Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Unique Artifact is reminder of Terrible Cost of Olustee

Sometimes when examining private collections of Civil War artifacts, you come across unexpected artifacts that bring to life the true horror of the war.

This mishapen lump of lead in the Sirmans Collection was recovered years ago from the site of a Confederate hospital west of the Olustee Battlefield. Close examination reveals that it was a bullet that Southern soldiers clamped between their teeth while surgeons probed the wounds they had received in the bloody battle that is remembered today as Florida's largest of the War Between the States. The teeth marks of individual soldiers remain clearly imprinted in the soft metal despite the passage of more than 146 years since the days following the battle.

The Battle of Olustee was fought between Lake City and Jacksonville on February 20, 1864, when a Union army of more than 5,000 men marched west along the Atlantic and Gulf Central Railroad to take a key bridge over the Suwannee River and split the southernmost Confederate state in two. Lacking good intelligence of what lay before them, the Federals marched headlong into an advancing Confederate army of roughly the same size.

The battle was a smashing Confederate victory that resulted in the dismal failure of a plan promoted by President Abraham Lincoln to return at least part of Florida to the Union in time for the state to figure in the 1864 Presidential election. Union losses totaled more than 200 killed, 1,152 wounded and 506 missing in action. Confederate forces, by comparison, sustained a smaller loss of 93 killed, 847 wounded and 6 missing.

Field hospitals in around the modern community of Olustee struggled to handle the large number of wounded soldiers left on the field. The relic shown above came from one of the Confederate hospitals that provided emergency treatment to soldiers immediately following the battle. As soon as they could be moved, the wounded men were transported by rail to hospitals in Lake City and as far away as Tallahassee and even Fort Gaines, Georgia. An unknown number later died from their wounds.

To learn more about the Battle of Olustee, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

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