The Museum of Southern History
Preserving the History, Ideals and Chivalry of the South.
4304 Herschel St., Jacksonville, Florida 32210
The Battle of Olustee
GEN. ALFRED HOLT COLQUITT was born in Monroe, Georgia, April 20, 1824. He graduated from Princeton in 1844; studied law, and was admitted to the bar. Throughout the Mexican War he served as a staff officer with distinction. He commenced the practice of his profession and in 1852 was elected to the United States Congress. He was a member of the Georgia Legislature in 1859 and was a member of the State Secession Convention in 1861. He was elected Colonel of the 6th Georgia Infantry in May 1861 and served in the Seven Pines battles and at Sharpsburg and at Chancellorsville.
He was promoted to Brigadier General to serve from Sept. 1, 1862. He commanded a brigade of Georgia troops in the Battle of Olustee where he rendered distinguished service in defeating the Union Army with little loss to his command. After this battle, he returned to the Army of Northern Virginia. He was elected Governor of Georgia in 1876. At the expiration of his term as Governor, he was elected to the United States Senate which he occupied until his death in Washington, D.C., March 26, 1894. He was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery, Macon, Georgia, where he had lived many years.
Background In 1860, the only settled part of Florida was a layer of mainly Georgians and South Carolinians extending less than a hundred miles south of the north border and thus a far cry from the millions who today find it a land of promise. The War Between the States was far from over. The main Union Army of the Potomac had been almost entirely inactive since Gettysburg, the preceding July, and was still licking its wounds from that battle. Sherman's march on Atlanta was still entirely conjectural and that army was bogged down in winter quarters in the mountains of Tennessee having found the Confederate opposition very difficult to handle. Mr. Lincoln's re-election in 1864 was definitely doubtful.
In spite of its sparse settlement Florida was a fruitful source of supply for the Confederate forces, especially cattle, and blockade runners generally found it easily accessible. Florida had been a part of the United States for only a little over a generation. The Seminole War was nearer in time than World War II is to us. The new state was an easy refuge for runaway slaves.
The City of Jacksonville was in its infancy and still known to many as "Cow Ford". The Census of 1860 carries the names of less than four hundred white inhabitants for Jacksonville and the boast of over two thousand a few years later undoubtedly included slaves and freedmen. The "built-up" city was largely between Ocean and Market Streets and between Adams and the river. The center of business was the area near Bay and Newnan. Lumbering was seemingly the chief business along with cotton. There were a goodly number of small stores such as would be found in a small town today. Shipping was beginning to flourish. A disastrous fire had nearly wiped out the business section a decade before and shortly thereafter a yellow fever epidemic had decimated the new city.
Union forces had occupied Jacksonville in 1862 with very little opposition and most of the loyal Confederates had fled inland chiefly to Alligator or Lake City. This encouraged the Union people who were left behind to draw up what was called a "Bill of Rights" which declared Florida's Ordinance of Secession illegal and called for the organization of a government loyal to the Union but before anything definite could be accomplished the Union forces evacuated the city. However, since Union gun boats patrolled the St. Johns there was only token reoccupation by the Confederates.
All of the above factors encouraged President Lincoln early in 1864 to give active support to a plan to restore Florida to the Union. Three major objectives in this plan were (1) to cut off a very important source of supply for the Confederate Army, chiefly cattle, (2) to recruit Negro soldiers for the Union Army from slaves, both local and runaways from other states, and (3) to implement the project begun in Jacksonville in 1862 to organize a loyal government. Mr. Lincoln was so much encouraged by the optimism of a small element of Union people in the state that he gave his private secretary, John Hay, a commission as a major and authorized him to set up the loyal government. Mr. Lincoln felt this would be largely routine once an expeditionary force landed in Jacksonville.
In February, 1864, the expeditionary force was sent from Charleston, South Carolina under the immediate command of Brigadier General Truman Seymour who had experience and some success on other fronts. His total force numbered perhaps 12,000 men, infantry and cavalry and artillery of whom 7,000 to 9,000 were to be used to occupy the State. The expedition was escorted by Union warships and like two previous occupation forces, met with only token opposition. The Union regiments moved on into the state along the Florida, Atlantic and Gulf Central Railroad, or generally along the present U.S. 90, still with little opposition until their vanguard approached Lake City where Brigadier General Finegan had rallied enough Florida forces to oppose them with about 2,000 men.
After a brush with the Confederates at Lake City the Union forces withdrew to Sanderson which their nine regiments of infantry and cavalry, and some artillery were to use as a base. General Finegan followed to Olustee where he was joined by two brigades from Georgia sent by General Beauregard as much needed reinforcements. The five thousand or less Confederates partially fortified their position at Olustee and there planned to meet the main Union Army but the development of the battle was about three miles to the east.
Preliminaries of the Battle, February 20, 1864 General Finegan ordered Col. Caraway Smith's Cavalry Brigade to advance and scout the possible position of the Union Army which had been reported to him as approaching Olustee from the east. Accordingly the Fourth Georgia Cavalry, under the command of Col. Clinch, advanced dismounted as a skirmish line and was supported by the Second Florida Cavalry. The Fourth Georgia skirmishers met the advance guard of the Seventh Connecticut Infantry of the Union Army and firing began on both sides. In keeping with General Finegan’s orders the Confederate skirmishers fell back to draw the Union forces toward the main Confederate position. Meanwhile the 64th Georgia Infantry, under command of Col. Harrison, took position behind the cavalry skirmishers and stopped the advance of the Seventh Connecticut. The Fourth Georgia Cavalry took position on the left flank of the Confederates and the Second Florida on the right flank as the firing became general. The Seventh New Hampshire of the Union Army moved forward to the right of the Seventh Connecticut with the Eighth U.S. regulars, a colored regiment, in reserve.
The firing became heavier and General Colquitt of the First Georgia Brigade moved three of his Georgia regiments, the 6th, 19th and 28th in support of the 64th, with the 6th taking a position on the left flank of the 64th and the 28th and then the 19th on the right. Gamble's Florida Artillery unlimbered in support of General Colquitt's Brigade. The pressure of the Confederate firing caused the 7th Connecticut to withdraw and the 8th U.S. regulars moved into position on the left of the Union line. The battle was now in full swing and this was the line generally on which the battle was to rage for nearly six hours.
The Main Battle General Seymour of the Union Army saw that the battle was now fully joined and proceeded to move his entire force into the line of battle. The 7th New Hampshire moved into the Union line as the 7th Connecticut withdrew but because of heavy attack from the Confederate line confusion developed as the 7th New Hampshire moved to take over in place of the 7th Connecticut. As the 7th New Hampshire deployed to the right of the Union line it came under a withering fire from the Confederates with heavy losses and it too was forced to withdraw and the 8th U.S. Regulars, a colored regiment, moved into the right front of the Union line.
The 32nd Georgia, meanwhile, had moved into the Confederate line to the right of the 6th Georgia with the 1st Georgia to the right of the 6th and the 23rd to the right of the 1st. These new regiments increased the fire power of the Confederate line with the result that the 8th U.S. suffered heavy losses, its commanding officer Col. Frilby was killed, his successor badly wounded and the command of the regiment devolved on a captain of one of its companies. The regiment was cut to pieces, lost its colors, and was in confusion and demoralized.
The flower of Seymour's Union Army, the New York Brigade under the command of General Barton consisting of the 47th, 48th and 115th New York Regiments, was ordered into action. They were supported by the 1st U.S. Artillery with six guns, four of them twelve pounder brass Napoleons, which unlimbered to the left of the New York Brigade and near the field headquarters of General Seymour. The Union front line was then the 115th New York on the right, the 48th New York in the center and the 47th New York on the left. Portions of the 7th Connecticut and the 8th U.S. having been partially reformed were protecting the Union artillery on the left. Gamble's Confederate Artillery, supported by the Georgia Light Artillery, poured a heavy fire into the Union lines and received a like response from the 1st U.S. Artillery. Because of a failure to receive necessary protection from its supporting infantry the 1st U.S. Artillery was rendered ineffective as the battle progressed and lost most of its horses and five of its guns including three of the brass Napoleons due to the very effective pressure from the 19th and 28th Georgia.
Again the heavy Confederate firing and the failure of its artillery support began to weaken the Union front and General Seymour ordered the remnant of the 7th Connecticut, the 54th Massachusetts and the 1st North Carolina, both colored, of Montgomery's Brigade, to deploy through the New York Brigade and take over the Union front line.
The 64th Georgia Regiment, under the command of Colonel Evans, and part of the Second Brigade under Colonel Harrison, which had been in action and on the Confederate front line continuously since the battle began, at this point, ran out of ammunition. Other Confederate front line units found their ammunition running dangerously low. Frantic appeals were made for a new supply. The Confederate front line which had kept up a steady and sometimes withering fire for several hours and had steadily moved forward until it had taken over the original Union front line nearly ceased firing. This almost proved disastrous. Several factors saved the day.
Staff officers, couriers and orderlies rode between the Confederate ammunition train in the rear and the front line, bringing cartridges in their haversacks, dispatch cases, and caps.
The 1st Florida, the 27th Georgia and Bonaud's Battalion of Georgia Infantry were moved forward and deployed through the Confederate front line and temporarily took over that line until the new supply of ammunition, could be brought up, and distributed to the Georgia units under General Colquitt. In addition to these new units and their encouraging effect on the Confederate and discouraging effect on the Union front, the Confederate artillery stepped up its firing. In the course of the battle, Gamble's Florida artillery which had effectively covered General Colquitt's attack was replaced by the Chatham Georgia Artillery under the command of Captain Wheaton. It continued the effective firing which Gamble's guns had produced. When the Confederate front line was having its ammunition problem, the Chatham Artillery found its own supply low. Just at this juncture Guerard's Georgia Artillery unlimbered for action and General Colquitt ordered a section of it to support the Chatham Battery. The Guerard guns not only brought the encouragement of reinforcement but a new supply of artillery ammunition as well. The Confederate artillery, then, able to join the new infantry units in protecting its front lines during the ammunition crisis. This new impetus to the Confederate front when it had temporarily appeared to be weakening had the opposite effect on the Union commanders. General Barton of the New York Brigade sent out an order for withdrawal.
The most spectacular event of the day now took place. Before the battle began, Lieutenant Rambo of the Milton Battery of the Florida Artillery had been ordered by General Finegan to mount a thirty pound Parrott rifle on a flat car and bring up a locomotive to move it. Lieutenant Rambo and his thirteen men waited behind the Confederate line all through the battle for a chance to use this "railroad artillery". Since it was behind a pine grove where the Confederate units were either fighting, or in reserve, Lieutenant Rambo was afraid trees and limbs falling from the firing of his gun might injure the Confederates as much or more than it would the enemy. However, as the Union line was slowly pushed back he found that his gun could be advanced beyond the pines. Therefore, just as the Union line began to feel the demoralization of a fresh Confederate attack and a stepped up Confederate artillery barrage, the big Parrott railroad gun opened up on the Union line. One of its heavy shells dropped in the middle of the 54th Massachusetts with disastrous effect on its already weakened morale. General Seymour soon after ordered a withdrawal of his army and as night fell the Union regiments were in full retreat, some of them in near panic and with general confusion. The brighter side of the picture for the Union forces was that the 115th New York and the 7th Connecticut, which had opened the battle, and had played a heroic role with heavy losses, took over as rear guard for the Union Army. General Seymour left most of his killed and wounded on the battlefield including Col. Frilby, one of his regimental commanders.
Epilogue – Retrea
Nearly all of the heavily depleted Union Army reached Barbers and Sanderson about twenty miles east of Olustee by midnight of the 20th, the day of the battle. The Confederates, very much exhausted after almost continuous fighting for nearly six hours were ready to rest for the night. The Confederate Cavalry could have pursued more effectively but hesitancy as to the extent of the Union retreat as well as confused orders prevented more than a token follow up of the victory. Casualties made this one of the bloodiest battles of the war, considering the number of men involved. Union losses were 203 killed, 1152 wounded and 506 missing; and Confederate, 93 killed, 847 wounded and 6 missing. The Confederates captured large amounts of equipment including 5 cannons and 1600 rifles.
In the haste of the Union retreat General Seymour ordered 130,000 rounds of small arms ammunition dumped into a lake at Baldwin. The Confederates were able to salvage most of the balls or lead.
Within less than two days the Union Army was back in. the environs of Jacksonville and under the protection of the warships in the St. Johns River. There it continued in a state of siege for the next two months. A young lieutenant of the 54th Massachusetts wrote home that Jacksonville, a pretty place, had been "made lonely and desolate" .
General Seymour, while his army was marching into the interior of Florida, reported that he had found no loyal sentiment. The valor of the thousands who fought at Olustee, according to the Historian Lossing, proved that "loyal sentiment in Florida was largely a myth".