Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park
Located 15 miles east of Lake City and 50 miles west of Jacksonville on U.S. 90, the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is the site of the 1864 Battle of Olustee (or Battle of Ocean Pond), Florida.
Olustee was the largest battle fought in Florida during the War Between the States. The action took shape when Union Brigadier General Truman A. Seymour, contrary to orders, advanced west from Jacksonville planning to push as far as the Suwannee River and cut the vital railroad bridge there. His scouting efforts were particularly weak and he does not seem to know that he was advancing into the teeth of a Confederate army roughly the same size of his own.
Headed by Brigadier General Joseph Finegan, the Confederate army was engaged in erecting a fortified line at Olustee Station east of Lake City when Seymour made his move.
As the Federals pushed west, Finegan sent forward troops to engage the front of their column. The two forces collided on February 20, 1864. The result was a rapidly developing fight that erupted in the open pine woods well in advance of Finegan's uncompleted fortifications. The Confederates successfully overlapped the head of the Union column. Realizing the opportunity presented, Finegan and his second in command, Brigadier General A.H. Colquitt, began pushing more and more men into line, bringing them up faster than the confused Federals could respond.
The Confederates pushed forward throughout the afternoon, driving back the Federals in a series of fierce attacks. It finally became obvious to Seymour that the battle was lost and he moved forward two famed African American units - the 35th U.S. Colored Troops and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry - to make a stand while he withdrew his army. Thanks to the the fierce fight they waged, he was able to get most of his army off the field before the Confederates completely destroyed him.
When the smoke cleared, the Confederates had sustained casualties of around 93 killed, 847 wounded and 6 missing. The Federals, on the other hand, had lost more than twice as many men with reported casualties of 203 killed, 1,152 wounded and 506 missing.
The Battle of Olustee was a major victory for the Confederacy and ended a major effort by the Union government to "reconstruct" the state in time for it to participate in the 1864 Presidential elections.
Olustee Battlefield today is a well-preserved state park. In addition to monuments and interpretive signs, there is a small museum and walking trails leading through the battlefield.