The First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers in Florida

Taken from A History of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers by Benjamin W. Crowninshield, Major First Massachusetts Cavalry and Brevet Colonel U.S.V. Written for the First Massachusetts Cavalry Association. Published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company. The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1891.

Beginning on page 258...

The order which made the Independent Battalion Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers a part of the 1st Massachusetts cavalry was issued February 12, 1864. But the battalion was in South Carolina, acting under its old officers, and as part of the troops of the department, shared in the expedition to the St. John's River, and the engagements that ensued. The expedition was commanded by Brigadier General Seymour, under orders from General Gillmore, commanding the department.

The mounted force, consisting of the Independent Battalion Massachusetts cavalry, 40th Massachusetts mounted infantry, horse battery B, 1st United States artillery, was called the Light Brigade, and placed under the command of Colonel Guy V. Henry, of the 40th Massachusetts.

January 4, 1864, the troops for the expedition to Jacksonville began to assemble at Hilton Head, and preparations were begun. On February 4 General Gillmore reviewed all the troops. February 5 the battalion embarked on steamer Charles Houghton, started the 6th for Florida, arrived at Jacksonville at four P.M. of the 7th. While landing, the steamer General Hunter was fired on by the enemy's pickets. In a very short time twenty mounted men were in pursuit, and chased the pickets three miles, over a rotten plank road, capturing a signal station and several prisoners. With these trophies and sundry feathered rations, they returned to Jacksonville. Next afternoon the advance started inland in two columns, one marching on Camp Finnegan, the other passing it and capturing Confederate pickets without giving an alarm. About one A.M., February 8, an artillery camp was run into and captured by a charge. Six Napoleon guns and a large quantity of stores and prisoners were the results here. After a short rest the advance was resumed, and on reaching Baldwin, where the two columns united, another gun and other arms were captured. Companies A, B, and C (quondam I, K, and L) were with this column, while company M marched with the main column.

The following excerpt from the book is credited to Sergeant A.J. Clement of Company M.


When the army moved from Jacksonville on the afternoon of February 8, 1864, company D of the Independent Battalion was detached from the Light Brigade and headed the column of infantry which was to march on the main road westward. With this column was the commander-in-chief, Brigadier-General T.A. Seymour.

At Three Mile Run, company D charged, scattered a mounted picket force, and chased them several miles. Companies A, B, and C, followed by Elder's battery, moved out on the road towards Camp Finnegan, which was passed without being molested, although the enemy could be heard in the darkness giving orders to "fall in," for it was the intention of Colonel Henry to surprise an artillery camp further on. A detachment of company I was sent on ahead of the column, and as the light of the rebel picket-fires was seen along the road, they charged the post and captured the picket, thereby preventing any alarm being given to the rebel camp.

About midnight the Independent Battalion arrived on a little rise overlooking the artillery camp, where the rebels were peacefully dreaming of the future great Confederacy. Colonel Henry halted the battalion and made his arrangements to charge the camp with one platoon, with another close behind for support. He ordered the bugler to sound the charge twice, and shouted to the men these words, "If ever you yell in your lives, boys, yell now!" And in the language of the official report of that event. "They charged with a yell that still lingers in the ears of those who heard it."

Besides six guns and a number of prisoners captured, there was a quantity of ammunition, clothing, and other things, which had been run through the blockade.

After resting a short time the line of march was resumed, and just at daylight the battalion charged into Baldwin, capturing a cannon mounted on a platform car. Here, also, large quantities of tobacco were captured, also cotton and resin. Early in the day, General Seymour arrived by the other road, with company D as escort, and the Light Brigade was then reunited.

On the morning of the 10th the Light Brigade resumed its westward march, reaching the lofty eastern bank of St. Mary's River, at Barber's Ford, about twelve o'clock. There were no signs of the enemy, and the column moved down to cross the bridge, -- it and the river being totally shut out of view by a dense growth of forest along the banks. As the head of the column entered the forest at the brink of the rapid river, they were ambushed, and received a very heavy fire. It was then discovered that the bridge was destroyed, and the guide pointed out the ford a few rods below. Colonel Henry ordered Captain Webster to take his company (L) and flank the enemy. Companies I and K were dismounted as skirmishers. As company L moved down the narrow road which led to the fold, they became the target of Hank's guerrillas on the other side, and the road becoming filled with wounded men and horses, the order was given, "Fours left about." At this time Captain Webster had his horse shot, and one of his shoulder straps was shot off. The company reformed after getting out of the hushes, and returning pistols and drawing sabre, charged through the stream. The enemy scattered as we reached the opposite bank, leaving quite a large number of horses behind. As we moved on immediately we never learned what the loss of the enemy was. We went at a brisk gait, destroying the railroad at several points, and came to Sanderson early in the afternoon. We found the central portion wrapped in flames, for the rebels had fired a large stock of cotton and resin at the railroad depot, to prevent its capture.

The brigade remained in Sanderson a few hours, and then moved steadily on till almost sundown the next day, February 11, when we were reported to be close to Lake City, with a force with artillery to oppose us. Skirmishers from company D were sent forward, and received a volley from behind the railroad embankment, which convinced us that we were to be opposed vigorously. It was at this time that Johnson, of company D, was wounded. Darkness was now falling rapidly, the horses were jaded, and there were rations for neither man nor beast. We had already gone far beyond the original destination (Baldwin) of the expedition, and Colonel Henry decided to fall back a few miles for the night, as a heavy storm was impending. After marching back about five miles, we passed the night in the woods, in a torrent of rain. Next day, February 12, we returned to Sanderson, got rations, and met our infantry, which had followed in our track. The whole army then fell back to Barber's Ford and went into camp. It may be well to state here that it was then, and subsequently, understood that to occupy Jacksonville and capture Baldwin was the main object of the expedition. With Baldwin in our possession, all southern and eastern Florida mere cut off from the enemy, and all cattle and other supplies lost to them from those sections.

There is fullest proof that the second advance was contrary to orders, for Olustee had hardly been fought when orders came from Gillmore, at Hilton Head, forbidding the advance which led to the disaster.

While the main body was resting at Barber's Ford, a detachment was sent oat, February 14, towards King's Ferry. Ga. Arriving next day, they met the enemy's cavalry, which they drove off. They destroyed two ferry boats and the telegraph station, and came back to Barber's Ford, February 17.

We lay at Barber's Ford a full week, during which time our camp was full of bogus "Union" Floridians, and fully twenty of them were there on the Friday night when evident preparations were made for another advance. In fact, everybody knew of it two days before, and in this way, the rebels got the information which led them to send down their regiments from Charleston and Savannah. We crossed the ford at daybreak Saturday, February 19, and began the advance. In an hour we had a cavalry force in our front, which fell back slowly before us, with an occasional exchange of shots.

About one P.M. a halt was called, to allow the infantry to come up, and the brigade rested, company D was advanced about half a mile, to a point where the highway crossed the railroad. The picket line was laid out, and the men posted. Only one rebel cavalryman was in sight, and he was at a safe distance, on the railroad track. And he remained there for General Seymour to look at two hours later.

I am particularizing here, for at this point we (company D) discovered that the enemy were in great force.

First we saw and counted, as one by one they jumped across the railroad, over one hundred infantrymen. We saw their long rifles flash in the sunlight. They were after the left of our thin picket line. Presently they opened on us, and kept it up till our men were hard pressed all along the line. From the extreme right, on the highway, came in Corporal Dennet, and minutely described how he had seen not less than three regiments march by a commanding officer whom all the regimental officers saluted. One can see a long distance through those forests of big pines, entirely free from under-growth.

After what seemed a long time, the 7th New Hampshire came up, and went in as skirmishers, and the rebel fire ceased. All was silent, with that one cavalry man in sight, when General Seymour and staff came up, and with him the whole Light Brigade. All the facts were told to the commanding general. Captain Elder (of our Light Brigade horse battery) said with a sneer that he could see "just one man." It was a direct slur on us, and it had its effect, for the advance was at once ordered, the two regiments of infantry still keeping their skirmish line in the woods.

We went slowly, and the rebel cavalry again appeared vexatiously near, as though inviting us to charge after them. In less than ten minutes General Seymour ordered us to wheel to the left and halt, that he might send a shot up the road. To this shot there was no response, and the rebel cavalry had disappeared over a slight elevation of the road. A few rods further on we came to the edge of a clearing. Here Elder fired another shot, and he got a prompt response that killed one of his horses. And here the fight began. We were on the chosen battle-ground, -- a pond on one side, a swamp on the other, soft, spongy ground to the rear, and in front a clearing, where the grade rose slightly. And it was just over the edge of this elevation that the enemy lay, with veteran troops, solid in force, partially entrenched, and all fresh and ready.

We had Elder's U.S.A. horse battery with our brigade, and two regiments of infantry, to begin with. The rest of our small force was coming up, but much of it was still miles in the rear.

We watched the 7th New Hampshire go up cheering, and come back fearfully used up. Then Captain Jack Hamilton's U.S.A. battery (old Sherman Mexican War Battery) went in with a rush. Every gun was at once taken, and Captain Hamilton was brought off wounded.

The regiments came up singly, went in cheering, and stayed to be almost annihilated. Langdon's U.S.A. battery went in with a rush and lost four out of six guns. The colored troops went in grandly, and they fought like devils. (Next day Major Bogle was lying with his wounded colored troops at a mill a few miles to the rear, where the rebels slaughtered all the wounded "niggers" who had crawled there from the battle-field, -- about three hundred.)

We were soon too busy to observe particulars. We were wanted everywhere, especially on our left flank, where the rebel cavalry continually showed up. But they wouldn't stand to meet us. We tried them twice. Then, as the case became desperate, we were placed close to the guns of the one battery (Elder's horse battery, four Napoleon guns), which held its own, kept its guns, and saved the army by allowing our troops to draw out of the trap just as darkness came on. Darkness alone saved us.

For an hour we clung to that battery, with a hail of fire that was mostly too high. Twice I thought we should use our sabres, as the yelling devils came down for those guns. But Elder (afterwards Grant's chief of artillery) was fearless, and kept his men at work gloriously. With black darkness the fighting ceased. The enemy seemed indisposed to push us. Perhaps Seymour's ruse of having each regiment give three times three cheers made them think we had fresh arrivals of troops.

Company D stayed over two hours on the edge of that field, while the rest began the retreat. Then we followed slowly all night. It was fearful work to keep the men attentive. They didn't "care a damn" for anything. They believed we were sure to be gobbled anyway. But not a shot did they fire, nor did we discover that they followed us that night.

We reached Barber's Ford at daybreak, and there got out of saddle for the first time in twenty-four hours, and fed our horses.

Company D was the last to go through the ford as we left the heights to follow the army.

We reached Baldwin that afternoon, with orders to hold it. We found there piles of infantry equipments, abandoned by the demoralized men, an immense quantity of our own army stores and ammunition, and untold quantities of cotton and resin. No enemy pushed us severely, though they hovered near. We stayed that night and to the night after, all vigilant and awake, no man leaving his horse except for necessary reasons.

At midnight we fired the whole valuable mass, and soon the whole town was ablaze, as we marched away to the volleys of scores of cases of Spencer cartridges, which were among our military stores destroyed there. We burned every bridge at the many little "runs," and reached Camp Finnegan next morning. Our company was then relieved, but we at once were called out to skirmish. Finally we reached Three Mile Run, where I had fired the first shot, on February 8, as we forced the picket on our first advance.

Here the Light Brigade established the outpost line, while the infantry threw up earthworks around Jacksonville. We had one very serious skirmish a few days later, for they really tried to force us back. Lamont, of company B, was killed in this skirmish. After that, until weeks later, there was little done. Virtually our work was over, -- an inglorious termination of an expedition that started most auspiciously. Later we went up the St. John's River and captured Palatka (April 6). There four men were taken by the enemy while on picket, Lincoln, Poole, Jackson, and Sylvester of Co. I. They were sent to Andersonville, as we learned later. April 14 we crossed the river, made an all-day swamp march, and came out at St. Augustine. A day later we marched to opposite Jacksonville. There we gave up our horses to the 75th Ohio infantry, and took steamer to Hilton Head. arriving April 24. Saw there some of our new comrades of the 4th regiment, robbed them of their horses, and took steamer for Newport News, where we arrived May 8. Started again, and reached City Point, Va., May 12. According to the officers' reports, we captured or destroyed over one and a half million dollars worth of cotton and resin.

After the Jacksonville-Olustee campaign, the following orders were issued:--

                             HEADQUARTERS UNITED STATES FORCES
                                       CAMP FINNEGEN, FLA. 


The commanding officer cannot fail to express to the Independent Battalion Massachusetts Cavalry, in his command, his high admiration of their coolness and bravery during the battle of Olustee. You had already distinguished yourselves by your constancy and endurance, but at Olustee you evinced the highest qualities of a soldier. You formed the rallying point for troops, encouraged the infantry by your coolness, and prevented the enemy's cavalry from charging the retreat. You assisted to cover, remaining miles in rear of the infantry. Your position was most trying, being exposed to heavy fire without the least chance for any excitement to divert your minds from your danger. The only battery that came out as it went in was the one you assisted to support. To you belongs the heroic satisfaction of having saved an army.
                     By order,            GUY V. HENRY,
                     Colonel 4Oth Massachusetts Mounted Infantry,
                                   Commanding Light Brigade

                                    HEADQUARTERS LIGHT BRIGADE
                                     JACKSONVILLE, March 30, 1864


To the officers and men of the Battalion Massachusetts Cavalry.

It is with deep regret that your commanding officer receives an order detaching you from the Light Brigade. He wishes to express to you his thanks for the zealous manner in which you have always performed your duties while under his command.

He has always placed great confidence in your bravery, gallantry, and discipline, and he has never been disappointed.

Hoping that this change is only temporary, and wishing you success in every undertaking, your commander bids you farewell.
      (Signed,)             GUY V. HENRY,
           Colonel 40th Massachusetts Mounted Infantry,
                       Commanding Light Brigade.

                               HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF FLORIDA,
                                    Jacksonville, March 24, 1864.

MAJOR, -- It is reported to the brigadier-general commanding that, during the skirmish of the 1st inst., a sergeant and certain men of the Massachusetts cavalry, construing their orders too literally, resisted the advance of largely superior numbers, and were finally captured, but not before every shot had been expended, with such courage and skill as to have commanded the admiration of the enemy.

It will please the brigadier-general commanding to mention such circumstances in General Orders, and you are requested to give whatever information you may have, and the names of the party in question.

                     Respectfully, colonel, your obedient servant,
                                                     R.M. HALL,     

       1st Lieutenant, 1st United States Artillery, A.A.A.G.

Major A. H. Steven, Massachusetts Cavalry,
Commanding Light Brigade.

                    Camp Finnegan, Fla., February 23, 1864

Report of wounded of the Independent Battalion Massachusetts Cavalry.

At Barber's Ford, Fla., February 10, 1864 :--

Corporal Andrew V. Bartlett, company A, gunshot, liver.
Private Freeman P. Howland, company A, gunshot, arm, compound fracture of the humerus.
Sergeant Frank Blaisdell, company B, gunshot, head.
Private Thomas Cahill, company B, gunshot. thigh (since dead).
Private George Ferrand, company B, gunshot, thigh.
Captain Moses F. Webster, company B, shoulder. slight.
Corporal N.W. Cram, company C, shoulder, slight.
Private Richard Burns, company C. lumbar region (since dead).
Private George W. Hunkins, company C, gunshot, left hand.
Private George Hutchison, company C, gunshot, right arm.
Private E. Pasho, company C, gunshot, arm.
Private S. P. Ridley, company C, shoulder, slight.

Near Lake City, Fla., February 11, 1864 :--

Private George E. Johnson. company D, gunshot, neck.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully. your obedient servant,

                            ATHERTON H. STEVENS, Jr.,                     
                                Major, Commanding Battalion.

This excerpt from the book 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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