Letters from Men of the
40th Massachusetts Mounted Infantry


Barber's , (Columbia county) Fla.,
Feb. 18, 1864.

(Previous to the disastrous retreat, says:)

"Our regiment has seen several engagements, in one of which five pieces of artillery were captured by us; also a whole rebel camp, the rebels having barely time to get out of their beds, leaving everything behind them and scattering like so many sheep. Not a gun was fired nor a man hurt. Another skirmish was on this stream where we now lay, in which we lost eight or ten men killed and several wounded. The rebel loss was much more serious, and we captured thirty horses. Another skirmish was at Lake city, (or Alligator) in which we were over powered, having no infantry support and were obliged to retreat seven miles. The farthest point we went from here was Starke, about in the centre of the State. A few miles south is Fort Hardee, famous in the Indian wars."

Charles Remick.

A letter dated Beaufort, Feb. 23, from a Massachusetts officer, says, in substance, that our force in Florida has been badly beaten. The 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiments (colored) were in the battle and fought well. Capt. Jewett and Lieuts. Littlefield and Tomlinson were the only officers wounded, but neither of them were seriously hurt. The 55th suffered severely. Col. Harlow is safe, and had been spoken with by the writer.

The following is a copy of a letter received in New York, dated Hilton Head, Feb. 23:

"The expedition in Florida, from which we expected to hear such good results, has, so far, proved a failure; in other words, our troops have been badly whipped.

It seems that they were ordered to march to far into the state and came upon fifteen thousand of the enemy, and a terrible battle ensued. Barton's brigade were in front, and of course suffered badly. Colonel Barton had two horses killed under him, and received several balls through his hat, coat, etc., yet he was unhurt.

Yesterday was one of the most anxious days of my whole life. I heard of the fight early in the morning, and that Col. Barton's whole command had been captured.

Capt Dunbar and Lieut. Moser, of the Forty-eighth (N.Y.), are here wounded; Lieut. Keenan was killed. I do not yet know how many of the forty-eighth were killed, but there are a large number wounded, and some are in the hands of the enemy. Two Colonels of the brigade are badly wounded and one killed.

Every one at his post feels sadly enough. I have seen several of the wounded to-day, and I feel that the whole of Florida is not worth half the suffering and anguish this battle has caused.

I fear there will be more hard fighting in Florida yet, and we have not force enough.

The rebels can bring their whole army down there in a short time, and, while there is nothing being done at the North, there is no reason why they will not do so."

The New York Express of Saturday has the following information from an officer who arrived by the steamer Fulton:

General Seymour , who commanded the expedition, has been placed under arrest, by order of General Gillmore.

His successor is General Vodges, who left Hilton Head on Tuesday last, with reinforcements for Jacksonville, consisting of an entire division.

Our information says it was the opinion of the officers who took part in the expedition, that our total losses in killed, wounded and missing are between 1200 and 1500.

General Seymour is severely censured in not throwing out scouts and skirmishing as our troops advanced. As it was, our troops were led into a trap.

Hamilton's artillery led the van, and suffered severely. The rebel sharpshooters picked off their horses and the guns had to be abandoned.

The 40th Massachusetts (mounted infantry) have also suffered severely. In the retreat many of our wounded were left behind, within the enemy's lines.

Our troops were right in front of the batteries, in a piece of woods, before we were aware of their presence; and when their batteries opened a galling fire, our men were driven back, panic- stricken and in disorder.

The rebel force is not known, but it is suppose to have been large. One of the prisoners captured stated that troops had recently been sent down from Charleston, and the Gen. Beauregard was in command."

Olustee, the place were the battle was fought, is a station on the Jacksonville and Tallahassee Railroad, forty-eight miles west of Jacksonville. The Port Royal Free South asserts that Baldwin is held by our forces. This is a station at the junction of the Jacksonville and the Fernandina railroads, twenty miles from Jacksonville.

Printed in the Boston Journal; February 29, 1864; pg. 2, col. 1.

It is made available here through the courtesy of Thomas Hayes, tom_hayes@letterscivilwar.com.

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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