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Doc. 6.-expedition to Jacksonville, Fla.

Report of Brig.-General Brannan.

headquarters expedition to St. John's River, steamship Ben Deford, Oct. 13, 1862.
Lieutenant-Colonel W. P. Prentice, Assistant Adjutant-General, Department of the South, Hilton Head, S. C.:
Colonel: In accordance with orders received from headquarters, Department of the South, I assumed command of the following forces, intended to operate against the rebel batteries at St. John's Bluff, and such other parts of the St. John's River as should contain rebel works: Forty-seventh regiment Pennsylvania volunteers, Col. T. H. Good, effective strength, 825; Seventh regiment Connecticut volunteers, Col. Jos. Hawley, effective strength, 647; section of First Connecticut light battery, Lieut. Cannon, effective strength, 41 ; detachment of First Massachusetts [19] cavalry, Captain Case, effective strength, 60: total, 1573.

The expedition left Hilton Head, S. C., on the afternoon of the thirtieth of September, 1862, on the transports Ben Deford, Boston, Cosmopolitan, and Neptune, and arrived off the bar of St. John's River early on the following morning, October the first, but was unable to enter the river until two P. M. the same day, owing to the shallowness of the channel. This expedition was joined by the following fleet of gunboats, Captain Charles Steedman, United States Navy, commanding, ordered to cooperate with it: Paul Jones, (flag-ship,) Cimerone, (Captain Woodhull,) Water Witch, (Lieutenant Commanding Pendegrast,) Hale, (Lieutenant Commanding Snell,) Uncas, (Lieutenant Commanding Crane,) Patroon, (Lieutenant Commanding Urann.) On the expedition coming within the river, three gunboats were sent up to feel the position of the rebels, and were immediately and warmly engaged by the batteries, apparently of heavy armament, on St. John's Bluff. A landing was effected at a place known as Mayport Mills, a short distance from the entrance of the river, and the entire troops, with their arms, horses, and rations, were on shore by nine o'clock on the night of the first.

The country between this point and St. John's Bluff, presented great difficulties in the transportation of troops, being intersected with impassable swamps and unfordable creeks, and presenting the alternative of a march — without land transportation — of nearly forty miles, to turn the head of the creek, or to reland up the river, at a strongly guarded position of the enemy. On further investigation of the locality, a landing was effected for the infantry, about two o'clock on the morning of the second, at a place known as Buck Horn Creek, between Pablo and Mount Pleasant Creeks, but owing to the swampy nature of the ground it was found impracticable to land the cavalry and artillery at that point. Here the gunboats rendered most valuable assistance by transporting the troops in their boats, and in sending their light howitzers to cover their landing. Col. T. H. Good, with the entire infantry and the marine howitzers, was ordered to proceed immediately to the head of Mount Pleasant Creek, and there establish a position to cover the landing of the cavalry and artillery.

This movement was executed with great promptness and skill, surprising and putting to flight the rebel pickets on that creek. Indeed, the landing of the troops at Buck Horn Creek, and their rapid movements on Mount Pleasant Creek, proved to be most fortunate for us, such a proceeding being so unexpected on the part of the enemy as entirely to disarrange any plans they may have formed to prevent our landing. The pickets retired in such haste and trepidation as to leave their camps standing, their arms, and even a great portion of their wearing apparel behind them, and the men themselves may thank the intricate nature of the ground, together with their superior knowledge of a country almost impracticable to a stranger, that they effected their escape.

On the afternoon of the third, the command of artillery and infantry were in position, at the head of Mount Pleasant Creek, distance about two miles from the enemy's works on St. John's Bluff. Here the statements of those belonging to the locality, though conflicting and unreliable in the extreme, appeared to agree in placing the strength of the rebels at one thousand two hundred, cavalry and infantry, in addition to the heavy batteries, which they represented as containing nine heavy pieces, two of them being columbiads. Under these circumstances, I deemed it expedient on consultation with Capt. Steedman, United States Navy, commanding naval forces, to call upon the garrison of Fernandina for reenforcements. To this call Col. Rich, Ninth regiment Maine volunteers, commanding that garrison, responded promptly, by sending three hundred men early on the following morning. Later on that day, from further information received, Captain Steedman, at my request, sent three gunboats to feel the position of the rebels, shelling them as they advanced, when the batteries were found to be evacuated.

After which Lieut. Snell, United States Navy, sent a boat ashore and raised the American flag, finding the rebel flag in the battery — the United States steamer Water Witch retaining possession of the batteries until the arrival of the land forces. The command immediately advanced from the position on Mount Pleasant Creek, and occupied the batteries and late camps of the enemy, at about eight o'clock on the night of the third. The cavalry not having landed with the other portion of the troops, were here disembarked. I found the late position of the enemy on St. John's Bluff to be one of great strength, and possessing a heavy and effective armament, with a good supply of ammunition, as will be seen by the accompanying inventory of ordnance captured — the works being most skilfully and carefully constructed, and the position greatly enhanced by the natural advantages of the ground, it being approachable from the land by but one route, which would lead the attacking party through a winding ravine, immediately under the guns of the position, and from the narrowness of the channel at this point, and the elevation of tile bluff, rendering the fighting of the gunboats most difficult and dangerous.

Most of the guns were mounted on a complete traverse circle, and, indeed, taking every thing into consideration, I have no doubt but that a small party of determined men could have maintained this position, for considerable time, against even a larger force than was at my disposal. On the day following my occupation of these works, (October fourth,) I proceeded to dismount the guns, and to move them and the ammunition on board the transport Neptune, which work was completed on the seventh, when I forwarded them to Hilton Head, and caused the magazines to be blown up, and otherwise destroyed the entire [20] works on the bluff. On first occupying the bluff, Capt. Steedman, with his gunboats, proceeded immediately to Jacksonville, for the purpose of destroying all boats and otherwise intercepting the passage of the rebel troops across the river. On the fifth, leaving the work of removing the guns from St. John's Bluff to Colonel T. H. Good, Forty-seventh regiment Pennsylvania volunteers, my second in command, I proceeded up the river as far as Jacksonville, in the Ben Deford, with 785 infantry.

I observed a large quantity of corn and other crops on the banks of the river, which it was at first my intention either to remove or destroy. This purpose I afterward abandoned as impracticable, not having either forces or transportation sufficient to remove it, and seeing from the communication of the Major-General Commanding that he did not desire the delay necessary to destroy it. The rebels had a light battery of eight pieces, and a position in readiness to receive seven heavy guns at a place called Yellow Bluff, which they appear to have lately evacuated. Jacksonville I found to be nearly deserted, there being but a small portion of its inhabitants left, chiefly old men, women and children. On our first arrival some few rebel cavalry were hovering around the town, but they immediately retired on my establishing a picket line. From the town and its neighborhood I bring with me several refugees and about two hundred and seventy-six contrabands, including men, women and children.

On the sixth, hearing that some rebel steamers were secreted in the creek up the river, I sent the Darlington, with one hundred men of the Forty-seventh regiment Pennsylvania volunteers, in charge of Captain Yard, with two twenty-four pound light howitzers and a crew of twenty-five men, under the command of Lieutenant Williams, United States Navy, and a convoy of gunboats, to cut them off. This party returned on the morning of the ninth with the rebel steamer Governor Milton, which they captured in a creek about two hundred and thirty miles up the river, and about twenty-seven miles from the town of Enterprise. Lieut. Bacon, my Aid-de-Camp, accompanied the expedition. Finding that the Cosmopolitan, which had been sent to Hilton Head for provisions, had so injured herself in returning across the bar as to be temporarily unfit for service, I sent the Seventh regiment Connecticut volunteers to Hilton Head by the steamer Boston, on the afternoon of the seventh instant, with the request that she might be returned to assist in the transportation to Hilton Head of the remaining portion of my command. On the return of the successful expedition after the rebel steamers, on the ninth, I proceeded with that portion of my command to St. John's Bluff, awaiting the return of the Boston. On the eleventh instant I embarked the section of First Connecticut light battery, with their guns, horses, etc., and one company of the Forty-seventh regiment Pennsylvania volunteers, on board the steamer Darlington, sending them to Hilton Head via Fernandina, Florida.

On the eleventh, the Boston having returned, I embarked myself, with the last remaining portion of my command, except one company of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania volunteers, left to assist and protect the Cosmopolitan, for Hilton Head, S. C., on the twelfth instant, and arrived at that place on the thirteenth instant. The captured steamer Governor Milton I left in charge of Capt. Steedman, United States Navy. It is evident that the troops in this portion of the country, from their being in separate and distinct companies, have not sufficient organization or determination, to attempt to sustain any one position, but seem rather to devote themselves to a system of guerrilla warfare, as was exemplified in our advance on St. John's Bluff, where, even after the evacuation of the fort, they continued to appear on our flank and in our front, but as they seemed to fear a too near approach, their fire was never effective. The gunboats rendered great and valuable assistance during this expedition, and high praise is due to their commander, Capt. Charles Steedman, United States Navy, for the prompt and energetic manner in which he entered into every scheme for the reduction of the enemy, and the destruction of their works; and the zeal and activity with which he personally super-intended every detail of his portion of the duties; and further for his generous assistance in relieving the transport Cosmopolitan.

I ascertained at Jacksonville that the enemy commenced evacuating the bluff immediately after the surprise of their picket near Mount Pleasant Creek on the third instant. It affords me pleasure to state that the most perfect harmony and good feeling existed between the two branches of the service, in every respect, doubtless owing to the gallant and gentlemanly conduct of the commander of the naval forces.

The troops under my command showed great energy, zeal and activity, and a desire to meet the enemy, but the latter were too fleet for them. I doubt not they will give a good account of themselves when the opportunity offers.

I am much indebted to my Staff, Captain L. J. Lambert, A. A.G., Capt. I. Coryell, A. Q.M., Lieutenants J. V. Germain and G. W. Bacon, Aidsde-Camp, for their zeal, energy and attention to their duties during the entire expedition, particularly the three latter officers, who were always ready at all times for any duty. To Capt. Coryell, A. Q.M., the Quartermaster Department owes much for his untiring energy and activity in giving his valuable assistance to the transport Cosmopolitan after her accident. I am also under obligation to Capt. A. P. Rockwell, First Connecticut light battery, who acted as additional Aidde-Camp, and to the officers of the signal corps, Lieutenants G. H. Hill and F. E. Town, who performed their duties with great satisfaction to me and to the expedition.

I have the honor to be, Colonel, most respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

J. M. Brannan, Brigadier-General Commanding.


Captain Godon's official report.

United States steamer Vermont, Port Royal harbor, S. C., October 5, 1862.
sir: The Department is doubtless aware that an attack by the rebels had been made some time since on the gunboats employed on the inside blockade of St. John's River.

A battery had been erected on the St. John's Bluffs, and heavy guns planted, which kept those small vessels in the immediate vicinity of Mayport Mills.

Commander Steedman, with a large force, had been ordered by Admiral Du Pont to look to this. Having approached the fort and felt its troops, he urged that troops might be sent to aid in securing the garrison when the battery should be silenced by the gunboats, and to alter the insolent tone of the rebel military authority in that quarter.

Gen. Mitchel, with his characteristic promptitude, detailed a suitable force for the purpose, under Gen. Brannan, which sailed hence on the thirtieth ultimo.

I have now the honor to inform the Department that I have just received the report of Commander Steedman, in which he informs me that the cooperation force under General Brannan having arrived and landed with great promptitude, the gunboats advanced, and after a spirited, and, as it seems, well-directed fire, silenced the battery, which was then occupied by our force.

The rebels seem to have retired in much haste, leaving guns, (nine in number, some of which were eight-inch, and two four and one half inch rifles,) munitions, provisions, and camp equipage.

This success has been without loss on our side.

The vessels then ascended the St. John's to Jacksonville, and there learned that the rebel forces had retreated beyond that point.

We retain possession of St. John's River as far as Jacksonville.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Wm. Godon, Captain Commanding South-Atlantic Squadron. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington City.

Account by a participant.

steamer Ben Deford, St. John's River, Fla., Saturday, October 4--P. M.
The military portion of the expedition, under command of Brig.-Gen. J. M. Brannan, embarked at Hilton Head, on the afternoon of September thirtieth, on the steamers Ben Deford, Cosmopolitan, and Boston, accompanied by a smaller steamer, the Neptune, which transported scows and boats for landing purposes. Before leaving the wharf the troops listened to a few pithy words from Gen. Mitchel, in which he reminded them that this was the first movement of his planning in this department, and that they were complimented in being chosen to carry it out. He expected them to accomplish all that they under-took, and, no matter how insignificant might be the object to be achieved, when it was a matter of duty, it became of great importance. Glory, to any great depth, might not cover them if they were successful; but an infinite amount of disgrace would attach to them should they fail. If possible, the enemy was to be captured and brought back; but on no account must they return without bringing back or destroying the guns.

Fourteen hours of pleasant weather and slow steaming carried us to St. John's bar, where we were delayed until midday of the first for highwater — the detention allowing the Cosmopolitan to run back as far as Fernandina for the little steamer Darlington, which was needed to assist in debarking the troops, and also affording an opportunity of consultation as to the plan of attack between Gen. Brannan and Capt. Steedman, of the gunboat Paul Jones, commanding the naval force. And here I may as well enumerate our strength. Gen. Brannan's command was made up of the Forty-seventh Pennsylvania regiment, Col. Good; the Seventh Connecticut, Col. Hawley; a section of the First Connecticut battery and a company of cavalry; and Capt. Steedman had the gunboats Cimerone, Water Witch and Uncas, besides his own vessel, the Paul Jones.

In the afternoon, early, transports and gunboats were all inside the bar, anchored in the mouth of the river, directly opposite Mayport Mills, a small timber village, situated upon a bluff. A couple of miles beyond, up the stream, where the ground is still more elevated, we saw the rebel flag, indicating the position of their batteries, and the Cimerone, Water Witch and Uncas were despatched to reconnoitre, executing their work handsomely, drawing the enemy's fire from three points; the former vessel planting some shells directly into the batteries, in return for the heavy shot they sent very near, but not near enough to strike. This “feeling” process was undertaken upon the supposition that the enemy had skedaddled, it having been observed that in the morning as soon as our transports came in sight, a flag of distress was hoisted from one of the batteries, which brought down a steamer from Jacksonville, and she soon went back with what looked to be a portion of the garrison.

Finding that a fight was offered, the work of landing the troops was at once begun, by means of the scows and boats — a very tedious and difficult labor. A portion of the force was sent by water through Buckhorn Creek, where they debarked on the mainland, under the protection of the gunboats, with a view of intercepting the enemy's retreat, and the remainder stopped at Mayport Mills. It was not until the afternoon of the third, in spite of most determined hurrying, and in the midst of a continued rain, that the troops, horses, and artillery, were got safely ashore, including two twelve-pound howitzers from the Paul Jones, and one from the Cimerone, worked by marines, which were placed under Gen. Brannan's orders.

Early on the morning of the second we made prisoner of a Mr. Parsons, owner of the Mayport [22] lumber-mill, and one of his negroes, but Parsons was so thoroughly a rebel, that no threats could induce him to give information.

Just as the landing was finished, and the troops were about to move to the attack, word came from the gunboats, which had gone on a second reconnoissance of the batteries, that the rebels had vacated. The soldiers were pushed forward, however, and soon reached the works, finding them already in possession of Lieut. Snell, commanding the Hale. As I have before mentioned, there were eight guns mounted — all heavy columbiads, and two rifled pieces — in perfect condition, loaded and ready for use. Another columbiad was not yet upon its carriage. Besides the guns were a quantity of good ammunition, small arms, etc.

It is conjectured that the rebels were twelve hundred strong, and they held the fort, expecting reenforcements, until, finding our troops getting in their rear, they fled at the last moment.

The Paul Jones and Hale at once steamed without opposition up to Jacksonville, where they anchored, remaining all night. The citizens mostly continued at their houses, but no intercourse was had with them. After destroying the ferry at the town and taking the ferryman prisoner, the Paul Jones returned, leaving the Water Witch , which had come up later, and the Hale to intercept the rebel escape in that direction.

I send this to Hilton Head by the steamer Cosmopolitan, whose departure hence is unexpected, and leaves me with only time to send you a hurried letter. I may have to inform you in my next of the capture of an entire Georgia regiment and many guerrillas, who still remain, we suppose, on the south side of the river, and cannot cross, as our gunboats command every ferry, and have destroyed all the boats, excepting those we require ourselves.

The rebels were commanded by Finegan, of Fernandina, owner of considerable property there, and very jealous of the more prosperous town of Jacksonville. It is thought by the people of Jacksonville that he “got up” the batteries and made show of fighting in order to provoke the destruction of the town, and thus increase the value of his own village lots. Such patriotism is the growth of rebellion.

Signal-Officers G. H. Hill and F. E. Town accompanied Gen. Brannan, and the usefulness of Myer's admirable system of telegraphing was again demonstrated by prompt communication between the naval and military commandants.

X. L. T.

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