From the March 12, 1864 issue of
THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER
HOW OUR COLORED TROOPS FOUGHT
The Supervisory Committee, for the organization of colored regiments in this city, have handed us the following very
On picket, 6 miles West of Jacksonville,
Florida, February 23d, 1864.
SIR: - I deem it but proper that you and the balance of the Supervisory Committee should know all about the operations of the regiment brought into existence under your supervision, and will therefore give you a short history of the part the 8th Regiment had in the slaughter at Olustee, Florida, on the 20th instant, and will then allow you and the committee to judge whether colored men are the poltroons which their enemies tried to make us believe them to be.
The expedition with which we were identified had all the prospects in the world to prove successful, and would have been if we had come prepared to advance immediately, but as it was, we gave them time to prepare for us when we did advance.
We left Baldwin at the junction of the Jacksonville and Tallahassee, and Fernandina and Cedar Keys Railroads, about twenty miles West of Jacksonville, on Friday, the 29th, marched westward eleven miles, and bivouacked for the night at Barber's Ford on the St. Mary's river. The bugle sounded the reveille before daylight, and, after taking breakfast, we took up the line of march westward. Our march for ten miles to Sanderson Station was uninterrupted, but about four miles further west our advance drove in the enemy's pickets, keeping up a continuous skirmish with them for about four miles, when the 7th Connecticut, who were in the advance, deployed as skirmishers, fell in with the enemy's force in a swamp, strengthened still further with rifle-pits. Here they were met with cannon and musketry. The 7th were armed with Spencer rifles, which fire eight times without loading, with which they played dreadful havoc with the enemy. They were then ordered to take one of four pieces of artillery the enemy had, but were unsuccessful. They held their ground nobly, as long as their sixty rounds of ammunition lasted, which was perhaps three quarters of an hour, but were retiring just as the main body of our army came up. The 8th colored marched on the railroad, came up first, and filed to the right, when they were soon met with a most terrific shower of musketry and shell. Gen. C. Seymour now came up, and pointing in front towards the railroad, said to Col. Fribley, commander of the 8th, "take your regiment in there," a place which was sufficiently hot to make veterans tremble, and yet we were to enter it with men who had never heard the sound of a cannon. Col. Fribley ordered the regiment, by company, into line, double-quick march, but, before it was fairly in line, the men commenced dropping like leaves in autumn; still, on they went, without faltering or murmuring, until they came within two hundred yards of the enemy, when the struggle for life and death commenced; here they stood for 2 1/2 hours, under one of the most terrible fires I ever witnessed; and here, on the field of Olustee, was decided whether the colored man had the courage to stand without shelter, and risk the dangers of the battle-field; and when I tell you that they stood with a fire in front, on their flank, and in their rear, for 2 1/2 hours, without flinching, and when I tell you the number of dead and wounded, I have no doubt as to the verdict of every man who has gratitude for the defenders of his country, white or black.
Colonel Fribley, seeing that it was impossible to hold the position, passed along the lines to tell the officers to fire and fall back gradually, and was shot before he reached the end. He was shot in the chest, told the men to carry him to the rear, and expired in a very few minutes. Major Burritt took command, but was also wounded in a short time. At this time captain Hamilton's battery became endangered, and he cried out to our men for God's sake to save his battery. Our United States flag, after three sergeants had forfeited their lives by bearing it during the fight, was planted on the battery by Lieut. Elijah Lewis, and the men rallied around it, but the guns had been jammed up so indiscriminately, and so close to the enemy's lines, that the gunners were shot down as fast as they made their appearance; and the horses, whilst they were wheeling the pieces into position, shared the same fate. They were compelled to leave the battery, and failed to bring the flag away. The battery fell into the enemy's hands. During the excitement Captain Bailey took command, and brought out the regiment in good order. Sergeant Taylor, Company D, who carried the battle-flag, had his right hand nearly shot off, but grasped the colors with the left hand, and brought them out.I took my position along the railroad, and had the wounded brought there, and while busily engaged a volley was poured into us. About a dozen of cavalry were preparing to make a charge upon us, but disappeared as the 54th Massachusetts advanced out of the woods. They knew the men were wounded, and that it was a hospital, but disregarded it; and had it not been for the 54th, which advanced in splendid order, they would undoubtedly have taken us all prisoners. The 7th New Hampshire was posted on both sides of the wagon road, and broke, but rallied in a short time, and did splendid execution. The line was probably one mile long, and all along the fighting was terrific. Our artillery, where it could be worked, made dreadful havoc on the enemy, whilst the enemy did us but very little injury with his, with the exception of one gun, a 64-pound swivel, fixed on a truck-car on the railroad, which fired grape and canister. On the whole, their artillery was very harmless, but their musketry fearful. We were informed in the morning that they had some 10,000 men and 4 guns, while we had less than 6,000, but 18 guns. The troops all fought bravely; the 1st North Carolina (colored) did nobly. I saw at an early stage of the fight that we would be whipped, and went round among our wounded and told them, as many as could get away, to start for Barber, and then started the ambulance crowded full. The day and the field being lost to us we started on the retreat, and reached our old quarters yesterday. We were compelled to leave a few of our men behind, and they fell into the hands of the enemy. It could not be helped; I had but one ambulance to a regiment and the railroad was useless, because we had no locomotive. However, we got some horse cars to within 18 miles of the field, which aided us greatly. How the rebels have disposed of the colored men who fell into their hands we have not heard yet; but we hope that the fear of retaliation, if not the dictates of humanity, will cause them to reconsider their threat of outlawry. If not, we must act accordingly. Our men are neither discouraged nor dismayed, but ready for another fight.
We would like to have our regiment recruited. We should have at least two hundred men immediately. Will the committee not make an effort to send them to us? I have no doubt but the War Department would allow it. Please do your best for us. If it could be done, we would like two flanking companies of one hundred men each, armed with Spencer rifles. I think they are just the thing for bushwarking [sic] . You can tell the committee that we look to them as our guardians, and therefore hope they will do all for us they can, and do it quickly. -The Press.
Surgeon 8th U.S.C.T.
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