CHARLES JUDSON BECKER: MASTER PENMAN, EDUCATOR, AND INVENTOR
by Stefani Koorey PhD, supplemented by the Fall River Historical Society
Readers of the Fall River Herald News on Wednesday, September 4, 1935, could have hardly failed to notice the bold type: “Becker, Expert Penman, Dies.”
It was noted that the deceased, Charles Judson Becker — “an artist penman, one of the few in the country — was “widely known throughout the [greater Fall River] community” and possessed “a host of friends.”
A master penman, educator, and inventor — he was also member of a trailblazing family of African descent.
Charles Judson Becker was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, on November 23, 1858, the third child and second son of Martin F. Becker, a barber at the time, and his wife, the former Caroline E. Walker. The couple would have a total of five children in eleven years, with their first-born son, Louis J.M. Becker, dying of unrecorded causes at four months of age in 1854.
For details about the remarkable lives of Charles’ parents and other members of the Becker family, please read this section of the page.
According to Charles’ listing in Who’s Who in Colored America, he was educated in the public school system in his native Fitchburg and attended Kendall’s Normal Writing College in Boston, Massachusetts, studying, presumably, under Henry C. Kendall (1838-1904), listed in the Boston City Directory of 1878 as a professor of penmanship, with offices at 26 Essex.
After his studies, Charles went about his profession as a teacher of penmanship, with the earliest mention of him in that capacity appearing in a paid notice in The Fitchburg Sentinel on December 15, 1879. In this one sentence, we see the beginnings of the career of a man who would become well known for his skill, teaching ability, craftsmanship, and creativity.
C.J. Becker, Card Writer, is at 15 Grove St., for a few weeks, and is ready to fill all orders for visiting cards, etc.
A year after the first notice in the news, the same newspaper for April 13 and 14, 1880, reported:
C.J. Becker, card writer, will be at L[aurin] H. Pratt’s [1846-1892] variety store, 100 Main street, for a few days. Order promptly filled.
On Dec. 22 and 24, 1881, the notice indicated more expansive offerings:
C.J. Becker will be at 15 Grove St., through the holidays and will promptly fill all orders for cards, book marking, etc.
A few months later, on April 8, 1882, Charles receives what appears to be his first news item — one for which he did not have to pay.
C.J. Becker’s class in penmanship last month numbered 87 pupils, most of whom made marked improvement. The second course commences next Monday. Prof. Becker has the assistance of Master W. E. Holland, one of his former pupils, who is a fine young penman and does credit to his teacher. Admirers of good penmanship should visit Room 4 Whitney’s Opera House block, where some fine specimens of plain and ornamental penmanship may be seen.
When one does not have a written biography to work with or to cull information from, it is the smallest mentions in the local newspapers that make all the difference in helping to flesh out a person’s life, or at least their public existence. City directories are useful in that they tell us where someone worked and where they resided, if they boarded or owned a home, and sometimes, who in the family resided with them. The Fitchburg city directories indicate that, from 1876 to 1888, Charles boarded with his mother at her house at 15 Grove Street (1876-1881) and then 29 Grove Street (1882-1888).
In early 1883, Becker opened a writing school in Hibernian Hall and conducted a class on Monday evenings, taking in some twenty-eight students. No record of the fees he charged for his lessons has, as of yet, surfaced, but it was clearly sufficient enough to earn a living and begin to provide for a family.
On July 6, 1883, while still residing at home, Charles married Sophronia Jane “Florence” Anthony from Uxbridge, Massachusetts, a woman three years his junior; the couple were married in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. In some family records Sophronia is mentioned as being a singer but, in official census records, we see her listed as a seamstress.
Sophronia was born on December 25, 1859, to Mary L. Moore, age twenty-eight, and Sylvanus W. Anthony, age twenty-four. Her sister, Mary E., died on December 8, 1862, when Sophronia was two years old. While no divorce records have surfaced, there are indications that Sylvanus moved to Douglas, Massachusetts, and married Miss Charlotte E. Northridge on March 16, 1872. This union produced two half-brothers and one half-sister for Sophronia.
Sophrinia’s mother, Mary, who had been employed as a domestic worker, died on February 20, 1873, in Uxbridge, at the age of forty-two, and her father, Sylvanus, died on April 19, 1874, in Douglas, at the age of thirty-nine. In the 1870 United Stated Federal Census, Sophronia is listed as employed as a domestic, working in Uxbridge at the boarding house of Emma M. Wood (born c.1790); the girl was only ten years old.
Charles and Sophronia were the parents of one child, Charles Potter Becker, born in Fitchburg on October 8, 1888.
Possessing more than a penman’s skill, Charles was also proficient with a rifle — as a 1884 news item records:
The following were successful competitors for the prizes offered by C.W. Parsons at his rifle gallery for May: Professor C.J. Becker, 397 (out of a possible 400), solid gold badge; C.C. Cutter, 396, chromos [chromolithograph]; H. C. Kendall, 391, 100 Havana cigars; W.P. Churchill, 378, smoker’s set; C.L. Jael, 371, set of glassware; E.J. Whitney, 369, chromo.
Interestingly, this is the first indication of the appellation of “Professor” being associated with Charles J. Becker’s name.
A sure sign of his economic and social upward mobility appears in a short news item on September 21, 1887, where it was reported:
Prof. C.J. Becker, who has spent the summer at Cottage City [Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard], returned to this city [Fitchburg], Tuesday, and is ready to receive private pupils in penmanship.
That any reader would care about where Professor Becker spent his summer shows us that he was a man of some means and intended for his potential pupils to appreciate that fact.
Later that year, in November 1887, we find another news item:
C.J. Becker will open his school of penmanship, next Monday, in Monitor block. His school, last season, was a success — over 200 pupils attending.
More success followed. The multi-talented Becker had not only developed an expertise with the pen, but also with the blade. On October 16, 1888, a rather lengthy article appeared in the Fitchburg Sentinel:
The New Bedford Standard of Oct. 10, in its report of the industrial fair now being held in that city, compliments of C.J. Becker of this city, who will soon open a writing school here, as follows:
The advertising cards most sought for are those of M[oses] C. Swift & Son, who have secured Prof. Becker of Fitchburg to prepare them. Upon these plain white cards, bearing the name of the firm in the corner, the professor cuts pictures of various kinds, and a crowd is always to be found watching his rapid and skillful movements. With all the ease of one sketching with a pencil he produces graceful sprays of flowers, sailing vessels and other designs. One representing two owls on a leafy branch was especially admired, last evening. Prof. Becker states that he only cuts the easiest designs here, as the demand for the cards is so great, but that it is possible to do the most elaborate work — scenes, figures, heads, etc. In fact, whatever can be done with the pencil can be done with the knife. The work is a novelty here, and there are few in the country who do it.
While Charles lived in Fitchburg, he organized the Charles J. Becker Writing School, where he taught penmanship to paying students. In 1889, the family moved to Worcester for two years after which they returned to Fitchburg. In 1890, while living in Worcester, Becker offered a class in penmanship in Milford, Massachusetts, at the “rooms of the Y.M.C.A.”
It is in 1893 that Charles first appears in the Fall River City Directory, as a teacher of penmanship at the Fall River Literary and Commercial College, 39 South Main Street, owned and operated by Joseph Thibodeau (1864-1946). The Beckers resided at 3 Granite Block, a commercial building with rented apartments on the upper floors. One must bear in mind that the publication of this directory is off by a year, which means that the information is from the previous year; the year of the directory is more properly understood to be publication date.
On March 4, 1893, the Beckers's son Charles, died at the age of five of tubercular meningitis. He was interred on Beech Avenue at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Fitchburg under a headstone reading “Little Charlie.”
While residing in Fall River, the following appeared in the May 19, 1893 edition of The Fitchburg Sentinel:
C.J. Becker, formerly of this city, but now a teacher of penmanship in the Fall River Literary and Commercial College, has sent to his brother, H[endrick] E[lmer] Becker, photographs of two very fine specimens of his skill. One is a pen portrait of the principal of the institution and the other is a woodland scene. Both of these pictures will be placed on exhibition in M[urray] K[endall] Keyes’ [1870-1941] [pictures and artists materials] window.
In the 1894 Fall River city directory, Becker and his wife were residing at 93½ North Main Street, with his penmanship classes still conduced at the Fall River Literary and Commercial College; Sophronia is listed as a dressmaker. It would be her last year alive.
After only eleven years of marriage, Sophronia, at the age of thirty-four, died of pulmonary tuberculosis on the sixth anniversary of her son’s birth, October 8, 1894. Her occupation in her death record reports that she was a seamstress. She was interred in Fitchburg beside the grave of “Little Charlie."
Tragically, within a year and a half, Charles lost both son and wife.
In The Fitchburg Sentinel of July 11, 1895, we find the following:
C.J. Becker, teacher of penmanship in the business colleges of Fall River and New Bedford, is making his annual visit to this city. He has just finished a very fine piece of work for the Rollstone Cycle Club — the resolutions on the death of the late C[harles] B[ert] Dyer [1875-1895]. They are to be given to the family.
On June 24, 1896, the thirty-eight-year-old Charles remarried. The bride, Hannah E. Paine, called Annie, was a twenty-one-year-old resident of New Bedford, Massachusetts, employed as a stenographer; she was the daughter of Henry Paine and the former Matilda J. Douglas.
Henry Paine, consistently listed in the United States Federal Census under the heading “Color or Race,” as “Black,” was born on July 4, 1820, in West Virginia; in the 1870 census, his occupation was listed as a laborer. Henry died in New Bedford on January 9, 1878, at the age of fifty-seven. His wife, Matilda, was white, and born in Scotland in 1844, making her twenty-four years younger than her husband; she died in New Bedford on July 14, 1911. They were the parents of six children, born between the years 1868 and 1877; as mixed-race children, they were listed in census records as mulatto.
Their daughter, Annie Paine, the second Mrs. Charles J. Becker, was born on August 2, 1875, in New Bedford. One wonders if the death of her father when Annie was only three years old contributed to her decision to marry an older man, one well established in his career and experienced in marriage. Charles and Annie were the parents of two sons, Leslie Earle Becker (1897-1983) and Carlton Hendrick Becker (1900-1963), called Henry. Carlton became a theatre musician and lived and died in New York City. Leslie was employed as a post office clerk in New York City and died in Los Angeles.
The birth of Leslie was noted in The Fitchburg Sentinel of August 4, 1897, under the heading “Cottage City Items":
Mr. and Mrs. Charles J. Becker are rejoicing over the birth of a son.
Significantly, this provides further evidence of Charles' place in society, with the birth of his son listed along with other snippets of information pertaining to Fitchburg residents summering at Cottage City on the island of Martha's Vineyard.
According to census records for 1900, 1910, and 1920, Annie and Charles resided in New Bedford, mostly at 202 Cedar Street. In the 1930 census, we find Charles living in Fall River, at 156 South Main Street, as a renter. It could well be the case that his home was in New Bedford and he resided in Fall River during the work week.
And work he did. Charles spent the bulk of his professional life divided between private teaching and commissions and public instruction, working for the Thibodeau Business College, formerly the Fall River Literary and Commercial College, in both Fall River and New Bedford, teaching what else? Penmanship.
The year 1913 would prove a momentous year for Charles J. Becker. It was then that he was granted patent #1,070,321 for a “Writing Device.” The object was to “provide an implement which will assist a pupil who is learning to write in acquiring a correct position and movement of the hand and muscles.” He wrote in his application:
My device is intended to assist the pupil in obtaining a free movement of the hand and muscles, and in retaining the hand in proper position. It may also be advantageously used by book-keepers and other persons who have a great deal of writing to do, to relieve the strain on the hand.
Occasionally, Charles placed advertisements in the Fall River city directory to announce the location of his private classes and offer his services to anyone in need of an “examiner of questioned documents” or an “engrosser of resolutions and diplomas.” He had advanced into document and handwriting analysis.
The Fall River Historical Society has several examples in its collection that evidence the exceptional quality of Charles J. Becker’s work.
Significantly, it appears that Charles J. Becker holds the distinction of being the first black man employed as a faculty member at B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River, where he taught penmanship in the years from 1926 to 1929, when he retired at the age of seventy-one.
Socially, Charles was an active member of the Elks, Trinity Lodge, No. 183, in Newport, Rhode Island. The portrait photograph at the beginning of this biography clearly shows an Elks pin on his jacket lapel. He was also a member of the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World (the I.B.P.O.E. of W.), an African-American fraternal order modeled on the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Established in 1897 in the United States, the group boasted, at one time, 500,000 members and 1,500 lodges worldwide.
Politically, Charles was a Republican and his religion in his listing in Who’s Who in Colored America is self-identified as a “Free Thinker.” The listing also mentions him as the author of “Race Relations” in 1903 — the research is ongoing regarding the particulars of this manuscript.
Charles Judson Becker died on September 4, 1935, at the age of seventy-seven, just a few minutes after being admitted to the hospital; the cause of death is listed on his death certificate as “pulmonary embolism associated with chronic myocarditis." He is buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.
His obituary in the Fall River Herald News noted:
For years he wrote diplomas for public and private schools, and specimens of this skill, not only in penmanship, but in etchings with the pen, are to be found in many homes in this city and elsewhere.
Charles Judson Becker is the sole member of his family interred in Fall River. Traces of the encroaching soil, that was cleared away to capture the image of his grave marker, serves as symbolic evidence of his former obscurity.
Martin F. Becker was born in Paramaribo, Dutch Guiana, South America, now Suriname, in 1824. His father, Willem Becker, was an African Bushman and “free black,” who worked for a Dutchman and took his surname as his own. Martin’s mother, Antoinette, was a Hindu.
According to Martin’s naturalization papers, he immigrated to the United States sometime “during President Polk’s administration,” between the years 1845 and 1849.
Martin met Caroline E. Walker sometime before 1850, as they were married in that year in Manchester, New Hampshire; the bride was born in 1827 in Derby Line, Vermont, located on the Canadian border.
Caroline was the third of the four daughters of John Walker (b.1773) and his wife, the former Eliza Betsey Snelling (b.1792). Her sisters were Eliza Ann (1815-1910), Elsie Walker (1825-1898), and Ann Maria (1833-1869).
The Martin F. Becker family relocated to Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where they attained prominence, so much so a full-page biography of Martin appears in Doris Kirkpatrick’s Around the World in Fitchburg, Vol. I (Fitchburg Historical Society, 1975). In part, we learn:
Before coming to Fitchburg, Martin lived briefly in Manchester, New Hampshire, where in 1851 he was the first black man to vote in that state. He also lived in Maine before finally settling down in Fitchburg, [after] he married Caroline E. Walker. In the mid-1850s he was proprietor of a barber shop under the Fitchburg Hotel. His residence at 15 Grove Street he purchased from Benjamin Snow [a prominent local businessman involved in the Underground Railroad]. During this period [Martin] was active in the Underground Railway.
[Martin F. Becker] was an imposing figure, tall and strong, with one gold earring and sleek hair brushed back with banana oil.
Martin and Caroline were the parents of four children — Eugenia A., Charles J[udson], Genevieve, and Hendrick Elmer [who] was the most well-known of the Beckers in Fitchburg. He was a pianist and music teacher, residing at 29 Grove Street, with a studio at 18 Day Street. During the 1890s he conducted a group of musicians known as Becker’s Orchestra, well known in Fitchburg. The orchestra had ten pieces and all the players were white except Becker.
On August 3, 1861, three years after the birth of Charles Judson Becker, Martin, enlisted in the United States Navy and, according to sources, was “aboard the USS Cumberland when it was sunk by the CSS Virginia on March 8, 1862.” He also served on the USS Minnesota. Martin was discharged from the Minnesota on April 26, 1862, as a Landsman. From 1838 to 1921, Landsman was the lowest rank of the US Navy, and was given to those with no or little experience at sea. One could be promoted to ordinary seaman after three years of experience, which Martin never acquired.
On May 31, 1863, Martin enlisted with Company B, 55th Massachusetts Infantry [Colored] Regiment. For a regimental history, please read this section of the page.
President Abraham Lincoln established the “Bureau of Colored Troops” by proclamation in 1862 to accelerate the recruitment of black soldiers to the Union Army. The United States Colored Troops (USCT), was composed of 175 Army regiments with 209,145 men. Said Lincoln, “Without the military help of the black freedmen, the war against the south could not have been won.”
Martin was promoted to Full Quartermaster Sergeant on March 1, 1864, and to Second Lieutenant on September 20, 1864. According to family records, he was wounded in the Battle of Honey Hill. He was mustered out of the Army at Charleston, South Carolina, on Aug. 29, 1865, not as a Second Lieutenant, officer rank, but as a Quartermaster Sergeant, which was considered “standard practice to avoid giving Blacks a commission,” and thus a higher pension.
According to the January 1866 Adjutant-General’s Report, “This regiment (the Second Colored Regiment) was mustered into the service of the United States, June 22, 1863; left the State [Massachusetts], July 21, 1863, and was mustered out, August 29, 1865.” They took part in the following three named engagements: Siege of Charleston, James Island, and Honey Hill.
In all, the regiment saw fifteen battles, between November 1863 and early June 1865:
Fought on 12 November 1863, at North Edisto, SC.
Fought on 12 November 1863, at Botany Bay, SC.
Fought on 18 December 1863, at Sandy Hook, MD.
Fought on 22 May 1864, at James Island, SC.
Fought on 2 July 1864, at James Island, SC.
Fought on 4 July 1864, at James Island, SC.
Fought on 8 July 1864, at James Island, SC.
Fought on 30 November 1864, at Honey Hill, SC.
Fought on 9 December 1864, at Deveaux's Neck, SC.
Fought on 9 February 1865, at Near the Charleston & Savannah Railroad.
Fought on 10 February 1865, at Long Island, SC.
Fought on 10 February 1865, at James Island, SC.
Fought on 1 March 1865, at Near St. Stephens, SC.
Fought on 7 May 1865, at Near Bacon's Bridge, SC.
Fought on 4 June 1865 at Orangeburg, SC.
On Saturday, Sept. 23d, the Fifty-Fifth Regiment was paid off and discharged from the service of the United States, and on the Monday following marched through the city of Boston, received by the committee, had a dress parade and collation on the Common, and with but few exceptions, the members left quietly for their homes by the afternoon trains. Thirty-two commissioned officers and 822 enlisted men were mustered out, and 31 commissioned officers, and 767 enlisted men received transportation from Charleston. The following statistics are nearly accurate: Term of service — 2 years and 3 months.
Martin F. Becker’s military service is honored on the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, DC.
From Boston, some of the soldiers who had just mustered out of service returned home to their loved ones, while others traveled west to find further enlistment opportunities in the United States Cavalry. For a time, Martin returned to Caroline and his family in Fitchburg, picking up his life where he had left off. Whether ill health from his battle wounds or some general wanderlust overtook him, Martin soon migrated back down south where, as fate would have it, he would find great success and spend the rest of his days.
According to several sources, Martin left Caroline in Fitchburg and returned to Charleston where, in 1868, he was elected to the Constitutional Convention, in Berkley County, Charleston, South Carolina. Very shortly thereafter, he was elected/appointed as a delegate to South Carolina’s state constitutional convention. Martin is listed in the 1870 United States Federal Census as living on James Island, Charleston, South Carolina, as a farmer, with seventy acres of improved land valued at $5,000. His farm contained seven swine with a value of $35; the farm produced an average of twenty-five bushels a year of Indian Corn.
Always interested in politics, Martin became well-known as a Civil Rights leader and served as an election manager on James Island. On March 22, 1875, he was appointed Trial Justice of Ward 7, Charleston County, South Carolina, by Governor Robert Kingston Scott (1826-1900) and Lt. Governor Daniel Henry Chamberlain (1835-1907).
Martin F. Becker died in 1880 at the age of forty-four in South Carolina. His body was returned north and was interred at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Fitchburg.
When Martin began a new life in South Carolina, Caroline remained in Fitchburg and supplemented her family income by taking in laundry. She outlived her husband by twenty-four years, dying on July 30, 1904, at the age of seventy-six of chronic nephritis. Her passing was recorded with a lengthy obituary in the Fitchburg Daily Sentinel, on August 1, 1904:
Death of Mrs. Caroline Becker.
Mrs. Caroline (Walker) Becker, the senior of the colored residents in this city, and herself 72 years a resident, died on Saturday afternoon from heart weakness. She was born in Vermont, Dec. 13, 1827. On her mother's side she was a direct descendant of Judge Taft, a jurist of prominence in the earlier days of Boston and on her father's she inherited the blood of a famous Indian chief who was killed in the Revolutionary War.
She married Martin F. Becker, March 20, 1850. They lived here till the breaking out of the Civil war, where her husband followed the barber's trade. He enlisted first in the navy and was on the Cumberland and after she was sunk was in the army. He lived but little in the North after war on account of the severity of the climate. He was a prominent politician in reconstruction times in South Carolina and died in Charleston, S. C., about 10 years ago.
She had six children of whom three are living: Mrs. Genevieve Stephenson and Henry E. Becker of this city, and Charles J. Becker of New Bedford; four grandchildren, Mrs. Ida Herndon and Walter E. Oxford of this city, Leslie and Caroline [Carlton] Becker of New Bedford, and one great grandchild, Aaron O. Herndon.
A sister also survives, Mrs. Eliza A. Williams of East Douglas.
The funeral was held this afternoon from Christ Church of which she was a member. Rev. John R. Whiteman officiated and Mrs. H. F. Jennison and Mrs. J. G. Faxon sang two selections. The burial was in Laurel Hill Cemetery.
In a single generation, Martin F. Becker, the son of an African Bushman, became a landowning Trial Justice in the deep south during Reconstruction—a truly remarkable feat. But, in that, he was not alone.
Martin’s brother, Dr. Theodore J. Becker Sr. (1826-1870), served with Company F, Massachusetts 54th [Colored] Regiment, as a hospital steward; he was later known as a surgeon of some renown.
Theodore was married to Ann Maria Walker (1820-1869), the sister of his brother Martin’s wife, Caroline, thus the Becker brothers were brothers-in-law, and the Walker sisters, sisters-in-law. Their only son, Theodore Jones Becker (1858-1919) was later employed at the famous Walter Heywood Chair Company in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and he boarded with his Aunt Caroline at 29 Grove Street.
Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors and Marines in the Civil War, Volume IV, 715-716.
The 55th Regt. Mass. Vol. Inf. was the second military organization composed of men of African descent to be raised in Massachusetts. Its nucleus was the men left over from the recruits of the 54th. The recruits began to arrive at Readville early in May, 1863. Five companies were mustered in May 31, two more on June 15, and the remaining three June 22. Lieut. Col. Norwood P[enrose] Hallowell [1839-1914] of the 54th was commissioned colonel, and Capt. A[lfred] S[tedman] Hartwell [1836-1912] of the same regiment, lieutenant colonel.
The 55th broke camp at Readville, July 21, proceeded to Boston, and embarked on the transport CAHAWBA for Morehead City near Beaufort, N. C., arriving on the 25th and proceeding thence to Newbern by rail, reaching their destination the same evening.
On the 2d of August the 55th embarked for Folly Island, below Charleston, S. C. Here it became a part of Wild's Brigade, Vogdes' Division, Gilmore's (lOth) Corps. During August and September it furnished large detachments for work on Morris Island, building intrenchments and performing all kinds of fatigue duty, many of these detachments being constantly under fire from Forts Gregg and Wagner.
In September, Colonel Hallowell, who suffered severely from an old wound received at Antietam, resigned, and Lieut. Col. Alfred S. Hartwell was promoted to colonel in November. The amount of fatigue duty required of the regiment diminished during the latter part of the fall of 1863, and until the middle of the winter the regiment enjoyed comparative quiet, remaining in camp on Folly Island.
Early in February, 1864, the 55th was ordered to Florida to join the expedition under General [Truman] Seymour [1924-1891]. Three companies under Lieut. Col. [William F.] Fox [1840-1909] embarked Feb. 13, on the steamer PECONIC while the remaining seven under Colonel Hartwell boarded the COLLINS, the two detachments arriving at Jacksonville on the 14th and 15th respectively. On the 19th six companies marched inland as far as Barbour's in support of General Seymour's main column which, on the 20th, fought the battle of Olustee. On the 22d the entire force was back in Jacksonville, the 55th having suffered no loss.
On Feb. 28, Lieut. Col. Fox with Companies " B " and " I " proceeded to Yellow Bluff, half way to the mouth of the St. John River, where Companies " K " and " G " later joined them. Here they built a signal tower, erected fortifications, abatis, etc., and remained until April 17.
On March 11, the rest of the regiment was sent to Palatka, some distance up the St. John. Here under Colonel Hartwell the men threw up a large system of defensive earthworks, spending a pleasant five weeks period. Palatka and Yellow Bluff were both abandoned about April 17, and the whole command returned to Folly Island.
The 55th was variously engaged on the islands south of Charleston until July 2, when it was heavily engaged at James Island, losing 11 killed and 18 wounded. After a somewhat uneventful fall, on Nov. 26, eight companies of the 55th were ordered to report at Hilton Head where they were assigned to a brigade commanded by Colonel Hartwell, the 3d Brigade in Hatch's Coast Division. On Nov. 30, the 55th was engaged with the enemy at Honey Hill, losing Captain [William Dwight] Crane [1840-1864], Lieut. [Winthrop Perkins] Boynton [1841-1864], and 31 men killed, and Colonel Hartwell and 108 officers and men wounded, several mortally, the heaviest loss of the regiment in any one action. It retired to Boyd's Neck a week later, where it remained until Jany. 11, 1865, when it embarked on transports bound for Savannah, Ga. Here it was occupied doing garrison duty at Forts Jackson, Bartow, and other points until Feb. 1, 1865, when it embarked for Hilton Head. It there boarded the steamer LOUISBURG and went on an expedition up the Edisto River. This expedition was without results worthy of note, and on the 6th of February the regiment was ordered back to its old camp near Stono Inlet. On the 10th it was sent to James Island where it was engaged without loss. The following day it was sent to Bull's Bay, ten miles north of Charleston, and after much difficulty in landing, disembarked Feb. 18. The following day it received news of the evacuation of Charleston by the Confederates, and on the 20th the regiment advanced and entered Mount Pleasant, a suburb of the city. The city proper was entered the following day. After two days in the captured city, on Feb. 22, the 55th was attached to Potter's Division and sent on an expedition into the interior of the State as far as St. Stephen's Depot on the Santee River, returning to Charleston, March 10.
About March 17, it was sent back to James Island to do guard duty. April 5 it accompanied an expedition under General Hartwell into the interior of the State. On the 21st of April the cessation of hostilities was announced, the regiment at this time being at St. Andrew's. Here it remained until May 7 when it was sent to Summerville, twenty-one miles up the Ashley River. From this place on the l9th it was sent to Orangeburg where its headquarters remained, though the regiment was scattered in small detachments at various points.
In this vicinity it remained until Aug. 24 when it proceeded to Charleston, and on the 29th was mustered out of the United States service at Mount Pleasant. Six companies started for Boston, Sept. 6, on the steamer KARNAC, arriving at Galloup's Island on the 13th. The rest of the regiment sailed Sept. 14, on the BEN DEFORD, arriving Sept. 23. On the 25th the entire regiment was paraded on the Common and disbanded.
The soldiers of the 55th Regiment had the same struggle to secure the full pay of $13 per month that had agitated the men of the 54th. On several occasions they were offered $10 per month by the government paymaster, and as many times it was refused. When the legislature of Massachusetts voted to make up the difference of $3 per month, this also was refused. Near the close of September, 1864, justice long delayed was at last done to the regiment and its men were paid in full at the regular rate of $13 per month from the date of muster into the service.