Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Tale of a Yankee Deserter from Fernandina

Union Soldiers in Fernandina, 1862
On March 25, 1862, 150 years ago today, the Savannah Republican published an account of an interview with Peter Jones, a Northern soldier who slipped away from his post at Fernandina and fled to the Confederate forces on the mainland:

...Peter Jones, a native of Bridgeton, Cumberland county, New Jersey, and a member of Co. H., Capt. C. McElvain, 97th New York Regiment, under the command of Colonel Henry Guy, is the name of the Federal deserter from Fernandina. He states the enemy were cruelly treated by their officers, and ill clad and fed - their rations consisting of very hard and black break, made of shorts or bran, he did not know which, and old pickled beef, unfit for any purpose, and a scanty supply at that. The officers, however, fared sumptuously, and were indifferent as to the condition of those under their command. - Savannah Republican, March 25, 1862.

The deserter followed the route of the Florida Railroad.
The story told by Peter Jones could have been that of almost any deserter from either side during the war. He complained of bad food, insufficient rations, difficult conditions and cruel officers. "For the most trivial offence," he wrote, soldiers could be "put under guard and made to carry a 32-pound shot ten hours." 

Jones reported that the main encampment of the Federal force on Amelia Island was east of the town of Fernandina. He had been sent for water outside a guard line, but found a boat near the railroad bridge leading to the mainland and slipped away into Florida. He said he followed the railroad itself away from Amelia Island and into the interior. To see a modern aerial view of the railroad bridge site, please click here:

The newspaper noted that the deserter seemed to be well cared for by the Confederates who were holding him:

...It was with some difficulty we could glean the little we have given above, as the deserter seemed afraid to communicate anything. Though, apparently, a simple and ignorant subject, we think he needs looking after and deserves the good keeping he has met with. - Savannah Republican, March 25, 1862.

The fact that Jones, if that was his real name, was "afraid to communicate anything" is obvious from the newspaper report. He claimed to have served with the 97th New York Infantry, but that regiment was not at Fernandina at the time he deserted and its muster rolls reveal no soldier named Peter Jones.

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