History and Names of 8th Regiment
Letter of Rufus Jones 8th USCT
May 7, 1864
THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER
For the Christian Recorder.
Exchange of Camps – Departure of troops for the Army of the Potomac – Number of old troops in Department – Rebels treat Colored Troops as prisoners of War – Officers of Colored Troops – Treatment of Colored Troops in Hospitals – Pay day – Colored 2d Lieut. in the 54th Mass. – Captain Anderson – “Lion,” the Regimental Dog.
My last letter, dated March 24th, was written on the premises of Mrs. Fort, on the bank of the beautiful river St. John’s. The camp was just beginning to look handsome, when the 8th was ordered to exchange camps with the 7th Conn., one of the regiments with which the 8thwas brigaded. The 8th having suffered in the late battle of Olustee, and their strength being hereby greatly diminished, were not considered sufficiently strong to hold as important a position, though strong enough to perform the labor of intrenching, fortifying, and beautifying that point. Details for fatigue were very heavy, and the work pushed forward with rapidity, for the first eight or ten days after encamping there.
The exchange of camps was reluctantly made by the men of both regiments; having just completed their camps to suit their eccentric tastes. The exchange, on the part of the 8th, was rather profitable than otherwise, as to convenience of water facilities. Water in the camp of the 7th Conn., is obtained with little or no labor. Barrels had been sunk at the front of nearly all the company streets.
These improvements were appreciated by the 8th, with the exception of the view of the St. John’s river.
Soldiers, as well as farmers, have their signs, and can tell pretty truthfully when the moving cap day comes, though they do not use the horn; but the preparing and decorating of a camp, are signs that orders for moving will soon follow, and no one is surprised when the order comes. Although such irregularities occur, the soldier is not reluctant in trying to make another camp to please him as well as the one he left behind.
I have just learned that three regiments are embarking on board of transports, to join the army of the Potomac. The 7th Conn., 7th New Hampshire, (with which the 8th has been brigaded,) and 40th Mass. Mounted Infantry, leaving this department almost to the colored troops. Colored regiments are, the 1st N.C., 54th Mass., 55th Mass., 2d S.C., 7th Wis., organized at Baltimore, Md., 3d U.S.C.T., (first regiment organized at Cap Wm. Penn, Pa.,) and 8th Regt., U.S.C.T. Company F, of the 3d, have been detached as artillerists, and garrison “Fort Sammons, on the extreme left.” Co K, of the 3d, also garrison a fort on the right of the line of intrenchments. Some of the troops of which I speak, have been sent to Pilatka, and other different points, to perform garrison duty.
Co. D, of the 8th, has been ordered to St. John’s Bluff, some ten miles down St. John’s river, to do garrison duty. It is intimated that the 8th will soon be ordered to Yellow Bluff, on the St. John’s. The rebel Gen. Patten Anderson, commanding the rebel forces in Florida, has furnished the commanding General of the federal forces, at this place, with a list of the names of those taken prisoners at the battle of Olustee. It may possibly be that they will be treated as prisoners of war; yet it is uncertain what disposition will be made of the colored troops in their possession, eventually.
It is hoped that the authorities at Washington will give special attention to the selection of officers to command colored regiments. Such officers as Isaiah E. Richardson, Adjutant of the 8th, and 1st Lieut. Elijah Lewis, possess qualities, as officers of colored soldiers, I truly admire. These officers are kind and respectful to those whom they command, and feel interested in the welfare of the colored soldier; and at the same time, demand that respect which is due to an officer. These good qualities are appreciated by the men; and if the promotion of these officers were in the power of the men of the regiment, they would soon occupy the most prominent positions in the regiment.
The sick and wounded colored troops of this department, in the hospital at Jacksonville, are treated with the utmost attention and kindness.
Hospital No. 5, occupied by the colored troops, is pleasantly located. The building, probably, once belonged to one of the prominent citizens of Jacksonville, from the appearance of the construction of it, and the beautiful shade-trees, and flowers with which it is surrounded. It must be humiliating to those who once lived in style, and owned slaves, to see their property, and that of others, occupied as hospitals by negro soldiers from the North. It often happens here, that the mistress and servant eat together in sutler stores.
I have seen beautiful bouquets, here, in the month of March. Florida, for pleasantness of climate, and beauty of country, is almost a “Paradise.” With the exception of the prospective crop of the Alligator family, and flourishing condition of the reptile kingdom, I should prefer making Florida as my future home.
The part of the State which I have seen, with a little capital and labor, on the yankee system, could be greatly improved; and in a short time, make it an enviable State.
It seems the farther South the 8th advances, the farther “pay-day” gets away from it. Just think of the colored troops not receiving any pay for nine months! Every vessel which lands at Jacksonville, from the North, is expected to bring the Paymaster; but I have begun to think none has been sent; and that the privilege of fighting and getting killed, is the only pay given.
The 54th Mass. has had one of their sergeants recently promoted to a 2d Lieutenancy, on recommendation of Col. E.N. Hallowell, of the 54th, (now acting Brig. General of the 3d Brigade, composed of the 54th, 55th, Mass., and 8th U.S.C.T.,) and by Gov. Andrew, of Massachusetts; and no doubt the appointment of one of “African descent,” to that position, will create a little flutter among those officers (of the 54th, and other regiments,) who are not favorable to promoting black soldiers.
The Government probably places some estimate of value on the services and patriotism of the nearly organized army, which it has put into the field to combat with slave catchers. The freedom given to the rebels in Jacksonville, who were taken prisoners by the federal forces on the advance to the front, and sent to Jacksonville, really surprises me. It seems that they can obtain permission to open stores, restaurants, and engage in business generally, in preference to citizens from the North.
In appearance, one would think that all the rebels about Jacksonville were millers, (by occupation,) going or returning from their meals. The clothing worn by them is of a grayish color, and made after the fashion of tights, showing that cloth is scarce, or too many men for the supply of cloth.
Captain Anderson, (the instructor of the band,) of Philadelphia, is with the regiment, and gives the band his undivided attention; having already taught it some twenty pieces of music. The band is highly prized by the regiment, being the only one belonging to a colored regiment, except the 55th Mass., in the department.
“Lion,” the old white dog, which has been with the 8th ever since its organization, (at Camp “Wm. Penn,” Pa.,) is with it yet, and has no objection to being among black soldiers. He was in many battles in the army of the Virginia previous to enlisting in the 8th, and lastly took part in the battle of Olustee, and was wounded in the fore-leg, from the effects of which he has not recovered, but is ready to march at any moment the regiment is; if going on board of a vessel, he is the first one on board. He is a soldier, and has no respect for citizens who may visit the camp; and does not hesitate to bite. He attends “Dress parade,” and usually lies in front of the band, having some musical taste, and shows that he has not been brought up a savage.
RUFUS SIBB JONES,
Serg’t Maj. 8th U.S.C.T.
Jacksonville, Fla., April 16th, 1864.
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