Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February 28, 1862 - The Federal Fleet sails for Fernandina

USS Wabash at Port Royal
It was on February 28, 1862, 150 years ago today, that the Union Navy began its move to close Florida's Atlantic ports to the use of the Confederacy.

The first target was Fernandina, an important town on Amelia Island in the very northeastern corner of the state. Commodore S.F. Dupont put together such a large fleet for the expedition that he left very little to chance:

...I sailed from Port Royal on the last day of February, in the Wabash.... The fleet comprised the following vessels, sailing int he order in which they are named: Ottaway, Mohican, accompanied by the Ellen, Seminole, Pawnee, Pocahontas, Flag, Florida, James Adger, Bienville, Alabama, Keystone State, Seneca, Huron, Pembina, Isaac Smith, Penguin, Polomska, the armed cutter Henrietta, the armed transport McClellan, the latter having on board the battalion of marines, under the command of Major REYNOLDS, and the transports Empire City, Marion, Star of the South, Belvidere, Boston, and George's Creek, containing a brigade under the command of Brig. -Gen. WRIGHT. - Commodore S.F. Dupont, Commanding South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, March 4, 1862.

Civil War drawing of Fernandina
Dupont had the added advantage of the presence on his ships of W.H. Dennie, an assistant in the Coast Survey who had prepared the actual topographical map of the Amelia Island area for the U.S. Government.

Also accompanying the expedition was a correspondent of The New York Times. He described the departure of the ships from Port Royal in South Carolina in a letter dated Fernandina on March 5, 1862 and published in the newspaper ten days later:

..The transports, each one towing a schooner carrying camp equipage and Quartermaster's stores, were piloted over the bar by Capt. PHILLIPS, of the Marion, and in one hour we were in the midst of a cluster of lights which indicated a large fleet. - Unidentified Correspondent, The New York Times, March 15, 1862.

I will continue to post on the 150th anniversary of the expedition to Fernandina over coming days, so be sure to check back often!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

After Olustee - False Claims, Incorrect Estimates and Union disaster

Union Mass Grave Memorial at Olustee Battlefield
The Battle of Olustee ended late in the afternoon of February 20, 1864, 148 years ago this week.

Darkness fell on a bloody field that stretched for almost two miles along the roads and railroad east of what is now the town of Olustee. The Federals retreated from the battlefield exhausted and badly bloodied, while the Confederates at well had sustained significant casualties. Men roamed the battlefield helping the wounded as they could and collecting weapons and supplies.

Route of the Retreat (Olustee is at far left)
The Confederate cavalry pursued the retreating Federals only a short distance, coming to a halt at a swampy area about one mile east of where the final lines had stood (just east of today's state correctional facility). The Confederate cavalry officers believed the Union troops were preparing to make a stand in the tree cover of the swamp and with darkness descending, brought their pursuit to a stop. They would later face investigation for ineffectiveness by order of General P.G.T. Beauregard.

The Union army, meanwhile, did not stop for the night but continued its retreat. Pushing on to Sanderson and from there back across the South Prong of the Little St. Mary's to Barber's Plantation and Baldwin, General Seymour was taking no chances that Finegan, Colquitt and Harrison would close in and destroy his army the next day. By sunrise the next morning, his men had marched well over 30 miles in 24 hours, had fought a bloody battle and were so exhausted they could barely move. 

Giving his men only the briefest rest, General Seymour retreated even from Baldwin on February 22, 1864, 148 years ago today:

Gen. Truman Seymour, USA
...And so greatly superior in force is the enemy that the position at Barber's against him would be entirely insecure, as the left flank could be readily turned to that an action would have been with our backs on the Saint Mary's. This post is accordingly evacuated. The same objections apply to Baldwin with equal strength. Everything was removed from that place, and Colonel Henry was directed to remain as a rear guard, and he has doughtless fallen back to-night to McGirt's Creek. The Infantry is behind Six-Mile Creek, on the King's road, and the Cedar Creek, on the Lake City road. How long it will remain there depends upon the movement of the enemy.... - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, February 22, 1864.

As Seymour's report to his commander, General Quincy A. Gillmore showed, he had by then convinced himself that he had opposed an army much longer than his own at Olustee. So bad was the defeat inflicted on him that he and other officers became convinced that they had been fought by a Confederate force of more than 10,000 men. The Confederates were convinced, meanwhile, that they had defeated a Union army of more than 10,000 men. In truth, both armies were approximately the same size, although the Federals had a slight edge in men and a larger edge in artillery.

General Gillmore, who knew now that his Florida Campaign had been defeated, put things in proper perspective after the war:

Union Wounded were treated at Lake City's Improvised Hospital
...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 at that 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. - Gen. Q.A. Gillmore, USA, November 1, 1865.

Gen. Joseph Finegan, CSA
Gillmore's last comment about intrenchments was sparked by a claim immediately after the battle that the Confederates had fought from behind fortifications. In fact, the battle was fought in the open pine woods and neither side made use of breastworks.

Sadly for the more than 1,800 Union soldiers killed, wounded or captured in the battle,  General Gillmore's orders to General Seymour to halt his unauthorized advance were delayed in reaching Florida by stormy weather in the Atlantic and by the time the orders reached Jacksonville, Olustee was over.

The Confederates remained on the battlefield caring for the wounded, burying the dead and collecting the 1,600 stand of small arms left on the ground by the retreating Federals. Then on the 22nd, Finegan and his army began to move forward.  Having repaired the damage inflicted on the railroad by Seymour's retreating troops, he pushed to Sanderson by the night of the 22nd and then crossed the South Prong of the St. Mary's to Barber's Plantation. He then advanced to Baldwin and eventually to McGirt's Creek between Baldwin and Jacksonville.


You can learn more about the Battle of Olustee anytime at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Battle of Olustee, Part Four - Lincoln's Florida Disaster

President Abraham Lincoln
This is the final part of today's commemoration of the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee. To read the previous parts first, please follow these links: Part One: The Fight Begins, Part Two: The Battle Intensifies and Part Three: Victory in the Pine Woods.

As the Union army crumbled before a slightly smaller Confederate force at the Battle of Olustee, President Abraham Lincoln's dream of returning Florida to the Union in time for the 1864 election crumbled with it.

While the topic has been debated for years, the documentation leaves little room for doubt that the Union disaster at Olustee was the result of political scheming ahead of what was then expected to be a close election. Lincoln himself had instigated the campaign by writing to General Quincy A. Gillmore to "suggest" a movement on Florida in time to "restore the allegiance" of the state before the November election. He then gave a military commission (as a major) to one of his own  aides and sent him to South Carolina to convey verbal instructions and suggestions to the general.

Major John Hay
All of this maneuvering took place outside the chain of command in the U.S. Army. The Secretary of War did not know. The Commanding General of the U.S. Army did not know.

Gillmore met with Major John Hay, who was actually much more than just an aide to the President, he was Lincoln's private secretary. Immediately after the initial meeting between the two, the Olustee Campaign was launched. It met with disaster in the pine woods at Olustee because General Seymour disobeyed orders and advanced without permission, but it was instigated in the White House. The blood that was shed on both sides can only be described as the result of political opportunism.

And blood was definitely shed at Olustee. Union casualties were reported as more than 200 killed, 1,152 wounded and 506 missing, most of whom were captured. Confederate losses were 93 killed, 847 wounded and 6 missing.

In short, more than 2,000 men were killed or maimed in battle because Abraham Lincoln wanted Florida returned to the Union in time to secure its electoral votes in the 1864 General Election. Based on the number of men involved, it was the bloodiest defeat handed to the Union army during the entire War Between the States.

Finegan Monument at Olustee Battlefield
Lieutenant M.B. Grant, a Confederate military engineer, was on hand at Olustee and his observation of the conditions under which the battle was found is very insightful:

...The infantry fire during the whole engagement was continuous, and on our side very effective. The artillery fire on both sides, judging from the marks upon the trees, was entirely too high, and did comparatively little damage. Our men sheltered themselves behind the trees, as was evident from the number who were wounded in the arms and hands, thus gaining considerable advantage over the enemy, who used the trees to a less extent. - Lt. M.B. Grant, CSA, April 27, 1864



Union Mass Grave Monument at Olustee Battlefield
Lieutenant Grant walked the battlefield after the fighting was over and made a startling observation regarding the Union dead and wounded:

...As usual with the enemy, they posted their negro regiments on their left and in front, where they were slain by the hundreds, and upon retiring left their dead and wounded negroes uncared for, carrying off only the whites, which accounts for the fact that upon the first part of the battle-field nearly all the dead found were negroes. - Lt. M.B. Grant, CSA, April 27, 1864

The Union retreat was ragged and exhausting. The men had marched more than 15 miles, fought a battle and then were ordered to make another march of that length back. The Confederate cavalry was ordered to pursue them, but halted after encountering resistance at a swamp not far east of the battlefield. The rest of the Union retreat was carried out without resistance.  

I will post more on the results of the Olustee Campaign tomorrow. You can read more about the battle anytime at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee. I will also continue posting about the aftermath over coming days at http://civilwarflorida.blogspot.com.


The Battle of Olustee, Part Three: Victory in the Pine Woods

Interpretive Display at Olustee Battlefield
This is the third part of a series commemorating the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee. To read the first two parts, please follow these links: Part One, The Battle Begins and Part Two, The Battle Intensifies.

The Battle of Olustee was growing more and more intense with both commanders now beginning to pour men into the battle lines. Realizing that he was facing the Confederate infantry in force, General Seymour now developed a quick plan of action:

Unidentified Soldier of the Seventh New Hampshire
...The ground was favorable for the movement of troops, being firm and even, and although covered with pine timber was devoid of underbrush. My intention was to engage the enemy in front with the artillery, supported by a regiment on either flank, while a brigade should be moved to the right so as to fall upon the prolongation of his line. The Seventh New Hampshire was accordingly thrown forward to the right, and the Eighth U.S. Colored Troops to the left, and Hamilton's and Langdon's batteries were brought up alongside of Elder's. The Seventh Connecticut had been energetically and successfully engaged in its work of driving in the enemy's skirmishers; it was now withdrawn from before our infantry. - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, March 25, 1864.

The Seventh New Hampshire, which had moved into line of battle on the right (north) of Seymour's artillery, was armed with new Spencer rifles. These repeating rifles should have given its soldiers far more firepower than an enemy force of much larger size armed with single-shot muskets. Unfortunately for the men from New Hampshire, they tried to come in line just as the brigade of Colonel George P. Harrison formed before them with the shrill shouts of rebel yells:

1864 map of Troop Movements at Olustee
...The Seventh New Hampshire. . .had scarcely deployed and felt the enemy's fire before it broke in confusion, and the most strenuous efforts of Colonel Hawley and its own colonel, assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel Hall, of my staff, could not reform or rally it, and this regiment counted as nothing during the remainder of the engagement. - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, March 25, 1864.

The Eighth USCT formed as ordered to the left (south) of the artillery, but was simply overwhelmed by the firepower of Colquitt's brigade before it. Colonel Fribley, its commander, fell and the regiment broke for the rear. The Federal guns were now unsupported and the Confederates quickly seized the opportunity.

The final straw for the men of the 8th USCT had come when General Colquitt ordered the Sixth Florida Battalion to sweep around his right flank and hit the African American soldiers from the south while his main line drove at them from the west:


...With two batteries of artillery immediately in our front and a long line of infantry strongly supported, the enemy stood their ground for some time, until the Sixth Florida Battalion, on the right flank, and all the troops in front pressing steadily forward, compelled them to fall back and leave five pieces of artillery in our possession. - Gen. Alfred. H. Colquitt, CSA, February 26, 1864.   

Line where the Confederates held without ammunition.
The Confederates pushed forward and captured the Union guns that could not be removed, but then suddenly began to run low on ammunition. The infantry fight had been intense for some time and the volume of fire from both sides had been incredible.  Colquitt called a halt to the advance and the men took up a position in line of battle stretching through the pine woods to wait while more ammunition was brought forward.

Bonaud's Georgia Battalion, the 27th Georgia Infantry and the First Florida Battalion, which had just come up and still had plenty of ammunition, were moved into position near the center of the Confederate line and pushed out slightly in advance to hold back the Federals until ammunition could be brought up and distributed. Colonel Harrison considered this the critical moment of the day:

Col. George P. Harrison, CSA
...It was whispered down the line, particularly in the Sixth and Thirty-second Georgia Regiments that our ammunition was failing and no ordnance train in sight. This I immediately reported to General Colquitt, who urged that we hold our ground stating that ammunition would certainly reach us directly. This I am proud to say, was heroically complied with by my command, many of them for fifteen or twenty minutes standing their ground without a round of ammunition. - Col. George P. Harrison, CSA, February 22,1 864.

The idea of thousands of men standing and facing the enemy without a round of ammunition is a remarkable testament to the heroism of the Confederates that fought at Olustee that day. With the situation so critical, Colonel Harrison leaped from his horse and gave it to one of his staff members who, "together with the remainder of my staff and couriers, was employed in conveying ammunition."

Final Union Line at Olustee Battlefield
The Confederates, it seems, need not have worried much. Instead of seizing the initiative and attacking, the Federals kept up a hot fire and began to slowly withdraw. Seymour and his men knew they had been beaten and now just wanted to get off the battlefield. 

With a new supply of ammunition now in their hands, however, the Confederates did not give them the chance. Colquitt ordered Harrison to swing the Sixth and Thirty-Second Georgia from his left to flank the right or northern flank of Seymour's lines. At the same time, the Twenty-seventh Georgia was ordered to attack the Union center:

Soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts
...(T)he whole line moving as directed, the enemy cave way in confusion. We continued the pursuet for several miles, when night put an end to the conflict. Instructions were given to the cavalry to follow close upon the enemy and seize every opportunity to strike a favorable blow. - Gen. Alfred H. Colquitt, CSA, February 26, 1864.

The last strong Federal resistance of the day came from the famed Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, the regiment portrayed in the popular move Glory. Moving up into position on the north side of the railroad tracks, the black soldiers of the 54th held strong even as the rest of the Union army collapsed around it and then they withdrew from the field more or less in order.

 To continue to the final of today's commemorative posts, please click here: Part Four, Lincoln's Florida Disaster.


 You can learn more about the Battle of Olustee anytime at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.
  

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.

The Battle of Olustee, Part One: The Fight Begins

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park
The Union army moved out from its position at Barber's Plantation on the South Prong of the St. Mary's River before sunrise on the morning of February 20, 1864, 148 years ago today.

Union General Truman Seymour was acting against orders and by this time knew that Confederate General Joseph Finegan was waiting somewhere near Lake City with 4,000-5,000 men. He advanced anyway and by the time the day was over suffered the bloodiest defeat for a Union army during the entire war, based on the number of men involved.

Gen. Joseph Finegan, CSA
The advancing Federal army was slightly larger than the Confederate army waiting for it. While Finegan's total command included 5,200 men and twelve pieces of field artillery, Seymour's column advanced with 5,500 men and sixteen guns.

Whether Finegan expected an engagement on the 20th is not clear. It would take an exhausting march of over 23 miles for his infantry to reach Lake City, well beyond the 15 miles considered the standard daily march for infantry. He most likely planned to approach the Confederate army on the 20th and then engage it in battle on the 21st. It did not work out that way.

Keeping his mounted force moving at a slow rate just ahead of his infantry and artillery, Seymour followed the railroad through Sanderson and on in the direction of Lake City. It took nine hours for his force to advance from Barber's Plantation to the proximity of Ocean Pond at Olustee, a distance of more than 15 miles.

Gen. Alfred H. Colquitt, CSA
Finegan was much better informed than his Union counterpart. He had cavalry pickets far up the railroad and by mid-morning he knew that the Federal army was on the march. The brigades of Brigadier General Alfred H. Colquitt and Colonel George P. Harrison were ordered into the incomplete fortifications at Olustee.

At 12 noon, learning that the Federals had passed Sanderson, Finegan ordered Colonel Harrison to send forward the Sixty-fourth Georgia along with Companies H & G of the Thirty-second Georgia to take a position at the first crossing of the railroad by the Lake City road east of Camp Beauregard at Olustee.Their orders were to lightly engage and then draw the enemy back to the fortified line.

As this line was being formed, Finegan ordered Colonel Carraway Smith and his small cavalry brigade to move forward and find the enemy:

...I accordingly moved out with all the cavalry force then available, which consisted of 250 men of the Fourth Georgia Cavalry (Colonel Clinch commanding) and 202 men of the Second Florida Cavalry (Lieutenant-Colonel McCormick commanding). I discovered the enemy about 4 miles distant from our encampment, occupying in force the second crossing of the railroad from Olustee. - Col. Carraway Smith, Second Florida Cavalry (CS), February 24, 1864.

Colquitt Monument at Olustee Battlefield
The time was now roughly 3 p.m. and Seymour's army had marched for nine hours. Colonel Duncan Clinch (C.S.) was ordered send forward skirmishers to engage the enemy. He quickly did so, dismounting a company of men and pushing them forward through the open pine woods. General Seymour did not have his cavalry operating ahead of his main column and had no idea that Confederate troops were forming directly in his front until Clinch's skirmishers opened fire. The Battle of Olustee was underway.

The Confederate skirmishers drove the advance of Seymour's column back slightly with a determined attack:

...[T]hey were met by a much larger force of from the enemy, which compelled them to retire to their horses. This they did in good order. The enemy then moved forward with his whole force, skirmishing on our rear, which we resisted with our rear guard, keeping him in check, while the cavalry retired in line and in perfect order. This skirmishing was kept up until we reached the first crossing of the railroad from Olustee. - Col. Carraway Smith, Second Florida Cavalry (C.S.), February 24, 1864.

Please click here to continue to: The Battle of Olustee, Part Two - The Battle Intensifies.

I will continue to post on the today's 148th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee throughout the day, so be sure to check back often. If you would like to read more in between posts, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Olustee #12 - An Attempt to Stop the Battle of Olustee

Headquarters on Hilton Head Island
Major General Quincy A. Gillmore was at his headquarters on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina 148 years ago today (February 18, 1864) when he received Brigadier General Truman Seymour's letter informing him of plans for the Union army to advance to Lake City and then the Suwannee River.

The news came as a complete surprise to Gillmore, who had ordered his subordinate to remain on the defensive along the railroad between Baldwin and Jacksonville:

...On the 18th, I was greatly surprised at receiving a letter from General Seymour, dated the 17th, stating that he intended to advance without supplies in order to destroy the railroad near the Suwannee River, 100 miles from Jacksonville. I at once dispatched General Turner (my chief of staff) to Jacksonville to stop the movement. - Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, USA, March 7, 1864.

Gen. Q.A. Gillmore, USA
The two generals were now engaged in a dispute that had the potential to either make them both heroes or to destroy both of their careers. It had never been Gillmore's plan to engage his army in a pitched battle with the Confederates unless he was present and commanding in person. Seymour, on the other hand, seems to have been determined to do so, preferably without his commanding officer.

The curious situation raises the obvious question: Was Truman Seymour a glory hunter or did decide to act against his direct orders for other reasons?  There is no way of knowing the answer. He clearly held no great regard for Gillmore, while the latter officer seemed more shocked than anything at his subordinate's decision to act independently.

Gen. Truman Seymour, USA
The one thing that can be said is that Seymour clearly timed his plan to match with Gillmore's absence from the scene. He knew that any message from him to his commander had to travel first to Jacksonville and then from there up the Atlantic coast by ship to Hilton Head Island. It was winter time and storms were frequent along the coast. It could take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours just to pass a message from one point to the other.

How much Seymour knew of the strength of the Confederate army gathering at Olustee is not known. There is no evidence that he sent cavalry forward to feel Finegan's position in the days before the battle or that he had any real intelligence at all on the whereabouts and size of the Southern commander's force.

In short, Seymour was about to advance against direct orders and to engage a Confederate force about which he knew virtually nothing. He was short of supplies and apparently planned to "live off the land" to achieve his goal of taking Lake City and disrupting Southern railroad traffic at the Suwannee River bridge.

Gen. Joseph Finegan, CSA
While the two Union generals battled, the Confederates moved with an extraordinary degree of cooperation to push troops into Florida. Trains moving both east from Tallahassee and Quincy and south from Charleston and Savannah came loaded with soldiers, horses, artillery and ammunition. The trains from Middle Florida could run all the way to Camp Beauregard at Olustee where General Finegan had entrenched and was waiting to see what the Federals would do. The railroad coming south from Georgia and South Carolina had not been extended all the way to the east-west railroad yet and the soldiers had to de-train and march for around 26 miles before they could board other cars to continue their journey on to Olustee.

The ranks of Finegan's army rapidly swelled in the days before the Battle of Olustee:

Gen. Alfred H. Colquitt, CSA
...In this time my command was increased by the arrival of re-enforcements, and I organized the command as follows: The Sixth, Nineteenth, Twenty-third, Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eighth Georgia Regiments Infantry and the Sixth Florida Battalion Infantry, as the First Brigade, under the command of Brigadier-General Colquitt with the Chatham Artillery (four guns) attached. The Thirty-second Georgia Volunteers, First Georgia Regulars, Sixty-fourth Georgia Volunteers, First Florida Battalion, and Bonaud's battalion, as the Second Brigade, under command of Col. George P. Harrison, Thirty-second Georgia Volunteers, with Guerard's light battery attached, the Florida Light Artillery being held in reserve. I assigned Col. R.B. Thomas, C.S. Army, to duty as chief of artillery, and organized the cavalry into a brigade, under the command of Col. Caraway Smith, Second Florida Cavalry, my whole effective force being as follows: Infantry, 4,600; cavalry, less than 600; artillery, 3 batteries - twelve guns. - Gen. Joseph Finegan, CSA, February 26, 1864.

The Battle of Olustee was now less than 48 hours away.

I will continue to post on the Olustee Campaign over the coming days, so be sure to check back daily for the latest. On Monday, the 148th anniversary of the battle, I will post throughout the day on the events of the battle itself. To learn more anytime, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Olustee #11 - The Union Army prepares for the march to Olustee

Civil War drawing of Barber's Plantation
February 17, 1864, 148 years ago today, found Union General Truman Seymour concentrating his army of more than 5,000 men at Barber's Plantation on the South Prong of the St. Mary's River.

Despite his direct orders not to attempt an advance on Lake City, he was preparing to do just that. Taking advantage of Major General Quincy A. Gillmore's temporary absence at Hilton Head Island, Seymour announced a plan for a rapid advance as soon as the trains were operating, something which he expected to happen on the 19th.

A&GC Railroad
...[N]ow I propose to go without supplies, even if compelled to retrace my steps to procure them, and with the object of destroying the railroad near the Suwannee that there will be no danger of carrying away any portion of the track. All troops are therefore being moved up to Barber's, and probably by the time you receive this I shall be in motion in advance of that point. - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, February 17, 1864.

Seymour seems to have been concerned that the Confederates would try to remove the rails from the Altantic - Gulf Central Railroad to prevent the use of the tracks by the Federals. In fact, General Finegan commanding the Confederate forces astride the railroad at Olustee had no such plans at all.

Gen. Joseph Finegan, CSA
With his line of field fortifications now taking shape at the position he called Camp Beauregard (today's town of Olustee), Finegan was much more concerned with using the tracks of the A&GC to bring more Confederate troops to his own position. General P.G.T. Beauregard had determined that demonstrations carried out by the Federals near Charleston and at Savannah were just feints designed to distract his attention. With this conviction growing more and more firm in his mind, Beauregard increased the flow of men, cannon and supplies south to Florida. By the time Seymour was ready to move on the 19th, Finegan would be ready to receive him.

The plan outlined by Seymour in his letter to Gillmore 150 years ago today was rather grandiose. Not only did he propose an advance by his command to the Suwannee River, he called for a joint Army-Navy operation to draw attention from his own advance:

Cannon at Olustee
...That a force may not be brought from Savannah, Ga., to interfere with my movements, it is desirable that a display be made in the Savannah River, and I therefore urge that upon the reception of this such naval forces, transports, sailing vessels, &c., as can be so devoted may rendezvous near Pulaski, and that the iron-clads in Wassaw push up with as much activity as they can exert. I look upon this as of great importance, and shall rely upon it as a demonstration in my favor. - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, February 17, 1864.

Such a movement was all but impossible to organize in the two days time before Seymour expected to advance, even if the U.S. Navy - which was independent of the army - agreed to cooperate. As the general undoubtedly knew, it would take a full 24 hours just for his letter to reach General Gillmore and another 24 hours for Gillmore's reply to return. By that time, he would be moving for Lake City and, he hoped, glory.

The Battle of Olustee was now just three days away.

I will continue to post on the Olustee Campaign over coming days so be sure to check back often. You always can read more at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.
   

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Olustee #10 - A battle between Generals before the Battle of Olustee

Gen. Truman Seymour, USA
National Archives
On February 16, 1864, 148 years ago today, Union General Truman Seymour dispatched an unexpected message to his commanding officer, General Quincy A. Gillmore:

...I shall move to-day, and have called up the Sevent Connecticut, Forty-seventh [New York], and Third U.S. Colored, to this point [i.e. Baldwin]. Send the Seventh New Hampshire here at once, to Baldwin. Colonel Hallowell to send three or four companies to Camp Finegan, and the Eight U.S. Colored is ordered to move to Pickett's (Ten-Mile Station) immediately. - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, February 16, 1864.

The news that Seymour was moving would come as a complete surprise to Gillmore, who was then at his primary headquarters on Hilton Head Island. He had previously ordered his subordinate to remain on the defensive along the railroad between Baldwin and Jacksonville.

Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, USA
Library of Congress
Gillmore, however, would not receive Seymour's message until February 18th, just two days before the Battle of Olustee. He would move as quickly as possible to halt Seymour's plans, but it would be too late.

Had Seymour moved on the 16th as he reported to Gillmore, he might have met with success. The Confederate army under General Joseph Finegan was still building at Olustee. The field fortifications there were underway and reinforcements were still making the long trip down from Savannah and Charleston. Seymour, however, did not move, despite his own report that he was doing so.

Expected locomotives did not arrive and the trains did not begin moving on the railroad as he had expected. As a result, he had no choice but to remain at Baldwin where his men could be supplies. He expected to move as soon as the trains did begin to roll, however, and likely was taking advantage of the absence of General Gillmore from the immediate vicinity to push his own plans forward.

I will continue to post on the 148th anniversary of the Olustee Campaign tomorrow, so be sure to check back!  You can read more about the Battle of Olustee anytime at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Olustee #9 - An Advance to the Suwannee Considered

Civil War Map of Railroad from Barber's to Jacksonville
Library of Congress
February 15, 1864 (150 years ago today), found the Union army arrayed primarily along the railroad stretching from Barber's Plantation on the South Prong of the St. Mary's back to Jacksonville.
The forming Confederate army, meanwhile, was astride the same railroad on the east side of Olustee Creek. Its commanding officer, General Joseph Finegan, was focused on the construction of field fortifications behind which he hoped his men could fight to advantage against what was still a much larger Union force. The movement of Southern reinforcements to Finegan continued day and night.

Site of the Suwannee River Bridge
The Federals, in turn, focused on getting provisions and other supplies to their men and on minor raids into the countryside of East Florida. The wounded men from the fights at Barber's Plantation and Lake City were taken back to Jacksonville from where they were carried by hospital steamer to the military hospital at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

As his army remained stationary along the railroad, General Truman Seymour developed plans for a rapid push inland. His objective would be the Suwannee River Bridge at the now-vanished town of Columbus.

Old Columbus Cemetery
Once an important riverboat port and crossing site, Columbus was located at the confluence of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers in what is now Suwannee River State Park. Home to 500 people at its height, Columbus vanished in the years after the Civil War and all that remain today are a cemetery and some traces of ruins. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/suwannee1.

Fort at the Suwannee River Bridge
The military significance of the town and the reason why Seymour chose to target it, however, was the railroad bridge there. It was the only way for trains carrying reinforcements and supplies to reach Finegan's army. This made it an obvious "choke point" from a military perspective. The army that held the bridge held control of the main means of moving troops and supplies from other areas of the Confederacy into Northeast Florida.

The Confederates were well aware of this and had built two strong forts at the bridge, one on each side of the tracks on the east side of the river. The cannon in these earthworks could sweep not only the land approach to the bridge, but also the river itself in the event a Union gunboat came upstream. Learn more about the Forts at the Suwannee River Bridge by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/suwanneefort.

General Quincy A. Gillmore, the overall commander of the Union invasion, had no idea that Seymour was developing this plan and would not learn of it in time to stop it. Seymour would carry it on on his own, and meet with disaster at the Battle of Olustee in just five days.

I will continue to post on the 148th Anniversary of the Olustee Campaign over coming days so be sure to check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Olustee anytime at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Olustee #8 - Valentine's Day Battle of Gainesville

Captain J.J. Dickison, CSA
The "Swamp Fox" of Florida
Fighting once again broke out 148 years ago today as Union troops continued the Olustee Campaign with a Valentine's Day raid on Gainesville, Florida:

...[A] command of Fortieth Massachusetts Volunteers, consisting of details from companies C, G, and H, under Capt. G.E. Marshall, of that regiment, left Sanderson for Gainesville, Fla., which point was reached on the morning of the 14th. Immense stores of cotton, of turpentine and rosin, sugar, tobacco, and supplies of all kinds, were captured. - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, February 17, 1864.

Despite the report of cotton, turpentine, sugar, tobacco, etc., being captured, General Seymore claimed that "no private property was destroyed or molested." Of course, much of the material he mentioned did belong to private parties and was private property.

First Alachua County Courthouse in Gainesville
Built in 1857, it survived the raid but was later demolished.
Captured provisions were distributed to the residents of Gainesville, "who were suffering." Seymour further reported that "$1,000,000 worth of property fell into our hands, but it could not be removed and it was not considered advisable to destroy it." In other words, the captured supplies were left sitting where they had been found when the Federal troops left Gainesville.

The departure of the Union cavalrymen from Gainesville was hastened by the sudden arrival of Captain J.J. Dickison, the famed Confederate "Swamp Fox" of Florida.

Learning that Dickison was approaching, the Federals formed breastworks of cotton bales in the streets and waited. Dickison hit them hard with his two companies from the 2nd Florida Cavalry, but the Union officers claimed that he was repulsed:

...[T]he brigadier-general commanding especially desires to praise Capt. George E. Marshall, Fortieth Massachusetts Mounted Infantry, and his small command of 50 men, who captured and held Gainesville for fifty-six hours, receiving and repulsing an attack from more than double their numbers, and after fulfilling his mission successfully returning to the designated place of rendezvous. - General Orders No. 5, February 17, 1864.

19th Century Photograph of Gainesville
Florida Memory Collection
Eyewitness accounts of the raid indicated that Confederate cavalry had skirmished lightly with Marshall's men as they approached Gainesville. It was not until evening, however, that Dickison attempted a main attack.

Learning from a liberated slave that an attack was in the making, the Federals joined with around 100 other liberated slaves in moving 15 bales of cotton to form temporary fortifications on the main crossroad in Gainesville. The Confederate cavalrymen charged on horseback, but were driven back by the fire of Marshall's new seven-shot Spencer repeating rifles.
Casualties were light on both sides, with the Union command reporting only one wounded and two captured. They returned to the Union lines four days later without additional serious opposition. Thirty-six liberated slaves were carried back with them. Of this number, 33 enlisted in the Union army.

The Southern version of the battle is that the resistance offered by Dickison and his men forced the Federals to retreat. The captain, however, did not consider the affair to be a major incident.

I will continue to post on the 148th anniversary of the Olustee Campaign over coming days, so be sure to check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Olustee anytime at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Olustee #7 - Confederate Reinforcements pour into Florida

Gen. Truman Seymour, USA
On February 13, 1864, 148 years ago today, General Truman Seymour's Union forces worked to consolidate their positions along the railroad leading from Jacksonville inland to Sanderson.

In advancing all the way to Lake City, Seymour had outrun his supply system and now found himself scrambling to put his men into positions where they could be fed. Sanderson, he decided, could not be defended and he opted to pull his entire force back to Barber's Plantation on the South Prong of the St. Mary's River, while troops moving up from Jacksonville were being positioned at Baldwin.

It took longer than expected to get a railroad locomotive in operation, so provisions especially were running short for the more than 5,000 Federals on the ground in Florida. Meanwhile, there is solid evidence that tension was developing between the two Union commanders. Generals Seymore and Gillmore.

Gen. Q.A. Gillmore, USA
Library of Congress
Gillmore, by then known with some degree of fame for his reduction of Fort Pulaski near Savannah, was the overall commander of the expedition. Seymour was his direct subordinate. The two had very different views of the danger posed to their operations by Finegan's gathering Confederate army.

Seymour, for example, wrote from Sanderson 148 years ago yesterday recommending that Fribley's Infantry Brigade be sent to secure Palatka on the St. John's River. Gillmore, however, felt that the Union army should be concentrated around Baldwin as quickly as possible:

...I want your command at and beyond Baldwin concentrated at Baldwin without delay. I have information of a mounted force that may trouble your right flank by fording the Saint Mary's River. When we landed here they were 80 miles from Baldwin, on the Albany and Gulf Railroad. You should have scouts well out on your front and right flank. I have sent word to Colonel Tilghman to be on the alert. I think Fribley had better move forward and join you, but you must judge. The locomotive has not arrived yet. - Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, USA, February 12, 1864.

General Seymour, however, protested against abandoning the South Prong of the St. Mary's, pointing out that it would "make it impossible for us to advance again."

Camp Beauregard at Olustee, Florida
As the two Union generals began to debate strategy, their Confederate counterparts were coming together to meet the crisis. General P.G.T. Beauregard was pushing reinforcements south to support Finegan in Florida. Included were some of his best combat troops, most notably Colquitt's Brigade from Georgia.

Finegan, meanwhile, advanced up the railroad from Lake City to Olustee Creek where he established a position he named Camp Beauregard. It was the only suitable defensive position he could find between the Suwannee and the South Prong of the St. Mary's. While it could be flanked by wide-moving Federal strategic movement, the Olustee position could not be flanked by a quick tactical move. Ocean Pond on the left and a large swamp on the right gave the Confederates suitable natural defenses.

As darkness fell on February 13, 1864, General Finegan had his men shoveling dirt to raise field fortifications to make their position even more secure.

I will continue to post on the 148th anniversary of the Olustee Campaign over coming days, so be sure to check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Olustee anytime at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Olustee #6 - Federal Troops fall back to Sanderson, Florida

North Florida Pine Woods
This post is part of a continuing series on the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, Florida. To read the other posts first, please click http://civilwarflorida.blogspot.com and just scroll down the page.

Having fallen back from Lake City on the evening of February 11, 1864, the mounted Union force under Colonel Guy V. Henry had camped for the night a few miles east of the skirmish site. A heavy storm rolled across the pine woods during the predawn hours of February 12th, 150 years ago today:

...The night was passed in quiet, though the torrents of rain did not add to the comfort of the soldiers, who were lying on the ground, which was before morning nearly covered with water. Unidentified war correspondent, New York Herald, February 1864.

1864 Drawing of Sanderson, Florida
Harper's Weekly
The reporters accompanying the cavalry had seen enough for the time being. Taking off on horseback, they rode back to Sanderson, "and found rest and a repast of chickens and eggs at the hotel." The brigade of Colonel William B. Barton came up during the night, followed by General Truman Seymour and his staff.

Learning from a courier of the repulse of his cavalry at Lake City the previous afternoon, Seymour decided to pull his entire force together at Sanderson:

...Orders were sent to Colonel Henry to return with his command to Sanderson, as the lack of supplies prevented the infantry from advancing. The line of supplies being long, it was found difficult to ration the troops, and they were compelled to await the arrival of subsistence trains before advancing farther into the enemy's country. - Unidentified war correspondent, New York Herald, February 1864.

Ocean Pond in 1934
Florida Memory Collection
No additional fighting took place on the 12th. The mounted troops under Colonel Henry reached Sanderson during the afternoon, shadowed by Confederate cavalry that followed but did not engage. Both forces once again passed through the site that soon would become the Olustee Battlefield. Colonel Barton's infantry, meanwhile, was ordered back to Barber's Plantation on the South Prong of the St. Mary's.

1864 Drawing of Barber's Plantation
Harper's Weekly
The newspaper writer's comments about the difficulty of rationing troops showed that, while he had gained a temporary advantage over Finegan by advancing inland quickly, he had now outrun his supply lines and by necessity was slowing down. Moving Barton's Brigade back to Barber's meant that supplies coming up by rail would reach it faster.

The Federals seem to have thought that by and large things were going well so far:

...Thus far the expedition and raid have been brilliantly successful. We have captured and caused to be destroyed over one and a half million dollars worth of property, and have opened up a new territory to our arms and flag. - Unidentified war correspondent, New York Herald, February 1864.

The delay in the advance, however, proved critical to Confederate efforts to turn back the invasion. It gave Finegan and his superior, General P.G.T. Beauregard, the time they needed to begin rushing additional troops to Florida.

I will continue to post on the 148th Anniversary of the Olustee Campaign over coming days so be sure to check back often. You can read more about the Battle of Olustee anytime at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.