Monday, February 10, 2014

Skirmish on the South Prong, 150 years ago today (February 10, 1864)

Fighting of February 10, 1864
Harper's Weekly
After halting for a day at Baldwin, the Federal troops resumed their advance 150 years ago today on February 10, 1864. The soon found themselves facing surprisingly stiff resistance from a small Confederate force under Major Robert Harrison of the Second Florida Cavalry.

The fight erupted when the head of the Union column reached Barber's Plantation at the South Prong or South Fork of the St. Marys River. The stream flows between today's communities of Macclenny and Glen St. Mary.

Barber's Plantation
Harper's Weekly
Harrison, with two companies of men from the Second Florida, had been making his way down from Camp Cooper north of Jacksonville to link up with the Southern force that Brigadier General Joseph Finegan was assumbling to oppose the Federal invasion. They were near Barber's Plantation when they learned that Union troops were approaching. Taking up positions on the west side of the South Prong, they prepared to resist.

Barber's is shown between Baldwin and Sanderson
Click to Enlarge
Continuing to advance, at the South Fork of the Saint Mary's, Barber's plantation, the passage across the stream was disputed by two companies of cavalry, dismounted, and occupying a very strong position, but it was energetically forced by Colonel [Guy V.] Henry, with a loss of 3 killed and 10 wounded, and a greater loss to the enemy, who was completely disorganized. - Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour (US) to Brig. Gen. J.W. Turner (US), February 17, 1864.

The Union force involved in the fight consisted of the Independent Battalion of Massachusetts Cavalry, the Fortieth Massachusetts Infantry (Mounted) and Elder's horse battery of the First U.S. Artillery.

Union troops in Sanderson
Harper's Weekly
General Finegan's report of the encounter was similar:

...On Wednesday they moved as far as they Little Saint Mary's, when they were met by Major Harrison with two companies of cavalry, who were marching from Camp Cooper (near Fernandina) to this place, and being unaware of the force of the enemy, gave them battle at a strong position. The enemy's loss at this point, as reported by a woman, whom they have permitted to come through their lines, was 15 killed and 30 wounded. We lost 2 killed and 2 wounded, the latter in the enemy's hands. The enemy's wounded are at a hospital at Barber's place, which they have established for their reception. - Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan (CS) to Brig. Gen. Thomas Jordan (CS), February 13, 1864.

Lake City, Florida
Assuming that each commander reported his own casualties with accuracy, losses in the skirmish were as follows: Union 3 killed, 10 wounded; Confederate 2 killed, 2 wounded.

Heavily outnumbered, Harrison was forced back from his position and withdrew to join Finegan at Lake City. The Federals continued to move west along the railroad and reached Sanderson by nightfall. The Confederates had removed most of the supplies warehoused by the railroad there, although they were forced to burn 1,500 bushels of corn.

By reaching Sanderson, the Union force had advanced roughly 38 miles into eastern Florida from their landing point at Jacksonville with known losses of only 4 killed and 10 wounded. At least one other Federal soldier had been captured. Known Confederate losses totaled 2 killed and a handful captured.

Although the Federals had maintained the initiative up to the night of February 10th, the situation would begin to change the next day. Brigadier General Joseph Finegan was at Lake City assembling a force to oppose their advance. He would achieve the first Confederate success of the Olustee Campaign on the following day. I will post on the fighting at Lake City tomorrow.

To learn more about the Battle of Olustee and to watch the new mini-documentary on the battle, please visit

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