Commander Daniel Ammen's Letter Book
Lieutenant Commander Daniel Ammen was born in Ohio, joined the U.S. Navy at age 16 and retired in 1877 as a rear admiral after forty-nine years of service. During the Civil War, he commanded the U.S.S. Seneca on the St. Johns River from 1861 to 1863. Following his retirement, Ammen wrote "The Atlantic Coast," a volume in the series "The Navy in the Civil War," which was published in 1883.
To Mr. Daniel, or agent
Your want of acknowledgment of the power and authority of the United States, in not hoisting a white flag, or our ensign, on our passing your plantation yesterday, was observed.
As the purpose of a force in these waters is to establish our authority, a want of respect to the flag will not be tolerated.
On our passing down the river your conduct will be observed and if you have failed to show a necessary acknowledgment of our presence, your house will be demolished by shelling.
I this day took Niels Johnson prisoner who I knew was present at the sinking of some cannon and who refused to show me? the spot.
I compelled him to comply with my request, under a threat of shooting him if he did not.
I have been handed a note addressed to Mr Crews from you under date of March 30th.
The explanation so far as stated in relation to De Costa appears satisfactory, yet as it is not stated that he had received no punishment for having met officers of the Ottawa I desire to be more particularly informed on that point.
You will therefore be good enough to state upon honor, and address your note to Capt. Thos. H. Stevens, U. S. Gun boat Ottawa whether you know suspect or believe that De Costa received punishment for holding such intercourse and whether you favor the punishment of persons who hold such intercourse in an open manner without reference to any supposed information given.
The officers of the Government of the U. S. in these waters, as elsewhere, are averse to destroying or interfering with the rights of property of persons, and are not disposed to inquire much into the past; they will however not fail to repress anarchy & violence, and in the end establish the authority of the U. S. unless it may be in the Everglades & similar places, where it will not much concern us whether the lords of the soil and waters are bears, alligators, or the persons who flee there. - Certainly we will be indifferent whether Courts of justice or post routes are established - if the inhabitants are satisfied we will be.
We would recommend for the consideration of all as better than the use of arms at this juncture; a simple exercise of common sense and to act in accordance with it.
Very Respy, Danl. Ammen, Lieut Comg Seneca
Dr. Mays, Orange Mills, St. Johns River, Fla.
I have the honor to report that in obedience to your order of the 30th ult., I got underway at 8 a.m. on the following day and at about 3 pm. anchored off the Orange Mills.
Mr. Spostron the 1st Lieut. of this vessel went on shore with armed boats and was met by a Mr. Crews who handed him a letter marked A.
After due consideration and aware that the object of a visit was not the destruction of property but a practical exhibition of our power as well as a disposition to use it with strict justice at least, if not with actual generosity, I did not injure the property of Dr. Mays or other persons but delivered into the hands of Mr. Crews, who promised to forward it to Dr. Mays without delay, a note a copy of which is appended and marked B.
On the morning of April 1st three slaves belonging to Mr. Byar came on board; on examination I was told that their master was too old to serve and that two of his sons were in the rebel army. - About noon Mr. Byar arrived and having satisfied myself that his sons in the rebel service were not minors I remanded the men to him.
On the morning of April 2nd eight men came on board and having satisfied myself that their masters were rebels in arms I gave them a passage and they now await your orders.
I avail myself of this occasion to state that during your absence from Jacksonville I learned of two pieces of field artillery that had been sunk about twelve miles below, and that I visited the spot obtaining the trails (?) and axles (?) and returned to Jacksonville to await a more favorable opportunity for the recovery of the other parts. - Subsequently show (?) your (?) return (?) by your direction I visited the spot again and
also one old iron six pound field piece appears to be of little value. - With the parts before recovered we have carriages and guns complete.
The Seneca left the vicinity of Orange Mills at 8:30 am. of today.
You will please proceed with the 'Seneca' under your command to the St. John's River and relieve Lt. Comg Stevens as senior officer of the Naval Force there.
As Lt. Comg Stevens' relief will probably be here in the Rhode Island, you will please say to the former that I desire him to return to this port - with the 'Ottawa.'
You will receive from Lt. Comg. Stevens such directions as his recent experience and valuable services in the St Johns River will enable him to impart - until I can consult him myself and receive accurate information of the condition of things in that river and at Jacksonville. Since the unfortunate withdrawal of the army forces, it is impossible for me to give you more definite instructions but whilst carefully guarding your command, I desire that you will dispose of it in such manner as will produce the greatest moral effect and give all the aid and comfort you can to Union people.
Lt. Comg. D. Ammen
Head Qrs 4th Regt Fla Vol C.S.A.
Major Bowen of the Fourth Florida Regiment informed me this morning, the removal of Women and Children from this City would be agreeable to you, as it is equally [sic] so to me. I take this occasion to inform you that by Thursday night next, the object will be effected, providing conveyance can be found for the purpose, of which you shall be duly notified.
Families desiring to move up, or across the River in 'Boats' or 'Lighters' it is presumed will not be interfered with.
I am Sir
I received your note yesterday by the hands of Major Bowen.
The removal of women and children from the immediate presence of hostile forces is always desirable, and as I had made my appearance here several days ago, I supposed by this time few remained.
If it is not your object to erect batteries within one statute mile of the city or to throw large masses of men into it, or if we are not fired upon in this vicinity, no danger need be apprehended by the peaceable inhabitants and a removal will not be necessary.
If however, any of the eventualities specified are in contemplation, I advise the earliest removal of all who do not expect to share the fate of those who are in arms.
As I indicated verbally the above points at the time of the receipt of your note, I trust that they have already received your full consideration, and that an early if not an immediate answer may be given.
Danl Ammen, Lieut. Comg
To whom it may concern:
The bearer, Lieut. Sproston, U.S. Navy, is authorized to present a note to Col. Hopkins in person, or otherwise, under a flag of truce.
I have the honor to report that in obedience to orders I conveyed the dispatch [sic] entrusted to my charge under a flag of truce, to Coln. Hopkins, of the Third Florida Regiment, Senior Rebel Officer in Jacksonville.
Coln. Hopkins read the despatch [sic] attentively, and stated in reply, that he did not wish to be the cause of, or witness the destruction of property; - that women and children should not be made to suffer the privations of war where it could be prevented; consequently, that no Batteries would be erected within the distance of a mile, above or below, the Town. In alluding to the congregating of armed men in numbers on the bank of the River, he gave me to understand that it was done without his knowledge. He also disavowed the acts of Bands of Regulators, and mentioned that a late illness from which he had suffered, had prevented his making inquiries into local matters.
I observed whilst on shore that the stores in Jacksonville were closed, the place having generally a deserted air. I did not see more than fifty soldiers off duty and the Sentry Posts were at long intervals. Nothing appertaining to Great Guns or Field Artillery was visible.
Very Respectfully your
US Gunboat Seneca
In obedience to General Order of the Department dated August 16th 1852, I have to report that on the morning of the 18th instant in crossing the bar of this river, under charge of an experienced pilot, this vessel struck several times heavily and for one or two minutes lost her headway.
The vessel shows no signs of injury, nor have the steam pipes or connections been disarranged. In my opinion no material damage has been sustained and the 1st Lieut. and officers concur with me.
I have to state that the bar is a very bad one, and that the Pilot expressed no apprehension in relation to our crossing. - Every vessel of this class that has yet crossed has struck in entering and in passing out, but not with sufficient force to come within the intended object of the order except in the case above reported.
I have the honor to be
Flag Ship Wabash
On and after the 15th day of April the numerical value of the Naval Signal --------- (?) will be that which is assigned to them in the new order established by an order from the Navy Department dated April 5th, 1861 (?)
That is, the present numbers of the flags will be transposed as follows.
P. 48, 49, 50, 51
I have the honor to report that in obedience to your orders dated April 15th, the Seneca left Port Royal on the 16th and arrived off St. Johns bar the next day at noon.
Lieut Comg Stevens of the Ottawa sent a pilot who went on shore again and returned the following morning, stating that he had sounded coming off, and although rougher than he liked, yet he could take the vessel in without injury. - We struck heavily however, a report of which is forwarded in obedience to General Order.
I found the Ottawa, Pembina and Ellen inside the bar and on communicating with Lieut Comg Stevens learned that on a personal inspection of the "Ellen" he deemed her return to Port Royal a necessity.
On the 19th, the Ottawa, towing the yacht America, and accompanied by the Ellen, went to sea, followed by three or four schooners that had remained ten days for a fair wind.
On the 20th the Seneca and Pembina got under way; the latter anchored above St. Johns bluff with orders to return to the mouth of the river the following morning unless heavy firing was heard in the vicinity of Jacksonville.
We proceeded up the river and when abreast of Jacksonville observed a number of men, some of whom were reported bearing muskets - at sunset we anchored ten miles above.
On the morning of the 21st we stood up the river when near Picolata we saw a high pressure steamer coming down. - we chased under all sail and steam but the shoal water impeded our progress, and when up with the orange (?) flats (?) I regarded further pursuits as futile, and we returned to the terminus of the St. Augustine rail road.
On the 22nd we went down the river. - On passing Jacksonville a company of sixty or one hundred who had formed, hastily withdrew; but sentries appeared at various points, and groups of men, evidently soldiers or officers demanded our forbearance by the presence of women and children. - About sunset we anchored near the Pilot houses and found the Pembina.
At sunrise of the 24th we got under way and accompanied by the Pembina proceeded off Jacksonville, anchoring abreast the lower saw mills, or within 10" range of the entire town. - Before anchoring a woman in a boat made signs, and on her getting alongside we found her the wife of a man named Vandergrift, who with his father had sought our protection several days before. - She insisted that she had been abused and that her life had been in danger from the fact that her husband had joined us. - I therefore took her on board landing her at this point.
P. 48, 49, 50, 51 - 2
About the time of leaving the river, Lieut Comg Stevens had stated to me that it was supposed that a small steamer had come down to Jacksonville; this was confirmed from various sources. - The boat was sent up again in great haste without landing two heavy pieces of artillery that she had on board.
On the 25th a man named Hall was observed pulling by the vessel and was captured by us. - He bears the character of a "Regulator" one of a gang of marauders who have committed enormities for some time past. - He was placed in double irons and told that he would suffer for any further crimes committed against Union people along the river.
In the afternoon we went to the mouth of the river and the following morning received on board three deserters from Capt. Steele's company. - The Pembina went up the river to Picolata and the following evening both vessels anchored again at our usual point just below Jacksonville.
On the 27th a flag of truce left the town and was after some delay received by us. - The object was to deliver a letter to Hall and to state formally that he was a soldier. - I stated that I was aware that he belonged to Capt Steeles company; that I had apprehended him by name, and that he was a reputed "Regulator." - However, as he had been the object of a visit, I would be circumspect in relation to him and that he would receive no punishment without trial and conviction by Court Martial.
I asked the officer whether many women and children were still in Jacksonville. - He stated that many remained, and I then asked him to give my compliments to the Commanding officer and say that I thought an early removal of them would be advisable.
Two hours later another flag of truce was received by us, bearing a letter, of which the enclosed (marked A) is a copy. - The following morning I sent Lieut. Sproston with a flag of truce bearing a letter marked (B). - The Commanding officer stated to Mr. Sproston that none of the eventualities specified would occur.
On the 28th the Seneca and Pembina weighed anchor, the former going up, and the latter, down the river to the bar. We anchored well in under a point near Picolata but saw no steamers attempting to pass down.
In the evening of the 30th both vessels anchored again off Jacksonville; the town had every appearance of being almost entirely deserted.
The following morning the Seneca proceeded to the bar hoping to find the Isaac Smith or some other vessel assigned to these waters, but as yet none have arrived. I believe it probable that the Rebels wish to use Black creek for the purpose of transporting guns or other heavy burdens, and therefore a vessel above the mouth appears necessary, and another at the mouth of the St. Johns seems advisable. - This occupies the present
force and leaves the vicinity of Jacksonville unoccupied except upon the occasional removal of the vessels from the other points.
There are at this time about twenty persons at Maiport Mills, families of refugees and of the soldiers who deserted. - They are wholly destitute and I am obliged to feed them or see them starve. - Coming from Jacksonville this morning I seized upon a large sail boat which I will employ in sending them to Fernandina to-morrow, if the weather is favorable.
The Pembina is now above the mouth of Black creek and will remain there four days when she will again meet this vessel at Jacksonville.
I have the honor to be very respy
I send the families of several refugees and soldiers who have deserted the rebel army.
They desire to go to Fernandina and I have to ask the best arrangements possible in their behalf.
No proper protection can be afforded them here as my duties extend over a large extent of river and the force is of two gun boats.
I have been directed by Commander Drayton of the Pawnee to proceed to Jacksonville and ask a flag of truce in relation to several citizens of Florida and also touching the exchange of prisoners and in relation to picket (?) shooting.
Col. Bryant a distinguished citizen of Florida proposes to meet you in regard to the first subject and Major Emory of the Army upon the other points.
Any arrangement you may suggest will no doubt meet the full consideration of these gentlemen. - They came on board the Darlington with the Citizens of Florida mentioned; as you may or may not wish to see the latter I offer for your use the Cabin of this vessel if it should be wholly agreeable to you.
I will say moreover that if you choose the "Seneca" as the place of interview, you will be guaranteed an entire liberty of action and speech but received with all the courtesy which you would desire or that may be in my power to extend.
If you choose some other point be good enough to let me know the hour at which Col. Bryant and Major Emory shall meet you.
Signed Danl. Ammen
To Col. E. Hopkins
I have this day received your communication stating that you have been instructed by the General Commanding the Military Department of Middle and East Florida to inquire if an exchange can be made for private D. Hall of Company A, 3rd Reg. Fla. Vol.
I am instructed by the General commanding the Military department of Middle and East Fla to inquire if an exchange can be made for Private D. Hall of Company A, 3rd Regt. Fla Vols.
Commander of U.S. Naval forces
Head Quarters Forces, East Florida
On reflection it is deemed proper to refer your communication in relation to prisoners, citizens etc., to the Officer comdg the Department.
I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 6th by the arrival of the "Patroon" to day.
As there appears to be no necessity for a force at present except for the police of the river, I send the "Pembina" as directed - Recent advices from our armies will probably prevent the erection of a battery at some point, as I think was intended, and if it should be done and I think the vessels in the river insufficient to take the battery without difficulty I will ask an additional force for the purpose.
The "Isaac Smith" arrived on the 4th and on the 6th the "Darlington" was sent by Commander Drayton from Fernandina under charge of Lieut Maxwell, to ask a flag of truce in relation to the return of certain citizens of Florida and for the exchange of army prisoners.
I think the presence of Mr Bryant prevented any action on the part of the local authorities; they evidently fear his influence, and pending the arrival of instructions from Tallahassee, neither he nor the citizens desirous of returning were permitted to hold intercourse with their acquaintances.
I shall therefore direct the return of the "Darlington" tomorrow to Fernandina and the "Isaac Smith" accompanied by the "Patroon" will proceed up the river taking Mr. Bryant as passenger. I have directed Lieut. Com'g. Nicholson to facilitate the wishes and movement of Mr. Bryant as far as in his judgement [sic] they were in accordance with the interests of the Government of the United States. Lieut. Com'g. Nicholson will proceed to as high a point as he deems advisable and will meet me off Jacksonville on the 14th (?) at which time I will proceed up the river.
On my arrival at this point on Wednesday the 6th I received a flag of truce stating that the Commanding General of East and Middle Florida wished to know whether I was willing to exchange Private Hall (alluded to in my former report) for another prisoner.
I replied that I had apprehended Hall not as a soldier but as a disturber of the public peace and that I was not willing at this time to exchange him. - Since his seizure no threats or enormities have been perpetrated that have come to my knowledge.
I have the honor to be
Since my report of the 9th instant the Patroon has been at anchor above the mouth of Black Creek.
On the 14th as agreed upon the "Isaac Smith" met me at Jacksonville. I sent a flag of truce on shore and received an answer to the subject matter of the former flag of truce sent through Commander Drayton by the "Darlington" of which Col Bryant formed a party. I did this at his solicitation much against my wishes. He (?) conveyed the letter to the Commanding Officer at Fernandina.
The "Seneca" and the "Isaac Smith" then came to the bar, the latter for the purpose of coaling. On the 10th she took in six or eight tons from the wharf and eleven tons from us, and the next day proceeded up the river with discretionary orders, to be absent from five to ten days, as might be deemed expedient.
I directed Lieut. Comm'g. Nicholson to go above the mouth of Black Creek and as much farther up as he thought advisable, taking all necessary precautions to avoid injury from ambuscades if he went into dangerous localities.
He went within a very short distance of "Welaka" where the river was so narrow as to require the dredging of the XXXXX (?) around the beach (?) and was fired upon by a body of riflemen, who however did no injury to any one, although they were at a very short distance.
The extraordinary penetration of the rifle balls showed plainly that the bulwarks are no protection except as a screen to the persons on board of that vessel.
Jacksonville appears to be almost entirely deserted and I learn there is a great scarcity of food throughout Florida except beeves (?) , which are abundant in Marion (?) County and to the south of it.
An occupation of the line of railroad between Fernandina and Cedar Key by our troops would cut this supply, as well as any transportation from any part of the peninsula.
I sent the "Garabaldi" to communicate with Fernandina. - Upon her return if not otherwise directed I shall go up the river, probably not above Palatka for about one week, leaving the "Isaac Smith" at the bar.
I have the honor to be very Resp'y
The Seneca returned two days ago from a visit of several days up the river in the vicinity of Black Creek. Three contrabands (?) came off; they state that they belong to a Capt. Houston who commands a body of men who have thrown a boom across Black Creek four miles from the mouth and who have coverts (?) near by for the purpose of picking off our men should we attempt to go up. I am unable to ascertain why they supposed we might wish to ascend the creek. It leads (heads?) near (next?) to the railroad and to the rear of Jacksonville, which may account for it.
I send five contrabands in the "Garabaldi" retaining and enlisting one for the present on a/c [account] of his local knowledge. His master was one of the persons who attacked the "Penguin's" boats and boasts that he hung the negro pilot there captured.
I send a deserter from the rebel service who was a prisoner taken at Cedar Keys in the Schooner "Atwater" (?) about one year ago. He was induced to join the rebellion in the hope of finding an opportunity of escape.
A Mrs. Donaldson came off in a boat. She was a passenger from Fernandina by the Garabaldi on her last trip through the intercession of Col. Rich.
On that account I send a boat to communicate and return from Fernandina and shall endeavor hereafter to prevent the return of persons, particularly as parties or companies are organizing with a view to apprehend them and also for the purpose of preventing persons entering St. Augustine or holding intercourse with the Gun Boats on this River.
The poor people of whom I see a number are very much troubled at the conscription and do not know which way to turn. - The war now bears heavily upon them, but ignorant as they are, they express themselves unwilling to abandon their effects and their families except as a last extremity, which no doubt will end in their being compelled to serve.
The "Patroon" is still up the river where she will remain until the 7th instant if we do not go up the river before that time.
She will then be short of provisions.
I beg to call attention to the probable injury of the "Isaac Smith" from Marine Worms. I fear a delay to beach (?) and -------- (?) her may cause her very soon to be unseaworthy.
The "Seneca" has been nearly three months in these waters: with a prospect of active operations at other points I trust we may be able to share in them if it will not embarrass the disposition of your forces.
I have the honor to be very Respty
To. Flag officer
I received last night your interesting dispatch of May 3rd and desire to express to you that satisfaction I have felt at the course you have pursued in the St. Johns River. I have forwarded a copy of your report to the Department calling its special attention to it.
I have heard that the "Isaac Smith" has joined you and I dispatch today the Steamer "Patroon" - she will be able to cross the bar without much difficulty.
The "Massachusetts" will follow her with supplies tomorrow morning calling at Nassau, Brunswick and Fernandina. I think the "Patroon" will enable you to communicate with her. Whatever the "Massachusetts" has for distribution which you may require and which Lt. Com'g. Cooper can spare, you can obtain, having a due regard to proper requisitions, receipts, etc - You can also place any sick on board of her.
Should affairs in your judgement [sic] authorize it and the presence of the "Isaac Smith" and the "Patroon" be sufficient, you can send the "Pembina" up here to report to me. I enclose you a copy of my dispatch to the Sect'y of the Navy.
Commending your energy but at the same time enjoining the exercise of a sound discretion
I am Respt'y. Your obt. Servt.
Lieut. Comg Ammen
Your last communication dated May 31st has been received. I have directed Commander Gordon the Senior Officer at St. Simons to dispatch to the St. Johns River the vessel he can best spare.
On her arrival you will return with the Seneca to this anchorage, delivering to the other vessels of your command all provisions and coal on board you can dispense with and turning over to Lieut. Commg. Nicholson the charge of those waters.
Enclosed is a copy of a communication from Commander Drayton of May 26th reporting on Acting Master's Mate of the name of McGee or something like it for an attempt to commit a rape on a Mrs. French on board the Garabaldi. I desire that he be put in irons at once and brought to Port Royal in the Seneca on her return. The Acting Master of the Garabaldi is now here - if he has failed to report the matter to you I shall send him North recommending his dismissal from the service.
Enclosed also are Squadron papers which you will please distribute to the vessels of your mission division.
Respectfully Your Obt. Servant
Lieut. Com'g. D. Ammen
I have the melancholy duty to report the death of Lieut. John G. Sproston, the Executive officer of this vessel.
At 3.30 a. m. of to-day, he left in command of three boats with Acting Master J. H. Rogers, Masters Mate Fiske and forty small arms men. He was accompanied by a reserve force of thirty (30) men from the "Patroon."
The object was to capture a man named George Huston, a Captain of a company of rebels now in the vicinity of Black Creek. - I was informed that Huston boasted of having hung a negro pilot who was captured at the time of the death of Lieut. Comm'g Budd near Smyrna and on that account I wished him as a prisoner for the purpose of securing the general tranquillity of persons along the river, most of whom I doubt not would gladly acknowledge the authority of the Government of the U. S. were they not in fear of violence from men of this character.
Lieut. Sproston landed at early daylight and proceeded rapidly with his party to the house of Huston; the latter it appears was apprised of his coming and met him at the door armed with a double barrelled [sic] gun, two pistols and a bowie knife - Upon the demand of Lieut. Sproston to surrender himself as prisoner, Huston fired at him with a pistol, the ball entering high up on the left breast, and killing him instantly. Huston discharged the other pistol and gun without further injury to our party and was instantly wounded in four places and brought on board. He is supposed to be mortally wounded. Several shots were fired from Huston's house by persons who escaped.
Huston's firing upon Lieut. Sproston supported as he was by a large force, was a willful murder and involved necessarily his own destruction.
It is needless for me to state to you and to the Department, the character of Lieut. Sproston, known as he is as a highly accomplished and honorable officer. I cannot refrain however from expressing my deep regret that the country should have lost so valuable an officer by the hand of a miscreant.
I have the honor to be
I beg leave to report that while the Garabaldi was last at Fernandina on the 23rd inst. under charge of an acting Master belonging to the Seneca a Master's Mate of the name of McGee or something like it attempted to commit a rape as I have reason to believe from the evidence of the parties, on a Mrs. French, who with her husband was fleeing from Jacksonville. She was at the time in a very delicate condition, and the fright and rough treatment have so much affected her health, that our surgeon is of the opinion that her life is in danger.
I also report that the Commanding Officer of the "Garabaldi" although cognizant of these facts, left the port without reporting them to me. His name I believe is Rogers.
I am very Respectfully
Letters sent by Comdr. Daniel Ammen, commanding the Seneca, the Sebago, and the Patapsco, South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Oct. 1861 - June 1864, Record Group 45: Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, Letter Books of U.S. Naval Officers, March 1778 - July 1908, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
Return to Union Commanding Officers' Letter Books.
Return to Civil War Home.
Did You Know?
The planter's house at Kingsley Plantation, a unit of the Timucuan Preserve, is the oldest plantation house still standing in Florida. More...