Col. W.R. Noble to his Commanding Officer
Head Quars. U.S. Forces
To Brig. Gen. J.P. Hatch, Comdg. District of Florida:
Preparations had been made to fire all the buildings at Baldwin and also large piles of the superstructure and of the roads centering there. Instructions were left with the Colonel of the 104th Penn. Vols. to apply the torch at 11 o'clock a.m., withdraw his picket, which had replaced ours, and march his command to Cedar Creek in pursuance of his instructions from your Head Quarters.
Our line of march was at first on the west side of the Cedar Keys and Gulf Rail Road. This we crossed about 3 miles from Baldwin and marched on the easterly side thereof and at considerable distance from it for the most of the way, until we crossed to the west side about 3 p.m. We here tore up and burned two and a half miles of the track of that road.
We reached our designated camping ground for the night at Trail Ridge at 8 in the evening. We there found Col. Harris and his mounted infantry. He reported to me his action at the ford of New River, and left about dark for Stark.
On the next day, the 16th inst, we marched at daylight along the eastern border of the rail road. But we turned by routes pointed out by our guides 8c.(?), which took us several miles to the east of said railroad and were not again nearer same than two 8 ½ miles.
We made our camp at night, full 2 ½ miles east from Stark at a fork of the Sand Hill Lake, the east and west roads running to Stark.
The next morning we continued our route southard by the road running though the Sand Hill Lake country, a most beautiful and interesting region. We encamped at night at Shake - Reg.(?) corner, the junction of the road we had travelled with the Bellamy Road. Here having heard whilst making camp rumors of disasters to Col. Harris' cavalry and all but 50(?) had been killed or captured, we put out a strong picket during the night and made our camp very compact. We sent out during the night several scouting parties. One of them visited the residence of Dr.McCrae, a bitter rebel, and gathered his horses and stock. In the morning after we made him a further visit and burned a large amount of cotton, 4,000 pounds.
On the day previous a like amount of rebel property was burnt. The next morning on entering the Bellamy Road, we found marks of a considerable force, with shred(?) horses, which had gone east supposing there were a remnant of Col. Harris' force command and that others might come in, we did not break camp until late and moved all the day very slowly and scouting on every side of the route for rebel property 8c. A force in command of Lieut. Rice A.C.S. was sent out to break up a meeting for enrollment of volunteer militia and minutemen, but finding that place of enrollment was some 18 miles back towards Gainesville, they limited their march to bringing in horses and other property. On this scout a large steam cotton gin and mill filled with some 20,000 pounds of cotton was burned. We moved our camp on the fourth day immediately north of Lake George, one wing of our line resting on the lake, the other on extensive morass. During the day and evening some of the Ohio mounted infantry and Mass. cavalry came up with us. On the 19th we completed our march as ordered and arrived at magnolia about sundown.
My staff and the Ohio mounted infantry were of very great use in accomplishing the purpose of the expedition [sic], without their aid, we should have been to have done nothing, beyond the immediate route of march. On our 2nd day march Lieut. Rice A.C.S. wit some ten cavalry and several scouts (mounted Floridians) went to visit some rebels and to bring in the family of the well-known scout, Livingston. This they successfully accomplished and returned at nightfall with the scout's family and a splendid six mule team and several contribands [sic].
Had not Col. Harris preceded us on the same route over which we passed on the 3rd day we should have been enabled to secure a much larger amount of property and a number of contribands [sic]. I take great pleasure in bringing to your notice the very efficient aid I have received from Captain J.D. Hodges A.A.A.G. (?) Lieut. Marshal N. Rice 35th U.S.C.T. & A.C.S. Lieut. Johnson 3rd U.S.C.T. & A.A.J.M. (?) each of whom I have found very energetic and familiar with the duties they discharged on my Staff and the officers of the Command generally.
They were at all time ready and present with the command for Orders and they were by them execute promptly.
I have the honor to be
(Signed) W.R. Noble