Provided courtesy of Kyle S. VanLandingham
T.B. Ellis served in McKay, Jr.'s independent cavalry company from October 1863 to April 1864 where he was later re-assigned to another company in Munnerlyn's Battalion. He gives a good account of the Brooksville raid in July 1864 and the Fort Myers expedition in February 1865.
SOURCE: excerpts from "Confederate Diary of Thomas Benton Ellis, Sr., 1842-1926," Typescript copy in P. K. Yonge Library of Florida History, University of Florida, Gainesville, pp. 9-11.
I remained at home for some time, and as soon as I was able, reported to Captain [James] McKay [Sr.] at Tampa. Father furnished me with the finest horse he had, and the sixty detailed men were formed into a Company [fall 1863] with James McKay, Jr., as Captain, W. W. Wall First Lieutenant, John W. Crighton, Second Lieutenant, and I as First Sergeant. The Company began at once to gather beef cattle from all parts of South Florida, and drove them to Live Oak, where they were shipped to Bragg's Army. We frequently had skirmishes with Yankees and deserters. At one time [July 1864] they landed at the mouth of the Ancloate River with a force of 400 men, one Company of Yankee soldiers, one Company [U.S. 2nd Fla. Cavalry] of deserters, and one negro [U.S. Colored Troops] company, and began a raid through the County to Brooksville. They surprised and captured eleven of our pickets composed of boys, some old men and their horses.
John Crighton, Walter Delaney, and I, were on picket 20 miles this side of the first pickets, and the next morning after the capture of the first pickets, I was on the morning watch, and just as morning was breaking, I saw the Yanks coming, they were riding the captured horses. I sent Captain Delaney back at once, towards Brooksville, where a Company of old men and boys were stationed, and told them to send a runner at once to Tampa and have Captain Leslie's Company, and if possible, Captain McKay's detailed men to come at once. He left a full speed. I told him to send the old men and boy Company at once, to come as far as a Creek or branch about 20 miles from Brooksville and form themselves on this Branch; that John Crighton and I would try to hold the Yanks in check as best we could till we could meet them. We stayed just ahead of the Yanks, allowing them to get within speaking distance, and we recognized the Pilto, a deserter and one of my neighbors. We kept our horses heads facing them and moved backwards. They hollered at me and told me to stop, that they would not hurt me. You may be assured that I did not trust them. We continued in front of them for some miles until we reached the place I had ordered the Home Guard to form themselves, but as I got to the Branch, I saw across on the other side the men running all helter skelter, with no one and everyone in command. Some of them ran back to their plantations to runoff their negroes. I saw at once that we could do nothing to check the advance. As soon as I got to the Branch, I turned my horse and fired at them, and I suppose they fired 50 shots at me, their balls striking all around me, but none struck me nor my horse. We kept as near them as we could, firing at them and they firing at us. They burned all the houses on the route until they go to my father's house. They spent several hours at our place and fed the men from our smokehouse, pantry and barns, then took our wagons and loaded them, then set fire to every house on the place. As they were leaving, one of the deserters, a Methodist preacher, slipped back, stopped the fire which was underway at the back of the house. Mother and the small children were in the house.
That Methodist preacher was kind to Mother and told her that nothing in her room would be disturbed, and he secretly slipped other articles from other rooms. We afterwards captured this man with other deserters and put them in jail at Brooksville. My mother went to the jail and took him something to eat. About 12 of these prisoners were put under my charge with, I think, six or eight young boys, and I took them to Jacksonville and turned them over to the proper officers. I remember that General Patton Anderson was in Command there at the time. I marched them to Gainesville, then by train to headquarters near Jacksonville. The first night out on the Charlie Apopka Lake, I camped. I had heard that a number of other deserters had said that they would take them from us the first night out, so I made Camp on a lake so arranged that had water on three sides and land in front. I placed the prisoners in front, and kept watch in rear of them, so that if the would-be rescuers made the attempt, the prisoners would be a protection to us. I heard afterward that they did approach us near enough to see the situation and did not have the nerve to attack. I also had a front guard secreted on duty.
After the Yankee Command left my father's place, they proceeded to Bay Port and went aboard their boats and returned to Fort Myers. Leslie's and McKay's Companies started as soon as they got the message, but the Courier had to ride 50 miles to Tampa and the Companies to come the 50 miles back, making 100 miles, so they reached us too late to be of service.
Some time after this, [Feb. 1865] McKay's and Leslie's Companies with the Home Guard, making a total of 200 men, under Major Footman, started on a campaign to Fort Myers, Tampa being the starting point, a distance of 200 miles. The intention was to surprise and capture the place and the troops and destroy the place; and arriving about 8 miles from the place, we captured their outside pickets, then on to within sight of the place, we captured the pickets just outside the Fort. This was just before day when the whole garrison was asleep and not expecting danger. Nothwithstanding the plan was to rush on them and capture them before they could get ready for resistance, and all plans had been carried out and we were at their gates, expecting nothing else but go right in and capture them, but judge my disappointment when Footman sent in a flag of truce and demanded a surrender. Of course that gave them time to make ready for resistance, and of course they declined to surrender, and send word if we wanted them to come in. So the planned surprise part was a failure. Then we thought sure to make a charge on them. Major Footman formed the men in line and said all who were in favor of making the attack must stand to the front. Only one man stepped to the front! We thought sure we would attack, but not so; instead we turned back and went home! I asked the Major why he did not make the attempt, and he said he did not think a good General would take the risk of having his men slaughtered. So we started on our return trip, and when we arrived at Fort Meade, we met Couriers with orders for us to report an once to Lake City, that the Yankees were landing at Jacksonville with the intention of making a raid through the country to Tallahassee, so we moved forward as fast as possible toward Lake City. When we arrived at Gainesville, we had news that the Yankees had attempted it and gotten as far as Ocean Pond, [Olustee] and were met by our soldiers and whipped and retreated to Jacksonville. We were then sent back to Tampa. [Obviously, Ellis has confused the chronology a bit here, because the Battle of Ocean Pond/Olustee occurred in Feb. 1864, a year before the Fort Myers battle.]
After this I was detailed as Courier for the Command and continued to the end. I had one of the best horses I ever saw, and taking dispatches of other Courier work, I could make quick time from Tampa, Brooksville, Lake City, Jacksonville or other points South of Tampa. During this period I had a good many experiences; some pleasant, some dangerous. In South Florida, my routes took me through parts of the country inhabited by deserters, and my acquaintance with the country as a Stockman enabled me to know the by-paths and places to ford streams, creeks and rivers. I often made the trips at night so as to dodge the sneaking deserters. Once, after riding 35 miles that day and arriving at a crossing on the Hillsboro River just before sundown, I attempted to swim my horse across, but the horse refused to swim but sink, turned around, regained the shore or bluff. After forcing a great many times and and failing, I gave it up and had to ride 35 miles to the mouth of the river at Tampa, where I could cross at the ferry. I rode that distanced in seven hours, then proceeded to Captain McKay, Sr's Headquarters, arriving at daylight, and delivered the dispatches which I had brought from Lake City. From this time I was on the road or in the woods all the time. Then came the report that General Lee had surrendered, and when this had been confirmed, I returned home to my father and mother....