The first military action of the United States Colored Troops in South Carolina was an expedition organized by Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, commander of the 1st SC Infantry (later redesignated 33rd USCT). From January 23 to February 1, 1863, the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry was on expedition from Beaufort up the St. Mary’s River, which forms the boundary between Georgia and Florida.
The goal of the expedition was to surprise a Confederate encampment and capture much-needed lumber stores. Acting as guide on this expedition was Corporal Robert Sutton, who had made his escape to Union lines down that very river.
A skirmish developed as the 1st South Carolina was intercepted by a Confederate patrol from Captain Clark’s cavalry before reaching the encampment. Private William Parsons of Company G, standing near Higginson, was killed instantly in the opening volley.
In his diary, Colonel Higginson recalls the expedition thus:
It was after midnight when we set off upon our excursion. I had about a hundred men, marching by the flank, with a small advanced guard, and also a few flankers, where the ground permitted. I put my Florida company at the head of the column and had by my side Captain Metcalf, an excellent officer, and Sergeant McIntyre, his first sergeant … We plunged presently into the pine woods, whose resinous smell I can still remember.
All had gone smoothly as the troops made their way to the camp of the opposing troops; so smoothly, in fact, that Higginson was already imagining the troops springing from the woods, surprising the Confederate camp and forcing a surrender. Then suddenly:
There was a trampling of the feet of the advanced guard as they came confusedly to a halt, and almost at the same instant a more ominous sound, as of galloping horses in the path before us. The moonlight outside of the woods gave that dimness of atmosphere which is more bewildering than darkness, because the eyes cannot adapt themselves to it so well. Yet I fancied, and others aver, that they saw the leader of an approaching party mounted on a white horse and reigning up in the pathway; others, again, declare that he drew a pistol from the holster and took aim; others heard the words, “Charge in upon them! Surround them…” Perhaps at the first shot a man fell at my elbow .
The man who fell at Colonel Higginson’s side was private William Parsons of Company G. Just 26 years old at the time of his death in battle, Parsons had enlisted at Port Royal, SC in January of 1863.
Born in Lowndes County, AL, Parsons listed his occupation as farmer at the time of his enlistment.
The 1st SC USCT were newly-formed when they made their first excursion up the St. Mary’s, during which William Parsons was killed. The unit had received their charter and regimental colors just 24 days before.
So new was the regiment that at the time of his death in battle, William Parsons had not yet received his first pay .
Above: Detail from the Service Record of William Parsons, 33rd USCT. You may view the entire document on Fold3.
On this Memorial Day, we remember William Parsons of the 1st SC Infantry (later 33rd USCT), and honor the sacrifice he made in service to our country.
 Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. 1962 Army Life in a Black Regiment. Reprint: Dungan Books. Digitized by Google Books, accessed 28 May 2012.
 “Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served with the United States Colored Troops: Infantry Organizations, 31st through 35th,” database online, Fold3 (www.fold3.com), accessed 28 May 2012, entry for William Parsons, 33rd USCT.