12 March 2009


The Union campaign that climaxed in the Battle of Olustee (or Ocean Pond) began in February 1864, when troops commanded by General Truman A. Seymour embarked at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Their immediate objective was a fourth occupation of Jacksonville. The force could then disrupt transportation links and deprive the Confederacy of food supplies from central Florida; capture cotton, turpentine and timber; gain black recruits for the Union army; and induce Unionists in east Florida to organize a loyal state government.
Seymour's expeditionary force landed at Jacksonville on Feb 7. Scouts and raiders moved west and met little opposition.Meanwhile, during the month of January, movement of the Federal fleet had been noted by the Confederate forces, and they began to prepare for an offensive. The defense of Florida was placed in the hands of Brig. General Joseph Finegan and Brig. General Alfred Colquitt. Once it was apparent the Union forces were moving westward in Florida, Finegan began searching for the Confederate army's best defendable position.Finegan found that position at Olustee. With a lake called Ocean Pond on his left, a nearly impassable swamp on his right and only a narrow passage between, he called for troops to help defend Florida. Colquitt answered that call, bringing veteran troops from Savannah, Georgia.

On Feb 20, the Union force of 5,500 men and 16 cannon marched westward from Barber's Plantation, near modern day Macclenny. Their plan was to defeat the Confederates 32 miles away, near Lake City, and then cut off the railroad there. But by this time, the Confederate forces almost equaled the Union opposing army in number, and Finegan sent skirmishers to draw the Union forces to Olustee. The Union army drove the Confederate cavalry back several miles, but resistance kept growing stronger. H.W.B. Athens wrote "At 8 o' clock in the morning on the 20th instant we were informed that the Yankees were advancing. A part of the brigade was immediately ordered to some rifle pits hastily constrcuted near at hand, the remainder forming line of battle in open field. In this position we patiently waited the coming of the foe for an hour, when our General, who is a fair man, concluded to meet halfway." The opposing armies made contact that afternoon and the Confederate line was formed, infantry in the center with cavalry on each flank.

The battle was joined on the floor of a forest of virgin pines, free of underbrush. Men fought in the open forest; neither force constructed earthworks. The Union army was cauhgt between two swamps, one preventing their advance, and one hindering a retreat. Initially, neither side expected the battle here to amount to much.

Around 2 PM, the battle intensified as the 7th Connecticut opened up heavy fire with their Spencer repeating rifles. This caught the 64th Georgia off guard and killed all of their field officers. Colonel Barrow of the 64th had told his men "I am sure that we are in the right, and that God is on our side. Follow me today, my men, and I will lead you to the enemy. Remember, that the honor of Georgia rests with you." Soon after saying these words, Col Barrow was shot through the heart by a Union bullet and killed instantly. The 7th Connecticut advanced quickly, and soon found themselves ahead of the rest of the army, and in a deadly crossfire. The Union advance was finally halted when they ran low on ammunition and witdrew several hundred yards. Milton M. Woodford of the 7th CT wrote home "As we advanced, the enemy retired, keeping just in sight. Whenever we could get near enough to atnd any chance of doing execution we would blaze away at them and they returned the fire in a way that showed that they were good marksmen, for their shots came plenty near enough, although none of us were hit."

By 3 Pm, the 7th New Hampshire deployed on the Union right flank, battling heavy fire from the Confederates. The regiment had earlier been ordered to exchange their Spencer repeating rifles for old, defective muskets, many of which did not even fire. Colonel Hawley, leading the 7th new Hampshire, either gave a wrong command or his command was misunderstood, causing the confused 7th to scatter to the rear.

The 8th US Colored troops with no battle experience and little traing were deployed on the Union left flank. They had less than one month's service and had never practiced firing their weapons. They were severely mauled at a railroad crossing east of Olustee. Of the 375 men in this troop, 310 were killed or wounded. The 8th US Regimental Surgeon wrote "Here they stood for two hours... under one of the most terrible fires I ever witnessed, and here on the field of Olustee, was decided whether the colored man had the courage to stand without shelter, and run the dangers of the battlefield, and when I tell you that they stand with a fire in frint, on their flank without flinching, I have no doubt as to the center of every man who has gratitude for the defenders of his country, white or black."

Around this time, Colonel Harrison arrived with Confederate reinforcements. The area recently vacated by the 7th New Hampshire now came under concentrated fire. The train also had a large cannon mounted on a flatcar which shot a lare shell every five minutes with devastating effects. By now the Union had five cannon captured and almost all others rendered useless. James H. Clark remarked "the horses and men were nearly all killed or wounded, and it was the greatest slaughter among artillery known in the history of the war."
By now the Union felt the day was lost, but the 54th Massachusetts and 1st North Carolina US Colored advanced, staggering the enemy.
By 5 Pm the fire slackened on both sides as soldiers ran out of ammunition. The men searched the pockets of their fallen comrades, desperate for more ammunition. New supplies arrived for the Confederates and the entire line moved forward, led by the 27th Georgia.
"The whole line moving as directed, the enemy gave way in confusion. We continued the pursuit for several miles, when night put an end to the conflict." -Brigadier General Alfred Colquitt
"Claiming to be the last to leave the field, the 54th Massachusetts heard their Lt Col Hooper say 'Well boys, we must hold this line: We must fix bayonets and stay in our tracks.' The men shouted 'we can do it.' They gathere all the cartridges from the field they could, and as the enemy advanced... the men would cheer so that the Rebels thought it was a trap and fell back. After some time our men were withdrawn a little way, and a line formed there as the army retreated our regiment fell back taking different positions until off the field." -Major John Appleton, 54th Massachusetts
Colquitt's brigade gradually advanced until they were nearly on the enemy's left flank. The Yankees broke and fled, and the Rebels knew they had won.
"Grape and canister swept by with hideous music, and shell after shell tore through our ranks and burst amid heaps of our wounded heroes. The 115th New York swept forward in the face of a galling fire, through reeds higher than our heads, over logs and fences, until the hateful columns of Southern grey were plainly visible.After three hours of fighting, every regiment excepting the 115th New York had been compelled to leave the field. Our boys occupied precisely the same position which they did at the opening of the battle. They stood battling over the bodies of their fallen comrades...At last the shades of night covered the field of blood, and we were then ordered to the rear. After giving three ringing cheers of defiance to the rebels, the regiment slowly and sadly dragged themselves away. Over one half were killed and wounded, and the remainder were black with powder and the smoke of battle, and could hardly move."
-James H.Clark: "The Iron Hearted Regiment."
Battle casualties amounted to 1,861 Union and 946 Confederate soldiers.
"It was a fair, square, stand-up fight in pine woods, just there not very thick, and having little undergrowth, save about an occasional swampy hole. There was probably a difference of less than five hundred in the numbers engaged. The Confederates knew the ground and were formed for battle. We rushed in, not waiting for the proper full formation, and were fought in detail. The enemy had the great advantage, with modern weapons of being on the defensive and ready. There was absolutely no pursuit of the defeated party until the next day. The Confederate loss was 940; the Union loss 1861. This left the former with say 4500; the atter with about 3700, or about that proportion. It was one of the sideshows of the great war, but the loss on the Union side was proportionately about three times as great as at Buena Vista. I suppose it did help to whittle away the great rebellion." -Col Joseph Hawley
Union soldiers remained in Jacksonville until the end of the war and occupied several coastal towns and various places along the St Johns River. They carried out frequent operations against Confederate forces defending east Florida but did not venture out in significant force again.
The 1899 Florida legislature created a commission to select a site and to raise funds for a suitable monument to commemorate the battle. The site was acquired by the state of Florida in 1909. the monument was built in 1912 and dedicated in 1913, just 49 years after the battle.

A small onsite museum has several artifacts, but does not say if they are originals or reproductions.

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