Friday, January 31, 2014

Olustee objectives explained 150 years ago today (January 31)

Maj. Gen. Q.A. Gillmore (US)
Library of Congress
150 years ago today, Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore (US) outlined his objectives for the Olustee campaign.

The general's dispatch of January 31, 1864, came in response to a unhappy communique sent from Union General-in-Chief H.W. Halleck one week earlier. Halleck had been bypassed by President Abraham Lincoln when confidential orders were sent instructing Gillmore to invade Florida and he was not pleased by the breach in protocol:

...As the object of the expedition has not been explained, it is impossible to judge here of its advantages or practicability. If it is expected to give an outlet for cotton, or open a favorable field for the enlistment of colored troops, the advantages may be sufficient to justify the expense in money and troops. But simply as military operations, I attach very little importance to such expeditions. If successful they merely absorb our troops in garrisons to occupy the places, but have little or no influence upon the progress of the war. - Maj. Gen. H.W. Halleck (US) to Maj. Gen. Q.A. Gillmore (US), January 22, 1864.

Maj. Gen. H.W. Halleck (US)
Library of Congress
Halleck's warning to Gillmore that he should tread carefully was stark but warranted far more consideration than the commander of the Department of the South gave it. Instead of seeking additional advice from his general-in-chief, Gillmore responded with an ambitious list of objectives for his campaign:

...First. To procure an outlet for cotton, lumber, timber, turpentine, and the 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 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. - Maj. Gen. Q.A. Gillmore (US) to Maj. Gen. H.W. Halleck (US), January 31, 1864.

The last line made clear to Halleck that Gillmore was operating under direct orders from the President to secure the return of Florida to the Union. He was going forward with the campaign.

Pine woods of Olustee Battlefield
Gillmore also informed Halleck that the area between the Suwannee and the St. Johns River included the "richest portions" of Florida. This was beyond a stretch of the truth.  Much of the region between the two rivers then included vast tracts of pine trees.

The real wealth of Florida in 1864 was concentrated west of the Suwannee in a plantation district that included Madison, Jefferson, Leon, Gadsden and Jackson Counties. The proposed invasion of the region between the St. Johns and the Suwannee, however, would touch none of these.

General Gillmore told the Union commander-in-chief virtually nothing else about his plans.

I will post on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee throughout February, so please check back often for more at

In the meantime, read more on the battle at

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