Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Olustee #8 - Valentine's Day Battle of Gainesville

Captain J.J. Dickison, CSA
The "Swamp Fox" of Florida
Fighting once again broke out 148 years ago today as Union troops continued the Olustee Campaign with a Valentine's Day raid on Gainesville, Florida:

...[A] command of Fortieth Massachusetts Volunteers, consisting of details from companies C, G, and H, under Capt. G.E. Marshall, of that regiment, left Sanderson for Gainesville, Fla., which point was reached on the morning of the 14th. Immense stores of cotton, of turpentine and rosin, sugar, tobacco, and supplies of all kinds, were captured. - Gen. Truman Seymour, USA, February 17, 1864.

Despite the report of cotton, turpentine, sugar, tobacco, etc., being captured, General Seymore claimed that "no private property was destroyed or molested." Of course, much of the material he mentioned did belong to private parties and was private property.

First Alachua County Courthouse in Gainesville
Built in 1857, it survived the raid but was later demolished.
Captured provisions were distributed to the residents of Gainesville, "who were suffering." Seymour further reported that "$1,000,000 worth of property fell into our hands, but it could not be removed and it was not considered advisable to destroy it." In other words, the captured supplies were left sitting where they had been found when the Federal troops left Gainesville.

The departure of the Union cavalrymen from Gainesville was hastened by the sudden arrival of Captain J.J. Dickison, the famed Confederate "Swamp Fox" of Florida.

Learning that Dickison was approaching, the Federals formed breastworks of cotton bales in the streets and waited. Dickison hit them hard with his two companies from the 2nd Florida Cavalry, but the Union officers claimed that he was repulsed:

...[T]he brigadier-general commanding especially desires to praise Capt. George E. Marshall, Fortieth Massachusetts Mounted Infantry, and his small command of 50 men, who captured and held Gainesville for fifty-six hours, receiving and repulsing an attack from more than double their numbers, and after fulfilling his mission successfully returning to the designated place of rendezvous. - General Orders No. 5, February 17, 1864.

19th Century Photograph of Gainesville
Florida Memory Collection
Eyewitness accounts of the raid indicated that Confederate cavalry had skirmished lightly with Marshall's men as they approached Gainesville. It was not until evening, however, that Dickison attempted a main attack.

Learning from a liberated slave that an attack was in the making, the Federals joined with around 100 other liberated slaves in moving 15 bales of cotton to form temporary fortifications on the main crossroad in Gainesville. The Confederate cavalrymen charged on horseback, but were driven back by the fire of Marshall's new seven-shot Spencer repeating rifles.
Casualties were light on both sides, with the Union command reporting only one wounded and two captured. They returned to the Union lines four days later without additional serious opposition. Thirty-six liberated slaves were carried back with them. Of this number, 33 enlisted in the Union army.

The Southern version of the battle is that the resistance offered by Dickison and his men forced the Federals to retreat. The captain, however, did not consider the affair to be a major incident.

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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