Editor’s note: The following excerpt was taken from William E. Jones’ “The Military History of the One hundred & Sixty-first New York Volunteers, Infantry, from August 15th, 1862 to October 17th l865,” printed in Bath, [NY] by Hull & Barnes, printers in 1865.
The events described below took place in 1865.
While these gratifying events were transpiring, our Regiment was still in camp in the city of Mobile; but on the 20th of May an order was received from Major General Canby detaching us from our Brigade, with instructions that, with the 82nd, U.S.C.I. we were to establish a new military post at Apalachicola, Florida.
Accordingly, in pursuance of an order received the next evening, we broke camp at daylight on Monday the 22nd, and embarked on the steamer N. P. Banks, with instructions to sail at once, report to Barrancas, and wait there for the 82nd Regiment. At sunset we arrived off Santa Rosa Island, sailed in between Forts Pickens and McRae, landed at Barrancas and reported to Brigadier General Asboth commanding the District of West Florida. As our stay promised to be of some duration, we disembarked, and went into camp near the Marine Hospital grounds, and an opportunity was afforded of visiting Fort Pickens, Warrenton and Pensacola. The last named place was once a flourishing town with a population of several thousand, but now there are only fifty to sixty of the inhabitants left, the best part of the buildings have been burned, most of those remaining are only like wrecks of what they once were, and the streets are covered with weeds and grass. A perfect scene of desolation, it brought forcibly to mind the description given of the ruins of some ancient cities of the East. Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island is a fine quadrilateral, casemated work of great strength, intended to mount two hundred and fifteen guns. Preparations were then being made to put into position on the northeast angle, one of the heavy fifteen inch guns, so as completely to command the entrance to the Bay upon both sides of the Island. This gun weighs fifty-one thousand, two hundred and thirty pounds, and carries a ball of four hundred and fifty pounds weight.
Having been joined by Colonel L. L. Zulavsky and the 82nd Regiment, the expedition, consisting of the transports N. P. Banks, Peabody, Clyde and Tampico, and the gunboat Itasco conveying General Asboth and Staff, left Barrancas at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 31st, and arrived in Apalachicola Bay on the following morning, June 1st. The command at once disembarked, and took up quarters in vacant houses and cotton presses in the city of Apalachicola. Colonel Zulavsky having assumed the duties of Post Commander, appointed Captain B. F. VanTuyl as acting Commissary of subsistence; Captain W. R. Prentice as acting assistant Inspector General, and Lieut. Otis Smith as acting Ordinance Officer.
Apalachicola contained before the war a population of two thousand, but we found on our arrival only a few hundred. All the places of business except one cotton press were closed, the streets were covered with grass, the houses and sidewalks were falling to decay, all the churches were closed, and an oppressive quietness everywhere prevailed.
During the month of June the weather was intensely hot and dry, and much sickness existed in the Regiment. In order to a becoming celebration of the 4th of July the officers of both Regiments met together and arranged a programme for the day. Accordingly, at 10 a.m. a public meeting was held in an open lot in the centre of the City at which the Declaration of Independence was read by Captain Little, and an Oration delivered by the Chaplain of the 161st. Athletic games occupied the afternoon.
On the next day Lieutenant Colonel Kinsey and Captain Fitzpatrick embarked for Barrancas, to attend the sessions of a Court Martial to be convened at that place, leaving Major Craig in command of the Regiment.
On the 14th of July Captain Little and Lieutenant Everett, with fifty men, were sent by the Post Commander to garrison Marianna, Jackson Co., on account of the unsettled condition of that part of the country.
On the morning of the 26th, we were much surprised by the arrival of an order from Brig. Gen. Newton to embark immediately for Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Fla., to relieve the 110th N. Y., whose term of service was to expire on the 25th of the ensuing month. At 4 p.m. the Regiment was drawn up in line, and, after listening to an excellent farewell order from Col. Zulavsky, in which he complimented the Regiment for their soldierly conduct, went on board the small river steamer Wm. H. Young.
The appearance of things at our departure was different from what it was at our arrival; then, hardly a person was to be seen, and a spirit of utter desolation brooded over the place. Now, the levee was covered with bales of cotton, the wharf was astir with citizens, and handkerchiefs were waving from many of the windows and sidewalks. Farewell, sandy, dry, hot Apalachicola, may we never see thee more!
After giving three hearty cheers for Col. Zulavsky, we steamed down the Bay for the Government dispatch boat, the General McCallum, then waiting for us at the East Pass. By 10 p.m., the work of transferring the baggage and stores was completed, but in consequence of the limited accommodations of the ship, company A. was ordered to return to Apalachicola. - The McCallum was built in Europe to run the blockade of our ports, but was recently captured off Charleston, with three hundred thousand dollars worth of cotton on board, was sold for forty thousand dollars, and afterwards chartered for dispatch service. - Nothing of special interest occurred during the voyage, and, favored with good weather, and a smooth sea, we made the trip of three hundred and fifteen miles in thirty-three hours, arriving at Fort Jefferson on Friday afternoon, the 28th of July.