Lost Brooklyn: The Buffalo Soldier’s House

This article by Dr. Tim Gilmore of jaxpsychogeo.com examines the history of one of the last surviving American Civil War era structures in urban Jacksonville.

Brooklyn: Buffalo Soldier’s House

Halfway through the Civil War, in March 1863, black Union soldiers occupied Confederate Jacksonville for nearly three weeks.

The following February, the United States sent 7,000 troops into Confederate Florida, including three black regiments. When the Confederacy scored a resounding victory at the Battle of Olustee, Jacksonville, more than 40 miles east, became a defensive wall against Confederate advancement, with black soldiers manning a Union stockade with a 12 foot moat and perhaps two dozen heavy artillery guns through the marshes of what’s now inner-city LaVilla down to Brooklyn, where Camp Foster stood near the intersection of today’s Jackson and Magnolia Streets.

courtesy Wayne Wood

Perhaps one of those USCT, United States Colored Troops, or “Buffalo Soldiers,” first called the heart pine cottage at 328 Chelsea Street home. Though former slaves and black Union soldiers first occupied this western part of Brooklyn in the 1860s and ’70s, no records indicate 328’s first owner.

The last Buffalo Soldier’s house steps forward to the street. The houses alongside it stand back. Houses that pre-date present street grids sometimes extend to asphalt, as others stand crooked on 1880s’ and ’90s’ maps.

photo by Hurley Winkler

Large migrations of Northeasterners to Florida in the late 1800s made Jacksonville a surprisingly strong city for Union resistance deep in the Confederacy. Many of Jacksonville’s white population were Union sympathizers and the town was largely black. One goal of the Union’s Florida surge was to recruit former slaves to fight against the Confederacy. They came to Jacksonville in droves and, even as Confederate soldiers tortured to death any black Union fighter they captured, former slaves, now American soldiers, held the line against Confederate forces at Jacksonville.

photo by Hurley Winkler

As the Union occupation of Confederate towns like Jacksonville ended and the Reconstruction Era began, Confederate veteran Miles Price platted this former plantation into lots and sold them to former slaves and Buffalo Soldiers.

After walking the rotten floors of the last Buffalo Soldier’s house, retying my shoe on the back steps of the oldest house in Brooklyn, I have to admit to poetic license. (Anyway, I’m no historian, just a poet who writes history and gets it right.)