Following the end of the Civil War, the Olustee battlefield site was virtually forgotten. In 1866, a U.S. Army detachment under the command of Lieutenant Frederick E. Grossman visited the battlefield to collect the remains of the Union soldiers that had been hastily buried on the field in 1864. Grossman reported finding the remains of some 125 soldiers and placing them together in a mass grave. A twelve-foot high wooden monument was placed over the ossuary, and the area surrounded by a fence. Among the inscriptions added to the monument were the words: "To the memory of the officers and soldiers of the United States Army who fell in the Battle of Olustee, February 20, 1864." Apparently the marker survived only a few years, as in 1873 an Olustee veteran visiting the area noted that a portion of the fencing was all that remained. In 1991, a replica of this monument was erected on the spot where the original monument is believed to have been placed. As no record exists to indicate their removal, it is thought by most students of the battle that the remains of the Union dead are still located in the mass grave in which they were buried in 1866.
In 1897 the Florida Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) began raising funds to place a monument at Olustee. Two years later, the Florida Legislature appropriated $2500.00 and established a commission to oversee construction of the monument. After numerous delays, the project was completed in 1912, and on October 23 of that year the monument was officially dedicated. More than 4,000 people, including many veterans, attended the dedication. Former Confederate Major General Evander M. Law presided over the ceremonies, while Florida Governor Albert W. Gilchrist and various dignitaries also attended. U.S. Senator Duncan U. Fletcher made the keynote address, proclaiming that "... this granite tower... stands sentinel over the field where the Confederate soldier won admission to the temple of fame."
The UDC administered the Olustee Battlefield Memorial until 1949, when the Florida Board of Parks and Historic Memorials assumed responsibility for Olustee Battlefield. Subsequently a small museum was built on the site and interpretative markers erected. Today the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is administered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Recreation and Parks. The Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is the oldest unit in the Florida state park system.
On February 22, 1964 a ceremony was held at the Olustee Battlefield Memorial to commemorate the centennial of the battle. In conjunction with the centennial, a reenactment of the battle was held at the Gator Bowl sports stadium in Jacksonville. This observance included a parade through Jacksonville, a barbecue for troops in the Gator Bowl, a narrated dramatization of the Battle of Olustee, a costume ball at the George Washington Hotel and memorial services held the day before and the day after the Gator Bowl observance. At the memorial service held at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park, two cannons were presented to the park. The Battle of Olustee Centennial Observance, Inc. staged the observance.
In 1976, representatives of the First Regiment of Florida Volunteer Infantry were contacted by Major Jim Stevenson, the Chief of Interpretive Services, of the Department of Natural Resources of the State of Florida and asked if it would be possible to put on a reenactment of the Battle of Olustee at the park. Since this was a long held goal of reenactors statewide, the members of the group were ecstatic at the prospect, but disappointed that it would be impossible to fulfill his request, as he wanted to hold the event within two to three weeks. After being informed of the prerequisite planning time, the logistics of attracting reenactors from across the nation, and the amount of materials, supplies, and amenities necessary, it was agreed that February 1977 should be the target date. Dr. Ray Giron, a local Civil War reenactor and consultant, was instrumental in organizing the reenactment community in support of this event. In fact, for the next twenty years, "General Ray" would command the Union forces at the Battle of Olustee.
On 20, February 1977 the First Annual Reenactment of the Battle of Olustee was held at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park. [Note: The Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park occupies just a small portion of the original battlefield. Much of the remainder of the original battlefield is included in the Osceola National Forest, managed by the USDA Forest Service.] Less than 300 participants were present, but keen visitor interest was obvious. The initial site for the battle was in the long visitor trail loop. The spectators walked in on the right and left trails and viewed from the top of the small loop as several hundred reenactors waded through waist to shoulder-deep saw-palmetto. The battle was lop-sided in favor of the far more numerous Confederates, and the panorama was somewhat limited, with puffs of smoke, heads, hats, and shoulders that was all that some could see.
In subsequent years the battle was moved a few hundred yards to the northeast where an old field had been and where visibility was far better. There the action took place in a park-like area with large pines, and little undergrowth. It was very much like period descriptions of the battle.
Then in 1984 the old field was clear-cut and the battle now takes place in a field with action continuing on the fringes in palmettos and woods. In 2002, the twenty-third annual reenactment, over 2,000 troops from around the nation and from several foreign countries attended. This number does not include the hundreds of reenactors portraying civilians. In the future it is hoped that the "old field" and the pine forest east of it will be utilized, with an earthen berm to allow the most accurate and most picturesque panorama to be easily viewed by maximum numbers of spectators.
In 1979, interested people in the area organized, with cooperation from the State and local reenacting groups, the Blue-Grey Army, Inc. to help support the battle and to raise funds through 1860's centered activities in Lake City, Florida. The Blue-Grey Army's Olustee Battle Festival is today one of the most successful festivals in the Southeast.
Aided by the funding of the Blue-Grey Army, Inc. and the State of Florida, the battle reenactment has grown to include up to 28 artillery pieces, over 50 mounted troops and horse-drawn artillery in some years, 100 ground charges and an increasing number of black participants, and greater degrees of authenticity yearly. At the Lake City Olustee Festival (in Columbia County), craft shows, gun shows, the annual parade, medical demonstrations, and musical offerings add to the weekend's enjoyment.
At the battle reenactment (at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park in Baker County), the contributions of the many reenactors were enhanced by the wares of many excellent sutlers, selling their Civil War goods. While the 1977 reenactment had 10 to 15 sutlers, the mid-90s saw over 100 sutlers for several years and reached a high of 120 sutlers one year. However, the cooperating organizations then decided to limit the participation to only authentic 1860-era sutlers and in 2003 the event had 65 merchants providing not only needed goods, but also an interesting and truly authentic view of 19th century sales and merchants. We now limit sutlers to just 50 of the very best.
In 1990 the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park Citizens Support Organization was formed to assist the Florida Park Service in its administration and interpretation of the Olustee Battlefield. The organization includes among its membership reenactors, historians, and others interested in the preservation of the Olustee Battlefield. Long-term goals include improvements to the museum and interpretative markers, the acquisition of additional land for the Memorial, archaeological surveys of the battlefield, the publication of historical booklets and pamphlets relating to Florida!s role in the war, and improvements to the annual battle reenactment. All interested parties are encouraged to join the CSO and assist it in its efforts.
In the mid-90's, Thomas R. Fasulo, a reenactor, living historian and member of the CSO, proposed the idea of a World Wide Web site for the Battle of Olustee. Armed with three booklets printed by the CSO, he assembled a site with history on the battle and participating units that included a few photographs. Since then, numerous individuals and organizations have stepped forward to generously contribute information and photographs from their files and family histories that have significantly increased the amount of information available to the public on the Battle of Olustee. As a result, in 2000 and 2003, The Battle of Olustee Web site was selected as "...one of only 95 sites selected as 'the cream of the crop...'" in both editions of the book The Civil War on the Web: A Guide to the Very Best Sites. The book authors were associated with the Center for Digital History at the University of Virginia.
In 2003, the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park received the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus Veterans' Braintrust Award for its recognition of African-American veterans.
Over the years certain highlights such as the rains of 1988, 2003 and 2004, the filming of Glory in 1989, and the freezes of 1991 and 2007 make the annual events stand out, but overall Olustee is looked upon fondly as the most authentic, largest annual reenactment in the Southeast.
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.
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