Despatch of Brig.-Gen. G. H. Gordon.
headquarters District of Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, May 27, 1864.Captain: I have to report that on the night of the twentieth instant I received from Colonel Noble, commanding forces east of St. John's River, information that a force of about fifteen men and one officer had been captured by the enemy, who had crossed the river and surprised the post. On the morning of the twenty-first I advanced Colonel Noble a communication, in which I ordered him to withdraw his guards from the river opposite Volusia and Saunders. On the night of the twenty-first I received another communication from Colonel Noble stating that a force less in number than that at Welaka had been captured; that the enemy, reported to be four hundred (400) strong, were said to be pushing northward on the east side of the river. I received the last communication at about eleven at night. In an hour I started for the nearest point to that threatened. I carried with me in the steamer Charles Houghton two hundred (200) men from this garrison. At my request Captain Balch ordered two gunboats to accompany me, the Ottawa and little steam-tug Columbine. At Picolata I added to my force six (6) companies of Colonel Beecher's regiment, and all the available force of the One Hundred and Fifty-seventh New York regiment, numbering in all about six hundred and fifty (650) or seven hundred (700) men. I was obliged to use the naval boats, as well as the Houghton, to transport the troops. On Sunday, the twenty-second instant, I arrived at the landing opposite Pilatka. My movements had been slightly delayed by time expended at Picolata in filling sand bags (no cotton or hay bales, save one of the latter, being available) to render the little tug Columbine less vulnerable. I designed running the tug up the river to Volusia to protect that portion if threatened, which I could not doubt from the report of Colonel Noble. Although my march was lengthened by disembarking opposite Pilatka, I did not deem it prudent to convey troops farther up the St. John's. The Ottawa was to continue to the mouth of Dunn's Creek to afford all possible protection to the Columbine. The Columbine was ordered to proceed immediately to Volusia and afford all possible assistance to the force at Volusia. The Houghton was to await further orders, and was to keep near the Ottawa for her protection. I directed my march towards the road from St. Augustine to the crossing of the Haw Creek, thence to Volusia. I had sent on the evening of the twenty-first a despatch to Colonel Noble; saying that I should move for this position, and directing him to keep forward to the same point, and beyond if practicable, all his available infantry and cavalry. I have thus stated all the movements ordered and commenced from Saturday night at twelve o'clock until Sunday at four P. M. Before the Columbine started I placed on board of her, at the request of Commander Breese, of the Ottawa, a guard of twenty-five men and two officers of Colonel Beecher's regiment. I informed her commander that I should press forward with my troops in the direction in which she was going; that I would afford him all assistance as soon as I could reach him; that I should not consider the discharge of his artillery as an indication that he was in danger. This was assented to by the commander of the Columbine, who said he would throw up a rocket if he was in danger. My march was prolonged into night. I accomplished about nine miles, and encamped on the north side of Haw Creek. This creek is impassable but by boats. I heard a great deal of firing from artillery in the direction of the mouth of Dunn's Creek, but saw no rocket, and had no despatches. I presumed the firing to be the ordinary shelling of the woods by the gunboats. I pressed forward on Monday morning, making that day about thirty miles. I encamped at night at the crossing of Haw Creek. I found Colonel Noble had pushed his infantry four (4) miles farther, and that his cavalry was at Volusia. The garrison at Volusia was safe, no rebels this side of the river. The two small posts at Welaka and Saunders captured, shamefully surrendered, I hear — not a gun fired. I have ordered full reports to be made, which I will transmit when received. I found the country people quite excited, and quite confident that the enemy, seven hundred (700) strong, were at the crossing of Haw Creek. Indeed, from reports, I had reason to believe some truth in this. On Tuesday morning, the twenty-third, I directed Colonel Noble to send the cavalry down the country to drive in herds of beef cattle, which it is well known are going towards rebel armies. I also directed him to tell the Columbine to go down the river, that I had no further use of her. The infantry I ordered to concentrate at camp, nine miles south of St. Augustine, at that place, and at Picolata. The two hundred of the One Hundred and Forty-fourth were ordered to return to Jacksonville. My reasons for this disposition, and my views of the only mode of operating with infantry in this country of immense distances and illimitable pine deserts, I have given to the commanding General in a private letter. Having accomplished all I could, I did not deem it advisable to attempt to pursue the enemy across the river; and being totally unprepared to do it, if I had thought it advisable, as I had no boats, and having no rations, and no transportation for any with me, I made my way back to the landing at Picolata, to take the steamer Houghton to Jacksonville. I reached the river on Tuesday, the twenty-third, at about four o'clock P. M. A despatch from the Ottawa, at the mouth of Dunn's Creek, to whom I sent my Aid, gave me the first information that the enemy had opened with artillery on Sunday night on the Houghton and on the gunboat. The Houghton had got under way and proceeded down stream; she was struck three times with twelve-pound solid shot, once amidships and near walking beam. No great harm done. I proceeded to Orange Mills, and there found the Houghton. This morning a report