Report on Battle of Olustee

MARCH 2, 1864.
Full Account of the Engagement.

Our New York and other exchanges contains long accounts of the battle and repulse of our troops at Olustee, Florida, on Saturday, the 20th February, ultimo, from which we abstract and copy the material for the following narrative.

Gen. Seymour's command numbered a little less than 5000 men. At 7 o'clock on Saturday morning, 25th ult., the column left Barber's station. It consisted of the brigades commanded by Cols. J. R. Hawley, Barton and Montgomery, and also the 40th Massachusetts Mounted Infantry, Colonel Guy Henry; the Independent Battalion Massachusetts Cavalry, under Major Atherton H. Stevens; and the Artillery, consisting of Capt. Hamilton's, Capt. Langdon's and Capt. Elder's Batteries, as well as a section of the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery. In all the force amounted to 20 cannon, 400 cavalry and 4500 infantry.

Sometime during the previous night Gen. Seymour has, it is said, received information of the enemy's whereabouts and plans, which led him to believe that by pushing rapidly forward his column, he would be able to defeat the enemy's designs and secure important military advantages. What ever that information may have been, the events of Saturday would indicate that it was by no means reliable, or that Gen. Seymour acted upon it with to much haste.


Our column moved forward in regular order, the cavalry in the advance, and the artillery distributed along the line of infantry. It may be offered as an ob (can not read the entire word - observation?) that the column was without flankers. The only source through which any intimation of the enemy's presence could be received was the advance cavalry guard. It would be certainly called a military (undecipherable word) to move a column of troops without the proper flankers through any portion of the enemy's country, even id positive information had been obtained that the enemy himself was a long distance off. The road from Barber's to Lake City lies parallel with the railroad, crossing it at intervals on the average of five miles. It was at one of these crossing-points-two miles from Olustee - that the fight was commenced. The head of the column reached this point at 2 P. M. The men had not rested from the time that they left Barber's, at 7 A. M. The usual halt of a few minutes every hour was of course observed, but the troops were not fairly rested. Neither had they tasted of a mouthful of food. Thus, after a tedious march of sixteen miles over a road of loose sand or boggy tuft, or covered knee deep with muddy water, the troops, weary, exhausted, faint, hungry and ill-conditioned, were suddenly attacked by a large force of the enemy, who had concealed himself behind a thick wood, waiting with complacent satisfaction the entry of our men into his ambush. Before reaching the battle ground, Col. Henry, with his cavalry of the Independent Massachusetts Battalion and the 40th Massachusetts Mounted Infantry, came upon a party of five mounted rebels who were stationed behind an old deserted mill, a little to the left of the wood. A few shots were exchanged, and then the rebels fled in direction of their main force. Capt. Langdon's Battery of Regular Artillery was with Henry's Cavalry. At the mill Col. Henry halted until Hawley's Brigade of Infantry and Hamilton's Regular Battery had come up.

The correspondent of the Boston Herald says that Col. Hawley's Brigade, consisting of his own regiment, the 7th Connecticut and 7th New Hampshire, had the right of the infantry column. It was found that the enemy was in force on reach side of the road, near where the railroad crossed it, with each flank protected by strong entrenchments, some works in their centre, and (undecipherable word) batteries of field artillery. They had a strong cavalry force, and at this time it is supposed that they had in the engagement from twelve to fifteen thousand men, a superior force to ours in their own chosen position.

The 8th U. S. colored troops deployed to the left, where the enemy's right flank was protected by another marshy tract. Langdon's Battery, Battery M, 1st U. S. Artillery and Elder's Battery had positions (can not read words) side of the road, in the centre, and Capt. John Hamilton's Battery E, 3d U. S. Artillery, were placed on the left, to be supported by the 8th negroes. This was the position of our forces when the battle commenced at 3 o'clock in the afternoon.


Capt. Elder of the First Artillery, in order to ascertain the enemy's force and position, brought one of his pieces into battery on the right and ordered one (can not read the word), but did not draw a reply. The Seventh New Hampshire Regiment, in connection with the Seventh Connecticut, was then sent forward to the right and if possible, to break through the enemy's line. This movement brought on hot firing, and it was evident that an engagement was near at hand. At this time our forces on the field consisted of the Seventh New Hampshire, the Seventh Connecticut, the Independent Battalion Massachusetts Cavalry, the Fortieth Massachusetts Mounted Infantry, the Eighth United States Colored, Elder's Battery of four, and Hamilton's six pieces. The remainder of the column was halted on the road. While our men were at work on the right, Colonel Henry, in person, went over to the left to reconnoiter, and much to his astonishment discovered that the enemy's right lapped on our left. This was reported to Gen. Seymour, who immediately gave orders for the advance troops and batteries to come into position. The enemy watched the movement with an eager eye, and the movement Hamilton commenced unlimbering his pieces, his battery was subjected to a galling fire of musketry. A number of him and several horses were shot before he could get ready to fire one round. The fact that the enemy had a force far superior in point of numbers to our own was now beyond all dispute. The firing became heavier and more destructive a each moment advanced. The railroad as it nears Olustee takes a bend, and behind this bend the rebels had taken their position. In the woods at the rear were their supporters and reserves. We had not a moment to lose. Our men were within one hundred yards of the enemy, and the only thing that could be done was to fight. To retreat at this time was impossible, for the road was filled with troops coming up, and the woods on nether side would not admit of passage on the flank. By dint of effort Capt. Landon succeeded in getting his four guns in battery on the extreme left, but not until he had lost five or six men and about the same number of horses. It was be bore in mind our batteries were within one hundred yards of the enemy's front. This short distance rendered it a very easy task for the rebels to pick off a man or a horse at every discharge of their rifles. At the commencement of the fight the Eighth United States colored troops were supporting Hamilton's Battery, but when their assistance was (undecipherable word) indispensable, by some strange order they fired to the right in rear of the battery, for the purpose of joining their right on the left of the Seventh Connecticut. At that particular time the movement was decidedly an error, for by carrying it out it left Hamilton's Battery unsupported. In an attempt to enfilade the enemy on his right, Hamilton moved forward four pieces; but before he got into position, the rebels on that portion of their line had concentrated all their fire upon him and the Eighth U. S., minutes' time Hamilton lost 44 men killed and wounded and 40 horses.

At no one juncture of the engagement was the fire of the enemy more (can not read word) than at the time Hamilton attempted his enfilade movement. Hamilton knew very well that his pieces were in great danger of being captured, and he also had sense enough to know by taking them to the rear it would instantly cause a panic among the infantry, and so inevitably lose the day for us. The behavior of Capt. Hamilton at this critical period of the battle is worthy of special note, and it was owning mainly to his persistent efforts that the portion of our line at his battery was not broken and scattered in confusion. He had not only his pieces to command, but his infantry supports to keep from leaving the field. It was in the midst of this destructive fire of the enemy, and while Capt. Hamilton was urging the infantry to maintain their line, and at the same time giving orders to his battery, he was struck in the arm by a musket ball, and shortly after was hit again in the thigh. To add to the misfortune, all his officers - four in number - were wounded. He did not cease for a moment to encourage and rally his men, and by his gallant behavior proved himself to be an officer of no ordinary merit. Capt. Hamilton kept his pieces at work until it was evident it be sure loss to fire another round, and then gave orders to withdraw them. Horses were attached to only four pieces; the horses to the other two had been shot, consequently two guns fell into possession of the enemy

. On the right of Hamilton the 7th Connecticut and 7th New Hampshire were doing fearful execution. The 7th Connecticut especially were standing their ground with marked valor. Every volley from their guns told splendidly on the rebel line. But between the two forces a wide difference existed - the rebels out numbered us five to one. This crushing superiority gave the two regiments little chance for victory.

The 7th New Hampshire had so deadly a fire poured into their ranks that they broke and fell back in confusion. Dissatisfaction and want of confidence had been created in the regiment by depriving it of the "Spencer Repeating Rifle," and the issue, instead, of the Springfield muskets in bad condition; some lacking locks, other rusted or wanting screws, proper springs, or otherwise useless. Unable to protect themselves with these weapons, one wing of the regiment gave way, and could not be rallied. The other wing, which had retained the "Spencer" arm, remained until they expended their ammunition, and their officers could supply no more. The 7th Connecticut and 7th New Hampshire los very heavily. Then they withdrew to the rear, and the 8th colored U. S. V., commanded by Col. Fribley, was pushed forward to stand the brunt of the enemy's fire.

The Herald report says the negroes were met with a deadly fire which rapidly thinned out their ranks, and soon caused them to retreat, with a heavy loss. A part of the cavalry were dispose so as to stew the tide of retreat. It is doubtful if either of the regiments in the first line did much damage to the enemy, covered as they were by their works.

Left thus unprotected, the artillery suffered severely. Every man was picked off from some of the guns, and a great many horses were killed. But the batteries were fought with credit, even to the regulars who worked them, and no signs of flinching.

With the advance of the 8th regiment of colored troops Col. Barton's Brigade, the 47th, 48th and 115th New York regiments took the field, coming up in line echelon. Had numbers been balanced, all would have been well, but the enemy had a force three times our own, which, taken together with the circumstance of the long and tedious march and ill condition of the men, it would be hardly reasonable to suppose that success would be on our side. The effect of our fire, both of musketry and artillery, was fearful. At every discharge, down went a body of rebels. Elder on the right and Landon on the left made an impression on the rebel lines that will go far to offset the misfortune that ultimately overtook us. The fight by no means was a trivial encounter; it was a battle hotly contested, fought at close range, face to face and foot to foot.

Gen. Seymour now ordered the 54th Massachusetts in on the left , to replace the 8th U. S and Barton's brigade, consisting of his regiment (the 47th New York,) the 48th New York, and the 115th New York, to advance on the right. The 1st North Carolina, (colored) was placed on the extreme right, and Henry's brigade of cavalry protected both flanks.

All these troops went into the fight in fine style. The 54th Massachusetts sustained the reputation they earned at Fort Wagner, and won the commendation of all who saw their splendid behavior. They fought like tigers, and so did Barton's brigade, and so did the 1st North Carolina, and so, never shrinking, never cringing, even, did the artillerist, in spite of the fearful havoc which was made in their ranks. Once a rebel double closed ex masse was deploying to form in line of battle to attack on Elder's battery, in which the sharpshooters were making much havoc, and which was temporarily unprotected. Elder brought his guns to bear on them diagonally, and mowed them down in heaps. They rallied several times, the fallen colors were raised several times, and then they ran like sheep, and this from a small battery, surrounded with dead and dying, in an almost unprotected position. But the repulses were not all of the enemy. Sometimes they would drive us slowly back, then we would make them retreat to their works, but we could not take them. The rebels fought splendidly, but not better than our own troops, after the first repulse.

The 54th Massachusetts (colored) went into the fight with a cheer. They fought gallantly and lost heavily, sustaining the reputation they had gained at Wagner. All the accounts we have seen occur in giving the praise only due to brave and courageous troops to the negro soldiers.

The Mass. 54th were followed into battle by the 1st North Carolina (colored.) Lieut. Col. Reed, in command, headed the regiment, sword in hand, and charged upon the rebels. They broke, but rallied when within twenty yards of contact with our negro troops. Overpowered by numbers, the 1st North Carolina fell back in good order, and poured in a destructive fire. Their Colonel fell, mortally wounded. Their Major, Archibald Bogie of Boston, fell dead and two men were killed in trying to reach his body. Their Adjutant, Wm. C. Manning, wounded before at Malvern Hills, got a bullet in his body, but persisted in remaining, until yet another shot struck him. His Lieutenant Colonel, learning the fact, embraced him, and implored him to leave the field. The next moment the two friends were stretched side by side - the Colonel had received his own death wound.

The centre stood firmly until desired to fall back, in order to give the batteries a better and more elevated position. Capt. Hamilton, with Battery M, 3d U. S. Artillery, lost two Parrot guns by the death of his men and horses, after fighting continuously for an hour an a half. Capt. Landon of the 1st U. S. Artillery, lost three brass Napoleon guns in the same way. Desperate assaults on the Union right failed to drive in the brave 115th New York, holding the extremity of the line.


During this charge Gen. Seymour, taking advantage of the diversion, had re-established his field-batteries, and with four parting rounds of grape, cannister and solid shot, secured impunity for his retreat. The 7th Connecticut were placed to defend the shattered columns as they fell back; Col. Guy Henry's mounted infantry and cavalry brought up the rear. The retreat was conducted leisurely and orderly. There was no confusion, no panic, nothing that indicated hurry.

Arriving at Sanderson at about nine o'clock in the evening, he found that Capt, Bridgeman of the 54th Massachusetts had already commenced the good work. More than 1000 men here where collected. Some were slightly hurt. Many seriously wounded. Many more had merely left the ground to help away their stricken comrades, and had not returned to take part in the fray.

The retreat continued all night to Barber's Station, and the next morning to Baldwin. Here Gen. Seymour arrived on Sunday P. M., and made arrangements for the evacuation of the place and the burning of the stores. He also caused the destruction of the property of one Derby, a neighboring rebel, who had sought and obtained protection, and then gone over to the enemy with information.


The wounded who had been brought so far, or who had painfully marched hither, were packed into horse cars and sent down the railroad, to be instantly transferred to the Cosmopolitan, or placed in hospitals at Jacksonville.

The surgeons estimate 300 wounded to have been left on the field. The proportion of 200 kill to 1000 wounded is that usually allowed. This would make the aggregate 1200.

The wounded at Jacksonville received the best of attention from the surgeons in charge. Dr. Wm. A. Smith of the Forty-seventh New York is Post Director, assisted by Dr. Weeks. Some of the surgeons remained on the field of battle to treat our wounded there. Mr. Day of the Sanitary Commission and Rev. Mr. Taylor of the Christian Commission also remained behind on the field. These two gentlemen were at Jacksonville when the news of the battle was telegraphed Saturday night. They immediately obtained a car, which they filled with medical and sanitary stores, and sent it forward to the front.

Intelligence from Jacksonville to the evening of Wednesday, 24 ult., says that all of the wounded, except the most critical cases, were doing well.


The repulse given our troops at Olustee does not in the least dispirit them. They ask again to be led to meet the enemy, and pledge all that is good and holy to annihilate the foe or sacrifice their lives instead. The indomitable will thus exhibited by our brave fellows cannot fail to insure them success.

The public may rely upon it, Gen. Gillmore has not the least intention to abandon the Florida enterprise. He will certainly will do what he set out to accomplish, no matter how numerous or stupendous obstacle against which he has to contend.

Reinforcements are hastening forward, and no apprehensions need to be felt as to the ability of our troops, not only to hold their ground, but to administer to the rebels the severest thrashing they have yet suffered, should they open an attack.

The men are at work night and day erecting and completing fortifications; and all other necessary measures have been taken to resist the aggressive movements of the enemy.

Article printed in the Boston Journal, March 2, 1864; pg. 2, col. 2.
It is made available here through the courtesy of Thomas Hayes,

Hayes is currently working on a historical reference work, "Letters of the Civil War," from the newspapers of the cities and towns of Massachusetts. He has researched the Boston Herald, Chelsea Telegraph and Pioneer, Dedham Gazette, Roxbury Gazette, Randolph Transcript, Worcester Transcript and the Malden Messenger. He says, "I have filed, by date, a little over 3,300 letters. These are from the Soldiers, Sailors, Nurses, Correspondents and Politicans. This project started out as a simple endeavor to find that one letter from my Grandfather, Walter A. Hewes, who served in the 1st Mass. Infantry and 4th Mass. Cavalry. To date, no luck, but I have about 30 more papers to research."

Other Letters from Olustee
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