Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Olustee #9 - An Advance to the Suwannee Considered

Civil War Map of Railroad from Barber's to Jacksonville
Library of Congress
February 15, 1864 (150 years ago today), found the Union army arrayed primarily along the railroad stretching from Barber's Plantation on the South Prong of the St. Mary's back to Jacksonville.
The forming Confederate army, meanwhile, was astride the same railroad on the east side of Olustee Creek. Its commanding officer, General Joseph Finegan, was focused on the construction of field fortifications behind which he hoped his men could fight to advantage against what was still a much larger Union force. The movement of Southern reinforcements to Finegan continued day and night.

Site of the Suwannee River Bridge
The Federals, in turn, focused on getting provisions and other supplies to their men and on minor raids into the countryside of East Florida. The wounded men from the fights at Barber's Plantation and Lake City were taken back to Jacksonville from where they were carried by hospital steamer to the military hospital at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

As his army remained stationary along the railroad, General Truman Seymour developed plans for a rapid push inland. His objective would be the Suwannee River Bridge at the now-vanished town of Columbus.

Old Columbus Cemetery
Once an important riverboat port and crossing site, Columbus was located at the confluence of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee Rivers in what is now Suwannee River State Park. Home to 500 people at its height, Columbus vanished in the years after the Civil War and all that remain today are a cemetery and some traces of ruins. To learn more, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/suwannee1.

Fort at the Suwannee River Bridge
The military significance of the town and the reason why Seymour chose to target it, however, was the railroad bridge there. It was the only way for trains carrying reinforcements and supplies to reach Finegan's army. This made it an obvious "choke point" from a military perspective. The army that held the bridge held control of the main means of moving troops and supplies from other areas of the Confederacy into Northeast Florida.

The Confederates were well aware of this and had built two strong forts at the bridge, one on each side of the tracks on the east side of the river. The cannon in these earthworks could sweep not only the land approach to the bridge, but also the river itself in the event a Union gunboat came upstream. Learn more about the Forts at the Suwannee River Bridge by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/suwanneefort.

General Quincy A. Gillmore, the overall commander of the Union invasion, had no idea that Seymour was developing this plan and would not learn of it in time to stop it. Seymour would carry it on on his own, and meet with disaster at the Battle of Olustee in just five days.

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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