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.