Tuesday, February 25, 2014

February 20, 1864

February 20, 1864

---Battle of Olustee, Florida: The largest battle fought in this state occurs today as Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour and about 5,500 Federal men march westward with the aim of at least threatening the state capital of Tallahassee. 

Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour, USA

 Near Olustee Station, the Rebels, under Gen. Finnegan, have entrenched with Ocean Pond on its left to protect its flank. As the Federals march around the south shore of Ocean Pond, near Olustee Station, they meet a brigade of Confederate troops sent forward by Finnegan. Seymour mistakes these troops for Florida militia, and sends in his men unit by unit. 

 Finnegan begins to commit his troops piecemeal, and the Federals soon are suffering terrific losses to the massed artillery and rifle fire of the Confederates. Toward the end of the fighting, the Southerners are nearly out of ammunition, and after a lull, a small amount is brought up, and the firing resumes. 

Brig. Gen. Joseph Finnegan, CSA

 As Finnegan sends in his last reserves, Gen. Colquitt, who commands on the field, leads them in, while pushing forward a flanking maneuver as well. Seymour’s troops break, and begin the retreat back to Jacksonville. The Rebels pursue, but are rebuffed by the 35th U.S. Colored Troops (1st North Carolina Inf., U.S.), supported by the 8th U.S. Colored Troops. 

Period Lithograph of the Battle of Olustee--which is highly inaccurate

But the black troops deliver a vicious fire, and inflict the most severe casualties on the Rebels experience that day. As the 8th and 35th both give way as their senior officers are shot down, the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry, another black regiment, comes up and stops the Southern advance cold, although with heavy losses. But the Rebels have no more heart for pursuit, and Seymour’s army is saved by this savage rear-guard action. However, as the Rebels capture the field, they range over the ground, without orders, shooting to death the wounded black troops. One Confederate officer—William Penniman of the 4th Georgia Cavalry--describes the horror:

A young officer was standing in the road in front of me and I asked him, "What is the meaning of all this firing I hear going on?" His reply to me was, "Shooting niggers Sir. I have tried to make the boys desist but I can’t control them". I made some answer in effect that it seemed horrible to kill the wounded devils, and he again answered, "That’s so Sir, but one young fellow over yonder told me the niggers killed his brother after being wounded, at Fort Billow Pillow?], and he was twenty three years old, that he had already killed nineteen and needed only four more to make the matter even, so I told him to go ahead and finish the job". I rode on but the firing continued.

The next morning I had occasion to go over the battlefield again quite early, before the burial squads began their work, when the results of the shooting of the previous night became quite apparent. Negroes, and plenty of them, whom I had seen lying all over the field wounded, and as far as I could see, many of them moving around from place to place, now without a motion, all were dead. If a negro had a shot in the shin another was sure to be in the head.

A very few prisoners were taken, and but a few at the prison pen. One ugly big black buck was interrogated as to how it happened that he had come back to fight his old master, and upon his giving some very insolent reply, his interrogator drew back his musket, and with the butt gave him a blow that killed him instantly. A very few of the wounded were placed on the surgeons operating table- their legs fairly flew off, but whether they were at all seriously wounded I have always had my doubt.

Confederate Victory.
Losses:    Killed   Wounded    Captured/Missing   Total

U.S.            203        1,153            506                   1,861

C.S.               93           847                 6                      946
This was an extraordinarily bloody battle, with about 19% losses for the South, and 27% for the North.

Order of Battle--

Union Forces

Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour, commanding

Barton's Brigade
Col William B. Barton
47th New York: Col Henry Moore
48th New York: Maj W.B. Coan (Col. W.B. Barton)
115th New York: Col Simeon Sammon

Hawley's Brigade
Col Joseph R. Hawley
7th Connecticut: Cpt Benjamin F. Skinner (Col. J.R. Hawley)
7th New Hampshire: Col Joseph C. Abbott
8th United States Colored Troops: Col Charles W. Fribley

Montgomery's Brigade
Col James Montgomery
35th United States Colored Troops: LtCol William N. Reed
54th Mass. Infantry (colored): Col Edward N. Hallowell

Cavalry Brigade
Col. Guy V. Henry
40th Massachusetts Mounted Infantry: Col G.V. Henry
Independent Mass. Cavalry Battn: Maj. Atherton H. Stevens Jr.
Battery B, First U.S. Artillery (4 pieces): Capt Samuel S. Elder

Capt John Hamilton
Battery E, Third U.S. (6 pieces): Capt John Hamilton
Battery M, First U.S. (6 pieces): Capt Loomis L. Langdon
Battery C, 3rd Rhode Island Heavy: Lt Henry H. Metcalf

1st Engineer Regt, NYSV, Maj. Place--Companies A, C, & I between Jacksonville and Baldwin, Company G at Barber's; Detachment of Co. E, Capt. Sears, at Fort Clinch. (www.history-buff.org/1ny.htm)

Confederate Forces

Brig. Gen. Joseph Finnegan

Colquitt's Brigade
Brig. Gen. Alfred H. Colquitt
6th Florida Battalion: Maj Pickens Bird
6th Georgia: LtCol John T. Lofton
19th Georgia: Col James H. Neal
23rd Georgia: LtCol James H. Huggins
27th Georgia: Col Charles T. Zachry
28th Georgia: Capt Crawford (Col. Tully Graybill)
Chatham Artillery (Georgia): Capt John F. Wheaton (4 pieces)
Gamble's (Leon Light) Artillery (Florida): Capt Robert H. Gamble

Harrison's Brigade
Col George P. Harrison
1st Florida Battalion: LtCol C.F. Hopkins
32nd Georgia: Maj W.T. Holland (Col. G.P. Harrison)
64th Georgia: Capt C.S. Jenkins (Col. J.W. Evans)
1st Georgia Regular: Capt H.A. Cannon
28th Georgia Artillery Battalion
2nd Florida Battalion
Abell's Artillery (Florida) (Serving as infantry)
Guerard's Battery (Georgia): Cpt John M. Guerard (4 pieces)

Smith's Cavalry Brigade
Col Caraway Smith
4th Georgia Cavalry: Col Duncan L. Clinch
2nd Florida Cavalry: LtCol A.H. McCormick (Col. Caraway Smith)
5th Florida Cavalry Battalion: Maj G.W. Scott


---Susan Bradford Eppes, of Tallahassee, Florida, writes in her diary of the anxiety there, and of the movement of troops:

February 20th, 1864.—Two more Georgia regiments passed through today en route for Lake City. I am afraid that means a fight. God help us.

---A newspaper in Mobile, Alabama, prints a story about a woman in Yankee uniform captured amongst other Yankee prisoners:
MOBILE REGISTER AND ADVERTISER, February 20, 1864, p. 1, c. 7
A Yankee Amazon.—Ninety Yankee prisoners, part of them wounded, reached Dalton from Alabama on the 14th inst. One of the prisoners (says the Huntsville Confederate) is a woman, disguised in masculine habiliments, and moving on crutches. She belongs to the 19th Illinois, noted for its barbarities, and claims to have been wounded at Florence, Ala., but her companions, who call her Frank, say that a dog bit her in the calf of the leg.

—An editorial in Harper’s Weekly, published on this date, discusses the Democrats in Congress and their lack of support for the war:

THERE are several members of Congress who please themselves by asserting that they constitute a healthy constitutional opposition to the Government, and who insist that it is wrong to call them unpatriotic, merely because they do not approve the method and policy of the Administration in conducting the war. They protest that the Administration is not the Government, and that they may censure all its acts without being justly liable to be called traitors.

The reply to this specious strain is very simple. The Government of the United States is defending its existence against an able and desperate rebellion. The Constitution confers upon that Government every power whatever which is necessary to its maintenance. It may, in the last extremity, wage war, and whatever is lawful in war is lawful for that Government. That extremity is now reached, and we are at war; consequently no measure of legitimate warfare can be censured as unconstitutional. . . .

Now to oppose the war, under whatever pretext, is to favor the rebellion, and compass the overthrow of the Government. Is, then, encouragement to the rebellion a legitimate constitutional opposition? . . . Their course leads of necessity, if they can persuade the country that the war is wrong, to a counter-revolution and the success of rebellion. Do they suppose that to be a sound and healthy opposition to the conduct of the war?


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