Sunday, February 1, 2009
The Battle of Olustee, Florida
February marks the 145th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee. The largest Civil War battle in Florida, this engagement was a dramatic Confederate victory that ended Union hopes splitting the state in two.
The battle took place when Union General Truman Seymour, contrary to his orders, advanced west from the line of the St. Mary's River hoping to capture and destroy a vital railroad bridge over the Suwannee River. The bridge was the only rail link connecting East and West Florida and its capture would allow Seymour to divide the state in two.
The Confederates, however, had flooded reinforcements to the Lake City area after Union forces first came ashore at Jacksonville. Seymour did not know it, but he was marching directly into the teeth of a Southern army commanded by General Joseph Finegan. The two forces collided just east of Olustee, a small railroad siding near a large body of water called Ocean Pond, on February 20, 1864.
General Finegan had prepared a line of entrenchments at Olustee. Hoping to draw the Federals into attacking him there, he sent forward troops under General Alfred H. Colquitt to skirmish with the oncoming Union army and draw it into the trap. Colquitt, however, quickly realized that the Federals were advancing in column formation and clearly were not anticipating a major action. He and Finegan began to rush troops forward so fast that the Confederate line of battle successfully overlapped both flanks of Seymour's army.
Despite hard fighting by such units as the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, a famed African American regiment, the battle was a disaster for the Union forces. By the time the smoke cleared, Gilmour had sustained losses of 200 killed, 1,152 wounded and 506 missing. The Confederates, by comparison, reported losses of 93 killed, 847 wounded and 6 missing.
The 40% casualties sustained by the Federal forces at the Battle of Olustee marked the single greatest loss (by percentage of force) for a Union army during the entire Civil War.
The site of the battle is now preserved at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park in Olustee, Florida. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.