February 20, 1864: Battle of Olustee

Although the Union had made substantial progress in the War in 1863, few northerners doubted that the Confederacy was still full of fight.  This belief received support in the Union defeat in the battle of Olustee, Florida.

Florida was the most lightly populated state of the Confederacy, only 140,000 people.  Throughout the War Florida was a side show, with the Union forces content to occupy the major ports of Jacksonville, Key West, Pensacola and Cedar Key, while the Confederates controlled the interior and smuggled needed supplies for the Confederacy through the minor ports that dotted the Florida peninsula.

In February 1864 Union Brigadier General Truman Seymour landed a force of about 5,000 troops at Jacksonville to stage raids in north east and north central Florida to collect supplies, recruit black troops and cut off Confederate supply lines from Florida to Georgia.  He was under orders not to proceed into the interior of the state.  Lieutenant General P.G.T. Beauregard, in command of the Confederate coastal forces in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida decided to counter this move by reinforcing Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Finnegan in Florida to bring his troop strength up to 5,000 men.

Ignoring his instructions Seymour led out his 5500 men for a drive across northern Florida with the seizure of the state capital of Tallahassee as a possible objective.  Finnegan, massing his forces blocked the Union move by entrenching at Olustee station, 48 miles west of Jacksonville.

At 2:30 PM on February 20, Finnegan sent out a brigade to attempt to lure the Federals into an attack on his entrenchments.  The Federals did not oblige and Finnegan marched his entire force out from the entrenchments to fight.  The battle went on for the remainder of the afternoon with the Union line giving way.  Finnegan did not order a pursuit, with the 54th Massachusetts of Fort Wagner fame and the 35th United States Colored Troops repulsing the last attack on the retreating Federals.  Union casualties were 1861 to 946 Confederate.  The heavy Union losses caused a number of Northern lawmakers to wonder whether it was worthwhile to put any further military effort into a state that had little significance for the War as a whole.  Florida remained a relatively quiet sector of the Civil War for the remainder of the conflict with only minor raids and skirmishes.

Here is an excerpt of the report from Brigadier General Joseph Finnegan on the battle: (more…)

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Published in: on February 20, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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