Sunday, July 6, 2008
The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Eight
This is the monument that marks the mass grave of Union soldiers at the Olustee battlefield. It is located in a small cemetery adjacent to the state park.
The bodies of more than 200 Federal soldiers were collected from the field after the battle. While all deaths in the war were tragic, word began to filter out almost immediately after the battle that not all of the Union dead at Olustee had been killed in battle. Eyewitnesses from both sides saw Confederate soldiers killing wounded African American Union soldiers after the battle.
How many soldiers died in post-battle murders is not known, but there is little doubt that at least some killings happened in the wake of the engagement. On the Union side, Henry Lang of the 48th New York described seeing post-battle attrocities. The most numerous reports, however, came from the Southern side.
William Penniman of the 4th Georgia Cavalry reported hearing an outbreak of firing on the field after the battle that sounded almost like a skirmish line engaging. When he enquired as to the cause, he was told by an officer that men were killing black soldiers. James Jordan of the 27th Georgia wrote to his wife that men killed some of the wounded African-Americans almost as soon as they were captured. Winston Stephens of the 2nd Florida Cavalry wrote home that if the family slaves could have seen the treatment of the black soldiers after the battle, they would have lost all ambition to leave servitude. He also described seeing a black man in the Southern ranks kill a captured Union black soldier for offering to shake hands with him.
Although there is considerable evidence that wounded soldiers were killed after the battle, the fact that hundreds of Union wounded, along with hundreds of prisoners, were forwarded to hospitals and prisons also confirms eyewitness accounts that Southern officers intervened and stopped the violence. In Tallahassee, eyewitnesses reported that wounded African Americans received the same treatment as wounded white soldiers.
Our series on the Battle of Olustee will continue. To read more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.