I pressed forward on Monday morning, making that day about 30 miles, and I encamped at night at the crossing of Haw Creek. I found that Colonel Noble had pushed his infantry 4 miles farther, and that his cavalry was at Volusia. The garrison at Volusia was safe; no rebels were found this side of the river. The two small posts at Welaka and Saunders had been captured, or rather shamefully surrendered, I was told, not a gun having been fired in defense. I have ordered full reports to be made, which I will transmit when received. I found the country people much excited, and quite confident that the enemy, 700 strong, were at the crossing of Haw Creek. Indeed, from reports I had reason to believe there was some truth in the rumor.
On Tuesday morning, the 23rd [24th], I directed Colonel Noble to send his cavalry down the country to drive in herds of beef-cattle, which it was well known were going north to feed rebel armies. I also directed him to tell the Columbine to go down the river; that I had now no further use for her. The infantry I ordered to concentrate at camp 9 miles south of Saint Augustine, at that place, and at Picolata. The 200 men of the One hundred and forty-fourth were ordered to return to Jacksonville. My reasons for this disposition, and my views of the only mode of operating with infantry in this country of immense distances and illimitable pine deserts, I have given to the commanding general in a private letter.
Having accomplished all I could, I did not deem it advisable to attempt to pursue the enemy across the river, and, being totally unprepared to do it if I had though it advisable (having neither boats, rations, nor transportation), I made my way back to the landing at Picolata to take the steamer Houghton to Jacksonville. I reached the river on Tuesday, the 23rd [24th], at about 4 p.m. A dispatch from the Ottawa at the mouth of Dunn's Creek gave me the first information that the enemy had opened with artillery on Sunday night on the Houghton and on the gun-boat. The Houghton was struck three times with 12-pounder solid shot, one amidship and once near her walking-beam, but no great harm was done. I proceeded to Orange Mills, and there found this vessel.
This morning a report from Colonel Noble informed me of the loss of the tug Columbine, and the capture of most of those on board. Colonel Noble writes me that some (he does not say how many) of the Thirty-fifth (colored) had made their way to Haw Creek, and had given this information. They say that on Monday night, the 23rd, opposite Horse Landing, the Columbine was assailed as she was coming down the river, that she was disabled by the enemy's artillery, and captured by 200 men. It was on Tuesday, the 24th, at 4 p.m., that I communicated with the Ottawa, then lying at the mouth of Dunn's Creek, and within 5 miles of Horse Landing. The Ottawa had been here since Sunday, and yet she knew nothing of the report.
This morning my cavalry captured a prisoner who says that Dickison (rebel) reports that he has "captured a little boat and two small guns," and that he "has burned the boat." It seems, therefore, that the firing on Sunday night was by the enemy's artillery. This fact was not communicated to me until Tuesday afternoon, too late to do anything for the Columbine, if indeed anything could have been done for her.
I deem it fortunate that I did not attempt to run farther up the river than Picolata with my troops.