Monday, February 22, 2010

Beauregard at Camp Milton, Florida

As it reorganized following the Battle of Olustee, the Confederate army pushed east up the railroad in the wake of the retreating Federals.

It was not long before the famed General P.G.T. Beauregard arrived on the scene from South Carolina and assumed overall command. It is a little known fact that Beauregard actually played a critical role in the victory at Olustee. Had he not rapidly moved troops south to reinforce Finegan, the battle might have ended with a very different result.

As he arrived in Florida, Beauregard consolidated the Confederate army into positions behind McGirt's Creek, a natural moat that provided a layer of defense should the Union army try again to advance. Intending to protect the railroad and prevent any further penetration of the country by Seymour's forces, the Louisiana born general put his engineering expertise to work.

Taking advantage of the natural bends and twists of McGirt's Creek, Beauregard designed and supervised the construction of one of the most impressive systems of field works every built in the Deep South. By March 7, 1864, according to Beauregard's correspondence, the position had been named Camp Milton. The name honored Florida's Confederate governor, John Milton.

Camp Milton was a three mile long system of fortifications manned by the growing Confederate army of 7,500 men. In addition, General Beauregard assembled an impressive array of field artillery that he positions at key points along the line to sweep the approaches to McGirt's Creek.

Here's how a Union officer of the time described the result of Beauregard's impressive work:

The breastworks were made of huge logs firmly fastened and covered with earth. The log part was 6 wide at the bottom and 3 at the top. They were proof against field artillery. The stockades were composed of timber from 12 to 16 inches thick, with loop-holes 2 feet apart. Their base was protected by earth thrown up from a ditch which ran along the whole line of works. There was a salient or re-entering angle at about every 150 yards. Two batteries in the rear completely commanded the railroad, and in addition to being very strong were most elaborately finished, having a sharpness of outline almost equal to masonry.

The Federals had been beaten so badly at Olustee that they had no immediate hope of advancing back into the countryside. Even if they had, the works built by Beauregard at Camp Milton were so strong there was little chance that his army could have been forced from them.

The site of Camp Milton is now a historic preserve maintained by the city of Jacksonville. Boardwalks lead to preserved sections of the foritifications and interpretive panels and exhibits explain the significance of the historic site. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/campmilton.

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