Letter from Captain James W. Grace
February 25, 1864
Born on 30 December 1833, James Grace was a merchant from New Beford, Massachusetts before the war. Captain James W. Grace was with the 54th Massachusetts from the first. He started as commander of Company C while it was forming, but was only a 2nd Lieutenant when it was activated. However, after the carnage at Battery Wagner he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on 14 April 1863 and then Captain on 19 July 1863. In September 1863, he served as Acting Engineer Officer for the Department of the South. Then from March 1864 to May 1865, he was Ordance Officer for the post at Morris Island, South Carolina. At the close of the war, he was offered the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, 3rd U.S. Artillery, but declined. He lived in Jacksonboroe. South Carolina after the war. (from A Brave Black Regiment)
In this letter he writes the editors of the New Bedford, Mass. newspaper Mercury to inform them that Corporal Gooding was killed at Olustee. Corporal James Henry Gooding was also with the 54th from the beginning. Beginning at Camp Meigs where the regiment was assembled and trained, through its service in the Carolinas and in Florida until just before the Battle of Olustee, Gooding wrote a long series of letters which were published in the New Bedford Mercury. These letter are assembled in "On the Altar of Freedom: A Black Soldier's Civil War Letters From the Front." (ISBN 0-446-39414-9)
Corporal James Henry Gooding was a common seaman before he joined up. He first appears in history in 1856 when he was 19 years old and signed on as a seaman on a whaler in New Bedford, Mass. Yet somewhere in his early life he acquired an excellent classical education. This is evident in the content and style of his letters. Historians are baffled as to where he might have received such an education - he listed his home as Troy NY but there is no record of a Gooding family there in city directories from 1827 to 1862 - or why such an educated man would seek work on a whaler. (However, at that time the sea provided readily available employment for black men.) At the same time, this was fortunate for historians. Since so many of the Union's colored troops were uneducated, Corporal Gooding's letters offer an excellent and unique perspective on the war from the eyes of "The Sable Arm".
Documents drawn up when he was issued his seaman's papers indicates James Gooding was 5-foot 5 1/2 inches tall, with brown skin, curly hair and black eyes. His name was entered on the crew list of the whaleship Sunbeam with the notations "mulatto" and "green hand."
We also know that James Gooding married Ellen Louisa Allen, of New Bedford, on September 28, 1862. James enlisted in the 54th on February 14, 1863 - the 8th person from New Beford to do so. He and Ellen did not have any children.
From the remarks made by others in print, we also know that James Gooding was respected by others - both black and white - and was considered to be "a person of intelligence and cultivation much in advance of a majority of his race."
[Mercury, March 9, 1864]
Jacksonville, Fla., Feb.25, 1864
Messrs. Editors: I am pained to inform you that Corporal James H. Gooding was killed in battle on the 20th inst. at Olustee Station. He was one of the Color Corporals and was with the colors at the time. So great was the rout of our troops that we left nearly all our dead and wounded on the field. The fight lasted four hours. We were badly beaten that night, and the next day we kept falling back, until we reached Jacksonville. The fifty-fourth did honor to themselves and our city. All concede that no regiment fought like it.
James H. Buchanan, of New Befford, was killed; and Sergeant Wharton A. Williams, also of our city, was wounded in the hand. Many others of Co. C were wounded; but none of them from our city.
The regiment is pleased to learn that the bill to pay them $13 per month passed.
The total loss of the regiment, I am unable to give you at this time. All we want now is more troops; with them we would go forward again and drive the rebels from the State.
Your friend/James W. Grace/Captain Fifty-Fourth Regiment
Corporal James Gooding was not killed at Olustee, but only wounded in the thigh. However, he was taken prisoner and sent to Andersonville. It was there, on July 19, 1864, that he died.
Other Letters from Olustee
Battle of Olustee home page