After The Battle of Olustee
1866 to 1949

A Different Perspective

by Richard Ferry
After the smoke had cleared and the dead were buried, the armies marched away to fight in other battles. The battle scared trees were all that remained in silent testimony of the fury and carnage of the battle of Olustee. The battlefield remained silent except for an occasional traveler passing the area. In May of 1866, a little over two years after the battle, a Lieutenant Frederick E. Grossman of the 7th U.S. infantry was ordered to proceed to the Olustee battlefield and determine the whereabouts and condition of the Union graves on the battlefield. He was horrified at what he found. He found that the Union dead had been buried in shallow graves near where they had fallen, some times several in one grave. Within a few weeks after the battle the graves had been disinterred by the wild hogs in the area and the bones scattered all over the battlefield. Lieutenant Grossman and his command covered almost 2 square miles of the battlefield collecting all the bones of the fallen Yankees that he could find. Two wagons were filled with the remains and buried in a mass grave near the railroad. There he erected a wooden monument, 12 feet high and surrounded with a wooden fence 27 feet long and 18 feet wide. On the monument were the following carved inscriptions

Southside: "To the Memory of the officers and soldiers of the United States Army who fell in the Battle of Olustee February 20, 1864

West side: "Our Country"

North side: "May the Living Profit by the Example of the Dead"

East side: "Unity and Peace"

Lieutenant Grossman also reported that the Confederate dead were principally buried on the south side of the railroad west of the battlefield and were in perfect condition.

The following years the monument would fall into a state of disrepair. The last recorded mention of it was in the fall of 1873 when Olustee veteran Loomis Langdon of the 1st U.S. Artillery reported seeing it from the platform of a passing train. He reported that all that could be seen were two sides of a weather stained and broken down fence. Soon, like the fate of the battlefield, the dead were also forgotten.

Sometime after 1870, a young man named John Brown, and his wife Eliza, moved to the Olustee Battlefield. John began to farm the battle torn ground and raise a family. John Brown had served in the 7th Florida infantry during the Civil War and was wounded in the right thigh during the battle of Missionary Ridge, Tennessee. After returning from the war he returned to his home in Providence and married Elza Shaw Brown.

The 1880 census list John, Eliza and their seven children living at the battlefield. Family lore states that John would toss all the relics from the battle over the fence when they were plowed up in his fields. One family member years later told about rolling the old cannon balls around in the yard while playing as a young girl.

As the years progressed the timber industry grew in the area and some of the battlefield was logged. One older gentleman in Olustee, Ishmel Arline, told stories of cutting cross ties around the battlefield and finding old bullets, muskets and artillery shells while working there in the early 1900's.

The idea of building a monument at Olustee was the idea Mrs. J.N. Whitner, a member of the Martha Reid Chapter of United Daughters of the Confederacy in Jacksonville, Florida. Mrs. Whitner's husband Joseph had fought at Olustee with the Florida Light Artillery, also known as Gamble's Artillery. Mrs. Whitner had spent time with her husband touring the battlefield and was reported to have gone over every foot of it. While on a train going from Jacksonville to Lake City in 1896, she overheard two gentlemen discussing the battle as they passed Olustee. Both had fought on the Federal side but were confused as to the exact site of the battle. Mrs. Whitner was able to point out to them the exact location and informed them as to the troop locations. From this incident, Mrs. Whitner realized the need to mark the site of the battle while there were still veterans alive to point out the place. In her own words, "Or else it should become buried in oblivion forever."

Accordingly, on 27 January 1897, at the second convention of the State Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (U.D.C.) held at Ocala, Florida, the minutes recorded her plea,

"Mrs. J.N. Whitner made an interesting address upon the claims of Olustee, the one spot of Florida soil that drank deepest of the blood of her heroes, and offered the following resolution: Resolved, That the U.D.C. of Florida, pledge themselves to raise a fund during the coming year or as soon thereafter as possible, for the purpose of erecting a shaft to mark the battlefield of Olustee, and that the chair appoint a committee from each chapter to carry out this resolution."
The resolution was passed, and Mrs. Whitner was made chairman of the Martha Reid chapter committee for the monument.

Later Mrs. Whitner conceived the idea of asking for aid from the state on this important matter. She moved forward with a petition to the members of the State Legislature in the form of a circular letter, in which she urged upon them the support of a bill to be introduced for the purpose of getting an appropriation to build a Monument at the Battlefield. She then proceeded to have 100 copies typed and had them placed on the desk of each legislator. Two years later, in 1899, the state appropriated $2,500 for the purpose of building a monument at the battlefield.

A commission was formed by the state to oversee the collection of the remaining funds needed to complete the monument. The commission consisted of former Confederate General Evander M. Law as chairman; a Mr. Garner, who was president of the board of trade; Mrs. H.H. McCreary, of Gainesville; General Reese, of Pensacola; Mrs. Roselle Cooley, of Jacksonville, as chairman on contract and location; and Senator D.U. Fletcher, of Jacksonville, as secretary and treasurer. A plan and design, by Mr. La Mance of the Southern Stone and Marble Company in Jacksonville for $5,000, was accepted.

Slowly the remaining $2,500 needed began coming in from the various U.D.C. chapters and United Confederate Veterans chapters all over the state. An appeal was made to all the newspapers in the state to also assist in raising money from their subscribers.

On 6 August 1909, a parcel of two acres of land was obtained from Austin B. Fletcher, an attorney from New York City, for the sum of $1. Mr. Fletcher owned a cross tie company in Jacksonville and had several tracts of land in the area.

On 27 September 1909, another parcel of one acre was purchased for $1.00 from John and Eliza Brown.

Sometime later, the construction was began and the scheduled unveiling was set for the anniversary of the battle on 20 February 1912. For reasons unknown, the deadline was not met and it was rescheduled for Wednesday 23 October 1912. It was reported that over 4,000 people gathered on the battlefield to witness the ceremony. A special train was operated between Lake City and the monument and the regular trains all brought large crowds from various points in the state. A band traveled from Jacksonville to provide music for the event. A number of the veterans of the great battle, many feeble and battle scarred were in attendance and were asked to stand on the stage. The unveiling exercises began promptly at 10:40 am. The exercises began with an invocation by a General Long, followed by a short address by the monument chairman, the famous Confederate General Evander M. Law. As part of that address, Law stated, "That when you cease to honor your heroes, you cease to produce them." He then recounted some of the incidents of the battle.

The monument and the title to the property was then handed over to Mrs. Esther Carlotta, state president of the the Florida United Daughters of the Confederacy. She then turned the deeds over to Mrs. Whitner who, after a short speech, presented them to Governor Albert W. Gilchrist. Governor Gilchrist responded and accepted the monument in the name of the State of Florida. Gilchrist then paid a tribute to the heroes of Olustee and related several historical facts connected to the battle

Florida Senator Duncan U. Fletcher delivered the major oration of the day. Senator Fletcher was reported to have painted a beautiful word picture of the Olustee battle, pointing out the different positions of the two armies, and lauding the Confederate soldiers for their courage and bravery. The crowd cheered and the bands played Dixie.

In following years, the United Daughters of the Confederacy administered the Battlefield park. During those years the U.D.C. raised money to construct the stone fence now enclosing the monument area.

In 1949, the administration of the memorial was turned over to the Florida Board of Parks. Today the monument is administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks.

Battle of Olustee home page