Friday, June 27, 2008
The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Two
In early February, Gillmore's forces came ashore at Jacksonville and took the meager Confederate force in the area by total surprise.
The Federals quickly took possession of the city and drove off the small Southern command at Camp Milton, a Confederate post near Jacksonville. Sweeping through the countryside, they raided as far west as Lake City before falling back to consolidate their positions. So far, the campaign was going perfectly.
With the situation apparently in hand, Gillmore returned to Hilton Head Island temporarily and left the field command in the hands of Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour. Seymour was instructed to occupy Palatka and Magnolia on the St. Johns River, but to hold his western outposts at Baldwin and the south fork of the St. Mary's River. Gillmore explicitly ordered him not to attempt a general advance with the troops at hand.
On February 18, 1864, however, Gillmore received a report from Seymour announcing his intention to march west across North Florida, seize Lake City and move on to the railroad bridges over the Suwannee River. He indicated that he expected Gillmore would launch a demonstration against either Savannah or Charleston to assist with his movements.
Stunned, Gillmore wrote back immediately reminding his subordinate that such a move was expressly against his orders:
You must have forgotten my last instructions, which were for the present to hold Baldwin and the Saint Mary’s South Fork, as your outposts to the westward of Jacksonville, and to occupy Palatka, Magnolia, on the Saint John’s. Your project distinctly and avowedly ignores these operations and substitutes a plan which not only involves your command in a distant movement, without provisions, far beyond a point from which you once withdrew on account of precisely the same necessity, but presupposes a simultaneous demonstration of “great importance” to you elsewhere, over which you have no control, and which requires the co-operation of the navy. It is impossible for me to determine what your views are with respect to Florida matters....
Why Seymour so aggressively disobeyed orders remains a mystery to this day. Gillmore's fears, however, were well-founded, as his subordinate was about to discover.
Before his commander's alarmed dispatch could reach him, Seymour was marching west on a road paralleling the Florida and Atlantic-Gulf Central Railroad and about to stumble into a hornet's nest of Confederate resistance.
Our series on the Battle of Olustee will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting our new Battle of Olustee pages at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.