Saturday, February 8, 2014

Skirmish at Camp Finegan, 150 years ago today

Camp Finegan was on the railroad that connected
Jacksonville and Baldwin in Northeast Florida.
Click to Enlarge
The first significant skirmish of the Olustee Campaign took place on February 8, 1864, 150 years ago today.

Having established a beachhead at Jacksonville the previous afternoon (see Union Troops take Jacksonville), the Federals pushed west for Camp Finegan, which stood in what are now the western suburbs of Jacksonville. A Confederate cavalry force was there under Lt. Col. McCormick, Second Florida Cavalry, along with two companies of the Milton Light Artillery under Captains Joseph Dunham and Henry Abel.

Informed by pickets of the landing of the enemy at Jacksonville, McCormick put his men into line of battle to protect both the camp and the railroad as the Union mounted force approached:

Jacksonville rail station, 1864
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Collection
The advance, under Col. Guy V. Henry, composing the Fortieth Massachusetts Infantry [mounted], the Indepenndent Battalion Massachusetts Cavalry, under Major Stevens, and Elder's horse battery (B, First Artillery), pushed forward into the interior on the night of the 8th, passed by the enemy, drawn up in line of battle at Camp Finegan, 7 miles from Jacksonville; surprised and captured a battery, 3 miles in rear of camp, about midnight, and reached this place [Baldwin] about sunrise this morning. - Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore (USA) to Maj. Gen. H.W. Halleck (USA), February 9, 1864.

A more detailed account of the Confederate disaster at Camp Finegan was provided by Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour (US), who exercised direct command of the advancing force:

Colonel Henry came first in contact with the enemy's line of battle at Camp Finegan, about 8 o'clock, and rode it down, pursuing for several miles and capturing 5 field guns, with caissons, battery wagon, and forge complete, and 3 flags. In the camp was found a considerable quantity of transportation material, of clothing, and of camp equipage. - Brig Gen Truman Seymour (US) to Maj. Gen. Quincy Gillmore (US), February 17, 1864.

Brig. Gen. Truman A. Seymour, USA
The accounts of the two generals are somewhere at odds, with Gillmore describing a flanking movement that bypassed the Confederate defenders and Seymour reporting a mounted attack against them. A subsequent report by Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan (CS) indicates that both Union commanders were correct. According to Finegan, the Confederates at Camp Finegan realized they were being flanked and were in the act of withdrawing when they were attacked by the Union mounted force:

...They approached Camp Finegan as the command there were in the act of retiring. Their largely superior numbers deterred Lieutenant-Colonel McCormick, commanding, from attacking them, and in the darkness of the night he withdrew his command with caution and address and joined me at Camp Beauregard, near Ocean Pond, on the Olustee, on the 13th instant. The enemy with celerity pressed on to Baldwin, capturing on their way 5 guns of Companies A and B, Milton Light Artillery, which had been ordered to Baldwin. - Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan (CS) to Brig. Gen. Thomas Jordan (CS), February 26, 1864.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan, CSA
Finegan indicated that Lt. Col. McCormick's force at Camp Finegan numbered around 350 men. As the Federals were advancing with more than 5,000, he was heavily outnumbered and never stood a chance. The Confederate cavalry scattered during the retreat, but most eventually made their way back to their own lines.

According to a report by Captain Abel, the commander of Company B., Milton Light Artillery, the Confederate cannon captured in the attack were three 3-inch rifle from his own company and two 6-pounder bronze smoothbores from Captain Dunham's company. He also confirmed the loss of the caissons, forge and battery wagon.

As the night went on, the Federal army continued its push west up the railroad for the important crossing of Baldwin. I will post more about that in the next article.

Be sure to learn more about the Battle of Olustee and see the new mini-documentary on the battle by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.


  

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