Monday, February 20, 2012

The Battle of Olustee, Part Three: Victory in the Pine Woods

Interpretive Display at Olustee Battlefield
This is the third part of a series commemorating the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee. To read the first two parts, please follow these links: Part One, The Battle Begins and Part Two, The Battle Intensifies.

The Battle of Olustee was growing more and more intense with both commanders now beginning to pour men into the battle lines. Realizing that he was facing the Confederate infantry in force, General Seymour now developed a quick plan of action:

Unidentified Soldier of the Seventh New Hampshire
...The ground was favorable for the movement of troops, being firm and even, and although covered with pine timber was devoid of underbrush. My intention was to engage the enemy in front with the artillery, supported by a regiment on either flank, while a brigade should be moved to the right so as to fall upon the prolongation of his line. The Seventh New Hampshire was accordingly thrown forward to the right, and the Eighth U.S. Colored Troops to the left, and Hamilton's and Langdon's batteries were brought up alongside of Elder's. The Seventh Connecticut had been energetically and successfully engaged in its work of driving in the enemy's skirmishers; it was now withdrawn from before our infantry. - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, March 25, 1864.

The Seventh New Hampshire, which had moved into line of battle on the right (north) of Seymour's artillery, was armed with new Spencer rifles. These repeating rifles should have given its soldiers far more firepower than an enemy force of much larger size armed with single-shot muskets. Unfortunately for the men from New Hampshire, they tried to come in line just as the brigade of Colonel George P. Harrison formed before them with the shrill shouts of rebel yells:

1864 map of Troop Movements at Olustee
...The Seventh New Hampshire. . .had scarcely deployed and felt the enemy's fire before it broke in confusion, and the most strenuous efforts of Colonel Hawley and its own colonel, assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel Hall, of my staff, could not reform or rally it, and this regiment counted as nothing during the remainder of the engagement. - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, March 25, 1864.

The Eighth USCT formed as ordered to the left (south) of the artillery, but was simply overwhelmed by the firepower of Colquitt's brigade before it. Colonel Fribley, its commander, fell and the regiment broke for the rear. The Federal guns were now unsupported and the Confederates quickly seized the opportunity.

The final straw for the men of the 8th USCT had come when General Colquitt ordered the Sixth Florida Battalion to sweep around his right flank and hit the African American soldiers from the south while his main line drove at them from the west:

...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. - Gen. Alfred. H. Colquitt, CSA, February 26, 1864.   

Line where the Confederates held without ammunition.
The Confederates pushed forward and captured the Union guns that could not be removed, but then suddenly began to run low on ammunition. The infantry fight had been intense for some time and the volume of fire from both sides had been incredible.  Colquitt called a halt to the advance and the men took up a position in line of battle stretching through the pine woods to wait while more ammunition was brought forward.

Bonaud's Georgia Battalion, the 27th Georgia Infantry and the First Florida Battalion, which had just come up and still had plenty of ammunition, were moved into position near the center of the Confederate line and pushed out slightly in advance to hold back the Federals until ammunition could be brought up and distributed. Colonel Harrison considered this the critical moment of the day:

Col. George P. Harrison, CSA
...It was whispered down the line, particularly in the Sixth and Thirty-second Georgia Regiments that our ammunition was failing and no ordnance train in sight. This I immediately reported to General Colquitt, who urged that we hold our ground stating that ammunition would certainly reach us directly. This I am proud to say, was heroically complied with by my command, many of them for fifteen or twenty minutes standing their ground without a round of ammunition. - Col. George P. Harrison, CSA, February 22,1 864.

The idea of thousands of men standing and facing the enemy without a round of ammunition is a remarkable testament to the heroism of the Confederates that fought at Olustee that day. With the situation so critical, Colonel Harrison leaped from his horse and gave it to one of his staff members who, "together with the remainder of my staff and couriers, was employed in conveying ammunition."

Final Union Line at Olustee Battlefield
The Confederates, it seems, need not have worried much. Instead of seizing the initiative and attacking, the Federals kept up a hot fire and began to slowly withdraw. Seymour and his men knew they had been beaten and now just wanted to get off the battlefield. 

With a new supply of ammunition now in their hands, however, the Confederates did not give them the chance. Colquitt ordered Harrison to swing the Sixth and Thirty-Second Georgia from his left to flank the right or northern flank of Seymour's lines. At the same time, the Twenty-seventh Georgia was ordered to attack the Union center:

Soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts
...(T)he whole line moving as directed, the enemy cave way in confusion. We continued the pursuet for several miles, when night put an end to the conflict. Instructions were given to the cavalry to follow close upon the enemy and seize every opportunity to strike a favorable blow. - Gen. Alfred H. Colquitt, CSA, February 26, 1864.

The last strong Federal resistance of the day came from the famed Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, the regiment portrayed in the popular move Glory. Moving up into position on the north side of the railroad tracks, the black soldiers of the 54th held strong even as the rest of the Union army collapsed around it and then they withdrew from the field more or less in order.

 To continue to the final of today's commemorative posts, please click here: Part Four, Lincoln's Florida Disaster.

 You can learn more about the Battle of Olustee anytime at

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