Monday, June 30, 2008

The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Four


As the 7th New Hampshire broke and ran in the face of the Confederate advance, the 8th U.S. Colored Troops tried to form as ordered on the left of the guns.
The Confederates were able now to direct all of their fire on the Union batteries and soldiers of the 8th U.S.C.T. Col. Fribley, the commander of the 8th, suddenly went down and his men gave way in disorder as well.
Southern troops now pushed forward and engaged the Union batteries at close range as Gen. Seymour scrambled to restore his broken defense. The 7th New Hampshire and 8th U.S.C.T. could not be reformed, taking more than 1,000 men out of the Union battle force. Even though Seymour had gone into the battle with a slight numerical advantage, he was now outnumbered in terms of combat troops and the difference was beginning to tell.
Realizing that a major battle was developing in the woods well to the east of his line of fortifications at Olustee Station and that the Confederates were doing well so far, General Finegan began to flood reinforcements forward to assist Colquitt. As these arrived, Colquitt added them to his line where they were needed most with the result that no matter how many reinforcements the Federals brought forward, the Confederates continued to add sufficient men to their line to continue overlapping them.
Finegan arrived on the battlefield in person with the largest block of reinforcements, but left the direction of the fight on the battle line to the already successful General Colquitt. Since Gamble's artillery had been under intense fire since the beginning of the battle, he withdrew these guns and replaced them with the Chatham Artillery under Captain Wheaten. Taking a position under heavy enemy fire, the Chatham guns inflicted heavy casualties on the Federals and continued to advance with the Confederate line of infantry until the end of the battle.
I will continue with our series on the Battle of Olustee in the next post. Until then, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee for more information.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Three


Despite his orders to the contrary, Union Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour left Barber's Plantation on the south fork of the St. Mary's River at 6 a.m. on the morning of February 20, 1864.
Marching west along the Lake City road with an army of 5,500 men, he intended to strike hard and fast against Lake City and then push on to the critical railroad bridge over the Suwannee River.
He later reported, "Accurate information, it was believed, as to the enemy’s strength had been obtained, and the excellent character of the troops under my command forbade any doubt as to the propriety of a conflict on equal terms."
Seymour may well have been the victim of some of the worst intelligence work of the Civil War. Upon learning of the Union invasion at Jacksonville, Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard had rapidly deployed thousands of reinforcements to Florida from Charleston and Savannah. The move was Beauregard at his strategic best. Using the available rail system and also marching troops overland where rail connections did not exist, by the time Seymour advanced on the morning of February 20th, the Southern hero had helped Finegan assemble an army of 5,000 men at Olustee Station, a siding on the Florida and Atlantic - Gulf Central Railroad 15 miles east of Lake City.
With assistance from able engineers, Finegan had established a line at Olustee Station that stretched from a large swamp on the south across the railroad to the south shore of Ocean Pond on the north. Earthworks were under construction and, with the number of men and artillery at his disposal, Finegan expected to wage a severe fight to turn back any Union advance.
This was no hastily assembled force of Southern home guards and militia. Instead, Beauregard had supplied Finegan with a powerful force of seasoned troops that included the hard-fighting brigade of Brig. Gen. Alfred R. Colquitt. Among the troops on hand at Olustee on the morning of February 20, 1864, were the 1st and 6th Florida battalions, the 6th, 19th, 23rd, 27th, 28th, 32nd and 64th Georgia regiments, the Chatham Artillery, Gamble's Light Artillery and other cavalry, infantry and artillery units.
After marching west for 15 miles, the Union troops began to encounter stiffening resistance from Confederate cavalry units. General Finegan ordered forward additional cavalry and some infantry under General Colquitt to lightly engage the Federals and draw them into the trap he had prepared for them at Olustee station.
Unexpectedly, however, the Confederate advanced troops proved more than capable of handling the advanced troops of the oncoming Union column. General Colquitt described the scene six days later in his official report:
…About 2 miles from Olustee Station I found the enemy advancing rapidly and our cavalry retiring before them. I threw forward a party of skirmishers and hastily formed line of battle under a brisk fire from the enemy’s advance. The Nineteenth Georgia was placed on the right and the Twenty-eight Georgia on the left, with a section of Captain Gamble’s artillery in the center. The Sixty-fourth Georgia and the two companies of the Thirty-second Georgia were formed on the left of the Twenty-eighth, and the Sixth Georgia Regiment was sent still farther to the left to prevent a flank movement of the enemy in that direction. Instructions were sent to Colonel Smith, commanding cavalry, to place his regiments on the extreme flanks and to guard against any movement of the enemy from either side.
Aware that he had stumbled upon Confederate troops and believing them to be far superior in size to his own force, General Seymour ordered forward the 7th Connecticut to develop the Southern line while he formed a short line of battle consisting of the 8th U.S. Colored Troops on the left, Elder's, Langdon's and Hamilton's batteries in the center, and the 7th New Hampshire on the right. The Connecticut cavalrymen were pulled back from the front of the new line and the Federals prepared to engage the supposedly outnumbered Confederates with their artillery.
Unexpectedly, however, Colquitt showed sudden aggressiveness and advanced on Seymour's forming lines. The 7th New Hampshire, a vetern regiment, suddenly broke and ran from the Union right, shattering Seymour's plan of action even as the battle was developing.
Our series on the Battle of Olustee will continue. If you would like to read more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Two


In early February, Gillmore's forces came ashore at Jacksonville and took the meager Confederate force in the area by total surprise.
The Federals quickly took possession of the city and drove off the small Southern command at Camp Milton, a Confederate post near Jacksonville. Sweeping through the countryside, they raided as far west as Lake City before falling back to consolidate their positions. So far, the campaign was going perfectly.
With the situation apparently in hand, Gillmore returned to Hilton Head Island temporarily and left the field command in the hands of Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour. Seymour was instructed to occupy Palatka and Magnolia on the St. Johns River, but to hold his western outposts at Baldwin and the south fork of the St. Mary's River. Gillmore explicitly ordered him not to attempt a general advance with the troops at hand.
On February 18, 1864, however, Gillmore received a report from Seymour announcing his intention to march west across North Florida, seize Lake City and move on to the railroad bridges over the Suwannee River. He indicated that he expected Gillmore would launch a demonstration against either Savannah or Charleston to assist with his movements.
Stunned, Gillmore wrote back immediately reminding his subordinate that such a move was expressly against his orders:
You must have forgotten my last instructions, which were for the present to hold Baldwin and the Saint Mary’s South Fork, as your outposts to the westward of Jacksonville, and to occupy Palatka, Magnolia, on the Saint John’s. Your project distinctly and avowedly ignores these operations and substitutes a plan which not only involves your command in a distant movement, without provisions, far beyond a point from which you once withdrew on account of precisely the same necessity, but presupposes a simultaneous demonstration of “great importance” to you elsewhere, over which you have no control, and which requires the co-operation of the navy. It is impossible for me to determine what your views are with respect to Florida matters....
Why Seymour so aggressively disobeyed orders remains a mystery to this day. Gillmore's fears, however, were well-founded, as his subordinate was about to discover.
Before his commander's alarmed dispatch could reach him, Seymour was marching west on a road paralleling the Florida and Atlantic-Gulf Central Railroad and about to stumble into a hornet's nest of Confederate resistance.
Our series on the Battle of Olustee will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting our new Battle of Olustee pages at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part One



On February 20, 1864, a Union army of 5,500 men achieved the dubious distinction of suffering the greatest defeat of the Civil War.

Based on the percentage of force killed, wounded or captured, the 40% casualties suffered by the Union command of Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour at the Battle of Olustee, Florida was the greatest loss sustained by any Union army in a major battle.

Making the severe loss even worse was the fact that the Battle of Olustee was fought against orders in a campaign launched to achieve a political, not military, objective. That objective was the he reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.

By the winter of 1863-1864, the war had been underway for nearly three brutal years. There was considerable opposition to the war effort in the North and concern was growing that Lincoln might be defeated in the 1864 Presidential elections by a candidate that would seek a negotiated peace with the Confederacy.

In a series of little known meetings at the White House, a plan grew to help Lincoln's reelection chances. If a Union army could conquer lightly defended Florida quickly, that state might be readmitted to the Union in time for Lincoln to claim its electoral votes.

With this in mind, Lincoln set Union forces off on an invasion that would lead to their greatest defeat (statistically) of the war. Commissioning his aide John Hay as a major, he sent him to join the staff of Major General Quincy A. Gillmore. Hay was supplied with the legal blanks he needed to organize a loyal government in Florida and prepare for the readmission of the state to the Union. The President outlined his plan in a letter to General Gillmore dated January 13, 1864:

I understand an effort is being made by some worthy gentlemen to reconstruct a loyal State government in Florida. Florida is in your department, and it is not unlikely that you may be there in person. I have given Mr. Hay a commission of major and sent him to you with some blank books and other blanks to aid in the reconstruction. He will explain as to the manner of using the blanks, and also my general views on the subject. It is desirable for all to co-operate; but if irreconcilable differences of opinion shall arise, you are master. I wish the thing done in the most speedy way possible, so that when done it will be within the range of the late proclamation on the subject. The detail labor, of course, will have to be done by others, but I shall be greatly obliged if you will give it such general supervision as you can find convenient with your more strictly military duties. (OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part One).

Such strong suggestions from the President of the United States were hard to ignore and on January 31, 1864, General Gillmore announced his plans for an invasion of East Florida. In a report to Major General H.W. Halleck, the commander in chief of the Union Army, he explained that he hoped the invasion would achieve four primary goals:
  1. The opening of an outlet for the export of Florida's cotton, turpentine, sugar, timber and other products.
  2. The elimination of Florida as a source of foodstuffs and other supplies for the Confederate armies.
  3. The recruitment of soldiers from the state's African American population.
  4. "To inaugurate measures for the speedy restoration of Florida to her allegiance, in accordance with instructions which I have received from the President by the hands of Maj. John Hay, assistant adjutant-general."

Our series on the Battle of Olustee will continue. To learn more about the battle before our next post, please visit our new Battle of Olustee site at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Coming Tomorrow - The Battle of Olustee, Florida


Beginning tomorrow, I will start a new series on the Battle of Olustee, Florida.
Fought on February 20, 1864, in the open pine woods between Jacksonville and Lake City, Olustee was the largest Civil War battle fought in Florida.
A little known fact is that, in terms of percentage of forces lost, it was the bloodiest loss of a major battle by the Union during the entire Civil War. Roughly 40% of the 5,000 Union soldiers that marched into the battle were killed, wounded or missing by the time the smoke cleared.
Olustee was also a classic example of a battle fought to achieve political aims. The entire 1864 Union invasion of East Florida was undertaken as part of a political strategy to conquer Florida in time for its electoral votes to figure in the 1864 Presidential election.
Check back tomorrow for part one of the new series on the Battle of Olustee.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Nine


Concluding our look at Civil War sites in and around historic St. Augustine, Florida, this is the beautiful old St. Augustine Lighthouse on a stormy day.
This tower dates from the 1870s, but lighthouses and watch towers have been maintained on and near this site since the founding of St. Augustine in 1565. This structure replaced a coquina stone tower that stood closer to the water's edge at the time of the Civil War.
Confederates took possession of the lighthouse at St. Augustine in 1861 and darkened the light so that it could not be used to assist the Union navy in navigating the coast. The lens from the lighthouse was hidden.
When Union officers took possession of the old city in the spring of 1862, St. Augustine Mayor Paul Arneau refused to reveal the location where the lens had been hidden. He was jailed until he provided the information. The light was not relit, however, until 1866.
By the end of the Civil War, the St. Augustine Lighthouse was in such bad condition that it was in danger of toppling into the sea. The government began construction on the present structure in 1870 and completed it in 1874. The old tower was washed away not long after the new one was finished.
The lighthouse has been preserved and beautifully restored thanks to the efforts of the Junior Service League of St. Augustine and is now open to the public. The keeper's cottage houses a very nice museum that includes exhibits on all eras of the history of the lighthouse, including the Civil War.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse is also one of the best known "haunted" locations in Florida. To read more about St. Augustine and learn something about the ghosts of the St. Augustine Lighthouse, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com and look for the St. Augustine heading.

Monday, June 23, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Eight



This beautiful old colonial structure is the historic Government House in St. Augustine.


Now a museum and welcome center, it was built by the Spanish between 1706 and 1713 following the destruction of St. Augustine in the English attack of 1702.


The building served as the residence and offices of the Spanish governors of Florida and was also used by British officials during the American Revolution. In 1823 it served briefly as the capitol of the new Florida Territory before Tallahassee was selected as the new permanent capital city.


At the time of the Civil War the structure held the city offices of St. Augustine and it was here that Union navy officers met with city officials in 1862 and accepted the surrender of the city. The Confederate military had evacuated and left the local leaders on their own in dealing with Union officers.


The agreement reached here was fairly lenient. The Union navy agreed to respect private property and allow the citizens to go about their business as usual in exchange for a peaceful transfer of flags in the city. A U.S. flag was raised over the Castillo de San Marcos by city officials, but the flag staff at the nearby St. Francis Barracks was chopped down by some of the women of St. Augustine to prevent it from being used to fly the flag of their enemy.


Our series on Civil War sites in and around St. Augustine will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ and looking for the St. Augustine heading.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Seven

Continuing our look at Civil War sites in St. Augustine, Florida, this is a view of the Cubo Line.

The northern wall of the historic city, the palmetto backed earthwork stretched from the Castillo de San Marcos (visible here in the background) across the peninsula on which the city is located to the San Sebastian River.

Originally constructed during the 1700s, the earthwork was constantly modified and repaired. It was thoroughly rebuilt in 1808 and repaired again during the late 1830s. The Cubo line was still intact at the time of the Civil War, but never came under attack.

This reconstructed section can be seen on the grounds of the Castillo. The Old City Gate is located just west of this point.

Our series will continue. To read more about St. Augustine until the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com and look for the St. Augustine heading.

Friday, June 20, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Six

This is the Old City Gate in St. Augustine, Florida.

After suffering repeated attacks from the English and pirates, the Spanish built walls completely around the old city. After the walls were completed, St. Augustine never fell in battle.

Because they were constructed of earthworks and palmetto logs, for the most part, the city walls had to be constantly repaired and even rebuilt from time to time.

This gate was constructed on the northern edge of town during a major rebuilding of the walls in 1808. It was part of what was called the "Cubo Line," a palmetto-backed earthwork stretching from the Castillo de San Marcos to the San Sebastian River and extending completely across the northern end of St. Augustine.

The walls were repaired during the late 1830s when Seminole warriors raided farms and homes in the St. Augustine area during the Second Seminole War. Although they came close to the walls, they did not try to attack the fortifications.

The Cubo Line was still intact at the time of the Civil War, although the last major repair of the line had taken place about 20 years earlier. It was never attacked during the war.

The old gate still stands today, at the north end of St. George Street in the historic district. Sections of the wall have also been reconstructed. A large section can be seen on the grounds of the Castillo de San Marcos and a second section has been rebuilt just east of the city gate.

Our series on St. Augustine will continue. To read more before the next post, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com and look for the St. Augustine heading.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Five

This is another of the surviving guns from the Water Battery of the Castillo de San Marcos (known as Fort Marion during the Civil War).

A rifled 32-pounder, the cannon stands on the Plaza de la Constitucion in downtown St. Augustine.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, there were only two major fortifications on the entire Atlantic Coast south of Savannah, Georgia. The first of these was Fort Clinch at Fernandina, Florida, and the other was the Castillo in St. Augustine.

Like the Columbiad I mentioned yesterday, this gun was part of the armament of the Castillo before, during and after the Civil War. It was donated to the city in 1900 when the old fort was finally closed by the U.S. Army.

This series on Civil War sites in and around St. Augustine, Florida will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com and looking for the St. Augustine heading.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Four


This 8-inch Columbiad is located on the Plaza de la Constitucion or central plaza of St. Augustine.
The plaza is the oldest public park in the continental United States. It was established by Royal Ordinance during the late 1500s.
I find it interesting that the people of St. Augustine were already building parks more than twenty years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock.
The Columbiad seen here is one of four pieces of heavy artillery now displayed on the plaza that were part of the armament of the Water Battery at the Castillo de San Marcos at the time of the Civil War. According to the plaque on the mount, it was donated to the city by the War Department in 1900. That was the year that the 250 year military history of the fort finally came to an end.
These guns are mentioned in the U.S. Navy reports of the Union reoocupation of St. Augustine during the spring of 1862. At that time, of the 20 pieces mounted in the water battery at the beginning of the Civil War, five of the cannon were still there. They apparently remained at the fort over the years following the war until the post was closed when they were given to the city.
Our series on St. Augustine, Florida will continue. Until the next post, you can visit http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/ for more. Just look for the St. Augustine heading.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Three



Continuing our look at Civil War sites in St. Augustine, Florida, this is the main entrance or sally port to the historic Castillo de San Marcos.

Now a national monument, the Castillo is the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States. Construction on the Spanish fortress began in 1672 and it took decades to complete. St. Augustine was already 107 years old when work started on the Castillo.

The old fort withstood massive English sieges during the 18th century, but never fell. The unique coquina rock from which it was constructed absorbed the British cannon shot without shattering and even a bombardment that lasted for nearly 30 days failed to breach the walls.

The fort was held by a Ordnance Sergeant at the beginning of the Civil War, but was seized by state militia troops on January 7, 1861, as Florida was still considering the issue of secession.

The Confederate troops held the fort until the spring of 1862, when they evacuated St. Augustine as Union ships approached the historic city. Two companies of troops were occupying the old fort at the time of the withdrawal.

It is interesting to note that despite the obvious antiquity of the fort (it was nearly 200 years old at the time), one of the Union naval officers described it as one of two "strong" positions that had been returned to Union hands.

It has long been thought that because of its age, the Castillo would not have been able to withstand an attack, but this is questionable. In fact, it might have proved a tough nut to crack. The walls of the old Spanish fortress were massive and the Castillo was designed to make an infantry attack extremely difficult. In fact, the fort withstood a 52 day assault at one point and the attacking infantry got nowhere near the walls.

The inlet to the harbor and Matanzas Bay was shallow and extremley difficult for warships to navigate, as the Union navy found out when it tried to send in a ship to to find out if St. Augustine had been evacuated. The vessel couldn't make it in and had to send in boat parties and then contrary winds caused all kinds of nightmares for the effort. In other words, Union warships would have been positioned miles away in any attempt to bombard the works.

Anastasia Island separates Matanzas Bay from the Atlantic and Union forces could have placed artillery there, but it would not have been easy. Shallows called "conch island" are offshore of Anastasia and would have obstructed efforts to land artillery. In addition, Anastasia Island is within 2 miles of the Castillo. Placing guns at that range would have been created a turkey shoot for the heavy artillery in the fort's water battery.

To the north, vast salt marshes stretch away to the horizon and to the west, the San Sebastian River forms a natural moat around the city. In other words, it would have been very difficult to move enough artillery into position to reduce the fort.

Our series on St. Augustine will continue. Until then, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com and looking for the St. Augustine heading.

Monday, June 16, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part Two


This is another view of the Water Battery at Castillo de San Marcos National Monument in St. Augustine.
The cannon here were mounted en barbette at the time of the Civil War and the battery consisted of twenty pieces when it was seized by state militia on the eve of the war in 1861. Several of the original guns can still be seen around St. Augustine.
The Water Battery itself remains in good condition. The remains of the gun mounts, for example, can be seen in this photograph.
When the Union navy reoccupied St. Augustine in 1862, they found five cannon still mounted in the battery. The Confederates had removed the rest of the usable artillery to other locations. The guns remaining included Columbiads and rifled 32-pounders. Considering the shallow nature of the entrance to Matanzas Bay and the narrow channel leading past the town, this was an impressive armament. The cannon of the Water Battery were ideally situated and powerful enough to control water access to the old city, but were never tested in battle.
Our series on St. Augustine will continue.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

St. Augustine, Florida - Part One


This post is the first in a series on Civil War sites in and around the historic city of St. Augustine, Florida.
Founded in 1565, St. Augustine is the oldest continually occupied city in the United States. Rich in Spanish influences, it was also a community of importance during the early days of the War Between the States.
This photograph shows an iron Civil War period cannon in the water battery of the Castillo de San Marcos, a centuries old fort in St. Augustine. Although the main fortress (called Fort Marion at the time of the Civil War) remains in remarkable condition, it was considered antiquated by the time of the Civil War.
To augment the old Spanish defenses, the U.S. government had constructed a large water battery at the Castillo. The east moat of the fort was filled and guns mounted en barbette along the shore of Matanzas Bay. This battery with its 20 cannon was seized by state forces on January 7, 1861.
Confederate forces held St. Augustine and the Castillo de San Marcos for the rest of the year 1861.
Our series will continue, but to learn more before the next post please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com and look for the St. Augustine heading.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Apalachicola River, Part 24


I apologize for being a little slow on posting over the past few days. I've been a little under the weather.
This is the final part of our series on the Apalachicola River (I will post a series soon on Apalachicola Bay).
In our last few posts, we talked about the history of Prospect Bluff, the site of Fort Gadsden and the British Post on the Apalachicola (or Negro Fort, as it was called by the U.S. military).
The site today is maintained by the National Forest Service as Fort Gadsden Historic Site. Open to the public daily, the park offers a picnic area, small exhibit kiosk and walking trails leading through the sites of Fort Gadsden, the Negro Fort and the so-called "Renegade Cemetery." Visitors can see earthworks and trenches from both of the forts, as well as some of the wreckage from a steamboat that sank in the river during the 1820s.
Fort Gadsden is located near Sumatra in the Apalachicola National Forest. It is in a fairly remote location, but can be reached by car with no problem. To read more about the site, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/FLFortGadsden1.html