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Chapter 6: in Florida, 1856-57, and the Seminoles

After the most fatiguing ride through the sand and over palmetto roots for three successive days and nights from Palatka to Tampa, I arrived at Fort Brooke and found several officers of General W. S. Harney's command out in the offing of Tampa Bay, and ready to start southward as soon as the tide would permit. Getting my supper and a change of clothing, I had myself rowed out to the long and queerly constructed steamer.1 The surface of the water was smooth in the bright moonlight and the atmosphere as warm as that of a summer evening in the highlands of the Hudson.

General Harney, the department commander, was then at Fort Myers and wished me to report to him there. The steamer swayed back and forth, tugging at her anchor, and, weary as I was, I enjoyed the gentle breeze, just cool enough for comfort. It seemed to me, while walking the deck for a few minutes, that I had passed from winter to summer into a new and charming world.

Early the next morning I was again on deck watching the new scenes as we sped along southward. We never went out of sight of the pretty coast line. The

This steamer, named The Fashion, had subsequent to this a most remarkable career, ending up as an ironclad in the Confederate Navy. [75] land presented a variety of colors bordered all along with the white streak of the sandy beach, and was quietly beautiful though without a single elevation in view. By one o'clock we were at Punta Rassa, a military post at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. Here was stationed one company of the Fifth Infantry, Captain N. B. Rossell in command. What I remember particularly about Punta Rassa is that the forests came down very near to the mouth of the river, and that the mosquitoes were more abundant and of a larger size than any I had ever seen before. They were so greedy that they attacked not only the soldiers but the animals; the dogs would run out into the water of the bay to escape from them.

We ascended the river in a small boat on which we could use a sail in case of a favorable breeze. The river was as charming as could be, a simple succession of green-bordered lakes. Of course, in military company our attention was called to the point where General Harney had been surprised by the Indians and obliged to escape in his night clothes. There he had had some forty men killed. We were shown where he ran down the river some seven or eight miles and was saved by being taken off in a skiff.

Against a head wind we made our way, and at last, between eight and nine o'clock at night, landed at Fort Myers. How kind the officers were in those days to one another I Lieutenant W. W. Burns, though he had never seen me before, extended to me his hospitality. From his quarters I promptly visited my commander, General Harney. Harney was very cordial and evidently glad to see me. He rose before me like a giant, six feet and a half, straight and well proportioned; said at one time to have been the handsomest man in [76] the service. He was already gray, with just enough red in his whiskers to indicate what they had been in their best days. His characteristics were peculiar; always impatient when things went awry, his language was then rough in the extreme. I noticed, however, that occasionally a good-natured oath would escape him even when he was pleased. At this time of life Harney's memory was not very good. IHe did not appear to reason at all, but jumped to his conclusions. Notwithstanding this weakness, everybody said, “Harney has always been a good soldier.”

Captain Pleasonton of the dragoons was in the same room with his general when I reported. Very young looking, pleasant in his speech, though always serious, Pleasonton, as Harney's adjutant general, usually managed to improve his administration of affairs, whether commanding an expedition or a department.

The next morning we left Fort Myers to return to Tampa. In the small boat were General Harney, Captain Pleasonton, Dr. McLaren, the surgeon, eight soldiers, and myself. We had hardly started out before our general was in a rage. First the mast was improperly set; then one of the men was behaving badly, interlocking his oar with the others at every stroke. When reproved, the man laughed in the general's face, sprang behind the mast and defied him. As Harney seized a boat hook to chastise him, Dr. McLaren interfered, saying that the man was unquestionably insane.1 Then Harney instantly desisted, smiled, and said, “I suppose the fellow thought I would kill him.”

By noon of January 9, 1857, we were on board The [77] Fashion, which we found ready at the mouth of the river. Our return journey was very pleasant, and the next morning we anchored close to the city of Tampa, running in to shore with a small boat.

When we arrived, the steps which were usually let down to the boat were not in readiness, and the general was angry again. When at last the steps were properly planted he cried out, “Too late, too late!” for he had managed to spring ashore without them.

That afternoon I was assigned to ordnance duty at the Tampa depot. This depot consisted of two rough main buildings and a separate office far from the garrison of Fort Brooke, but on its grounds. One of the buildings was a small magazine where powder and fixed ammunition were stored, and the other held everything that belonged to the equipment of the troops.

The population of Tampa at that time did not exceed six hundred people, half of whom were negroes. The officers' quarters ran along the bay. A beautiful shell walk was on the city side with some shrubbery and flowers; the whole front was charming. There were very many large live oaks which, with their broad evergreen branches, rendered the reservation habitable even in the warmest season of the year.

There was in the town a small public house at which all the officers who were in Tampa without their families boarded. It was called “Duke's Hotel.” At this place I took my meals in a dining room always filled with flies.

At first Major W. W. Morris, Fourth Artillery, who later became colonel and then general, was in command of the post. He was a good specimen of the severe [78] disciplinarian of the old school and known to all the officers who had served in the Mexican War. His good wife, Mrs. Morris, was very kind to me as a young officer, and rests in my mind as my beau ideal of what we call an “army woman.” She knew how to make the commanding officer's quarters a place for constant and pleasant reunions, and every young man was ready to do anything he could to make her life pleasant, no matter how great were the privations of the frontier. Our garrison was made up partly of the Fifth Infantry and partly of the Fourth Artillery. Colonel John Munroe, who was the lieutenant colonel of the Fourth Artillery, returned from a furlough and immediately assumed command. Munroe was a peculiar character, inclined to conviviality, but always full of those resources which delighted young men around him. His humor was constant and he had a fund of anecdote which never failed him. He had a very black little colored boy about twelve years old, who had a broad mouth, white teeth, and large eyes that were constantly blinking and rolling in a droll way. One day when I was at the colonel's quarters he took pains to illustrate his ideas of the discipline and government of such a boy. He said, “William, come here”

As he approached, the lad said, “What is it?” and he began to back away when he saw that the colonel had a couple of small withes in his hand.

“Oh,” he said, “you come here!”

The little fellow would approach and work his mouth and roll his eyes and pull back and say, “What want, colonel what want”

“Oh,” said Munroe, “I want to whip you.” “What fort hain't done nothing; what for” “Why, just to make you a good boy; whip you in [79] the morning before you have done anything, and then you will be a good boy all day.”

The colonel undertook to switch him, though not very hard, but William danced about, laughed aloud, and kept crying, “Hain't done nothing; hain't done nothing; don't whip me, colonel.”

On one occasion Munroe took me to task because I had concluded not to drink and declined a treat.

“What” he said, “why so, why so!”

“Because,” I said, “I have found that when I haven't much to do if I accept a treat in the morning the desire for the repetition keeps growing upon me.”

“ That's it, is it” he said. “Do you know what I do when I feel that desire”

“No,” I said, “I can't conceive what you do.”

“Ah,” he said, “I always take a little more.”

And I think that he often did. He was always serious and ready for business in the early morning, but got through with whatever he was obliged to do by twelve o'clock; after that he gave the rest of the day to his enjoyments. His adjutant, Lieutenant Geo. W. Hazzard, was a scholarly man of rather a skeptical turn of mind. During the summer his wife joined him at the garrison and I knew them both very well. During the war Hazzard became at first the colonel of an Indiana regiment, but the severity of his discipline seemed to displease the patrons of the regiment, and he was induced to resign, and went back to his place in the artillery.

I saw Hazzard in battle and I never knew an officer who could bring a battery into place and serve it with more rapidity. His great vigor kept all his command well in hand and made his battery of twice the value of any other that I ever saw. [80]

Major McKinstry was our department quartermaster, a large, fine-appearing man of strong character. One day McKinstry, Kilburn, the able commissary, Lieutenant Oscar A. Mack, who was an assistant in the commissary, and I were talking together when the subject of dueling came up. It was already against the law for an officer to engage in a duel, but the practice was not yet fully over. I made a remark that I would not fight a duel. I remember that McKinstry took me to task for it and gave me several instances where he said it was imperative that an officer should accept a challenge. He made this assertion: “Sup-.pose, Howard, you should be challenged to fight, and you declined, then you would be posted.”

I hardly knew what that meant, but I declared that my contestant might “post” me if he chose.

“Why,” he said, “you would be proclaimed as a coward.”

“ That would not make me one,” I answered. “I am not a coward, and probably the time will come, if I live long enough, to show that I am not.”

The conversation dropped at this point, but the recollection of it recalls the feeling that existed among my comrades that it would be difficult in the army to carry out the new law against dueling.

From the time I left home till June 1st my duties of receiving ordnance supplies and issuing them to the troops were constant, though not very onerous. At that time I was taking great interest in books, especially in religious reading.

I cannot tell for what reason, but after considerable activity in operations in every direction from Tampa as a center, Harney asked to be relieved, and Colonel L. L. Loomis, of the Fifth Infantry, became [81] the commander of the department. This was a very helpful change to me. Colonel Loomis, a member of the Presbyterian Church, soon showed great interest in whatever concerned me. As often as he could he would converse with me and give me books, booklets, and tracts, for he said, “Howard, you have an inquiring mind.” I absorbed all these books with great avidity. About this time my brother Rowland became a pronounced Christian, gave up his law studies and went into the ministry. He naturally wrote me accounts of his Christian experiences and sent me wellselected books. Among them was the life of Captain Hedley Vicars of the British Army.

I had a small office building near those of the arsenal, which I fitted up for use and made my sleeping room. In that little office, with my Bible and Vicars's Life in my hands, I found my way into a very vivid awakening and change, which were so remarkable that I have always set down this period as that of my conversion. It was the night of the last day of May, 1857, when I had the feeling of sudden relief from the depression that had been long upon me. The joy of that night was so great that it would be difficult to attempt in any way to describe it. The next morning everything appeared to me to be changed — the sky was brighter, the trees more beautiful, and the songs of the birds were never before so sweet to my ears.

Captain Vicars, who had been a good man and a Christian in the Crimea, and a consistent member of the Church of England, afterwards, under the influence of a single verse of the First Epistle of John, “The blood of Christ cleanseth us from all sin,” had experienced a wonderful change, so that his influence over his comrades in arms was more marked and his Christian [82] work in the hospitals among the sick and wounded so increased and so enthusiastic as to leave a striking record. My own mind took a turn like that on reading the account of it: What was it that made him such a different man from what he had ever been before? Later, the influence of the same Scripture produced that strong effect upon me and caused me ever after to be a different man, with different hopes and different purposes in life.

There are always epochs in the lives of young people, and surely this was an epoch in my own career. There was only one church of any activity in Tampathe Methodist. The clergyman, Mr. Lynde, had been at one time a Catholic priest, and was a very earnest preacher. He showed me so much kindness that I have always remembered him as just the kind of a friend that I needed at that time. One night I was sitting in the back of his church when, after the Methodist fashion, amid continuous singing, he called people to come forward to the altar. Quite a number arose and worked their way down to the front; among them was a poor hunchback woman whose gait in walking was very peculiar. I noticed some young men on the other side of the church, that I knew, laughing at her grotesque appearance. I asked myself, “Which would you rather be, on the side of those who Were trying to do God's will, or on the side of the scoffers” I instantly rose and went to the front and knelt at the altar. Mr. Lynde, in tears, put his hands upon my head and prayed for me. I was not conscious of any particular change in myself, but I had taken the public stand, which caused quite a sensation in our garrison. Some of the officers said that I had disgraced the uniform; others that I was half crazy; but a few sympathized [83] with me and were my friends then, and, in fact, ever after.

Great sickness came upon the garrison during that summer and fall, and several officers were helpful in the care of the poor fellows who were prostrated with malarial fever. Many died and were buried in the little cemetery close at hand. Tampa was a field for selfdenial and Christian work.

Hazzard at one time took me to task in a jocose manner and pointed out to me in his scholarly way certain discrepancies in the Bible and asked me how I accounted for them. I answered him that I could not then tell, but perhaps I might be able to explain them at some future time.

At Yorktown, during our Civil War, Hazzard and I were walking together back of McClellan's works when a single round shot came rolling along the road and I thought I could strike it with my foot, but Hazzard cried out, “It is going too fast!” and pulled me back. At that time even he was asking me to explain to him how to become a Christian and get such peace as he thought that I had obtained. Of course I explained the matter to him as well as I could. It was not very long after that before one of those same round shot struck him in the thigh and gave him a mortal wound. His friends have told me that he became a very decided Christian before his life ebbed away in the hospital to which they carried him.

Our new department commander in Florida was very active in his operations with a view to close out the war with the Seminoles, but there was no great battle. The regulars had little faith in the war itself. It was a frequent remark by our regular officers: “We haven't lost any Indians.” Of course, however, they [84] did their duty, but without much ardor or enthusiasm. It was not the case, however, with the volunteers. They usually had well-selected officers, but the majority of the companies were made up of the roughest element. Very often they would involve in their attacks Indian men, women, and children and take very few prisoners. As far as the Indians were concerned, they behaved very much like the Bashi-bazouks of Turkey. Our department commander did not like the reports that came from this rough campaigning and he made up his mind to try hard to secure some sort of peace with the few remaining Indians in Florida.

One day in June Colonel Loomis sent for me and told me that he wanted me to go as a peace commissioner to the Indians in the Everglades, and explain to them how easy and advantageous it would be for them to submit to the Government and end the war. If possible I was to find Chief Billy-Bowlegs and use all the influence I could with him to get him to take his tribe and join the remainder of his people in the Far West.

I undertook the mission, first going to Fort Myers and getting the interpreter, Natto Joe, and an Indian woman with her child, who was still detained at that post. This I did as quickly as possible. The woman in her miserable condition, poorly clad, wrapped in an army blanket, looked as if she were beyond middle age, but her child, who was perhaps five years old, with a comfortable gown and two or three necklaces of blue beads, had a healthy look and was really pretty. She would, however, shake her hair over her face and act as shy as a young broncho. When white men were about she generally clung to her mother's skirt, endeavoring to hide herself in its folds.

With some difficulty Natto and I took these people [85] with us to Fort Deynaud. There we found Captain Brown with two companies of the Second Artillery. A classmate, Lieutenant S. D. Lee, was in command of one of the companies.

Captain Brown, leaving but a small guard behind, took with him the two companies, his and Lee's, and wagons with supplies for ten days, and escorted me and my charge into the interior. We went toward Lake Okeechobee. Lee and I were close friends and we had a happy expedition. The forests through which we made our way, the sweet open glades within which we encamped for the night, and the easy marches of every day, I have never forgotten. All this experience was new and fresh to me and everything in nature filled me with an enthusiasm which much amused my companion. While en route I found a short sleep of twenty or thirty minutes better than any other refreshment, and here began my habit of taking short sleeps at the halts in the midst of active campaigning. Lee said, “Howard thinks a nap better than a toddy” ; and so indeed in time it proved to be.

On arriving at Lake Okeechobee a wonderful transformation took place in our Seminole woman. She bathed her face again and again; she managed to repair her clothing; she beat the tangles out of her matted hair. Taking some roots, powdered and soaked in water, and thus producing a soapy substance, she washed her hair till it was smooth and glossy. She also found ways of beautifying her child. From a haggard old squaw she was transformed into a goodlooking young woman. She promised us so faithfully that she would bring us into communication with her people that with some reluctance I gave her instructions and let her go. [86]

Natto was afraid to accompany her. He had been too long and too evidently a friend of the white man to risk the journey. I hoped almost against hope that Mattie, as we called the Indian woman, would prove true and bring about a meeting with her tribe, but I was to be disappointed. I could not, after many trials, get an interview with any chief. My mission was, to all appearances, a failure. Still, it is probable that the news the woman carried helped to bring about the peace which was secured by Colonel Loomis soon after I had left his department — a peace which has lasted without interruption from that time till to-day.

On our return, not far from Lake Okeechobee, while we were crossing a long strip of meadow land which the daily showers had refreshed and brightened, I witnessed for the first time a wonderful mirage. Lee and I were riding some distance from the command. Suddenly we saw what appeared to be the whole command, soldiers, ambulances, and army wagons, lifted high in air and moving along with regularity amid the clouds in the sky. Such a mirage was familiar to officers and soldiers who had served on the plains, but to my vision it was a startling sight. It was a complete illusion. My companion and I rode on toward the point where we supposed Captain Brown and his men were marching and had come, as we supposed, quite near them before the vision disappeared.

After my peace expedition into the interior I hastened back as quickly as possible to Tampa and found on my office desk a bundle of letters which greatly delighted me. The first one I opened was from my mother, giving me the news of the birth of our second child, whom we subsequently named Grace Ellen. She [87] was born on June 22d in our home at Leeds, Me.; I myself was that day at Fort Deynaud, Fla.

One evening, July 15th, found me at the Methodist prayer meeting. Our department commander, Colonel Loomis, with his white hair and beard, was leading the meeting when I entered. He was reading a portion of Scripture, after which he spoke in his quiet, confident style, making remarks very edifying to the people, and then, standing erect and looking up, he led in a simple prayer. It was a great comfort to me at that time to find a commanding officer so fearless and exemplary and so sympathetic with every Christian effort.

About this time the sickness among the volunteers, some of it extending to the regulars, increased, and there were many deaths. I remember one poor fellow who had become almost a skeleton. He was very anxious to be baptized as a Baptist and he was not satisfied that Mr. Lynde, the Methodist clergyman, should perform the ceremony. IIe was too weak to go where there was sufficient water. Before long we found in the neighborhood a farmer (Mr. Branch) who had at one time been ordained as a Baptist minister. As soon as he heard of the earnest entreaty of the sick man he came, and I aided him to fill a large bathing tub with water, and with the doctor's assent and cooperation we let the invalid gently down into the water while Mr. Branch baptized him with the usual formula of his Church. The result of the baptism revived the man and for some days he was much better, but the fever had reduced him too much for a complete recovery. Before I left Tampa he died and received a soldier's burial.

Tampa was the center to which all the officers of [88] that station in Florida came. The garrison was usually changeable, but there were many companies of volunteers and several of the regulars, particularly of the Fourth Artillery, who served for some time at Fort Brooke, so that I came in contact with a great many officers of the regular army and of the volunteers and made their acquaintance. Recently I have thought of the names of nearly all who remained for any length of time at Tampa Bay. Of these, all except one or two became pronounced Christian men and united with the Church, though many of them not till years after our Florida experiences.

That remarkable summer when there was so much sickness and death and such faithful preaching, with our commander sympathizing with every Christian effort, influenced most of the officers and many of the men to change the character of their lives. Our experience there constituted an epoch in the religious history of Tampa to which evangelists in writing and speaking have since often referred.

On August 17, 1857, my friend Captain Kilburn, the chief commissary of the department, told me that he had been informed that I was to go to West Point as an instructor. I made this note concerning the news: “I hope it is a mistake, for it seems that I could not, for any reason, now desire to go there.” This remark indicates to me that I did not in any way seek the detail.

Captain Kilburn was right. The orders soon came for me to proceed from the Department of Florida and report to the superintendent of the Military Academy. I left Tampa August 20th, going north by the ordinary stage route, reaching Palatka the 23d. At Palatka, to my delight, I found a new steamer called the [89] Everglade, instead of the old General Clinch, which had taken several days to bring me from Savannah to Palatka. The Everglade had modern conveniences, so that the numerous passengers, many of them army officers changing station or going on leave, had a short and delightful passage down the St. John's River and up the coast to Savannah. By Friday, the 28th, I was in Washington and visited the office of our Chief of Ordnance. By September 9th I was speeding away from the capital northward. Some accident to a train ahead of me hindered our baggage so that I could not get my trunk Saturday night or Sunday morning, and had to borrow clothing of Cousin Frank Sargent to attend church. This was at Brooklyn, but I managed to go on to Boston Monday night, an aunt and cousin with me, having taken the steamer by the Stonington route, so that not till Tuesday afternoon did I meet my family at Lewiston, Me.

Guy was then a little lad of a year and eight months, and Grace a babe in the cradle. A homecoming after that first separation at Watervliet and long absence was delightful, indeed. It was not necessary for me to be at West Point this year till the latter part of September, so that I had quite a vacation and very delightful visits with my family and friends before I reported, in accordance with instructions, to the superintendent of the Military Academy.

1 The doctor's opinion later proved to be true.

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