Massachusetts Cavalry at Gainesville

FEBRUARY 19, 1864.


A Million and a Half of Property Captured
Gallant Conduct of Chelsea Men at Gainesville.

(From Special Correspondent N. Y. Tribune.)

Baldwin, Fla., Feb. 19, 1864.
One of the bravest and most skillful achievements of the war is officially recorded in the following document:

Headquarters District Florida,
Jacksonville, Fla., Feb. 17, 1864.

General Orders No. 5. - The Brigadier General Commanding heartily congratulates his command of the brilliant success which has attended all their movements thus far into Florida. Three flags; eight guns, with caissons, battery wagons and forge; many wagons and horses and much substance stores and clothing, have fallen into our hands, besides large amounts of cotton, turpentine and resin. Property valued at over one and a half millions of dollars is the fruit of the success.

To Col. Guy V. Henry and his command, the battalion of Mass. cavalry under Major Stevens, the 40th Mass. Mounted Volunteers, and to Capt. Elder, 1st Artillery, and his Battery, this achievement is principally due; and the Brigadier General Commanding especially desires to praise Capt. George E. Marshall, Co. G. 40th Mass. Mounted Volunteers, and his small command of forty-nine men who captured and held Gainesville for fifty-six hours, receiving and repulsing an attack from more than double his force, and, after fulfilling his mission successfully, returning to the designated place of rendevous. These deeds will be among those remembered by us with the greatest pleasure and honor, and the command may emulate but can hardly expect to surpass them. By order of

Brig. Gen. S. SEYMOUR.

Official: R.M. Hall, 1st Lieut, 1st Artillery, U.S.A., Asst. Adjt. General.

(Copied from The Official Records of the War of Rebellion.)

Gainesville, the place mentioned in the above "General Orders," is on the Cedar Keys and Fernadina Railroad, a place of some importance as a depot for Confederate Government stores, and as the residence of many wealthy rebels- Officers in the C. S. A. army, notorious blockade runners, &c., &c. Gainesville cast 500 votes in the last election of delegates to the Charleston Secession Convention. It is about 75 miles from Jacksonville.

Capt. Marshall received orders to advance upon Gainesville with a picket force of 49 men from Companies G, H, and K of his regiment, the 40th Mass Mounted Infantry. He skirmished all night, and reached the place on Sunday morning, Feb. 14, at 2 a. m., dashing past 115 rebel infantry, and occupying the town. His first care was to place sentries and pickets to prevent the egress of the inhabitants. All new comers were allowed to enter the place, and were closely questioned as to the existence and number of the enemy in the vicinity. From a negro it was elicited that their cavalry were close by. A picket of two men were surprised by the rebels and captured.

By this means a rebel messenger escaped, and brought down upon Capt. Marshall's little force an attack from Dickinson's and Chamber's cavalry. The nergo had given Capt. Marshall only forty minutes notice of the impending onset. Instantly calling to his aid and willing services of about 100 liberated nergo men, Capt. And his command removed from the "Confederate" warehouses 167 bales of cotton, and barricaded the crossroads going through the town, adding to his extemporized fortifications "sectors or wings," from point to point of his lines, to shield the garrison from rear or flanking fire. The rebel cavalry were soon heard thundering down the road. Captain Marshall enjoined on his men to hold their fire until they should be close to the breastworks. The foremost horse men were near enough to leap the petty obstruction of two cotton bales, when a seven fold volley was poured into them from the new Spencer repeating rifles. Instantly wheeling, the rebels tried a flank movement, when a terrible enfilading fire reached them, every man of the National force firing seven shots at the astonished troopers. A total rout was the result. The frightened horses of the dismounted rebels came vaulting over the cotton bales. The groans of the wounded, left by their flying commands, mingles in harsh accord with the shouts and cheers of the Union soldiers. Had Capt. Marshall's men been cavalry, used to the sabre, they could have followed and killed or captured the whole party.

The loss of the rebels was over forty. Their force had not been much less, certainly, than 100. Not one of our men were hurt! Leaving Gainesville, at 2 A. M., on Tuesday, 15th Feb., Capt. Marshall's command reached Jacksonville, by a forced march by noon on Wednesday. Their total loss was one wounded in skirmishing, 2 captured on picket, and 1 straggler. Important information was obtained as to the strength and resources of the enemy. Dickinson's Cavalry (the same that captured 21 men of the 10th Conn. At St. Augustine, a month since) were defeated on their own soil. By the admission of a wounded man, found on the field, one company of the rebels was so cut up so as to be "ruined." The Secessionists women in Gainesville generously applauded the prowess of the Yankees, admitting that they had "done well; whipped them handsomely;" and stigmatized their own cavalry as "cowards and poltroons."

Thirty six negroes were brought away from Gainesville. Of these 33 enlisted.

The storehouses of the Rebel Commissaries where thrown open to the people, and they were allowed to take away at will green coffee, sugar, rice, corn meal and potatoes. Much Union feeling was developed among the inhabitants of the town. They were surprised at the kindness shown them, declaring that the Yankee treated them better than the Secesh." One woman, finding a soldier in her yard, readjusting a screw in his rifle, adjured him to make haste and join in the fight. Although a rebel, with her husband in the traitor army, she took the warmest interest in the fighting, evidently for its own sake. There was at least $1,500,000 worth of property in the place. Nothing but some sets of rebel harness for artillery horses were destroyed. The famishing people, assured of Federal protection, were bidden to seize and enjoy the property of the pretended government of the Confederacy. Within the two square miles were at least 2,000 bales of cotton, mostly such as had been seized by the Jeff. Davis's usurpation. The programme of the present invasion is not to destroy property, but to pacify and reassure the inhabitants, and make them cheerful acquiescent in the inevitable restoration of Florida to the Union, which brought, reclaimed from savages, and protected the State and its people from foreign foes and internal enemies.

But with this generous treatment, Capt. Marshall did not neglect to secure the safety of his command by calling seriatim at every house in Gainesville, instructing the inhabitants that they must abide by martial law during his stay; must not leave the place, must keep within doors after dark, and must refrain from offering insults to his men. In return, he assured all women and helpless people that they should not be disturbed in person or property. A negro insurrection in the neighborhood being apprehended, the proper means were taken to secure all negroes coming into town. These were told that they were free, but their responsibilities and duties as freemen were strongly insisted on, while their rights were explained and conceded. No evil from emancipation resulted in the neighborhood or town of Gainesville.

Instances of individual daring occurred among the enlisted men, deserving of praise and mention. Private Charles T. Ring, Co. G, of Chelsea, son of W. A. Ring, attacked on post by three enemies, mortally wounded one and put the others to flight.

Among the negroes liberated, were several who could write fairly. One of these "excattle" had been his master's bookkeeper, cashier, clerk, and managing man. His owner, utterly ignorant of the merest rudiments of education, had actually brought the negro at a high price, on purpose to use his superior intelligents! Another, who had been a house servant, brought in an Enfield rifle, which his master has set up against a fence, while superintending the work of the field hands. Bringing the weapon into the town, he insisted on being allowed by Capt. Marshall to strike a blow for liberation of his race. The negroes who were in the town procured clubs, and begged for permission to fight on the side of the Yankees. So much for the theory of the pro-slavery men, that all negroes are and must be ignorant, debased, unenterprising, cowardly, and supine!

G. B.

Printed in the Chelsea Telegraph and Pioneer; March 5, 1864; pg. 1, col. 6.
See Boston Herald article

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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