Jacksonville, Florida, 1864.
June 17th, 1864
Dear Mother & Sisters,
I received several letters from you lately. It seems they all come at once.
The Veterans have returned and gone to work like good fellows, and all are glad to get back. Of course they would have stayed longer could they have done so, but they knew they could not so were then anxious to get back.
We came over from St. Augustine last week and are now in camp on the bank of the St. Johns. (By the way, this is a great river for fish and we fairly live on them.)
I wish you could have seen some of the nice orange groves that I have. At a place called Orange Mills, 70 miles above here, there is a fine grove of fifteen to twenty acres. And at Orange Lake in Orange County there is one two miles in width and twenty five miles long.
I guess I told you in a former letter of my capture. I don't mean that I was captured myself, but one that I made down on the coast at "Mosquito Inlet" at a place called New Smyrna. I think I have, so I will not burden you with another account. But the strangest part of the affair was that they did not mention in the papers down here who done it - not even the name of the Reg't. And we feel the neglect very much for this reason, that any little thing done by an Eastern Reg't, or even negroes, is made a great blow of. When the Mass. Cavalry was here, if they even took a prisoner it was a great thing, but we can capture two vessels with 135 bales of the best Cotton in the land and burn 200 more with twenty barrels of Turpentine, drive two or three thousand head of cattle, destroy large salt works etc. etc, and we are not even noticed. If an Eastern Colonel had done as much, he would before this time be wearing a ★ .
But I shan't grumble, as we are mounted and I am satisfied...
Well, I can't write any more this time. We have extremely hot weather now, and it rains every day. We are now in what is called the rainy season and the Mosquitos are thicker than anything I know of.
I believe I will have my photo taken on horseback. I have a splendid little gray horse that can out trot anything in the Department. I am quite proud of him. I also have a cole black that shines like a greased "nigger."
Well, I will close.
Captain Oscar Ladley did little but grumble in his letters home from the Florida front. Sweltering in the summer sun and pestered by the deathly hum of rebel insects, the 26 year old Captain and his command, Company E of the 75th Ohio Volunteer Mounted Infantry, had marched and ridden some 800 miles through the scrubby Florida countryside during the months of April, May, June and July of 1864. Quite possibly, the most of any company within the regiment, who slogged at least 500 miles that summer. As part of the detachment which accompanied Colonel Andrew Harris south of Jacksonville to guard the territory east of the St. Johns River from incursions by rebel cavalry, the continual patrols, raids and vedette duty they were forced to endure pressed man and beast to near the breaking point.
By July, 1864, the rush to pull all available material to support General U.S. Grant's operations against General R.E. Lee in Virginia left some 200 effective mounts available for the defense of Florida's eastern holdings, and troops across the Department of the South felt the crunch. Fatigue combined with contagious infections in the stables at Jacksonville added to the woes of Federal quartermasters, who struggled to replace failing or captured mounts as they were lost. At department headquarters in Hilton Head, S.C., Major General J.G. Foster's own staff officers surrendered their mounts for use by the Buckeyes. Artillery crews in Jacksonville struggled to field teams for their guns and caissons, impeding field operations against an ever encroaching foe, increasing in boldness and strength just north of town. Of course, the strain was felt most earnestly by those in the saddle, as one of Ladley's own, Private Francis Mallen of Chapel Hill, Ohio, discovered after losing his horse that summer while on a raid. As yet remembered in his family lore, the irascible "Paddy" was much chagrined by the order to carry his saddle and traps on foot through the scrub and swamp, and more so when faced by the wrath of the quartermaster's ledger, having pitching the encumbrance to save from being taken captive by rebels. Such was the lot of the weary Buckeyes in the summer of 1864.
A much needed, week-long respite at Jacksonville in late June, followed by a less active posting at the ferry crossing near Picolata in early July, brought some relief to their situation. At Picolata, under the canopy of sprawling, moss covered oaks, once guarded by Spaniards and Redcoats centuries before, the Buckeyes took advantage of their secluded, riverside posting by celebrating the 4th of July with festivities and feasting. Fresh fish, sweet potatoes and a bounty of local fruit were ravenously enjoyed by the boys, while select officers from the regiment were treated by the men of the 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, stationed at the nearby town of St. Augustine, to a sumptuous party in the ancient city. The Buckeyes' "nutmeg brethren" toasted the event with particular notice given to the anniversary of their most memorable Independence Day, spent together, one year prior in the rainy aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg.
Present for the festivities, though grumbling and in failing health, Captain Ladley recalls "our fourth of July was spent with less excitement than it was one year ago, when we had all we could do to keep from having our heads knocked off. It is almost the same here now, we have to be careful or we get our head eat off by mosquitos." Indeed, while Ladley had the good fortune to escape the slaughter of Gettysburg unscathed, he fared less well against the secesh skeeters, falling victim to their sickly bite while at Picolata. Contracting "malarial or swamp fever," as he described in a letter to his family, the young Captain was admitted to the convalescent hospital at St. Augustine in the middle of July, where he would remain for more than a month. Although he would recover enough to return to his command, his fellow Buckeyes, Allison Large, Samuel Henry, William White and George Hammond would not be as lucky, dying that summer in the lonely general hospital at Jacksonville from summer fevers and camp illnesses.
Ladley's separation from the regiment at Picolata was bittersweet, being the final time he would see many of his comrades again. On July 19th, 1864, two days after his admission to the hospital, orders arrived for the regiment to assemble at Jacksonville to spearhead an advance against the Confederate garrison at Baldwin, Florida. In his three years of service, Ladley had never been absent from the regiment during an active campaign. Now, with orders to advance, he entrusted his command to his orderly sergeant and hoped for the best. "I am sorry I was not there," he would later grumble, "though I might now be under the sod or in the hands of the rebels."
Ladley , O. D. (1864). Letter, 1864 June 17, Oscar D. Ladley to Mother and Sisters [Catherine, Mary, and Alice Ladley].
Ladley , O. D. (1864). Letter, 1864 June 31, Oscar D. Ladley to Mother and Sisters [Catherine, Mary, and Alice Ladley].
Ladley , O. D. (1864). Letter, 1864 August 22, Oscar D. Ladley to Mother and Sisters [Catherine, Mary, and Alice Ladley].
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1896) Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serials 65-66.