Friday, February 17, 2012

Olustee #11 - The Union Army prepares for the march to Olustee

Civil War drawing of Barber's Plantation
February 17, 1864, 148 years ago today, found Union General Truman Seymour concentrating his army of more than 5,000 men at Barber's Plantation on the South Prong of the St. Mary's River.

Despite his direct orders not to attempt an advance on Lake City, he was preparing to do just that. Taking advantage of Major General Quincy A. Gillmore's temporary absence at Hilton Head Island, Seymour announced a plan for a rapid advance as soon as the trains were operating, something which he expected to happen on the 19th.

A&GC Railroad
...[N]ow I propose to go without supplies, even if compelled to retrace my steps to procure them, and with the object of destroying the railroad near the Suwannee that there will be no danger of carrying away any portion of the track. All troops are therefore being moved up to Barber's, and probably by the time you receive this I shall be in motion in advance of that point. - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, February 17, 1864.

Seymour seems to have been concerned that the Confederates would try to remove the rails from the Altantic - Gulf Central Railroad to prevent the use of the tracks by the Federals. In fact, General Finegan commanding the Confederate forces astride the railroad at Olustee had no such plans at all.

Gen. Joseph Finegan, CSA
With his line of field fortifications now taking shape at the position he called Camp Beauregard (today's town of Olustee), Finegan was much more concerned with using the tracks of the A&GC to bring more Confederate troops to his own position. General P.G.T. Beauregard had determined that demonstrations carried out by the Federals near Charleston and at Savannah were just feints designed to distract his attention. With this conviction growing more and more firm in his mind, Beauregard increased the flow of men, cannon and supplies south to Florida. By the time Seymour was ready to move on the 19th, Finegan would be ready to receive him.

The plan outlined by Seymour in his letter to Gillmore 150 years ago today was rather grandiose. Not only did he propose an advance by his command to the Suwannee River, he called for a joint Army-Navy operation to draw attention from his own advance:

Cannon at Olustee
...That a force may not be brought from Savannah, Ga., to interfere with my movements, it is desirable that a display be made in the Savannah River, and I therefore urge that upon the reception of this such naval forces, transports, sailing vessels, &c., as can be so devoted may rendezvous near Pulaski, and that the iron-clads in Wassaw push up with as much activity as they can exert. I look upon this as of great importance, and shall rely upon it as a demonstration in my favor. - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, February 17, 1864.

Such a movement was all but impossible to organize in the two days time before Seymour expected to advance, even if the U.S. Navy - which was independent of the army - agreed to cooperate. As the general undoubtedly knew, it would take a full 24 hours just for his letter to reach General Gillmore and another 24 hours for Gillmore's reply to return. By that time, he would be moving for Lake City and, he hoped, glory.

The Battle of Olustee was now just three days away.

I will continue to post on the Olustee Campaign over coming days so be sure to check back often. You always can read more at

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