Friday, February 19, 2010

Anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, Florida

Tomorrow, February 20th, marks the 146th anniversary of Florida's largest Civil War engagement, the Battle of Olustee.

Sometimes called the Battle of Ocean Pond, from a large lake just north of the battlefield, Olustee resulted political maneuvering rather than militiary necessity. President Abraham Lincoln was facing a tough reelection battle in the North and was presented with the idea of restoring Florida to the Union in time to receive the state's Electoral votes.

It was an idea that Lincoln liked and he authorized the plan, even commissioning a member of his staff as a major and assigning him to accompany the expedition to make sure the President's views were clear. The task of carrying out the invasion went to Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, who had achieved note for his reduction of Fort Pulaski at Savannah, Georgia.

Gillmore moved a large army south, landed at Jacksonville and drove away the outnumbered Confederate troops in the area. Thousands of Federal troops firmly established in and around Jacksonville, he returned briefly to his base of operations at Hilton Head Island. He had not been there long when he was stunned to receive a report from his second-in-command, Brigadier General Truman A. Seymour, that he was preparing to march inland from Jacksonville and seize the bridge over the Suwannee River.

Gillmore had directly ordered Seymour not to attempt such a movement. Before he could halt the operation, however, Seymoure marched inland with 5,500 men. It would prove to be a disastrous decision.

Unaware that a major Confederate army was assembling at Olustee, Seymour marched blindly into its teeth. By the time the smoke cleared on February 20, 1864, the Union army had suffered a major defeat. More than 1,800 of Seymour's 5,500 men were killed, wounded or taken prisoner at the Battle of Olustee. Confederate losses were just under 1,000.

The annual reenactment of the Battle of Olustee was held last weekend, but the actual anniversary of the battle is tomorrow (Saturday).

To learn more Florida's largest Civil War battle, read original reports and see photographs of the battlefield, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

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