“Montgomery’s Raids in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina,”

by William Lee Apthorp, Lt. Colonel, 34th United States Colored Infantry, June 1864.

            A great many patriotic people, who are anxious for the speedy triumph of the Government over her domestic foes, are still very much shocked at the “shameful raids” of the Kansas Jayhawker, Jim Montgomery, upon the unoffending citizens of the South, and his “wanton destruction of private property.” They prefer to meet the Enemy where he is strongest and best prepared, and to continue their attacks upon him to his armed forces in the field. They apparently forget that every dollar’s worth of material resources, every negro, and every foot of inhabited land that is captured from the enemy, or is surrendered or laid waste, is so much taken from the support of the rebel armies, and it is a deeper and more lasting injury than any force of similar strength could possibly inflict in the field.”  

            As long as a warlike people like the Southerners are not assailed at home, and are allowed to choose their means, manner, and place of fighting, they need feel little apprehension, and nothing short of a totally crushing defeat and annihilation of their army can seriously injure them. As long as their determination holds out they can steadily supply the usual demands of the field, both in material and in men, from home. But let the foundation of their strength be assailed, let their agriculture be stopped, their territory diminished, and their population crowded inward, and they will soon have no surplus resources for the support of an army. The alternative choices of capitulation or starvation will soon stare them in the face, and the victor can dictate terms. And let it be remembered that a peace thus conquered, though causing for a time great inconvenience and suffering, is still won at the expense of fewer lives, and a shorter, less protracted struggle than if the contest would have been won in the field alone. This is not a friendly boxing match with gloves, where neither party wishes to really hurt the other. It is a struggle for life, and the quickest and surest conquest is the best. Napoleon said truly, “there is no mercy in blank cartridges.” 

            Colonel Montgomery’s operations in this department [Florida, Georgia, South Carolina] began with a hundred and thirty colored men, recruited in Key West about the middle of February [1863]. With these just [recently] clothed men, but not yet armed, he accompanied the first South Carolina Volunteers, under command of Colonel Thomas W. Higginson, on an expedition to Florida.

Colonel Thomas W. Higginson
Colonel Thomas W. Higginson, 33rd Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Image courtesy of the Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

            Embarking from Camp Saxton on Smith’s Plantation near Beaufort on the 5th of March, we arrived at Fernandina, and stayed there two or three days. While there the men were armed. On the morning of the tenth instant at ten o’clock we started up the St. Johns River, having arrived at its mouth from Fernandina on the 8th. Our fleet consisted of three transports, two of which were armed, convoyed by the gunboats Uncas and Norwich, the gunboats taking the lead. We all expected to fight [several words not readable].

            These raw recruits had not a doubt that they would meet the enemy in a few hours, yet never were men more self-possessed. Veterans never prepared for battle more coolly, nor showed a more calm and firm determination. Contrary to our expectations, however, the ascent of the river was made with no hindrance more serious offered than by an occasional sandbar, until upon coming round a bend in the river and the town of Jacksonville was in full view. Here, we thought the enemy awaited us and we should not land without wetting the gangplank with blood, but land we did, and peaceably. We found everything quiet. A few mounted pickets skedaddled and a few secesh [Rebel] ladies who came down to welcome us, seeing the dusky hue of our men followed the example of the pickets. [Union forces had occupied and abandoned Jacksonville twice in 1862; this third occupation lasted from March 10-31, 1863.]

            We pushed to the outskirts of town and a little beyond in every direction, but we did not get within range of the rebel horsemen that day. We lay on our arms all night, springing up at various alarms caused by nervous pickets, and when daylight came it found our men not at all refreshed by sleep. Colonel Montgomery, with his party of about one hundred and twenty recruits (sixty-six effective men), had taken quarters in a deserted house at the outskirts of town [to the west] on the side nearest the enemy.

            After breakfast, while we were teaching our men how to [march] and shoulder arms, firing was heard from the pickets, and immediately they reported a body of cavalry in the woods opposite us. The woods were on the other side less than a mile, perhaps not more than half a mile wide, the [rebel] force had formed under cover of the trees, some two hundred strong. The pickets, of course, were driven in and on came the horsemen at full gallop. We waited there for fire and received it, [from] three hundred yards. One man fell severely wounded. I saw him creeping away under the house and, not knowing that he was wounded, inquired what he was doing and [ordered] him to halt. One of the men told me he was wounded.

            Our men returned the fire with some effect. The rebels wheeled and put on another volley as coolly and firmly as if it was not the first time they had ever smelt powder. [Volley] was returned. When our guns being empty and the danger of being cut off becoming imminent, we fell back nearer the town. The rebels retreated at the same time carrying away some wounded on blankets.

            The utter want of drill prevented us from falling back in order, but there was no panic. The men rallied by a wood, and marched steadily to again meet the foe they knew was twice their strength. But this time the cavalry did not appear; instead a strong force of infantry stretched across the field and opened a hot fire, which was well returned. After a sharp engagement of a few minutes in which the rebels were kept at a respectable distance, we were ordered to fall back under the [protective] fire of gunboats. We did so, and the repulse begun by us was turned by a few shell and shrapnel into a rout.

            I have only mentioned our own men in this engagement because, although a company of the 1st South Carolina Volunteers was engaged part of the time, the brunt of the attack was upon us. The behavior of the men was impeccable, and this when they were entirely without drill and they had only had [weapons] two days. In this engagement our loss was one killed, [two wounded]–one severely and one slightly. The rebels lost a surgeon besides two or three men and horses. They did not succeed in capturing the Jayhawker and his niggers as they had hoped, but on the contrary began to think that a black man could stand up and pull a trigger and that a bullet from his rifle was as deadly a thing to receive as if a white man had fired it.

            We spent the following days in instructing and clearing away the trees and houses from a wide belt around town, in making barricades, and in every way strengthening our position. Reinforcements of white troops arriving in the meantime, we felt comparatively secure although a superior force of Rebels was at Baldwin watching us. 

Raids up the St. Johns River

            Our foothold having become thus far established we began operations by taking a little excursion up the river on the armed transport General Burnside.... Having gone up fifteen miles and captured one prisoner in a sail boat, who proved to be an Englishman of no particular sympathies either way, we returned. Two days afterward on the 17th we went up again and landed at the plantation of a Colonel Bryant in the Rebel service. Luckily we caught him at home.

            Fresh meat was not furnished us down there by the government yet, Colonel Montgomery remarked: “Boys I don’t want you to interfere with private property but if any pigs or turkeys attack you, you must defend yourselves.” The martial spirit was at once aroused and the strutting turkeys and swine suffered great slaughter. A large churn of milk was standing in the rear of the house; two churned butter and we took it along.

            After we had got our provisions down to the boat we asked the Rebel Colonel politely to accompany us. At this the family was greatly distressed, as was natural. The wife followed us to the landing and while we were getting the men and provisions aboard she tried to persuade the Col. to let her husband remain. Failing in that and seeing that all the entreating was useless she gave vent to her feelings and destroyed all our sympathy for her by the most extravagant and shocking expressions against our men and niggers in general. She “hated them from the bottom of her soul.” She despised and abhorred them. She hoped every one of them would go to hell that they would sink down into the bottomless pit and...much more of similarly Christian and unrefined language which I could not repeat.

            One remark of hers came near making trouble for her. She was pouring out the vials of her indignation on the heads of us hard-hearted Yankees for separating husband and wife, when one of the men spoke up and reminded her of the separation of their wives and husbands and children. She regarded the comparison as preposterous beyond expression. “Your wives? What are your wives but nasty old black things?” She could not find words to express herself on this point. It required a stern word of command to restrain the men.

            We returned with the Rebel Colonel and a fine lot of fresh pork and poultry and two or three horses. After a few days spent in fortifying and completing the “belt of desolation” which encircled the town and made a surprise impossible, we started again on an excursion up the river. This time we went farther and stayed longer than on either of the previous occasions. The St. John’s River, though crooked and difficult of navigation below Jacksonville, is above that place a wide and beautiful stream with numerous creeks and inlets and coves, and is navigable for a vessel of seven foot draft for near a hundred miles above that town.

            Stopping at Mandarin, fifteen miles above Jacksonville, a short time, where there is a fine orange grove, we proceeded up the river until we arrived at Orange Mills, six or eight miles below Pilatka and about 70 above Jacksonville....Here we found three fine houses full of the most elegant furniture, heaped together as it had been a year ago, and standing in the midst of orange groves which cooled the air with their grateful shade and perfumed it with the rich aroma of blossoms and ripe fruit side-by-side. Excess that could find no place on the loaded branches to cling, covered the ground. Acres were covered there and though I have seen the orchards of the north and east in their autumn pride, never did I behold such a boundless wealth and profusion of golden fruit as was here displayed. Only a year or two before the owner had sold the crop of a thousand trees at twenty five dollars a tree and the purchaser gathered the fruit, [making] a pretty neat income for one year and costing no trouble or labor.

            Having removed the furniture and as many orange as we wanted, we again turned course up the river. I was ordered with my company to march upriver until I arrived opposite Palatka. Col. Montgomery rode up with us on a captured horse. We found little remarkable on the way. Once we overtook a one-horse cart full of women and children and bedding and making all the speed of which the poor old rack- of-bones was capable of for the thickest part of the woods. I stopped them and asked where they were going and what they were afraid of.  “Oh! They were nearly frightened to death.  The gunboat could shell their house. Oh, what should they do? They were not going anywhere, only to get away from the river. They meant to keep to the woods. Oh dear. What could they do?” I assured them that their fright was groundless, that their house would not be molested if they would go back and occupy it quietly, that we were not fighting women and children! They thanked me for my advice, and seeming greatly relieved, turned back and went home. They were devout Catholics and kept hugging and praying to a small ebony crucifix with great devotion.

            Soon after this we arrived at the house of a noted rebel by the name of Sanchez, and another house the name of whose owner I have forgotten,...both opposite the town of Pilatka. Sanchez was taken prisoner, but through carelessness of a guard he escaped. We fed our men from the well-stocked poultry yard and pig pens, and having collected a number of horses and beef cattle, [and] evening approaching, we bivouacked on a well-protected spot by the river under the guns of the Meigs.

            On the following morning while the men on shore were preparing breakfast, Col. Montgomery, with a few black men who were on his steamer, crossed to Palatka. No sooner had the vessel made fast to the wharf and the Col. leapt ashore, than a hot volley of rifle shot from a concealed foe splintered the boat and the wharf, wounding an officer and his servant (who had accompanied the expedition out of curiosity but had no part in it), and causing the vessel to draw off. A few shells drove the rebels out of town. According to the rules of warfare any town which fires on [our ships], or allows guerrillas to do so, is liable to be destroyed. But Col. Montgomery, left it uninjured partly out of forbearance and partly because Col. Higginson was interested in establishing his headquarters there.

            The steamer proceeded down stream, while the small force on land marched down to Orange Mills. There we embarked and going down some distance farther, dropped anchor at nightfall at the mouth of an inlet called Doctor’s Lake, about twenty miles above Jacksonville on the west bank of the river. We had a guide with us who promised to lead us to a lot of cotton hidden in the woods. After transferring forty men to a leaky flat boat, we rowed up the inlet a mile and a half--a pleasant moonlight excursion--and selecting a secluded spot, [we] landed, leaving our flat boat drawn under the sheltering branches of a large tree.

            Posting a small guard here, we started straight into the Secesh Country with thirty-four men. We marched some six miles through the woods in silence, when, in the distance before us we discovered a light. Halting a few minutes the Col. went forward to reconnoiter. He soon returned and ordered us to advance rapidly and silently. My duty was to take half the men and make a circuit past the guards about the group of buildings, for we had come to a plantation, while the other half went straight forward toward the light. 

            Of course, they got there before us. When I arrived a strange sight met my gaze. There were two large wagons loaded high with all kinds of household goods, and a little distance ahead lay fifteen rebel soldiers and a lieutenant about a camp fire, their heels inward, surrounded by a ring of sable guards with fixed bayonets and vigilant eyes. The rebels had been entirely surprised. They were disarmed and guarded before one of them awoke. They were somewhat astonished by the unexpected turn of affairs but seeing no help for it they forebore any comment. The men had been found sleeping about the fire, while at a little distance was the lieutenant under a shelter of boughs, with a little son and daughter. He had not posted a single guard.

            Having secured the prisoners and searched the houses, the Col. went forward with his guards to find the cotton. He soon returned, and taking me with him, went again. We advanced a mile or more when lights appeared which we took to be camp fires, and debated the propriety of turning back, satisfied with what we already had. But the Col. was determined not to run until he knew what he was running from. We advanced cautiously but rapidly, and found instead of a camp, some burning stumps left by a fire that had been through the woods. Here, too, was the cotton in a log hut, nine bales and a half of the finest variety of long staple cotton, worth three thousand dollars. No time was lost in emptying the wagons and loading the cotton. It was just as much as they could bear, or the mules, four to each wagon, could draw.

            We formed our prisoners each between two guards, the Col. taking charge of the Lieut. himself, and took up the line of march. As we were passing the house all the women within, some dozen more or less, came out and set up a mournful howl. The Lieut. begged to see his wife a moment, pledging on his honor not to attempt an escape. The Col. granted his request, though he kept close to him. The women crowded around them both, howling and screeching, and in the midst of the powwow the Lieut. dodged under the crinoline and was off like a shot. The Col. could have brought him down with his revolver, for he is a splendid shot, but out of regard for the women he forbore to do so, remarking “he is no gentlemen to take advantage of my kindness in that manner.” The moment the Lieut. was gone the howling of the women ceased all together, the object of the demonstration had been achieved….    

            The march to the boat was accomplished by daybreak, without further incident. Our prisoners by daylight were a motley crew. Distaffs of any [army] would compare favorably with them....The cotton and prisoners were transferred to the steamer without [incident], but from the roughness of the water it [proved] impossible to get the mules on board, especially as while we were endeavoring to accomplish it an [order was carried] up the river for us to return to Jacksonville immediately, and to prepare for evacuation! 

            [The order was a] surprise and the most [disappointing news] anyone could have received. We burned the wagons and harnesses and turned the mules out [to graze], and then made haste down the river to Jacksonville. On our way down a floating object was seen which proved on examination to be a scow loaded with furniture and three and a half bales of cotton. It was immediately “gobbled up,” swelling our captured cotton to nearly $4000, besides 15 Enfield Rifles, and other valuable property, and all the furniture. This property was afterwards turned over to the Provost Marshall at Fernandina.

            On Sunday the 29th of March, Jacksonville was evacuated by the U.S. forces…and we turned our prows down stream. We left the town in flames, much to the chagrin of the Commanding officer and everyone else except the ruffians who set the unnecessary fires. But it was well known and understood at the time by both the army and navy officers there, that it was not the Colored troops that did it. 

            After getting aground the usual number of times we reached the mouth of the river. Here we were storm-bound for three days.  Finally we got out and, [after] touching at Fernandina, arrived at Hilton Head on the fifth of April. This ended our little Florida campaign. Our men, although they had not acquired much drill had gained another equally essential characteristic, namely confidence in themselves, and martial spirit. Our raids were at an end for a while except such as we made on the islands about Port Royal drafting recruits. Some of these night excursions were amusing but they have no place here.

Port Royal

Raids up the Combahee River

            On the first day of June at evening, having spent the intervening weeks in drilling and recruiting and organizing, we set out on a pleasure trip up the Combahee River. We sailed at dark. Our fleet consisted of the transports John Adams, Harriett A. Weed, and Sentinel, the former two being armed, while the Sentinel was manned. A few miles up the river the Sentinel posted herself on a sandbar and true to her name stood there immovable. Nothing could induce her to leave her post. We transferred the force on her to the little Harriett Weed and proceeded up the river. Our entire force consisted of two hundred and fifty of Montgomery’s men including the Key West men who had figured at Jacksonville, and a hundred and fifty more recruited about Port Royal. 

            [Accompanying the expedition as a guide was Harriet Tubman, often called the "Moses of Her People," for her daring exploits helping enslaved persons escape and serving as their "conductor" on the Underground Railroad leading to freesom in the North and Canada. The photograph is by James A. Gensheimer, published in http://nationalgeographic.com]

            Our ascent was slow and it was not before day-break that we reached a rebel picket station called Field’s Point. This was a point of importance to us, as it commanded one of the roads to Ashepoo where a rebel force was, and Col. Montgomery left Capt. Thompson’s company [Thomas N. Thompson], in the rebel earthworks from which the picket line had fled at our approach. Proceeding up the river some distance further, another company under Capt. Carver [James M. Carver] was left at Tar Bluff, commanding the other principal road to Ashepoo. Up we went until the village called Colleton appeared in the distance. On either hand were extensive rice plantations, green and flourishing and well sprinkled with wooley heads hard at work.

Combahee River
The Combahee River with markings for the plantations and other locations mentioned in the narrative. Viewers can manipulate the map along the banks of the river and see dozens of sites that still show evidence of the old rice fields in Google Earth using the following file: link

            Our approach was rather unexpected. The overseers mounted their horses and were soon lost to view, while the darkies trooped down toward the boats. The John Adams, with part of the force under command of Col. Montgomery, ascended as far as Colleton, while the Weed, with Capt. Adams’ company [John M. Adams] and my own, stopped where we were. We landed and threw out a picket rapidly, and then began our work. Immeasurable quantities of thrashed rice and rice in the stack we burned, together with the rice barns, and the just-deserted mansions of the planters.

            Smoke soon appeared in the direction of Colleton. Smoke rose also in our rear, and for an extent of fifteen miles along the river the country was in flames. Aside from other considerations this was our only course of safety. The rebel force, consisting mainly of artillery and cavalry and only a few miles distant, greatly outnumbered us, but seeing such an extent of country occupied and judging our strength from our audacity they thought the whole force of the Southern Department was upon them and [they] sat still in astonishment and indecision.

  South Carolina Volunteers Raid Combahee

            Meanwhile we continued our labor. The most striking portion of the whole affair was the welcome the poor negroes gave us. They rushed toward us running over with delight, and overwhelming us with blessings. “Lord bless you Massa,” they would cry, often with tears running down their their dark cheeks and clinging to our hands, knees, clothing, and weapons: “De Lord bless you. We been expecting you, and prayin’ for you this long time! Oh Massa tank de Lord you come at last! Good morning massa. Oh bless the good Lord.” With these and many similar expressions, rendered strangely affecting by the intense earnestness and the great sense of relief which they tried hard but in vain fully to express, the crowd increased, every individual with his or her whole extent of worldly goods done up in a huge bundle which rested on their heads and (in) many cases completely overshadowed them.

            Still the dusky tide continued to flow with increased fullness toward the boat, while we devoted ourselves to breaking down the floodgates and burning mills and barns full of rice and mansions, making it certain that all of the neighborhood would be of no more use to the rebels. The accumulated crops of two and three years were destroyed. We knew not at what moment the rebels might attack us, and our force was small, yet the men though watchful and expeditious were perfectly, almost judiciously, cool and perfectly obedient to orders. That part of our men thrown out farthest up the river was attacked, but repulsed their assailants without loss to themselves, though at least one the enemy’s saddles was emptied. One contraband was killed while crossing the fire of both parties on his way to the boat.

            After several hours of busy labor our task was done. The rice fields were a lake, and the storehouses and mansions [were in] ruins. From writings and other indications we discovered that the owners of nearly, if not all, of this property were in the Rebel army. We were obliged to go on board our boat and leave the shore while the crowds of negroes of both sexes and all ages and sizes were still flocking down from the whole neighborhood. Indeed they had begun to pour in from several miles distance. But our boat was loaded and crowded to its utmost capacity and the loss of the Sentinel on the way upriver made it impossible to take the increasing crowds that stretched in every direction as far as the eye could reach.

            It was indeed a remarkable scene. Beheld from a [distance] with their large bundles, they reminded many of an army of black ants such as we sometimes see lugging a huge white egg bigger than itself. Remembering the treatment that these poor people would suffer for their attempt to escape to the Yankees it was hard to leave them. But it was impossible to take another one, and sadly we swung away from the landing.

            Meanwhile we heard the guns of the John Adams and saw by the columns of black smoke the party at Colleton had not been idle. The [troops had destroyed a] place with a large amount of property valuable to the rebels, and [burned] a pontoon bridge across the river. We had a sharp skirmish with the enemy but repulsed them, killing a few….

            The John Adams soon came down to us loaded like ourselves with contrabands. After a short delay to take on a few of those who were lamenting their hard fate at being left, both boats started down the river. We felt considerable apprehension for the safety of Captains Carver and Thompson, but upon approaching Tar Bluff where the former had been left, we saw him waving his hat in token that all was right. But he owned his safety to his vigilance and skill. The rebels made their appearance in the morning and kept up a fire all day, but by a shrewd disposition of his little force he deceived the enemy as to its strength and succeeded in holding this important point without loss.

            A few pieces of rebel artillery at this point could have sunk our boats. The rebels still hovering about and harassing were driven off by a few shells pitched over among them. While the John Adams was taking on the Capt. with his Company, the Weed ran down to see if Capt. Thompson was still safe. We found him anxiously looking for us. He had been skirmishing all day with rebels and, it is probable that we arrived just in time to save him, for our first shell exploded in the face of a detachment of rebel artillery that had come down and was about to open on the little fort. Captain Thompson had kept half of his men out as pickets and scouts, mounted on captured horses.

            Both Captain Thompson and Captain Carver contributed their full share to the success of the raid by sending everything combustible up in smoke. Their position was trying. Unsupported, surrounded by a foe whose numbers they could only guess at, and in command of negroes just brought from the plantations, they might as well have considered their position, in the words of one of them, as “a most desirable place to get away from.” But he also remarked that in case he was attacked by an overpowering force, he was prepared to fight to the last, and “if he must die he meant to take a few with him just to pay funeral expenses.” The rebels were too much bewildered and stupified by the suddenness and audacity of our movement to take any decisive action until the mischief was done and we were out of their reach. As we left Field’s Point a threatening thunder cloud darkened the heavens behind us, and its angry muttering blending with the roar of our cannons bidding farewell to that ill-fated region. 

            We arrived at Beaufort on the morning of the 3rd with more than eight hundred negroes, a hundred and fifty of whom were able bodied men who volunteered to join our regiment. Several interesting captures were made, among which was a rebel colonel’s horse saddled and bridled, and with his sword and pistols.

            This raid was simply to help fill up our regiment and give our men a relish for the work that we were to do all along the Southern coast. We were about to be sent out expressly to harass the Coast of Georgia, and drive the population back as much as possible, and to force the State to recall her troops to defend her coast. On the 5th of June we sailed for the beautiful Island of St. Simons on the coast of Georgia. We arrived and landed, and in a day or two were ready for operations.

Raids up the Brunswick River

Turtle River

            Our first excursion was up the Turtle [actually the Brunswick] River to and beyond Brunswick. This place had for a long time been deserted and used as a picket station and a harbor for guerillas and according to the usage of war should have been destroyed. But we did not injure it. It belongs principally to Northern men, and it was hardly just to hold them responsible for the doings of the Southerners. We passed the town, shelling the woods ahead of us, and proceeded some twenty-five miles till we came to the marshy tributary to the river, across which we saw a long trestle work for the Brunswick Railroad. The boats could not or would not go up nearer than half a mile to it. Its destruction was the main object of our ascent of the river. By permission of the commanding officer of the Weed, I took a crew of six men, and accompanied by Captain Adams in a small boat, rowed towards the bridge. The guns of the John Adams threw a few shells ahead of us to drive away the rebel picket, and we proceeded in safety and fired the bridge in several places, unmolested, although the boats had dropped down entirely out of sight. 

            Our return was nearly accomplished and all the points which looked dangerous passed, when we received a single shot. As we rose to look, a sharp volley burst out from a foe concealed in the thick bushes on the land. Thanks to their poor marksmanship, no damage was done more severe than a flesh wound to one of the men’s right arm, and a bullet hole through my own coat. The volley was answered from the boat and repeated from the shore until the artillery on the Adams opened and drove them away, killing two and wounding a man severely, as we learned a few days after.

            An incident showing the stuff these negro soldiers are made of must not be omitted. At the first fire one of the men, in turning to get a shot at the rebels, slipped and went overboard, throwing at the same time one of the oarsmen down into the bottom of the boat...and disarranging things generally. With the man overboard clinging to her gunwale, the boat drifted at the mercy of the current for a moment when a wounded man who had been steering before he was struck, said “I am wounded, but if no one else will row, I will,” and stepped up, ...and seizing an oar rowed steadily till someone could relieve him. Another who was sitting perched on the bow of the boat, remained there coolly loading and firing at the smoke of the rebel rifles, though he could not see a man, and was himself a splendid mark. We reached the boats in a few minutes and all steamed off down the river. The wounded man soon recovered, and was presented with a Colts revolver as an encouragement and reward of merit.

            We now spent a few days on the beautiful Island [Saint Simons] arranging our camp and drilling our men, enjoying in the meantime the clear, invigorating atmosphere and the deeply shaded roads where we took many a pleasant ride on horseback, and admiring the grand old oaks, luxuriant grapevines, and beautiful flowers that everywhere met our gaze. But sad to state all this natural loveliness did not in the least mollify our wrath at the secesh and toward the middle of the month we were off for Darien [Georgia].

Raiding up the Darien River

            The burning of this place has, I believe, called forth peculiar indignation from our enemies at the north, while our friends have been almost weaned from us by the perpetration of such an atrocity. Passing over the difficulties of finding the channel over the bar on the right, and the  worse than corkscrew winding and twisting of the yellow stream -- full of alligators -- up which we wormed our way next morning, I will give a simple account of that act of vandalism. Approaching the town we shelled the woods ahead of us well, and drove away guerillas we could plainly see break from their hiding places. Thus we neared the town and by dint of several well-aimed [shots from the gunboats], cleared [from] a fine sheltering knell of butternut [trees], a band that was skulking behind it, and proceeded on land. The 54th Massachusetts [United States Colored Infantry], brave but unfortunate, were with us in their fresh fullness, and eager for work. The town was quickly explored and picketed an all sides, and then we searched it. It had been a good while deserted and used as a rendezvous for guerillas, and belonged entirely to full-blooded rebels all in arms against us. What better warrant did we need for its destruction? After removing such articles as combined value and portability, we applied the torch, in this case Lucifer matches, and at evening left a fine bonfire. In the mean time, however, there was an important by-play which resulted in the capture by the Weed, under command of our major, of a fine schooner and eighty bales of cotton, a little farther up the river. 

            With this prize he came triumphantly downriver just as we were preparing to leave. We zig-zagged our way down the yellow, marshy river and toward evening passed the blockading vessel. The captain of the latter, seeing our prize, exclaimed: “There’s the dammed thing I’ve been watching for the past six weeks.”

            This was the conclusion of our raids on the peaceful and unoffending inhabitants of the South. We spent a short time still on the delightful St. Simons, and then at the end of June were ordered to Port Royal. We left our retreat with many regrets, and in a few days, we encamped in the roughest, bushiest briery, and in many (every) respect most repulsive and least eligible spots on the whole of St. Helena Island. Where we are now, General Order No. 66 from the Department of the South forbids me to tell. [In June 1864, the 34th USCI was again camped at Jacksonville, Florida.]

Camps at Jacksonville
Union soldiers encamped in several locations in Jacksonville and at Yellow Bluff near Dames Point. Photograph is by Sam Cooley, courtesy of the Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Street in Jacksonville
In 1864, Union forces dug rifle pits in the streets of Jacksonville and concealed them with tree limbs and brush. Two of the pits can be seen in the distance. Photograph is by Sam Cooley, courtesy of the Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Unidentified Black Enlisted Man
In 1864-1866, hundreds of black soldiers, including the men of the 34th USCT, were stationed in Jacksonville and at nearby camps. The 34th USCT mustered out of Union service in Jacksonville in 1866. Many of the soldiers of the regiment settled in Jacksonville after mustering out. Photograph is by Sam Cooley, courtesy of the Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

Drummer Jackson
Many of the drummers for the United States Infantry regiments were boys or young men who had escaped from slavery to join the Union army. The “drummer boy” in this image is not identified beyond “Drummer Jackson.” One of the drummers for the 1st South Carolina settled in Jacksonville after muster-out. His name was Martin Dixon. At age 14 Dixon  escaped from slavery at Fort Pierce, Florida and became the drummer for Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s regiment. Photograph is by Sam Cooley, courtesy of the Military History Institute, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

NOTES:

William Lee Apthorp was born August 31, 1837 in Lee County, Georgia. The anonymous transcriber of this document stated that “Apthorp’s mother was of New England Puritan- Pilgrim stock, noted for piety. His father was the first Congregational minister in Iowa.” He attended Amherst College, joined the Union army, became a captain, and was by the time this document was written the Lt. Colonel of the 34th regiment of the United States Colored Infantry. After the war he held the office of Register of Deeds for Hillsborough County, Florida, and later became a county judge. From 1876-78 he was Surveyor General of Florida. In 1878, Apthorp moved to Springfield, New Jersey, where he died January 24, 1879.

            A typescript of “Montgomery’s Raids in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina,” was completed in May 1965 by an unidentified transcriber, who gives June 1864 as the date when it was “probably written at or near Palatka,” Florida. The typescript is in the possession of the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, 101 West Flagler Street, Miami, Florida 33130, filed as Apthorp Family Papers, 1741-1964, 2 Boxes, M89F, William Lee Apthorp, 34th USCT. This version of “Montgomery’s Raids” was prepared by Daniel L. Schafer, Professor of History, University of North Florida, in an attempt to correct numerous and obvious errors in the transcription done in 1965, but without benefit of the original handwritten manuscript.

Suggested Reading:

Russell Duncan, Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Shaw Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1992.

Federal Point Florida Families
http://federalpoint.tripod.com/id54.html

Florida Memory Project-Photography Collection http://www.floridamemory.com/PhotographicCollection/

Florida GenWeb Project - U.S. Census Data Online http://www.rootsweb.com/~census/states/florida

Florida State Archives
http://dlis.dos.state.fl.us/index_researchers.cfm

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Army Life in a Black Regiment (Cambridge, Mass.: Welch, Bigelow and Company, 1869

Christopher Looby, editor, Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. The Complete Civil War Journal and Selected Letters. (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2000).

Georgia's Railroad History & Heritage.
http://www.railga.com

Susie King Taylor, Reminiscences of My Life in Camp (New York, NY: Arno Press, 1969).

University of South Florida Library Digital Collection
http://www.lib.usf.edu/index.cfm?Pg=DigitalCollections

Wise, Stephen R. Gate of Hell: Campaign for Charleston Harbor, 1863. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994.