Shaw and I sleep together and get nearly eaten alive by fleas. It seems, now that the men are gone, that every flea in camp has located my tent.

The wounded begin to arrive, my husband Sergeant King hurt, some hurt much worse. Colonel Higginson wounded, too. They return with their legs off, arm gone, foot off, and wounds of all kinds imaginable. They had to wade through creeks and marshes, as they were discovered by the enemy and shelled very badly. A number of the men were lost, some got fastened in the mud and had to cut off the legs of their pants, to free themselves.

Swamp for a kitchen, and all I have are some turtle eggs and a few cans of condensed milk. I've never worked with such before, but I make a turtle custard, and the men enjoy it.

I salve Sergeant King's arms and leg and hip, A reb jumped him at the edge of an embankment and they fell over fighting, but my husband did not release his hold on his prisoner until his comrades came to help. …