July 23, 1864.
Dear Sister L.:—
The “District of Florida” is cursed by a commander called Brigadier General Birney. It seems to be a sort of dunce block for the government—a place where they send men good for nothing in any other place. They began with Seymour—his performances you have heard of. Then they sent Hatch. He couldn’t hatch up any disaster and they sent him somewhere else. Next came Foster. He was a pretty sensible man, so he did not stay a week. Then at last came Birney, the summum malum, a man afflicted with the St. Vitus’ dance, in a military point of view. He is utterly unable to be quiet or let anybody else be. He came early in June about the time most of the troops were sent away, and immediately began to stir up things. He thought there was not much force near Charleston and he would make a reconnoissance. He took the splendid steamer Boston, put a regiment of infantry and two pieces of artillery on her and started up one of the small rivers near Charleston. He ran aground, the rebels fired into the boat, he set fire to her, and the regiment jumped overboard and took to the woods. The steamer was lost with the two guns, all the arms of the regiment, and stores, in all $100,000 of property. By and by he started again, went up to James Island and—came back again. Didn’t lose much that time but a great deal of patience among his officers and men. On the Fourth of July there was some difficulty between the Third and Thirty-fifth Colored Troops in town here. He would punish the Third. He didn’t like the Eighth very well. He would punish the Eighth. The Third was in the forts here and had been drilling all summer in heavy artillery and understood it pretty well. He ordered the Third to Yellow Bluff and the Eighth to the forts at Jacksonville. Next day he ordered a raid. There was a steam sawmill belonging to a rebel on the Nassau River about twenty-five miles from here, and he started nearly all the force in the district to capture that sawmill. Three steamers loaded with troops left here a week ago to-day, landed the troops at Trout Creek above Yellow Bluff, and they marched across the country while the Alice Price, one of the most valuable steamers in the department, went round to go up the Nassau. He marched one day’s march into the wilderness and concluded he didn’t need so large a force, so he sent them all back but one hundred men. The Price struck a snag in the Nassau and went to pieces, a total loss of $40,000 and he hasn’t got the sawmill yet. He came back and ordered the Eighth out of the forts and the Third back again. He ordered us to camp on a place that was an equine cemetery, and didn’t see the joke till he had been told half a dozen times, and then he ordered us to change again over by Fort Hatch where we were last spring. We had not got tents pitched before the order came to “Prepare to march immediately. Six days’ rations, etc.” The regiment stood in a pelting rain for two hours on the wharf and then were ordered back to camp. This morning they started again, and after waiting two hours again in the rain, at last got on board and started. They are off on a cow-hunting expedition to Indian River, a hundred miles down the coast. You will ask why I am not with them. I was not able to march and am left in charge of the camps. I gave out on the sawmill expedition. We marched eight miles through the pine woods (which keep off the wind but give no shade) without a halt, with the mercury above 100 in the shade. At the end of that time I fell in the road, sun-struck, and I haven’t been worth much since. It was terrible. Twenty-five men and three officers had given out, and we all came back together towards night. So my boast of never being excused from duty is done. I was not well when I started and went further than I should have done, but for my pride in never “falling out.” There is a limit to human endurance and I found mine there. I can stand any reasonable hardship and I believe little things do not daunt me, but that was altogether too much. I never heard of such a thing before as marching men in such weather. Why, they do not allow a sentry to stand without a shelter, but men can march and carry six days’ rations on wild goose hunts well enough. There is no pretense of an enemy. There are not seven hundred rebels in the state of Florida.
General Rimey seems to consider the Eighth as a sick child that requires nursing, and block and tackle by which to hoist his favorites into place and power.
Major Burritt was badly wounded at Olustee and has not been able to be with the regiment since (Colonel Fribley is dead and Lieutenant Colonel Bartram promoted to another regiment); he is the true commander of the regiment. Captain Bailey commanded in his absence for a long time, but the general had one friend (only) in the district, a South American major, ambitious and unprincipled, and he wants to make him colonel, so he sends him to command the regiment, on the ground that Captain Bailey is not competent. Then he proposes to have Major Burritt (who has appointment as Lieutenant Colonel, but cannot be mustered till he takes command) mustered out of the service, Major Mayer promoted to Colonel, and a Captain Hart to Lieutenant Colonel of the Eighth. Major Mayer has already made recommendations of officers to be promoted who are entirely out of the line of promotion, and, to cap the climax, the general yesterday sent Captain Hart to command the regiment, which stirred up such a breeze that he had to send him back. You do not understand why, I presume. Suppose the captain of my company to resign, or be promoted, or die, or get out of the way in any other way. Of course, I would expect to be promoted to fill his place, the second lieutenant to take my place. That is, if I were senior first lieutenant (having appointment of earliest date). Now, if an officer from another regiment is made the captain, that throws me and every officer out of promotion. Of course, that does not work smoothly, being opposed to the regulations, and such performances are demoralizing the Eighth very fast.
I have wished many times this summer that I was back in the Army of the Potomac. We would probably knock about more there than here, but it would be to some apparent purpose and we would have the satisfaction of trying to do some good.
I expect before Birney gets back there will be another steamer blown up by torpedoes and we will be hurried down to Yellow Bluff again to guard the river.
 Note—Not the General Birney of the Third Corps.