April 5, 1863: Occupation of Jacksonville

22nd Regiment U.S. Colored Troops

The Richmond Daily Dispatch reprints an outraged letter from a citizen of Jacksonville, FL. The city was occupied by black Union troops. He heard that they whipped an old lady, but the worst of it was that “negroes” ordered him around.

The occupation of Jacksonville — the conduct of the negro Regiment.

The Augusta (Ga) Constitutionalist contains a letter from an old and highly respectable citizen of Jacksonville, Fla., giving an account of the occupation of that city by a negro regiment, which was landed from a Federal gunboat at the wharf of the defenceless place. The citizens were, of course, all held as prisoners, and so continued for nine days, with the most serious apprehensions. During this time every male in the place was marched up at the point of the bayonet by a negro guard to the office of the commander, and given the alternative of taking the oath or of the prison. There were but four men in the city who were able to hear arms. One, Lieut. Butler, of Capt. Oliver’s company in Tennessee, escaped. Two were captured, one of whom was imprisoned; the other was seen at large in the city, and as he was the son of Puran Moody–once a citizen of Jacksonville, but who left the place on its evacuation by the enemy last April–he was treated with less rigor. The fourth, Sergeant Forbes Doggett, of Capt. Roberts’s company in Virginia was probably also taken, as he did not escape with Lieut. Butler, who was with him at his mother’s residence. The writer says:

I was amongst the last who were sent for, and had gone home and shut myself up, determined to see as little of the enemy as possible. From this however, I was summoned by a negro corporal and four black soldiers, armed with muskets and bayonets, who ordered me to march to the Colonel and take the oath. One walked on each side and two behind — the corporal by the side. At every turning of the street he ordered, “file right” or “file left,” as the case might be. To be so ordered by negroes was the most mortifying trial that I had ever undergone, but this was not all. Reaching the Colonel’s quarters I was ordered to take the oath.

I remonstrated that I was an old man, unable to bear arms, and scarcely able to cut a piece of wood for my family. He replied that if I could not bear arms I could aid others, and I could take the oath or walk up stairs to prison. Having a large and distressed family I was compelled to yield, and then received a pass. Thereafter, when I went into the streets I was compelled to show it to a negro sentinel ported at every corner. Being permitted to pass, I was forbidden to walk on the side walk, and was obliged to go in the street around these sable gentlemen. The few women who want into the street were constantly called to by the negroes who were off duty with “come here, my love and sit down by me,” or “sit in my lap,” and with other expressions which I cannot mention.

One old lady, a Mrs. Churchill, who had lost all her slaves and everything else that she had, at St. Mary’s, in Georgia, where she had resided, and had reached Jacksonville a short time before, was said to have been whipped by the black wretches.–They also threatened to whip three other poor women who had no protectors. I determined to run the pickets, stealing out with my family as best I could, and escape, but found it impossible.–Fortunately however, I learned that Lt Col. McCormick had sent in a flag of truce, with an offer to take away all the citizens who could get out to the Brickyard Church, and I was informed by the Adjutant of Federal that I and others of the citizens who desired could leave the place, and I did so, with my family, and every other person who could get away.

We were not permitted, however, to take anything but our clothes — not even a blanket or any other article to sleep upon, nor anything to eat out of. This was on the 19th March.The Hon. S. L. Burditt had previously escaped in the night, and was supposed to have gone up the river to the plantation of A. M. Reed. The Federal commander sent a force after him, and threatened, when he should be brought in, to hang him. The force sent old not, however, succeed in finding him, but returned, bringing Mr. Reed with them, who was held as a prisoner.
The operations carried on by Gen Finnegan in command of our forces were so planned as to not only fall in driving the negroes permanently into their gunboats, but to have emboldened them to cut down all the fine shade trees in the city and barricade the streets. In order, too, to give them a clear view, they set fire to and burned down all the houses, from the second square west of the Judson House square to the brickyard, including the residence and other buildings of Dr. C. S. Emery, and those in his vicinity. Also the residence and all other buildings of Col. C. Hart, Assistant Secretary of State, and all others in his vicinity, and cut down and destroyed all the fine shade trees which so greatly beautified all that part of the city. Also all the houses in the vicinity of that formerly occupied by Gen. Hopkins.
The force of the enemy in Jacksonville was about 1,400–made up to this number by reinforcements which came up after the place was taken possession of by them on the 10th of March. This I heard the officers in the city state as the number of their troops. They were all negroes, commanded by white officers.

The marines from the gunboats were also in the city during the day when not on duty.

I learned that the object of this invasion was to colonize East Florida, and that [ that  ] part of the St. Johns was to be settled by Germans. Our property taken by the enemy was to be sold at auction, to be purchased by the Germans when they arrived, and the proceeds to go for the benefit of the Government of the United States.

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