Tuesday, July 1, 2008
The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Part Five
As the Confederate lines pushed forward, the outcome of the battle quickly seemed in doubt for the Federals. Gen. Seymour quickly pushed forward Barton's brigade and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry to try to stem the oncoming Southern advance.
A fierce firefight opened in the open pine woods. The engagement was unique for the final years of the Civil War in that it was a stand up battle with both sides blazing away at each other at short range and without trenches or fortifications of any kind. The armies had fought this way early in the war, but by 1864 both had come to realize that advances in weaponry had outdated open field tactics. This was clearly demonstrated by the massive casualties sustained by the Confederates at Gettysburg.
Olustee, however, developed so quickly that neither side was able to prepare their positions or make use of rifle pits and breastworks. As a result, it was extremely bloody.
General Colquitt provided a good description of the main fight at Olustee in his post-battle report:
After our line had advanced about one-quarter of a mile the engagement became general and the ground was stubbornly contested. 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. At this time, our ammunition beginning to fail, I ordered the commanding officers to halt their regiments and hold their respective positions until a fresh supply could be brought up from the ordnance wagons , which, after much delay, had arrived upon the field.
When the Confederates ran short on ammunition, their fire slackened and prompted hope in the Federal lines that they might be giving way. Gen. Seymour described the situation from the Union perspective:
An unremitting fire was maintained upon the enemy’s infantry, with the very best effect. Barton’s brigade, close at hand, was now formed on the ground occupied by the Seventh New Hampshire, and the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts had replaced the Eighth U.S. Colored Troops and a rapid fire was opened, the influence of which was soon visible. The left of the enemy’s line was forced backward, and in the hope of still effecting my original intention, the First North Carolina was brought up to the right of Barton’s brigade by Lieutenant-Colonel Reed in the most brilliant manner. The entire force was now hotly engaged save the cavalry. Colonel Henry watched the flanks and prevents on the left a movement of the enemy’s cavalry that threatened trouble.
Our series on the Battle of Olustee, Florida will continue. Until the next post, you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.