Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Olustee #1 - The Union Army lands at Jacksonville

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park
Over the next three weeks I will follow the 1864 Olustee Campaign with regular posts detailing daily events of both the expedition and the Battle of Olustee. Please be sure to check back regularly!
On February 7, 1864 (148 years ago today), Union transports steamed up the St. Johns River to Jacksonville and began putting ashore thousands of Federal troops:

...I have the honor to report that a portion of my command, under Brig. Gen. T. Seymour, convoyed by the gun-boat Norwich, Captain Meriam, ascended the St. John's River on the 7th instant, and landed at Jacksonville on the afternoon of the day.... At our approach the enemy abandoned and sunk the steamer Saint Mary's and burned 270 bales of cotton above Jacksonville. - Gen. Quincy A Gillmore, USA, February 9, 1864.

St. Johns River at Jacksonville
The objective of the campaign, as outlined in a letter from Major General Quincy A. Gillmore to Major General H.W. Halleck, was to take control of a significant area of East Florida in time to restore at least a portion of the state for the Presidential election in November of 1864:

...First. To procure an outlet for cotton, lumber, timber, turpentine, and other products of that State. Second. To cut off one of the enemy's sources of commissary supplies. He now draws largely upon the herds of Florida for his beef, and is making preparations to take up a portion of the Fernandina and Saint Mark's [i.e. Cedar Key] Railroad for the purpose of connecting the road from Jacksonville to Tallahassee with Thomasville, on the Savannah, Albany and Gulf Railroad, and perhaps with Albany, on the Southwestern Railroad. Third. To obtain recruits for my colored regiments. Fourth. To inaugurate measures for the speedy restoration of Florida to her allegiance, in accordance with instructions which I have received from the President by the hands of Maj. John Hay, assistant adjutant-general. - Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, USA, January 31, 1864.

Major John Hay, USA
The move to "inaugurate measures for the speedy restoration of Florida to her allegiance" was, in truth, the real objective of the campaign. The Battle Olustee resulted directly from a letter sent to Major General Gillmore by President Abraha, Lincoln on January 13, 1864:

...I understand an effort is being made by some worthy gentlemen to reconstruct a loyal State government in Florida. Florida is in your department, and it is not unlikely that you may be there in person. I have given Mr. Hay a commission of major and sent him to you with some blank books and other blanks to aid in the reconstruciton. He will explain as to the manner of using the blanks, and also my general views on the subject. It is desirable for all to co-operate; but if irreconcilable difference of opinion shall arise, you are master. I wish the thing done in the most speedy way possible, so that when done it will be within the range of the late proclamation on the subject. - Abraham Lincoln, January 13, 1864.

President Lincoln was then anticipating a tough reelection campaign against a Democrat candidate who supported a negotiated settlement with the South. If he could achieve the "restoration" of part of Florida to the Union in time for the election, he could expect to pick up the electoral college votes of the state. Those votes, Lincoln thought at that time, might make the difference between being reelected and being sent home.

Thousands of men, North and South, were about to march into battle on the field of Olustee for the sake of politics, pure and simple.

I will continue to post on the 148th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee over coming days. Be sure to check back often. You can read more about the battle at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.

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