Monday, February 20, 2012

The Battle of Olustee, Part Two - The Battle Intensifies

Artist's Conception of the Battle of Olustee
This is the second of several posts I will be making today to commemorate the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee. Please click here to read the first post: Battle of Olustee - Part One.

As the Confederate cavalry was advancing to engage the head of the approaching Union column, General Joseph Finegan decided to strength the troops from the Thirty-second and Sixty-fourth Georgia Infantry regiments he had sent out beyond his fortified lines.


His plan seems to have been to wage a defense in tiers. His cavalry would engage first, then fall back onto an infantry line which would then engage the enemy lightly and draw him on to Finegan's main line of breastworks. This would slow the Federal advance and give his men more time, possibly even a complete night, to continue work on their incomplete fortifications.

It was a reasonable plan for fighting Seymour, but opportunities soon opened that were too good for the Confederate generals to ignore.

Gen. A.H. Colquitt, CSA
As he contemplated the battlefield, Finegan decided that he should put a stronger infantry force into position beyond his breastworks. General Alfred H. Colquitt was accordingly ordered to move forward with three regiments from his brigade and reinforce the Sixty-fourth and two companies from the Thirty-second that had moved out earlier in the day. Colquitt immediately went forward with the Sixth, Nineteeth and Twenty-eighth Georgia Infantry regiments and Captain Robert H. Gamble's Leon Light Artillery.

With help from his staff, the general formed his men in a line of battle just back from the first crossing of the railroad and Lake City road east of the main line at Olustee. Gamble's battery was placed in the center to fire straight down the open corridors created by the road and railroad. Infantry was placed on each of his flanks. Orders were sent forward to the cavalry line for Colonel Carraway Smith to form half of his brigade on each of the flanks of this line when he was forced to fall back ahead of the Union main body.

The Railroad at Olustee Battlefield
Now in a position to better observe the Union advance, General Colquitt saw an opportunity developing before him. The Federals were approaching via the railroad and Lake City road in column formation instead of line of battle. General Truman Seymour apparently still had no idea that he was approaching Finegan's main army and was simply deploying enough of his men to push back Carraway Smith's Confederate Cavalry.

Realizing that he had a chance to draw the Federals into a trap that might well crush them, Colquitt formed his force into a line of battle and prepared to meet the enemy.

Cannon at Olustee Battlefield
Colquitt's plan was an exceptional piece of battlefield management. Realizing that the Union army was advancing in column formation, he he began to form his own troops into a long line of battle that would completely overlap the flanks of the advancing Federals. This would allow him to hit them from the front, the left and the right at the same time, while his artillery commanded the open corridors provided by the railroad tracks and dirt path of the Lake City road. If all went well, he could deliver them a disastrous defeat.

As Harrison's brigade was moving forward, the Confederate cavalry was forced back on Colquitt's main line. In a last second bit of caution, General Seymour decided to fire a cannon shot at the withdrawing Confederates to see what they would do:

Seymour
...The general commanding gave the order to halt and directed shells to be thrown through the pine barren as feelers. Hardly had the second shell departed when a compliment in the form of solid shot fell directly in front of the staff, a second one following closely on the first, and a third one passing in close proximity over our heads. No time was lost to bring our guns into battery, and to throw companies of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteers out as skirmishers on our right. The infantry line of battle was in cool promptness formed of the brigades, commanded, respectively, by Colonels Barton, Forty-eighth New York Volunteers, Hawley, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, and Montgomery, Second South Carolina Volunteers. Soon our artillery fire became hotter and hotter and the musketry incessant. - Surgeon Adolph Majer, USA, February 24, 1864.


Seeing the Federal infantry forming in his front, General Colquitt moved immediately to send a shock through the enemy's ranks by ordering his battle lines forward:

...The line of infantry was then ordered to advance, which was gallantly done, the enemy contesting the ground and giving way slowly. Perceiving that the enemy were in strong force, I sent back for re-enforcements and a fresh supply of ammunition. The Sixth Florida Battalion and Twenty-third Georgia Regiment soon arrived for my support.  - Gen. A.H. Colquitt, CSA, February 26, 1864.

Col. George P. Harrison, CSA
Colonel George P. Harrison at this point pushed forward from the Confederate camps with the First Georgia Regulars, balance of the Thirty-second Georgia Infantry, Bonaud's Georgia Battalion and one section of Captain John M. Guerard's Georgia Light Artillery.  He reported that he was about one mile out from the fortified Confederate line when a message arrived from Colquitt asking him to move up as fast as possible:

...I had scarcely put my command in the double-quick when the report of artillery in my front indicated that the fight had opened. Quickening our pace, we moved on until within a few hundred yards of the place where the road we were upon crossed the railroad. Here I halted for a moment, but observing General Colquitt forming his line, and seeing the enemy's position across the railroad, who was then sweeping the front of my column with a battery in position near the cross-roads, I moved to the left in double-quick, crossed the railroad, and formed line of battle upon the left of that just established by General Colquitt. - Col. George P. Harrison, CSA, February 22, 1864.

 All this was done under heavy Union fire. A critical situation developed as Harrison was coming up when Federal artillery disabled the caissons and killed the horses of the Leon Light Artillery, which was fighting from the center of the Confederate line. Finegan, however, had already sent forward the famed Chatham Artillery to Colquitt's support. The battery had first formed on the Confederate right, but quickly moved to a new position in the center where it replaced Gamble's bloodied men.

The engagement was now fully underway. Please click here to continue to Part Three: Victory in the Pine Woods

I will post more on the Battle of Olustee later today, so be sure to check back. You can also read more at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

do you know anything about william cobb?