Monday, February 13, 2012

Olustee #7 - Confederate Reinforcements pour into Florida

Gen. Truman Seymour, USA
On February 13, 1864, 148 years ago today, General Truman Seymour's Union forces worked to consolidate their positions along the railroad leading from Jacksonville inland to Sanderson.

In advancing all the way to Lake City, Seymour had outrun his supply system and now found himself scrambling to put his men into positions where they could be fed. Sanderson, he decided, could not be defended and he opted to pull his entire force back to Barber's Plantation on the South Prong of the St. Mary's River, while troops moving up from Jacksonville were being positioned at Baldwin.

It took longer than expected to get a railroad locomotive in operation, so provisions especially were running short for the more than 5,000 Federals on the ground in Florida. Meanwhile, there is solid evidence that tension was developing between the two Union commanders. Generals Seymore and Gillmore.

Gen. Q.A. Gillmore, USA
Library of Congress
Gillmore, by then known with some degree of fame for his reduction of Fort Pulaski near Savannah, was the overall commander of the expedition. Seymour was his direct subordinate. The two had very different views of the danger posed to their operations by Finegan's gathering Confederate army.

Seymour, for example, wrote from Sanderson 148 years ago yesterday recommending that Fribley's Infantry Brigade be sent to secure Palatka on the St. John's River. Gillmore, however, felt that the Union army should be concentrated around Baldwin as quickly as possible:

...I want your command at and beyond Baldwin concentrated at Baldwin without delay. I have information of a mounted force that may trouble your right flank by fording the Saint Mary's River. When we landed here they were 80 miles from Baldwin, on the Albany and Gulf Railroad. You should have scouts well out on your front and right flank. I have sent word to Colonel Tilghman to be on the alert. I think Fribley had better move forward and join you, but you must judge. The locomotive has not arrived yet. - Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, USA, February 12, 1864.

General Seymour, however, protested against abandoning the South Prong of the St. Mary's, pointing out that it would "make it impossible for us to advance again."

Camp Beauregard at Olustee, Florida
As the two Union generals began to debate strategy, their Confederate counterparts were coming together to meet the crisis. General P.G.T. Beauregard was pushing reinforcements south to support Finegan in Florida. Included were some of his best combat troops, most notably Colquitt's Brigade from Georgia.

Finegan, meanwhile, advanced up the railroad from Lake City to Olustee Creek where he established a position he named Camp Beauregard. It was the only suitable defensive position he could find between the Suwannee and the South Prong of the St. Mary's. While it could be flanked by wide-moving Federal strategic movement, the Olustee position could not be flanked by a quick tactical move. Ocean Pond on the left and a large swamp on the right gave the Confederates suitable natural defenses.

As darkness fell on February 13, 1864, General Finegan had his men shoveling dirt to raise field fortifications to make their position even more secure.

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

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