|First Skirmish of Gainesville Marker|
The First Skirmish of Gainesville, so named to distinguish it from the larger Battle of Gainesville fought six months later, took place on February 14, 1864. It was a little known side affair of the Olustee Campaign.
The detachment of 50 or so Union soldiers were from Companies C, G and H of the Fortieth Massachusetts Infantry (Mounted). Commanded by Captain George Marshall, they had been sent by Major General Quincy A. Gillmore (US) to "capture a train of cars" at Gainesville.
|Gainesville in the Civil War era|
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Collection
The Federals had ridden south from Sanderson the previous morning on a lightning raid. Reaching Gainesville on the morning of Valentine's Day, they captured what General Truman Seymour described a few days later as "immense stores of cotton, of turpentine and rosin, sugar, tobacco, and supplies of all kinds," but no train cars:
|Captain J.J. Dickison, CSA|
Second Florida Cavalry
Without the train cars, the Federals couldn't make off with their haul. Despite Seymour's claim that "no private property was destroyed or molested," much of the material temporarily seized at Gainesville was most assuredly private property.
As the men of the Fortieth Massachusetts were going about their work of collecting all the supplies they could find, they learned that the famed "Swamp Fox of the Confederacy" was on his way. Captain J.J. Dickison of the Second Florida Cavalry had earned the nickname for his often remarkable movements against Union forces in Florida.
|Site of the First Skirmish of Gainesville|
Attacking with audacity, the men of the Second Florida Cavalry charged the Union barricade. According to one Northern account, the Confederates came storming forward on horseback. Captain Marshall ordered his men to hold their fire until Dickison and his men had arrived within point blank range, then opened a withering fire on them with Spencer rifles.
|Skirmish site with Confederate Monument in foreground|
The First Skirmish of Gainesville ended quickly when Dickison realized he could not overwhelm the Union barricades. Northern newspapers hailed it as a significant victory claiming that as many as 40 Confederates were killed and wounded, but the claims were fictitious. Few casualties were suffered on either side.
|Another view of the First Skirmish Site in Gainesville, Florida|
The site of the First Skirmish of Gainesville can be seen today by viewing the intersection of University Avenue and Main Street in the historic city. A marker detailing the history of the encounter stands nearby on the grounds of City Hall.
I will post more on the Olustee Campaign tomorrow. Be sure to learn more about the Battle of Olustee and watch the new mini-documentary on the battle at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.