April 16, 1864
THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER
For the Christian Recorder.
FROM JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA.
Jacksonville, Florida, March 24th, 1864.
EXPEDITION TO FLORIDA.
In my last letter I stated that the Federal forces were on their way to Lake city, about sixty miles west of Jacksonville. The Eighth, which had been left at Ten-mile Station, formed a line of march on the 15th of February, for Baldwin, some ten miles from Ten-mile Station, or Picket's House.
is one of the towns of which so much is said at Jacksonville, that one would naturally suppose it would justify itself in appearance, and show that it wanted to be a town, at least. In general appearance, a person would not take it for a town in the North, nor even disgrace the name of town by applying it. Notwithstanding the contempt which Northern people have for such excuses for towns, the Floridians have made Baldwin a depot of more than ordinary importance to the Rebel Government. The railroad, which runs from Jacksonville direct to Lake City, passes through Baldwin, and one railroad leads to Fernandina, and another to Tampa, on the Atlantic Ocean. The Rebels had stored a quantity of cotton in the warehouses, which was seized by the Federal forces and shipped to Jacksonville for re-shipment North. Also large quantities of resin were seized. At noon on the 15th the Eighth halted, and a camp was laid out, after some difficulty had been experienced trying to select a dry place. The ground was very marshy, and so unfit for a camp, that the tents were all obliged to be raised two feet from the ground, and board floors put in them. The troops at this point were the Third United States Colored Troops, a detachment of the Fifty Massachusetts (colored,) and a detachment of Engineers (New York Volunteers,) who were engaged in constructing rifle-pits and stockades. A post having been established here, in command of Colonel Tilghman, of the Third United States Colored Troops, the Eighth reported to him, and was kept constantly in fatigue and picket duty till the 19th. Baldwin having been tolerably well fortified against attack from the enemy, the Eighth was ordered to strike tents at ten o'clock, A.M., on Friday, February 19th, and advanced eleven miles to Barbour.
is about one and a half miles north-west of the railroad. This place has been a slave plantation, and was owned by one Moses Barbour, whose slaves, numbering one hundred, were driven to the front by the enemy on his retreat to Lake City. Barbours are noted slave-holders, and own several plantations in Florida. We halted here at four o'clock, P.M., the same day. All the troops were bivouacked here for the night, and at six o'clock, A.M., on Saturday, February 20th, again formed line to advance on Lake City. Our force was five thousand troops, composed of artillery, cavalry and infantry. The Eighth and Seventh Connecticut and Seventh New Hampshire Volunteers are brigaded together. No interruption was had during the day till 3 o'clock, P.M. Musket firing was heard in front, the Federals having driven in the Rebel pickets. Heavy firing was soon heard, and the troops were moved forward rapidly. The Eighth, having been on the railroad for a short distance, was ordered to change direction to the right, and received orders to go into the fight, without unslinging knapsacks, or the sergeants taking off their sashes, which caused nearly all the first sergeants to be killed or wounded. Only one-half the regiment was loaded, so harmless had been the estimate placed upon the enemy, that he was not looked for short of Lake City, and not there, if any place was left open for retreat. The Battle of Olustee, or Ocean Pond, on the 20th of February, will be long remembered by the Eighth, which suffered terribly in the conflict. No expectation of meeting the enemy is apparent, when not sufficient ammunition was brought along to fire over sixty rounds of musketry. Colonel Charles W. Frisby, of the Eighth, fell, mortally wounded, a short time after going into the engagement. Major Loren Burritt then took command, and fell, badly wounded, and was borne to the rear. Both field officers now being taken from the regiment, Captain R.G. Bailey, of Company B, being the Senior Captain, took command of the regiment, and, knowing that the ammunition was exhausted, ordered the regiment to the rear of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, which was now engaging the enemy successfully, and, had one more regiment come to its assistance, the occupation of Jacksonville by so large a force as is here now would be useless. The battle lasted from three o'clock, P.M., till dark, when a retreat was ordered by the Commanding General. The wounded, both white and colored, were placed in ambulances and wagons of all kinds, and hurried to Baldwin or to Barbour. I cannot but speak of the conduct of Dr. Alex. P. Heickhald, surgeon of the Eighth, who was particular in collecting the colored troops who were wounded, and placed them in his ambulances and pushed on for a place of safety. Some one thought the white troops should be brought away also; but Dr. H. said: "I know what will become of the white troops who fall into the enemy's possession, but I am not certain as to the fate of the colored troops," and pushed on with alacrity towards Baldwin. He also dressed the wounds of all the Eighth that came into camp at Barbour, and a great many others belonging to white regiments. It looked sad to see men wounded coming into camp with their arms and equipments on, so great was their endurance and so determined were they to defend themselves till the death. I saw white troops that were not badly wounded, that had thrown away everything.
We arrived at Barbour at two o'clock, A.M., on Sunday, rested there until eight o'clock, A.M., and continued the retreat to Jacksonville, which place was being fortified (on the return of the advance) by the detachments that were in possession of the town. Jacksonville is fortified strongly against an attack from the enemy. The Eighth is encamped on the extreme left, in a beautiful grove, on the premises of Mrs. Fort, overlooking Jacksonville, and giving a fine view of the St. John's River. Vessels from the North can be seen one and a half miles before landing at the dock at Jacksonville. This point is very important to the Union forces. The Rebel pickets being only three miles distant from our camp, eighty men from the Eighth are put on picket daily, and sent out to the front of the fortifications, which have been thrown up by the Eighth since encamping here. One fort, mounting three heavy guns, and one Parrot gun, which can do execution at seven miles, are in readiness at any time the Rebels feel disposed to advance on this point. This preparation is independent of extensive works in the centre and extreme right. One fort on the right is called Redoubt Fribley, in honor of the late Colonel of the Eighth. The Eighth, in command of Captain R.C. Bailey, and a detachment of the Third United States Colored Troops, in command of a Hungarian artillery captain, are the troops here. The order from the War Department, giving authority in this department to enroll and draft all male colored persons, is to be put into effect in a few days. it creates some excitement among those who prefer to be servants, instead of soldiers. They are not very numerous here, as the Rebels have sent them away. An expedition from the "Florida Expedition" has grown up recently. The little town of Pilatka, on the left bank of the St. John's River, about seventy miles from its mouth, and fifty miles from Jacksonville, was occupied by our forces, under Colonel Barton, on Thursday morning last, the 10th inst., at daylight. It was taken without a gun being fired on either side. On the 23d inst., two steamboats were brought down at seven o'clock, A.M., which had been captured up the St. John's, in the vicinity of Pilatka. One, in appearance, looked like an Allegheny steamboat. This boat was built by Northern mechanics last March, and was guarded nightly, at the Jacksonville wharf, by a prisoner who is now at Jacksonville.
The gunboat Pawnee, which has been lying at the port of Jacksonville for some time, has been ordered to Boston, Massachusetts. It has been replaced by another gunboat of equal size. It is rumored that a vessel, laden with oranges, from near Pilatka, was brought to the wharf to-day. Oranges are the only fruit which grows in Florida in abundance. Apples are not seen, except they are brought from the North, and sell readily at five cents a piece, and not large nor sound at that price.
RUFUS S. JOHNS,
Sergeant-Major Eighth U.S.C.T.
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