We return to Hilton Head to-morrow. The battery remained at Jacksonville, which I think our forces will find it difficult to hold, as the enemy were following us closely. Taking every thing together, we have done pretty sharp work. In ninety hours we have marched one hundred and ten miles, fought a battle of three hours duration, got badly whipped, and what there is left of our little army is back again to where we started from.
headquarters, District Florida, Jacksonville, March 12, 1864.Our landing in Jacksonville was a complete surprise to the rebels, and they were in no condition to receive us. Our march was, consequently, one continual triumph, with small loss, until our cavalry had advanced within two miles of Lake City, the first objective point of the campaign. It was at this time our first great mistake occurred. Major-General Gillmore supposed the rebels had really no force of any importance in the State, and that they were quite indifferent to its fate. Reconciliation and reconstruction were the leading ideas that occupied the attention of our commanders. Their talk and manners indicated the presence of civil magistrates more than of army officers. “We came here,” said General Gillmore, “not so much to fight as to conciliate the inhabitants, and accept their homages of loyalty.” No raiding was to be allowed in the State. The new converts to the Federal Government were permitted to go and come as suited their convenience. Privileges were guaranteed to them which were denied to our ever-loyal Northern people. Whilst we were thus resting upon a bed of roses, enjoying sweet dreams of peaceful and easy conquests, the vipers we had warmed to life in our bosoms were in alliance with our deadly foes, and aiding them in their preparations to sting us to death. But this was not our worst mistake. The policy of conciliation, adopted here, did not allow our officers to levy any contributions upon the country for the support of the army. The most stringent orders were issued in regard to touching, under any circumstance, private property. A captain was put in arrest for permitting his men, who were doing duty on an extreme outpost, to kill a pig for their supper. Thousands of these animals are running half-wild in the woods, and no one in particular pretends to own them. I learn that this officer's name has been sent to the President with a recommendation that he be summarily dismissed from the service. As living off from the country was out of the question, and as it was impossible to transport supplies to meet the wants of an advancing army over sand roads, nothing was left for us to do but call in our advance, and stand still till an engine could be procured, put in repair, and transportation by rail effected. This delay afforded precious time to the enemy, and was fatal to us. Finnigan calls in his outposts; generals and armies are sent from Georgia and South-Carolina; a point of great strategic importance is selected near Olustee, and every thing put in a state of readiness to crush at the same time our army and all our visionary hopes. Had no other thought been entertained than that we were in an enemy's country, and had our commanders taken and improved all the advantages which the laws of war had put into their hands, the issues of the Olustee struggle might have been reversed, our army safely intrenched in Lake City, and Florida wrested from the hands of the rebels. The battle of Olustee will take rank among the bloodiest and most fruitless slaughters of the war. When General Seymour left Jacksonville, the eighteenth February, he expected to fight a battle near Lake City, the twenty-first, and not before. This impression seems to have seized his mind, and clung to it with the force of fatality. When he left Barber's early on the nineteenth, he was told that he would meet a large force which would drive him back again. Native Floridians insisted that, near Olustee, Finnigan and Gardner had collected an army much larger than our own. All these statements seemed to make no impression whatever upon his mind. And when, about six miles beyond Sanderson, the rebel pickets were driven in, no preparation was made to ascertain the position of the enemy, or for a general engagement. Onward, with all possible speed, onward was the spirit which ruled the hour. Much of the artillery, and the guns of whole companies were empty, but, as if this were a matter of little or no importance, onward was the order. It is the strangest thing in the world that this was so. The enemy's advanced-guard, retreating precipitately on the approach of our force, was but a repetition of what we had witnessed all the way from Jacksonville to near Lake City. This had been done so frequently that it appeared to be the established order of things with the Florida soldiers. Our policy had been to dash after them, and capture and scatter as many as possible. We had met with no repulse and few casualties. Our successes had unfortunately inspired us with a contempt for our foes. A battle commenced unexpectedly and without preparation, must be fought to great disadvantage. Just as we encounter the rebel pickets, let the reader fancy our army moving along to the west in three columns, in close order, on the south side of a railroad, then turning squarely to the right, crossing to the other side, and making a north-westerly direction. The dirt road makes this detour to the right to avoid a long cypress swamp through which the said road passes. Leaving the army behind for a few moments, let us pass on and examine the ground on which the bloody engagement is about to take place. Soon after crossing the railroad, we come to a series of swamps, which, with ocean pond, stretches from the railroad track in a direction a little west of north-west, on which the enemy's left wing rests, and by which it is amply protected. From this point the rebel line extends south to the railroad. A right-angled triangle, with the rebel line as the