On his 17th birthday, May 20, 1864, Joshua Frier enrolled in a Florida militia company that eventually became the 1st Florida Reserves, Company B. The unit remained in north Florida throughout its service. Joshua Hoyet Frier wrote a memoir entitled Reminiscences of the War Between the States by a Boy in the Far South at Home and in the Rank of the Confederate Militia. He did not write this memoir until the late 1890s, 30 years after the war had ended.
These excerpts deal with the shortage of salt during the war and the Battle of Natural Bridge.
We are now at the fifth of March 1865 and the events I am about to speak of was so overshadowed, by more important and vital ones, until they have never had a place in history. Yet when you follow me through the next week following the above date, you will agree with me that they deserve some mention. Saturday the fourth day of March I dug on the stump all day, went to the theatre in town and as the boys say made a night of it as I was out
until 2 o'clock A M. On Sunday morning I rose early to prepare for a very rigid inspection that we was to have and the old rifle (Springfield pattern) they gave me the evening before was in very bad shape for such an ordeal. By eight o'clock it looked like every man in the regiment had his gun dissected, and was busily engaged in polishing, scouring, and wiping. While thus employed we very distinctly heard the booming of cannon. This within itself was not so unusual, but in this instance it meant business, as was easily told by the regularity of the firing. Many surmises was indulged in as to where the firing was, and what might be the outcome of it. An old soldier who had seen service in Virginia said we had as well fix our guns together that there would be no inspection that day that there was better fun ahead.
In this he was correct, inside on an hour orders was issued to prepare three days rations at once; now the hard part of it was to prepare three days rations, out of one, as we had only drawn enough to last until next morning. Still we never worried much about it as we was pretty well used to such marching preparations as these, and soon had what little we had ready in haversack; then into lines and to the depot. Great was our surprise when we arrived at the depot in Madison to find arrangements to issue us the other two days rations. One of the boys said he would bet they had some use for us, for he had never seen any rations issued when we started on a common march. This remark was intended to be witty and sarcastic, but was really a near approach to the truth. We boarded the train and went to Tallahassee arriving there late in the evening, where we met with quite a lot of troops. I mean for Florida. We there learned the Federals had landed quite a force below St. Marks and was advancing on Tallahassee, and they had that day whipped our forces at New Port. This was where the firing was, and must have been at least
seventy miles from us. Yet we heard the guns distinctly. We never left Tallahassee until after dark and then on a train so long until three engines could scarcely haul it. Companies of old men, and boys even smaller than our selves came in and joined us during the evening; these we termed the "Melish," and as to ourselves, why we became veterans of course, for the time at least.
We left in the direction of St. Marks and the train stopped at a place called the "oil still" where we unboarded and formed a line of march. The position of our company was on the extreme left, and as we marched by the left flank, threw us in front position we kept all night. Colonel Daniels and our guide walked just in front of us. The Colonel had a horse but he led him or let some of the boys ride him; when urged to ride he simply said he preferred to walk with his men. I suffered for sleep worse on this march than I ever did in my life for you remember I slept but little the night before. While youth and fatigue conspired to punish me for my lark of the night before. But sleeping and marching did not go well together with me, and my experience was shared by many others, we would strike a smooth bit of road, and five or six would probably be marching along asleep. Presently one would stumble and fall, not alone, mind you for he would bring the sleeping fellows ahead like ten pins. It was not an infrequent occurrence to see four five on the ground at once, which would wake us up a little only to enact the same over again.
The night was long and quite cool one of the boys said we had marched twenty four hours that night and no sign of day. All the satisfaction we could get out of the guide was "it is not much farther" this stereotyped phrase was repeated every time. Col. Daniel when appealed to said he knew nothing his orders was to follow the guide, and the guide was right in not talking. At last just as we was about to enter a small clearing, I heard the
guide tell Col Daniel "this is the place." A horse man halted us, when Col. Daniel advanced and had some talk with him which I could not understand. We then marched on, and as we entered the clearing we filed square off to the left when we filed off I saw by the light of the stars, a piece of artillery unlimbered and ready for action. After getting us in the place they wished us we was halted and faced, then followed an order to stack arms and rest. I looked in the east but there was no sign of day and I made hasty preparations to enjoy a sound nap. Just as I lay down and closed my eyes, a single gun fired in front of us some half mile all was then silent again so long until we began to think that there was no significance attached to the gun shot, and perhaps after all we would get a little sleep. Probably a minute or maybe two had elapsed, when firing began again, this time there was fifty or a hundred guns fired almost simultaneously, and a dozen mini balls came whizzing overhead, singing that sad plaintive tune which well spent balls always do when not in too close proximity. The effect of this was magical, sleep was banished to the uttermost parts of the earth, and everyone was as wide awake as if we had not slept but little the last two nights. We was called into lines at once, and recovered arms; a courier came dashing down the line in front of us when he saw he was at the end of the line he reined up and asked who commanded that company. Lieutenant Rouse stepped forward and told him he did, our captain not yet being reinstated to his command he asked his name and rank and put him in command of the left wing, and gave him some instructions in an undertone we did not hear; the courier then left in a furious gallop. Pretty soon we heard men coming toward us in double quick time, we could hear the rattle of cartridge boxes and canteens, In an another minute the courier was back again, and told our Lieutenant that all was clear in front but pay particular attention to orders, and not fire until orders was given specially to the
left wing to do so. This was his last visit and almost immediately we heard the rattle of canteens and cartridge boxes in front again, they was in the brush just outside the clearing, which being a small one brought us quite close together, when the clearing was reached in clear distinct tones the commander of the Federals gave the command "File left march" which was soon followed by equally distinct orders "By the right flank, double quick march" The answering command was equally distinct "Right wing, ready, aim fire" then a sheet of flame, not solid, but rather more like lightning playing on the fringe of a cloud at night, ran fitfully up and down the crescent shaped line to our right for a few seconds, and then the artillery, eight or ten pieces, belched forth in rapid succession, long sheets of angry looking flame; while the rattle of the small arms, and the roar of the cannon seemed enough to paralyze. The left wing held their fire, except one boy by the name of Roberts in our company, who could not let the opportunity pass of taking a shot as he afterwards said, but the boys said he was so badly scared, that he did not know which wing he belonged to; and the boys was no doubt correct. When the confusion and noise of the first round died away, there seemed to be nothing left of the foe, as not a sound emanated from in front. It was in fact a wild retreat, precipitantly taken when they found so much larger force than they expected.
As soon as our wits returned, (I speak for myself) sufficiently to pay any attention to our surroundings, I noticed that day light had broken. Soon news came some of our men had been killed, two in one company, Capt. Barweaks; one of our boys had his canteen ruined by being perforated with a mini ball and another was contused on the hip, and had caught the ball which was terrible battered in his pants pocket. But none of Co. B was hurt farther than this.
My impression was that the trouble was over, as we had made such an easy repulse, so when volunteers was called to go on skirmish duty, I went out hoping my impressions was correct.
When the skirmishers was formed in line in front of the main line, it had become light enough to take a view of the surroundings. The clearing proved to be an old abandoned field of not more than twenty acres. The hummock growth of hickory, oak, live oak, sweet gum and cypress grew quite thick right up to the edge of the clearing and probably two hundred yards in front of us. Somewhere near here the St. Marks River sinks in the ground, and emerges again a few hundred yards farther on. Hence the name of "Natural Bridge."
We was marched across the old field and deployed in the timber, and admonished to keep a sharp lookout and shoot anything that looked blue. Some of the boys began shooting, directly after sun up, and in explanation said they was shooting birds. We beat around in the bush pretty much as we wished; I was investigating the effects of the firing on the bushes and timber when I came upon a dead Negro in U.S. uniform. Some of the boys was more lucky, and picked up some live ones, some was sent to the rear but it was said some of them never was. There were some who had in their fright and darkness hid themselves after finding themselves separated from the body of their command. This then was an index to the color of the foe we had to contend with and gave us great encouragement as we did not think there was much fight in Negro troops.
About eight o'clock a blue jay pitched on a limb close by me, and I obeyed orders by shooting at him; before the smoke cleared away a single ball came by with that angry spiteful pang-g-g-g that only a rifle ball can make.
This put me on my guard, for it was now plain that someone had shot either at the report or at the smoke of my gun; through an opening in the bushes some two hundred yards in front I saw a faint blue smoke slowly dissipating itself right at the root of a large live oak, just such an one as anyone would naturally seek for a screen under the circumstances. I kept a sharp lookout for that live oak, as there was two or three small openings through the brush where I could get a pretty fair view of his neighborhood, and get shot at also; but my antagonist was a very poor shot, and went wide of the mark every time. I called some of the boys who had less dread of of minnies than I did who stood up boldly and let this blue coat practice on them. He must have got reinforcements also or else he improved wonderfully in marksmanship and rapidity of fire; after one of the self-constituted targets had a hole shot through his cap he left off the business in disgust. About this time a Mr. Ellis of our company came to take care of us as he said he had been there but a few minutes when he was shot in the abdomen which proved a fatal wound; the shot was fired from a clump of bushes not fifty yards away; as the other two boys laid down their guns and went to his assistance I saw a Negro soldier begin to make his way back from the point, I then had my first desire to seriously hurt some, and as he passed through a small space that momentarily exposed his stooping form I fired at him with as much accuracy as I ever did at a bird, he dropped and I thought I had hit him but I have since concluded that it would have been the most natural thing in the world for him to have dropped to keep from being shot at again.
The firing had become quite general all along the line while within a few hundred yards in front we could hear the rumbling of wagons, caisons, and etc. and could hear the neighing of horses, and various sounds that indicated unusual activity among the Federals upon the opposite side of the
timber. About 11 o clock our line of skirmishers was relieved by another and we went back to the line carrying Mr. Ellis with us. It seems strange until yet that none of us should have been hurt, for we had nothing to dodge behind and the balls of the Union skirmish line came thick and fast knocking up the dirt at our feet whizzing over our heads and to the right and left.
When we returned to the line, our company had been removed from the extreme left to the extreme right, so the squad that belonged to our company marched down the crescent shaped line of battle and gave us a good chance for observation. There was thirteen pieces of artillery scattered along equidistant from each other, while the spaces between was filled with what I suppose you might call Infantry. Old grey bearded men, and boys almost too small to attend school. It seemed that if it came to the worst that it would be a poor chance to hold the line with such a force as this. The main line had not been idle during the morning and had thrown up earth works along the entire line, frail there were, but proved very useful, not only in saving life, but preventing those undrilled little boys from stampeding like a herd of Texas cattle.
The general engagement began very soon, after we reached out lines and lasted an hour or so during which they made several attempts to come to us but failed each time. When the 2nd Fla. cavalry dismounted came in and charged them in their works the route was complete. They had three lines of breastworks, and as each one was charged the shooting and shouting reminded me more of some kind of a frolic then the serious work of battle. But the timber in front of us was a sight to me. Many trees of considerable size was cut down at various heights, the limbs and trunks of most of them seemed to have the [bark] stripped from them as by lightning.
We now was commanded to advance and forming line we did so; we began to
find dead Negros as soon as we struck timber and found them scattered here and there until we reached the first works when we found them in piles shot and mutilated in all manner of ways. Reports say from four to six hundred killed on Federal side, and fifty to seventy five on our side; there was near three thousand negro troops and one battalion of whites on the Union side, while there was less than fifteen hundred on the Confederate side. The Union forces lost one field officer a Maj. Lincoln I think. Col Daniel was thrown from his horse and badly crippled.
Each earth work had dead Negroes enough around, and in it to have made a would-be slave holder rich. I bethought myself to secure a memento of the occasion, but found everything had been taken; finally I saw a what I took to be a dead Negro, with his head on a nice cartridge box that had a broad shoulder strap to it; as I had been wanting just such a box I walked up a gave it a light pull, when the Negro held on to it with his hand and gave a groan I left him to die with his head on it, but afterwards saw the same cartridge box on a member of our company. I found a bayonet then and picked it up and have it yet.
Then came pursuit which continued late in the night, and over a route that was entirely under water; this continued until human Nature gave completely out.
By the faint light of the moon I saw about sixty yards away to our left, a large pine tree which seemed to stand on a small knoll. I filed square off from my company, and unobserved sought its friendly shadow, which I thought would prevent the rear guard from seeing me, I found it sufficiently elevated to lie down by, without being in the water and began watching the boys that constituted out little army, dragging their weary forms along in the mud and water and retaining a big sigh of relief to breathe when I saw the rear guard pass by. Instead of seeing the guard, the next thing I saw
was the bright sunshine streaming in my face I got up and looked around, and saw a little town a mile away in the direction we was going; I resumed my march and was soon in the little town of New Port on the St. Marks river.
The scene that presented its self to my view when I arrived at New Port, was an anomaly; the artillery was in passable shape, but the infantry oh, my — what a condition. I had often heard of retread and disorder, but pursuit and disorder was a little out of the line of remark; but such was the case for I never saw our regiment as badly scattered from the time it was organized, until it was finally disbanded as it was that morning, little squads of the various companies kept gathering and coming together. My company or any part of it I could not find for over an hour, when I did find it, our gallant Lieutenant had about one fourth of the men belonging to it in line, marching them around and calling loudly for members of company B to "fall in", I fell in and we marched for an hour longer, by which time we had most of boys in line. Every other captain was doing his best to find his company. Stragglers came in by twos and by dozens; I have often wondered what the result would have been had Gen. Newton, the commander of the Union forces took a notion to make a stand at New Port that night.
We were finally gotten together after a fashion and the roll was called which showed a much lighter loss than any of us expected. Immediately after we had broken ranks, a large size low man of an official aspect came walking along alone and stopped near our company when our Lieutenant stepped out and introduced him to the boys as Governor Milton. Many of the boys never spoke while a few recognized the Chief executive with a nod. One of the sorriest looking chances for a soldier in the company and who looked that morning like soap and water was sadly needing arose went forward and gave the Governor hand a
hearty shake and enquired after his health, much to the amusement of the other boys. He passed on among the other companies, and some of them called on him for a speech which he gave them; he gave our regiment the honor of the day before, and used so many eloquent expressions of praise for us, until I for once almost felt proud of being a soldier. I thought him one of the best speakers I ever listened to, and a very smart man; but when the Confederacy was overthrown a short while after this and he ended his existence with a pistol ball, I changed my opinion of him.