On this day (March 27) in 1864, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry D. Capers, commanding a Confederate detachment in Florida, filed his report on operations in Taylor and Lafayette Counties. His report, in part, read:
I have the honor to report that in obedience to Special Orders, No. 7 (extract), 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 the 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 almost 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 Twelfth Battalion in an attack upon the enemy’s camp upon Snyder’s Island. Moving with the Twelfth 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 the 24th instant. 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 to the coast, and the experience of the 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.
Capers went on to report he had secured a roster of men who had taken an oath of allegiance to the United States. In particular, he centered his attention on the leader of this band:
At William Strickland’s house (who is the leader of the gang) was captured the muster-roll referred to, 2,000 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….
Capers went on to describe the threat this armed band of deserters posed:
On the borders of these swamps are large planting interests, with hundreds of negroes upon them of immense service to the Confederacy in the production of grain 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.
The “compromise” suggested by Capers is in relation to a letter sent his way by William W. Strickland, and forwarded with the report. Strickland’s letter, while lengthy, explains a lot towards the man’s motivation and loyalties:
My Dear Sir: I got your letter that you left with Mr. Johnson the 26th. I am anxious to hear from you, and you from me, for I cannot control my men since they saw you fire our house. I cannot control them any longer. I ain’t accountable for what they do now. As for myself, I will do anything that any half white man ever done, only to go into the Confederate war any more, though when I was in it I done my duty, I reckon. Ask Colonel Smith if I was not as good a soldier as long as he was captain, and would have been yet if Mr. Smith had of staid captain, but now I have went on the other side and tried what we call United States of Taylor, but I find it is like the Confederate men–more wind than work. As for myself, I ain’t agoing in for any order, only to stay with Mr. Johnson and help him tend to his stock, and I will help him to pen or drive cattle for you, but my oath will not permit me to fight any more. If you will send and get me an exemption and my men that have taken the oath to stay in Taylor and raise stock for you they will do so, but they will not go into war if you had as many again men and dogs, for our title is Florida Royals, and if we can’t get a furlough from Mr. Jeff. Davis during the war you will find our title right for a while; so I remain a flea until I get a furlough from headquarters, and when you put your thumb on me and then raise it up I will be gone. I give you my respects for the good attentions you paid to my wife, for it was not her notion for me to do as I was doing. Just set me and my men free from the war and we will try with leave to get corn till we can make. If not, you can go to moving the steers out of the adjoining three counties. So here is my love for the good attentions for my wife and child. If the war lasts long enough and you will raise him to be a soldier he will show the spunk of his daddy.
So I remain,
W. W. Strickland,
Strickland had deserted from the 2nd Florida Cavalry, which like the Tennessee regiments mentioned earlier this week, must carry the qualifier “Confederate” here:
After enlisting in March 1862, under a Captain A. Smith, who at some point resigned from his captaincy (matching the reference by Strickland). And the card indicates Strickland deserted twice – once in December 1862 and again in June 1863. And then took to the swamps later becoming the leader of the “Independent Union Rangers” of Taylor County, Florida.
Strickland served with the 2nd Florida Cavalry (US). He would not survive the war. However, that story is material for another post, which I must save for a March 1865 sesquicentennial.
(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 53, Serial 111, pages 316-7 and 319.)