April 9, 1864
THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER
For the Christian Recorder.
FROM JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA.
Jacksonville, Florida, March 10, 1864.
MR. EDITOR: - I suppose the Battle of Olustee has been fully chronicled, in which the Fifty-fourth took so conspicuous a part. Olustee of Alucia, was the first battle in which the colored soldiers in this department met the rebels on equal terms. In the battle on James Island, July 16, a long alternated picket line fought against a close, compact line of battle. In the assault on Fort Wagner, July 18, the colored troops engaged were pitted against a work, which, if fully garrisoned, could boldly defy the assaults of ten thousand of the bravest men. But at Alucia they stood face to face and fought them with a more undaunted courage than their white comrades. I fear the rebels, in the Battle of Alucia, have out-generalled us. They chose their battle-ground, and intrenched it, and managed it so adroitly, that no man in the Union Army knew anything about it. Their plan was an admirable one. They could have fortified Barbour, a beautiful spot near the north fork of the St. Mary's River; but this was too near our base of supplies, and too remote from theirs. A simple reverse or check to our progress, fifty miles from our base of supplies and our reinforcements, they well knew, must result in a falling back.
Reverses are terrible affairs to the army, and the soldier is always dreading flank and rear movements. After a reverse, all that would be necessary to create an uncontrollable panic, would be to send a battalion of cavalry to some point in the rear.
After our army had got twenty miles beyond Baldwin, the men commenced to inquire whether there was any danger of the rebels getting into our rear. If our General could have done as the matchless Grant, plunge into the interior, destroy communications with the rear, burning bridges, &c., we might have startled them, and had thrown on us the alternatives of annihilation or victory. But there seems to have been a strange ignorance of the number, position and plans of the rebels. I think that the most essential thing to the success of any General is his knowledge of the number and purpose of his antagonist. There is not a shadow of a doubt that the enemy knew our numbers and our purposes perfectly well, and calmly awaited our approach, and whipped us completely. And how can they help frustrating any movement we may undertake, if so much criminal leniency is extended to them? There have been several hundred prisoners fallen into our hands since the re-occupation of Jacksonville, and I am almost certain that the greater part of them are returned within the rebel lines. The plan, as adopted with reference to prisoners of war, is this: the prisoners are captured and brought in. A day or two after their arrival, they are invited to take the oath of allegiance to the United States. If they refuse to do this, they are sent to the Head. Now, these rebels are, in most instances, (as the history of this war shows,) men who have but little regard for the sanctity of an oath. In the present instance, there are more than the ordinary incentives to take the oath of allegiance to a Government they certainly hate. Their families are living in this vicinity, and they naturally desire to be with them, and, by taking the oath, they are immediately released and relieved from danger of enrollment in our army, and, as long as they remain in our lines, from service in the rebel army. If they can furnish intelligence to the enemy, they are regarded as spies by the rebel officers, and whatever is reprehensible in regard to the oath is disregarded and forgiven. I believe they are urged to take the oath. They are granted passes by the Provost Marshal to pass outside our lines to their families. How can we know but that a regular system of communication is kept up by these scoundrels with the enemy? How easy for a rebel to come in, give himself up, take the oath, and get a pass to go home, twelve or fifteen miles off, and transmit information which might be fatal to us!
There are a great many men, who were rebel soldiers, employed in the various departments here, and our Commissary furnishes hundreds of rations to the poor. They pretend to be in the most destitute condition, and there are some drawing rations from the Government who are well to do and fully able to provide for themselves.
I cannot fail to contrast this treatment which rebels receive at the hands of our authorities, with that meted out to the negro soldiers by the rebel authorities. A flag of truce was sent out to the rebels the other day, and when asked about the negro prisoners and officers, the reply was: "We will hand every d--d negro officer we catch."
We can learn nothing of the colored prisoners. It is reported that they were killed on the field. When shall this weakness and folly on the part of our authorities cease? And when shall these atrocities be met with that vengeance and retaliation they so justly merit? Where are the colored prisoners captured on James Island, July 16th, 1863, and those captured at Fort Wagner, July 18th? And, lastly, where are those captured at the Battle of Olustee, February 20th, 1864? Can any escaped prisoner answer? Can any Federal spy answer? Can any one in authority answer? Can any man answer this question? If, while we are pampering and petting rebel prisoners, Federal prisoners are hung and enslaved, we are exchanging smiles for kicks - paying gold and honor for dross and dishonor.
There are comparatively few contrabands coming into our lines. The rebels had been expecting our force here in Jacksonville a fortnight before its arrival, and ran all their negroes off into Georgia. As soon as the male contrabands reach here, they are put into the army, and the females are sent to Hilton Head, or permitted to go to Fernandina. Poor creatures! They are the most wo-be-gone set - no shoes, hats or clothing, and, what the most impoverished slave-woman seldom fails to possess, turbans. I have noticed a strange peculiarity among the people here. They are all the most outrageous stutterers. If you meet one and say, "How are you?" as you pass, you could walk a whole block before he could sputter out the Southern, "Right smart, I thank ee."
There have been four inflictions of the death penalty on colored soldiers since the landing of the expedition, February 7th, 1864. Is this not strange?
I might write at greater length, but long letters are tedious. Trusting that the cause of justice, for which we all struggle, may meet no detriment by the hands of our wicked enemies,
I remain yours, very truly,
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