Wednesday, July 2, 2008
The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Six
This photograph shows the approximate position of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry during the Battle of Olustee, Florida.
The wall at left fronts the primary battlefield monument and the railroad can be seen at right.
After their advance was brought to a halt by an ammunition shortage, the Confederates held their line of battle despite heavy fire from Union regiments including the 54th.
While ammunition was being rushed forward from wagons to the rear, additional Confederate reinforcements in the form of Bonaud's battalion, the 1st Florida Battalion and the 27th Georgia pushed up to Colquitt's line of battle. Pushing them forward, he had them form a line in advance of his other troops until fresh ammunition could be brought forward and distributed to the rest of his men.
As soon as the men were resupplied, Colquitt ordered a general advance on the Union lines. The 6th and 32nd Georgia Regiments were moved around to strike against the right flank of the Federal line of battle, while the fresh men of the 27th Georgia struck hard at the Union center.
Although Seymour had entered the battle with about 500 more men than Finegan and Colquitt, the collapse of two of his regiments now meant that Colquitt now had more infantry on the field. Exhausted and discouraged, the Union line began to give way.
Seymour downplayed the severity of the defeat in his official report:
...The disparity in numbers was too great and the defense too obstinate to permit of decisive results. The struggle continued until dusk, and ended with cheers of defiance, and finding it hopeless, under existing circumstances, to advance farther, the troops were withdrawn in perfect order to Sanderson and then to the Saint Mary’s, Colonel Henry’s cavalry, supported by the Seventh Connecticut, serving as rear guard. From loss of horses alone, I was compelled to leave six guns on the field, and a small portion of the badly wounded were left in the power of the enemy from insufficient means to remove them.
The Confederates told a different story. According to General Finegan:
They contested the ground stubbornly, and the battle lasted for four and a half hours. At the end of this time, the enemy’s lines having been broken and reformed several times, and two fine Napoleon and three 10-pounder Parrott guns and one set of colors captured from them, they gave way entirely, and were closely pressed for 3 miles until night-fall.
Colquitt described the breaking of the Union lines in similar terms and Seymour's commander, General Gillmore, left no doubt that he believed his subordinate had been badly defeated at Olustee:
We now know since the close of the war that there was no “disparity in numbers,” and we knew at the time that the “results” were a “decisive” defeat upon the field of battle and the frustration – as well by loss of men as by loss of prestige – of a well and carefully digested plan of campaign. General Finegan, who was in command of the enemy’s forces, told two members of my staff (Capt. D.S. Leslie, One hundred and fourth U.S. Colored Troops, and Capt. Henry Seton, Fifty-fourth New York) that he had only about 5,000 men at the battle. General Seymour had 5,500 men. Our losses were 1,800 men in killed, wounded and missing, 39 horses, and 6 pieces of artillery. Indeed, our forces appear to have been surprised into fighting, or attempting to fight, an offensive battle, in which the component parts of the command were beaten in detail. The enemy did not fight behind intrenchments or any kind of defenses.
Our series on the Battle of Olustee will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.