Ocean Pond

Battle of Olustee

The Battle of Olustee or Battle of Ocean Pond was fought near Lake City in Baker County, Florida on February 20, 1864, during the American Civil War. It was the largest battle fought in Florida during the war.

Background

In February 1864, the commander of the Department of the South, Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, launched an expedition into Florida to secure Union enclaves, sever Confederate supply routes, and recruit black soldiers. Brigadier General Truman Seymour, in command of the expedition landed troops at Jacksonville, in an area already seized by the Union in March 1862, and made several raids into northeast and northcentral Florida. During these raids he met little resistance, seized several Confederate camps, captured small bands of troops, liberated slaves, etc. However, Seymour was under orders from Gillmore not to advance deep into the state.

Seymour's actions concerned the Confederate command in the key port city of Charleston, South Carolina. General P. G. T. Beauregard felt these Union actions posed enough of a threat that he detached reinforcements under Georgian Alfred H. Colquitt to bolster Florida's defenses and stop Seymour. Colquitt arrived in time to reinforce Florida troops under the command of Brigadier General Joseph Finegan. As Colquitt's troops began arriving, Seymour, without Gillmore's knowledge, began a new drive across north Florida with the capture of Tallahassee as a possible objective..

Battle

Following the Florida, Atlantic and Gulf Railroad, Seymour led his 5,500 men in the direction of Lake City. At approximately 2:30 in the afternoon of February 20, the Union force approached General Finegan's 5,000 Confederates entrenched near Olustee Station. Finegan sent out an infantry brigade to meet Seymour's advance units and lure them into the Confederate entrenchments, but this plan went awry. The opposing forces met at Ocean Pond and the battle began. Finegan and Seymour both reinforced their engaged units during the afternoon and the battle took place in open pine woods. The Union forces attacked but were savagely repulsed by withering barrages of rifle and cannon fire.

The battle raged throughout the afternoon until, as Finegan committed the last of his reserves, the Union line broke and began to retreat. Finegan did not exploit the retreat, allowing most of the fleeing Union forces to reach Jacksonville. A small Confederate band did attempt to engage the rear element of Seymour's forces but were repulsed by elements of the famous 54th Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Infantry and the 35th United States Colored Troops, both composed of African American soldiers.

Aftermath

Union casualties were 203 killed, 1,152 wounded, and 506 missing, a total of 1,861 men — almost 40%. Confederate losses were lower: 93 killed, 847 wounded, and 6 missing, a total of 946 casualties in all — but still about 20%. Additionally, Union forces allowed six artillery pieces and 39 horses to be captured as well . The ratio of Union casualties to the number of troops involved made this the third bloodiest battle of the War for the Union. Many of the soldiers on both sides were veterans of the great battles in the eastern and western theaters of war, but many of them remarked in letters and diaries that they had never experienced such terrible fighting.

The Union losses caused Northern authorities to question the necessity of further Union involvement in the militarily insignificant state of Florida. There is also considerable evidence that the high Union casualties were the result of Confederate troops murdering wounded and captured African American Union soldiers

In the South, the battle was seen as a spirit-raising rout. One Georgia newspaper referred to Union forces as walking "forty miles over the most barren land of the South, frightening the salamanders and the gophers, and getting a terrible thrashing…"

Today, the battlefield is contained within the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park, a part of the Florida State Park system. This park is located within the Osceola National Forest, on U.S. 90. There is an annual historical reenactment that takes place on the site of the battle.

On one weekend every February (see Footnotes), thousands of reenactors from across the U.S. and even from overseas, come to the Park to reenact the Battle of Olustee. Reenactors begin arriving as early as Thursday to set up. Friday is usually reserved as a "School Day" when thousands of students arrive to spend the day watching demonstrations and listening to living historians discuss various aspects of the war and 1860s life in the United States. The public is invited to attend the reenactment on Saturday and Sunday, visit the camps, view demonstrations, interact with living historians, shop at numerous sutler tents for Civil War merchandise, and attend the battle on each day. A large selection of modern day food is continuously available from Friday through Sunday at the park.

Battle lithograph

The lithograph in the upper right was printed by the firm of Kurz and Allison in 1894. It depicts soldiers of the 8th U.S. Colored Troops advancing against Confederate entrenchments. While frequently used in media about the Battle of Olustee, it is inaccurate as the artist knew little about the battle. The Confederates troops during the battle were well in advance of their prepared positions, and neither side fought from behind fortifications as the battle took place in a pine forest (see map). Plus, there were very few large cleared areas (as also shown incorrectly in the lithograph). The annual reenactment begins in a pine forest so that reenactors can experience fighting as the soldiers did in 1864. However, it then moves into a large cleared area so that spectators can also view the battle.

See also

Footnotes

References

External links

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