Serving in Florida

MARCH 26, 1864

Letter from an Officer who has served in Florida.

In reference to the subject of Southern Emigration, which is now occupying the attention of our citizens, we are permitted to print the following letter from and officer who has served in Florida two or three years.

"In January 1863, we were ordered to Fernandina. We had previously been in Florida for a week in October, 1862, when we made the expedition for the capture of St. John's Cluff Fort-8 guns. On that occasion we ascended St. John's River as far as Jacksonville, twenty miles from the mouth. This river is broad, swelling out at times into almost a succession of lakes. It runs up toward the South. This is a very productive country; rich in all the tropical fruits. It is navigable by steamers for about two hundred miles, and for smaller craft much further. Along its shores are a number of hotels, where persons from the North, especially those with pulmonary complaints, have resorted. Jacksonville was very important at the point was whence all the products of this country were shipped for the north or Europe. It was a very important lumber mart. Eleven steam saw mills were in operation, till they were burned, since the war broke out. The town looks more like a thriving New England town than any place I ever saw south. The chief obstacle to the prosperity of the town is the bar at the mouth of the St. John's. Vessels drawing over ten feet have sometimes a difficulty in getting in and out. I think, however, with a good system of pilotage, buoys, &c., this might be to a great extent obviated. From Jacksonville a railroad runs west reaching to Tallahassee. It was to reach Pensacola in time. I may remark that Jacksonville owes it prosperity to northern men and capital. The railroad was build by northern capital.

Any one from looking at a map, and still more from examining the country, will see Jacksonville and Fernandina are the two towns of eastern Florida. Our forces captured Jacksonville February, 1862. The people there immediately came out for the Union, and pledged themselves to the cause.

But to return. We reached Fernandina and landed on the 15th of January, 1863. We found peas in blossom and formed, and flowers in bloom. (Peas were fit to eat in February.) The Latana and English violet were in bloom; the Oleander was in bud; cabbages were fit for the table. In the gardens, on the plantations, and wherever any pains has been taken, flowers were growing in the utmost luxuriance. In fast why should they not be? There was ice only once; that was a mere scale, of almost imperceptible thickness. The winds were indeed sometimes quite bleak, and caused considerable discomfort, but the thermometer was never very low.

Fernandina is on Ameila's Island, and is the port of St. Mary's river. This river runs up into the country for one or two hundred miles, through a good cotton country. A lady told me that she had seen ten thousand bales of cotton lying at Fernandina waiting for shipment north and east. There is very deep water in the harbor. Vessels drawing eighteen feet can come across the bar at high water. It is by all odds the best harbor south of the James river, except Port Royal. It is far superior to Charleston. The Florida Central railroad runs from here to Cedar Keys, and was designed, in connection with steamers at each end, to be the thoroughfare between New Orleans and New York. This railroad also brought in much cotton and other produce. Under anything like favorable circumstance, with any free stimulus Fernandina would be a place of unlimited prosperity.

After remaining till May, we were ordered to St. Augustine. This is just on the parallel of 30 deg., about fifty to fifty-five miles south of Fernandina. Here, as indeed all through the central zone of the State, are almost all the tropical productions; cotton, oranges, lemons, limes, citron, guava, bananas, figs, sugars, (dates grow but do not ripen) paw paws, pomegranates. A little south of there, pine apples grow about as easily as onions do here. The orange crop is, under favorable circumstances, the best one raised there, the most profitable. In former times any one who owned a good orchard would live in idleness all year round on the produce of a few days' labor in the orange season. I sent home eighty oranges to my father last November. Of those only a half dozen were damaged in transportation. The rest, he said, were the best he ever ate, and convinced him that we need not send out of the country for oranges. One tree of a friend of mine in St. Augustine bore 2500 oranges, that readily for $3.00 a hundred. The trees are planted in and orchard 20 feet apart, giving 400 square feet to each tree, and 117 trees to an acre. Sometimes the tree bears as many as 7000 or 8000. In 1835 a severe and most unprecedented frost cut down all the orange trees. As they were getting over that the orange insect attacked the debilitated trees, and has ravaged them for twenty years, but know there is no obstacle to the boundless production of the fruit. The harbor of St. Augustine is proverbially bad. A railroad has been laid out to connect the town with the St. John's river, and was constructing, but the war broke it up. As you know, the land on the extreme south of the State is overflowed and is not valuable. But the northern and central parts are almost unreviled promise.

As to healthfulness, we were four months at Fernandina, and lost but one man, who died of heart disease. At St. Augustine in ten weeks we lost one man, who died of chronic diarrhea contracted a year before. With proper care I think there is little fear of sickness.

It seems to me that any judicious plan of colonization could not but find in Florida simple (cannot read the word).

I should be most happy to hear from you on the subject, and to know what is doing in the premises. I have often thought that I should like to embark in an enterprise of colonizing the State if under any favorable auspices. A return of the other day of my old comrade, the asthma, which had been a stranger to me during my campaigns south, brought this renewedly to my mind."

From an unidentified Officer.

Chelsea Telegraph and Pioneer; March 26, 1864; pg. 2, col. 4.
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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