This interesting letter describes the fate of several members of the 17th Connecticut who were on duty in St. Augustine, Florida during the winter of 1864-65. The first incident described is the capture of the Regiment’s colonel while returning from Jacksonville where he had been attending court martial proceedings. Following his capture, the colonel was replaced by Lt. Col. Albert Wilcoxen. While under his command, some 13 men attended a party and were captured by guerrillas led by Capt. James J. Dickison (the “Swamp Fox of the Confederacy”). They stripped these men of their uniforms and then used them to avoid detection and overwhelm a party of men led by Lt. Col. Wilcoxen who left the post at St. Augustine, against general orders, to raid a nearby farm at Volusia and confiscate cotton. [See: The Battle of Braddock Farm]
The letter was written to Benjamin Wright, of Greenwich, Connecticut, who enlisted on 9/13/61 as a sergeant and served with the 10th Connecticut Infantry until his discharge as 1st lieutenant on 10/17/64. Wright saw action with the 10th Conn. at New Bern, the assault on Fort Wagner, 1863 Charleston campaign, Bermuda Hundred and Petersburg, to name but a few places. The surname of the author appears to be Walter or Martin but I can’t be certain of the signature. Most likely he was a member of the 17th Connecticut, many of whose members came from Greenwich.
Addressed to Benjamin Wright, Esq., Greenwich, Connecticut
St. Augustine [Florida]
February 20th 1865
My Dear Friend,
I have quantities of things I want to say but like you, I must be very brief this time. My long letter will soon come with the money for the articles which have all arrived but the tea in good condition and of the best quality. I know though they have but just got here and as the boat leaves at 1 o’clock, I cannot get a check for the amount of goods by this boat, but certainly shall by the next.
Your letter did me good — like a medicine — [even] if it was a long time coming. Do you know we have been 5 weeks without since we returned and our friends think we are captured too.
I must tell you Col. [William H.] Noble ¹ was captured day before Christmas on his way across from Jacksonville. ² A party of 13 who went out to Salana’s to a party were taken — ambulance, horses & and all. 2 Captains who stepped into the danger without leave from Picolata, Lt. Col. [Albert H.] Wilcoxen, 2 Capts. the dear Adj. [Henry Whitney Chatfield], 50 men, 10 waggons, 51 horses went on a raid to Volusia for cotton without orders from the General and were all captured but a few teamsters who straggled into the swamp. They had a little fight on the way home. Wilcoxen was wounded [and] the poor little Adjutant killed — his skull broken by the musket and several blows on the back, stripped of all his clothes, covered over with a few inches of earth 50 miles from here.
Maj. Allen took an escort and went for his body. It was in such a state it could not be seen but it is lying with our other soldiers in the military burying ground. The day of his funeral was a very solemn day. [Rev.] Mr. Brinkerhoff officiated at the house [of] Capt. Swetland where he had been staying since the Col., Captain, and the Masons had their performance at the grove.
We have got Col. [Benjamin Chew] Tilghman [of the 3rd USCT as our] Post Commander. His Colored Regiment is at Jacksonville and it is thought will be here. Wilcoxen is [a prisoner] in Tallahassee. The rest have been sent on [to Andersonville].
I can’t write another word. Goodbye. Remember all your kindnesses are ever before us. Love to your little wife and boy and all other I met. Your attached & obliged friend, — J. S. Walters
¹ William Henry Noble (1813-1894) was commissioned Colonel of the 17th Connecticut Infantry on August 29, 1862. A lawyer by profession, Colonel Noble had very little if any prior military training but served with distinction. While leading his regiment at Chancellorsville, his horse was killed under him and he was wounded in the arm and the leg during Stonewall Jackson’s flank attack. He recovered well enough to rejoin his regiment at Gettysburg where he commanded a brigade at Cemetery Hill. Later in 1864, his unit was relocated to Jacksonville and St. Augustine, Florida, and Colonel Noble assumed command of the 2nd Brigade in Florida. He was captured as a POW during a sudden Confederate guerrilla attack on December 24, 1864 while he was traveling to St. Augustine from Jacksonville. Colonel Noble was confined at the Camp Sumter (Andersonville) prison and was in fact the highest ranking Union officer confined at that prison. He was exchanged some time in early 1865 and saw service after his exchange at Vicksburg, Annapolis, and again in Florida at the end of the war finally mustering out of service at Hilton Head, South Carolina on July 19, 1865. He returned to Bridgeport where he resumed the practice of law.
² From Ye Historie of Ye town of Greenwich, County of Fairfield and State of Connecticut by Spencer Percival Mead, “On December 24, 1864, when returning across the country from a court martial at Jacksonville to St. Augustine, Colonel Noble was captured by guerrillas and taken to Macon and Andersonville, Ga. Lieutenant-Colonel Wilcoxson, thus left in command of the regiment, was, about 4 February 1864, on an expedition to Braddock’s Farm on the south side of Dunn’s Lake, some fifty miles from St. Augustine, mortally wounded while endeavoring to escape from Dixon’s [Dickison’s] Cavalry. At the same time, Adjutant Chatfield was instantly killed, and thirty-two men and two officers and a lot of army teams captured. The men were taken to Andersonville.
In St. Augustine in the Civil War (page 6), a more candid description of the events is written: In February 1865….members of [of the 17th Connecticut] were lost to Captain Dickison’s Cavalry at a dance. Then, dressed in the Union uniforms [of the captured men], Captain Dickison attacked a force at Braddock’s Farm killing Albert H. Wilcoxen (Col. Nobel’s replacement)….The following officers (as well as 50 men) were also captured in this action: Capt. French, Company G; Capt. Betts, Company F; Lieut. Ruggles, Company K; Capt., Quien, Company C.