Headquarters Independent Battalion
of Mass. Cavalry,
Jacksonville, Fla., Feb. 8.

Editor Herald:

We have been very successful, thus far, in our expedition, and a brilliant and successful dash has been made by the Independent Battalion of Massachusetts Cavalry, under command of Major Stevens. The battalion landed at the wharf at this place about one o'clock on the afternoon of the 7th. As soon as the steamers Gen. Hunter, Maple Leaf and Charles Houghton (the latter having on board one company (Co. C) of cavalry, and the Maple Leaf the 54th Mass. Reg't.) Attempted to moor at the wharf, they were met by a volley of some mounted rebels. The mate and pilot of the Maple Leaf were both seriously wounded, and others slightly. Two companies of the 54th were immediately formed, and Co. C of the cavalry, saddled. All being in readiness to lead, Major Stevens reported to Gen. Seymour, and was ordered by him to make a careful reconnisance of the city. The detachment immediately started, traveling partly on the railroad and then through the woods, in pursuit of the mounted rebels. We succeeded in capturing five of them. When about seven miles, Major Stevens came suddenly upon a signal station, in full operation. The rebel party not knowing the Yanks were so near, we succeeded in capturing five at the station, with all their implements. After destroying their buildings, Major Stevens went out still further, captured four more (two being mounted), and brought them all into headquarters. There were only about forty-five of our men engaged in the reconnoisance. Most of the persons hail from Georgia, and all refused to take the oath of allegiance. They have been sent to Hilton Head.

We are expecting to go out to the rebel Camp Finnegan to-day.

The correspondents of the New York press gives voluminous accounts of the operations of the army in the State. All agree in awarding great praise to the cavalry battalion of Major Stevens and the 40th Mass. (Mounted) regiment, for their dashing raids into the camp of the enemy. The Times writer says:-

The Independent Massachusetts Cavalry Battalion, with Major Stevens at its head, and for its company officers such men as Capt. Richmond, Webster and Morrell and Lieut. Holt, has achieved for itself during the past week a high reputation. In this connect I must not omit to mention the eagerness with which Capt. Ray, formerly a Lieut. In Co. C, accepted the opportunity to accompany Major Stevens as voluntary aid.

He recently received his commission as Capt. In the 4th Mass. Cavalry, and when the expedition left Hilton Head was on the point of going North to join his regiment. All the distance from Jacksonville, either Capt. Ray or Lieut. Holt led the advance guard. The 40th Mass. Mounted Infantry also performed admirable service, and by no means lessened the good name they have long enjoyed for bravery and disciple. To one who had never seen artillery keep close up with the cavalry on a march, the feat of Capt. Elder on Monday night would have astonished him beyond measure. No matter where or how fast the cavalry went, Capt. Elder was sure to be up with the spare horses with his artillery. Through ditches, over stumps, turning short corners, walking, trotting, galloping, the artillery never lagged in the rear. Capt. Elder is widely known as one of the most successful and daring officers we have in the artillery service. Gen. Seymour evidently knew his men when he selected officers for this raiding party.

The same correspondent makes the following estimate of the property captured or destroyed:

I estimate the amount of rebel Government property captured and destroyed thus far by the raid into Florida will reach the value of one and a half million dollars. I will give a list of the most important items:
Two 12-pounder rifled guns.
Two 6-pounder guns.
One 3-inch gun.
Two other guns.
Five caissons.
A large quantity of ammunition.
An immense supply of camp and garrison equipage.
Four railroad cars.
One hundred and thirteen bales of cotton.
Four army wagons.
One hundred and five horses and mules.
A large stock of saddlery.
Tanning machinery.
Three thousand and eighty-three barrels turpentine.
Six thousand bushes corn.
Three large warehouses destroyed.
In the above list I have not enumerated the cattle we have slaughtered, nor the railroad track we have destroyed nor the officers' baggage captured, nor a thousand things which would amply warrant my estimate.

The Herald's correspondent says that after our occupation of Jacksonville no opposition to our forces were offered until they arrived at the South Fork of the St. Mary's river, about 14 miles from Baldwin, a very defensible point for the enemy. How the point was carried by Massachusetts soldiers is thus described:

The bugle sounded the call to mount, and the advance of the Massachusetts battalion, under Major Stevens, started forwarded and entered a small defile leading through thick, impenetrable underbrush and pine trees to the bridge across the St. Mary's. The platoon of four men of the cavalry which had the advance had just passed a sharp turn in the road, and had approached close on the bridge, without anticipating an attack, , when a half dozen reports were heard, and three of the four fell from their saddles, shot by a rebel force ambuscaded in a strong position beyond the stream.

The column immediately came to a halt when the presence of the enemy was made know by the explosions of their guns, and the advance company pushed forward, under Captain Webster, to feel them and ascertain their position.

It was received with a sharp volley of musketry, which dropped out of their saddles several brave men. The fire was instantly returned, with but little effect, as the enemy was concealed behind bushes and stumps, from which they could use their guns with deadly effect. The company, and the next behind it, was still pushed forward, and they were soon under a hot fire, which seemed to be concentrated on the advance with effect. On approaching the stream it was discovered that the bridge had been removed, and that the enemy was in strong force on the other side. The advance fell back, bu order of Col. Henry, until he ordered up another company, when all charged down the road and attempted to ford the stream. As the ford could not be found just then, they fell back, and two companies of the 40th Massachusetts were dismounted and ordered forward, with one company of the 1st Massachusetts battalion, as skirmishers. Leaving their horses in charge of the proper number of men, the dismounted men quickly advanced as skirmishers, and pushed down towards the river, and engaged the enemy sharply and effectively.

Meanwhile, as the force of the rebels was unknown to us, Elder's battery was placed in position on the crest on a little hill in front of Barber's house, which gently sloped down to the river bank, and the cavalry and mounted infantry were placed on either side in line of battle to support it. Efforts were made to throw a force of cavalry across the stream on the left of the rebel position; but it was discovered that the river at the point was not fordable, and the attempt was relinquished. A company of dismounted men was, however, thrown down the stream, and placed in a fine position where the river makes a sudden turn, and where our rifles enfiladed the rebel front. A few volleys, which did considerable damage to the rebels in men and material, induced then to break and run in the most unceremonious manner, leaving two dead on the field, several wounded and about fifty or sixty horses, most of which were uninjured.

As soon as the enemy broke the cavalry dashed across the ford in front of the position just left by the rebels, and captured some four or five prisoners. The battery and mounted men were soon in column and across the river. We halted on the other side and made preparations for instant pursuit of the fleeting rebels. Those whom we found on the ground wounded and those picked up by some of the cavalry near the fight pretended for the most part to have been Union men, conscripts in the service, and serving against their will.


The following are the names of our men killed and wounded in the skirmish on the South Fork of the St. Mary's:-
In the Independent Battalion of Mass. Cavalry, under Major Stevens, there were T. Dean, Co. A, killed; Richard Burns, Co. C, killed; Thos. Cahill, Co. B, leg, mortally, since dead; Corporal Bartlett, Co. A, wounded in bowels; T. P. Howland, Co. A, in arm; George F. Ferrand, Co. B, in leg, mortally; Corporal Crain (not sure last name is spell correctly), Co. C, in arm; Geo. W. Hawkins, Co. C, in arm; - Riddle, Co. C. in arm. In the Fortieth Mass., Sergeant Blaisdell, Co. B, wounded; Sergeant Conklin, Co. A, killed; Chas. E. Lee, Co. D, wounded in thigh; Corporal A. B. Clark, Co. C, slightly in side. A few others were slightly wounded. Those who were not mortally wounded were doing well when last heard from.

Of the sentiment of the people, the Tribune correspondent says:

Stores, supplies and reinforcements are constantly arriving. It is intended on this, the third occasion, that Jacksonville has been occupied by Union Forces, to make it the base of operations for the reannexation of the State to the loyal Union.

The President's Proclamation of Emancipation is in great demand among the refugees. It is posted conspicuously in and around Jacksonville, and is liberally distributed among the people in the line of march taken by the troops. Many refugees arrive daily and hourly. All are anxious to return to the Union; they only express distrust and fear, like previous occupations of their country by the national forces, this one will be temporary. Against this fear they are becoming fortified by seeing the immense force now brought hither. It is certain that at the rate which we have hitherto advanced a sufficient number of native Floridians will soon become emancipated from the tryannical Richmond usurpers to reinstate their commonwealth among the fair sisterhood of the Union.

The refugees are unanimous in asserting that the secessionists cabal had never a very strong grasp in Florida. In proof of this, they site the ill repute of the paper money issued by the confederacy. This, they assert, never passed at par. Those who had gold or silver at the commencement of the Rebellion have held on to it, only selling occassionally a little at an enormous rate of premium to blockade runners. The latest sale quoted in Jacksonville was on the 5th of February, the day before we landed, when $100 in gold brought $2400 in Confederate money.

The Floridian refugees declare that there always has been a majority for the Union among the population of the State. When the election was held for delegates to a State Convention, called to consider the propriety of seceding from the Union, the "rich," I. e. the slaveowners, used the most shameless and unconcealed intimidation, declaring boldly no Union candidate should ever be nominated! Thus a majority of the legal voters were deprived of their just rights; delegates were elected against whom there was a majority of voters, if not votes. All they desire is permanence of rule under the Union authorities. They all deprecate the idea of the Union armies being withdrawn.

Of the prisoners captured, about one-half take the oath of allegiance. To all the President's proclamation of amnesty is read and explained. Those who reject its provisions are sent North, to be held for exchange.

The task of supplying the refugee families with food and shelter had already become very onerous. The Provost Marshal will need many and efficient aids. It is resolved to give work as laborers to all who are capable of performing it, and to insist upon their earning the money and rations given to them. Numerous liberated slaves are on their way from the various points occupied to Jacksonville. These are to be disposed of as at Port Royal! The able-bodied males will be employed as laborers, or enrolled as soldiers; all others will be rationed, temporarily, until land can be assigned them to cultivate for their own subsistence.

Unidentified Soldier and Correspondents.

Printed in the Boston Herald, February 22, 1864; pg. 1, col. 6.

It is made available here through the courtesy of Thomas Hayes,

Hayes is currently working on a historical reference work, "Letters of the Civil War," from the newspapers of the cities and towns of Massachusetts. He has researched the Boston Herald, Chelsea Telegraph and Pioneer, Dedham Gazette, Roxbury Gazette, Randolph Transcript, Worcester Transcript and the Malden Messenger. He says, "I have filed, by date, a little over 3,300 letters. These are from the Soldiers, Sailors, Nurses, Correspondents and Politicans. This project started out as a simple endeavor to find that one letter from my Grandfather, Walter A. Hewes, who served in the 1st Mass. Infantry and 4th Mass. Cavalry. To date, no luck, but I have about 30 more papers to research."

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