Camp Linton, March 27, 1864
Major J. L. Cross,
Assistant Adjutant – General:
Major: I have the honor to report that in obedience to Special Orders No. 7, paragraphs I and II, I assumed command of the troops designated to operate against the deserters and disaffected citizens of Taylor and Lafayette Counties, in this State. From the best information I could obtain the camp of the enemy was located near the mouth of Econfina River, on the east bank, and surrounded by a thick marsh, which at high tide was overflowed, rendering communications with the adjoining swamps and hammocks exceedingly difficult. The recent heavy rains had swollen the rivers to such an extent that the swamps and hammock lands were covered with water and deemed impassable by the citizens. Under these circumstances I found it impracticable to picket the road from the Natural Bridge to the bridge over the lower ferry of the Econfina River, as directed in the orders referred to, and decided to make a reconnaissance of the country in force to the Gulf coast and attack the enemy’s camp wherever found. With this object in view I ordered the detachment of cavalry, under command of Major Camfield, to proceed from this point down the east bank of the Econfina River and to co-operate with the 12th Battalion in an attack upon the enemy’s camp upon Snyder’s Island. Moving with the 12th Georgia Battalion from Gamble’s farm to the Natural Bridge and through the swamp on the east bank of the Aucilla River, I passed entirely through the country occupied by the disaffected citizens and deserters, and reached the camp of the enemy at daylight on the morning of March 24. Here I found nothing but the deserted huts of the deserters, and no traces of any camp regularly organized by the enemy. The inaccessible character of the swamps, which extend from Gamble’s farm to the coast, and the experience of war conducted for years between the Seminole Indians and the U.S. forces in this section without any positive result, and the further demonstrated fact that these deserters and disaffected citizens did not maintain any organized encampment, but remained concealed in the vicinity of their homes, determined me to destroy their houses, in addition to the removal of their families as directed in the orders referred from district headquarters. Accordingly I ordered the destruction of every house on the east and west banks of the Econfina and Fenholloway Rivers belonging to these people.
The captured muster roll herewith enabled me to obtain positive evidence as to the disloyalty of the inhabitants, and from the fact that they had taken the oath of allegiance to the United States Government, I could not discriminate between them and citizens of the United States in arms against the Confederacy. At William Strickland’s house (who is the leader of the gang) was captured the muster roll referred to, 2000 rounds of fixed ammunition for the Springfield musket, several barrels of flour from the U.S. Subsistence Department, and several other articles which evidenced the regularity of their communication with the enemy’s gun boats. Having destroyed their property and secured their families, I returned to Mr. Linton’s farm to rest the infantry, who were broken down by a continued march of several days through densely wooded swamps and water at times so deep as to necessitate the removal of cartridge boxes to keep the ammunition in order. In addition to the destruction of their property I have to report the capture of three prisoners, two of whom have their names on the muster roll of the company. I have to also report the death of two men of the cavalry detachment, who were killed on the morning of the 24th by an accident which cannot but be considered the result of carelessness. As no official report of this matter has been made to me, I refer to it as the loss accruing to the service by the expedition. [Author’s note: These two men, Private John J. Lawrence and James Lewis, of Company A 29th Georgia Cavalry were killed when the Company was ambushed about four miles Northwest of present day Perry, Florida. Two men were also wounded.] The secondary effects of the plan adopted with these people is manifested in the communication of W. W. Strickland, sent to my headquarters on yesterday, and which is herewith submitted. The terms upon which he proposed to leave the swamps are such that I must refer the matter to the commanding general before answering him definitely. The subject is a delicate one, and some diplomacy must be used to secure the ends proposed. On the borders of these swamps are large planting interests that could be of immense service to the Confederacy in the production of grains and bacon. From their hiding places these men can commit depredations upon the property to such an extent as to materially interfere with the farming operations, and I would urge upon the general commanding the necessity under these circumstances of compromising with these men as may be consistent with the general weal. Should Strickland’s company be conciliated, it will in all probably lead to the dispersion of those under the command of Coker and White, on the Fenholloway and Steinhatchee. I would respectfully commend to the commanding general the service of Mr. John Townsend and Jacob Chaney, whose perfect knowledge of the country and great activity make their service indispensable in this service. It would be impossible for me to have penetrated these swamps even with a compass without their aid. I would also suggest the propriety of ordering the infantry to their camp, that they may recover from the effects of this march, and be resupplied with shoes and clothing, should the unconditional surrender of theses deserters be required. The only practical way of hunting them will be with dogs and mounted men under the hand of an experienced woodsman who is familiar with the country. The experience of the Seminole war will fully establish this fact.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant, H. D. Capers
Lieutenant – Colonel, Commanding
(Official Records Volume LIII - Volume 53,