DISTRICT OF FLORIDA,
Jacksonville, July 27, 1864.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that the suggestions made June 15 by the major-general commanding have been successfully carried out by the troops under my command.
The trestle-works on the Cedar Keys and Lake City railroads have been burned beyond Baldwin, and the enemy has been forced to evacuate the strongly entrenched and stockaded positions of Baldwin and Camp Milton. Two locomotives and trains are cut off and must fall into our hands unless destroyed by the rebels. The rail transportation of blockade-run goods from the southern ports of Florida is broken up for the present, and the abundant supply of corn and cattle from the southern and middle counties of Florida, for the rebel armies, is within our control. The movement was a flank one. To get to the rear of the enemy our troops, after making a feint in Nassau County, on the north, ascended the Saint John's 25 miles to Black Creek, and this creek 4 miles to an obscure landing concealed by woods. Owing to deficiency of transportation it took three nights to land my small force.
We were not discovered until Sunday [July 24], when our advance began to cross the South Fork of Black Creek. This stream is from 10 to 16 feet deep. The bridge was a frail and floating one, made mostly of fence rails. While crossing our advance was attacked by the enemy's cavalry, acting as dismounted skirmishers. Colonel Beecher, Thirty-fifth U. S. Colored Troops, drove them off, and Captain Morton, Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry, pursued them. Three of our men were wounded in this skirmish, 1 seriously.
At 1 o'clock Monday morning all our troops were in bivouac at Whitesville. At 5, the column was on the march on the Clay Hill road toward Trail Ridge. Five miles out the rebels, commanded, it is said, by Major Scott, were posted at a defile. They were quietly driven out by the colored skirmishers. Colonel Harris, Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteer Mounted Infantry, was ordered to charge them with 50 men. This he did in gallant style, cutting down a cavalry man with his saber. The rebels fled, leaving 2 dead on the ground, 1 mortally wounded, and a number scattered through the swamps.
The North Branch of Black Creek was so much swollen by the recent heavy rains as to make it almost impassable. It was about 100 yards across, and deep enough for 30 yards to swim all except the tallest horses. After making a bridge for the infantry, and passing over by hand the ammunition & the artillery, caissons, and wagon train were passed through.
During the crossing the Seventy-fifth Ohio was sent forward to destroy the two small trestles near Trail Ridge. This was done. The great trestle-work on the Lake City railroad over the South Fork of the Saint Mary's had been burnt at 6 a. m. by Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan, of the Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteers, with 100 mounted men of his own regiment and of the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry. To effect this Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan had made a night march of over 30 miles, making the circuit of one of the enemy's camps, fording several deep streams, and capturing the trestle guard with its officer.
From Trail Ridge was pushed on by the Alachua trail to Darby's Still on the Lake City railroad, 5 miles in the rear of Baldwin. The mounted force arrived and destroyed a long trestle; the infantry bivouacked some 4 miles in the rear. It was after midnight when the work at the railroad ceased. The day's work had been enormous.
During the night and at early dawn the rebels evacuated Baldwin and Camp Milton, passing northwestward over Brandy Creek and the Saint Mary's, and throwing away property in their rapid flight. They left us a quantity of forage, some muskets, a wagon-load of sabers, four or five small flags, numerous testaments, and a great variety of miscellaneous property, including one good army wagon. Their forces were the Second Florida Cavalry, Scott's battalion of six companies, four companies of reserve infantry, Villepigue's battery, and Dunham's battery. Some of the prisoners state there ware in addition three small pieces of cannon, making fifteen in all. Their force was superior to mine, and mine were nearly all colored men, a fact which mortified our prisoners greatly. These colored troops were burning with desire to avenge Olustee.
Colonel Harris and Lieutenant-Colonel Morgan, both of the Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteers, distinguished themselves by gallantry and zeal. Nor can I pass in silence the important service of Colonel Beecher, Thirty-fifth U. S. Colored Troops, Colonel Shaw, Seventh U. S. Colored Troops, Major Mayer, commanding Eighth U. S. Colored Troops, and Colonel William H. Noble, Seventeenth Connecticut Volunteers.
Our casualties were 5 slightly wounded, and 1 seriously. We captured 19 prisoners, who will be held, I trust, for exchange for colored soldiers only.
With great respect, your obedient servant,
Captain W. L. M. BURGER,
Through the destruction of the railroad trestles leading into Baldwin, the Confederate cause was denied access to "the most valuable portions of Florida... Alachua, Marion, and other counties in that vicinity." For an already overburdened Confederate commissary, this was quantified as an annual loss of 45,000,000 meat rations, reported by Brigadier General James K. Jackson as "equal to the supply of 250,000 men for 180 days."
Baldwin Station, Florida
Union Scouts as seen in Harpers Weekly.
The day's work had indeed been enormous. From Broward's Neck to Callahan, Middleburg to Darbyville, the country throughout northeast Florida smoldered from the fires lit by the 75th Ohio Volunteer Mounted Infantry, supported by the lately arrived 4th Massachusetts Cavalry. Local guides led jaded horses through blackwater swamps, skirting Confederate picket posts, leaving a wake of destruction as they passed through small hamlets en route to their strategic targets; the railroad trestles leading into Baldwin. With the help of incendiary accelerants, boxes of turpentine-soaked candlewicks, the bridges were ablaze before any opposition could be mustered, cutting off the Confederate garrison from resupply or a rapid withdrawal via locomotive. As their crowning achievement of destruction, the Buckeyes put fire to the stock yard of a rosin factory, where 1,721 barrels were awaiting shipment, sending a jet-black plume of smoke into the air, visible for miles. "Oh, how the black smoke rolled and billowed up, dense and terrible!" Private William Southerton, of Company B, recalled of the blaze, fearing it would alert their presence to the 3,000 Confederate troops believed to be in the vicinity.
Lt. Col. Abner McCormick, commanding the Confederate garrison at Baldwin, had seen the smoke rising from his rear and justly convened a council of officers to determine a course of action. With a paltry 300 troops available, a mix of broken down cavalry, conscripted infantry and four pieces of light artillery, "Old Abner" was in no position to resist the advance of the Federals, deciding instead to remove his headquarters to the relative safety of the opposite side of the St. Marys River. Departing camp at 3:00 a.m. on the morning of July 26th, 1864, the Confederate withdrawal turned into a route as the Buckeyes gave chase, ceasing only after a determined rearguard action on the deep creek-bank at Brandy Branch. Exhausted from nearly two days of continual action, the Buckeyes withdrew after a two hour skirmish, returning to Baldwin to examine their plunder.
With the spoils including 160 cavalry sabers, wagon loads of forage, along with a portable forge and blacksmiths tools, the regiment refit using the equipment abandoned by Lt. Col. McCormick's 2nd Florida Cavalry and Major G.W. Scott's 5th Florida Cavalry Battalion. Their horses freshly shod in captured shoes and Confederate cavalry sabers hanging from their sides, the Buckeyes spent the first weeks of August, 1864, completing the victory they'd won at Baldwin by raiding the surrounding countryside for anything deemed valuable to the rebel cause. Taking off horses, mules, cattle and slaves, their principal success came three days after their arrival, when a detachment of the regiment under the command of Major George Benson Fox triumphantly rode into camp leading a locomotive engine and seven rail cars, captured along the stretch of track south of Callahan.
Initial success at Baldwin came at a cost, however. The position was exposed, removed from the safety afforded by the gunboats on the St. Johns River and under constant observation by rebel cavalry. For more than two weeks in early August, 1864, the Buckeyes and 4th Massachusetts Cavalry were subjected to daily attacks by small parties of concealed Confederate troopers, wearing down man and beast, as they patrolled outside Federal lines. Confederate Major General Sam Jones reported the effects of this harassment to Richmond in August, 1864, stating "a surgeon who was captured at Baldwin--and who has since been exchanged--reports that the forces of Birney were kept in a constant state of dread lest Dickison should come upon them." Dread or a healthy respect, William Southerton's recollection of those weeks in Baldwin show that while the Confederate cause was flagging on the whole, the part played by Florida's rebels was far from finished.
On a reconnaissance with Colonel Harris, our little detachment rode past the charred remains of the rosin factory, then to a narrow lane bordered on either side by a cornfield. The prospect down the lane was obscured by thick growth of brush along the fences.
“Who will volunteer to go down and see what is there?” Colonel Harris told us he had seen two or three rebel cavalrymen down there.
“I‟ll go!” shouted Lorenzo Dowler, the bravest man in our regiment.
“I‟ll go!” William Johnson, a boy about twenty years old, volunteered, ahead of anyone else. The two rode off, and were soon out of sight.
Shots! Something was wrong! We wheeled around, returned to Baldwin, reported the incident, and with a detachment of a hundred cavalrymen, two pieces of artillery, we returned to the lane. We found Dowler's body with a few shovels of sand thrown over it. It had been pierced by thirteen bullets. The outer clothing had been removed, as were the shoes. His horse was riddled by bullets. Johnson was nowhere. We searched all around. The enemy's trail lead to the river. The Johnnies had made a clean get-away.
The July, 1864 Baldwin Campaign as recalled in Florida's folk music tradition.
Mason, S.W. “Capture of Baldwin” The Palmetto Herald (Port Royal, S.C.), Aug. 4, 1864.
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, Serial 66, pages 605-608, 614.
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, Serial 65, pages 410-413, 419-423.
What We Did There, or, Swamp Angel. by William B. Southerton and Marie W. Higgins. 1937. Ohio Historical Society. Columbus. Ohio