Boston Journal Report of the Battle of Olustee

FEBRUARY 24, 1864.



Beaufort, S. C., Feb. 24, 1864.

To the Editor of the Boston Journal:

I have waited until now, a short time before the sailing of the mail steamer Fulton from Hilton Head, to procure as far as possible all the facts relating to a calamitous disaster to the Florida expedition. I have visited and conversed with many officers and men who were in the fight, but of our own State and other regiments, and came to this place from Hilton Head for the purpose of seeing the wounded, and rendering any service I could. I was here when the Cosmopolitan hospital steamer arrived with more than two hundred wounded men, and while helping them into ambulances, riding with them to the hospital, and sitting by their pallets, I have gleaned such facts as could be obtained in season for this mail.

The expedition was immediate command of Brig. Gen. Seymour, and consisted of about eight thousand men. Among them were the 40th Mass mounted infantry, battalion Mass. Cavalry, 54thMass. (Colored), 7th Conn., 7th N. H., from New England. It seems to have proceeded with singular lack of caution, for a light battery led the advance, without any scouts preceding it, and with no skirmishers out, and the 40th immediately followed it. The other forces, considerably out of supporting distance, followed, the 54th Mass. And 1st N. C., (colored) in the rear of the column with the baggage. The expedition had gone on very successfully, had captured a large quantity of stores, and seemed likely to terminate prosperously when a heavy cavalry force of the enemy set upon the battery, and an ambuscade of infantry and sharpshooters opened fire, and in a very short time some forty horses and some thirty or forty men of the battery were wounded or killed. The point of which the attack occurred was Olustree, a place about sixty miles from Jacksonville. Evidently the enemy were perfectly aware of our approach, for the place in which the attack began was one in which our forces could not form line of battle without standing in a swamp, and were artillery could not operate, and while there large numbers were wounded, evidently from sharpshooters in trees, for most of the balls were from above and pasted out below, or from the shoulder to the wrist. The enemy deployed no artillery. It was soon seen that the rebels were in very strong force, about 16,000. They were under Gen. Gardner, Hardee and Finnigan. See that the struggle would prove to be a disastrous one, and that the most that could be done would be to fall back, the forces were properly disposed to the end as rapidly as possible, and in as good order as the nature of the ground would admit. The fight commenced at 3 P. M., and terminated at 7, when our forces were obliged to retreat, leaving our field hospital, and it supposed two or three hundred killed and wounded and other prisoners in the hands of the enemy. Our artillery fired handsomely, but uselessly, owning to the character of the attack. It could not, however, have done much service owning to one of those unaccountable blunders that so frequently occur in this war. At the most critical juncture in (undecipherable word), a supply of ammunition sent from the rear for the batteries was discovered to be of the wrong size, and the retreat had to be a more precipatate one than it otherwise might have been, while but for such a blunder it could have been so deliberate, after leaving the swamp, as to have saved many lives, prevented the wounded from falling into the enemy's hands, and have given to the movement the name of a repulse instead of a disaster.

In my last I spoke of the change of the 40th into heavy artillery, with misgivings as to the propriety of the act. Here was a cracked infantry regiment, hardly second to any in the service, and competent to any duty, changed into a mounted regiment, at the very crisis of events, and of course, however proficient they might become, it is clear enough, a priori, that they could not equal ordinary cavalry until after months of experience in their new capacity. I find by conversing with officers and men that my fears were well grounded. They say that the regiment could not operate successfully in its new capacity, and did far less than it might have done.

Our loss in killed, wounded and missing. It is reported, will not prove less than 800 to 1000, undoubtedly under the last figure. Had the enemy followed up our retreat sharply, we might have been nearly destroyed. But they did not reach a point eight miles from the battle field till seven Sunday morning. Mean while our forces had arrived at Bladwinsville railroad station, and the wounded in good part were able to get off.

I hear loud praises of the 54th Massachusetts, 8th United States, and 1st North Carolina (colored). They went up at the double quick when our advance was nearly destroyed, and saved the left from being turned, in which case the whole force would have been annihilated. As it was there were small forces, particularly sharpshooters, on our flanks from which we suffered severely. So far as appears the number killed and seriously wounded is small, compared with the slightly wounded, most of whom were shot with rifle balls in the arms and legs. Those whom names I have given are receiving the best attention possible. The general opinion is that the expedition went into a trap, without any excuse. Gen. Seymour, who commanded, led the disastrous (first) night assault on Fort Wagner, and whether justly or not is generally condemned for his mismanagement of the expedition. He is thought to be brave, but to lack judgement. To precede a column in enemy's country, liable to be attack at any moment, with a battery in advance, and follow it at a long interval with mounted infantry scarcely a month in the saddle, is certainly a new mode of warfare.

Large reinforcements are already on there way to Florida, so that we shall hold our position, and finally succeed in our expedition without doubt. It will interest many of your readers to know that among the force now in Florida is Foster's Brigade, of which I have spoken in a previous letter. At Hilton Head there was "mounting in hot haste," and the most energetic preparations to send men, stores and minitions to Florida. The Sanitary Commission was already on the ground, and dispensed invaluable aid. I have never seen evidence of greater energy that I saw at Hilton Head all day the 22d. There is a recompense in store for the rebel force in Florida if Gen. Gillmore can accomplish it.

The conduct of the troops is represented to have uniformly admirable. The colored troops did nobly. Col. Hallowell in an address to his regiment told them he could not find fault with a single officer or man. And I could but admire their patience while waiting to have their wounds dressed, and to be conveyed to the hospital, from the steamer. In the 8th U. S. colored, one of the battle flags was lost, but not till after eight men in the colored guard had been killed. On reviewing the affair, in the light of all the information I can get at this date, I must say that proper precautions might have given a result to the expedition entirely different, and that the column was defeated by mismanagement.

It is impossible to get full particulars of the killed and wounded until another mail goes North, eight days hence. Reports about the destruction of regiments, such as are flying about here, and which will doubtless reach home, are much exaggerated. There may have been quite a number of prisoners, but the killed and mortally wounded are comparatively few. Report at first said that the 40th Massachusetts was nearly destroyed, but it is not so. It will be heard from a good many times yet.

We lost five guns in the retreat and captured eleven in the early part of the march, so that in the matter of artillery we are decidedly ahead. The same is true for cotton and other stores captured and destroyed; but there our advantage ends. Undoubtedly we shall pick our flints and try again. I trust that the inscription on the next enterprise will not be, "Some one has blundered."

I have employed all possible means of ascertaining the list of killed and wounded, and forward all those I can obtain of New England troops. The following wounded are all at Beaufort or Hilton Head:

7th Connecticut. Chas. E. Shipman, not dangerous; Fred Palmer, not dangerous; W. H. Johnson, knee, not dangerous; Chas. Lincellent, shoulder, not dangerous; W. Hoyt, foot, slight; L. E. Beck, shoulder; G. W. Malone, ankle; George Pratt, shoulder; G. B. Field, hip; W. Munford, hip; G. Coppens, leg; H. M. Baldwin, hand and neck; Patrick Shos, head; J. B. Snelling, arm and side; L. E. Bradley, leg; M. Smith, breast; C. E. Hills, shoulder; Patrick Creamer, foot.

7th New Hampshire. Frank Henderson, wrist, not dangerous; H. Howe, abdomen (remained in Jacksonville); A. F. Fronke, rheumatism; I. Lewis, sick; J. Cameron, leg; B. Pendwell,, leg; G. H. Walker, leg; F. Harrison, hand; G. Noyes, shoulder; H. Johnston, side; O. Robinson, arm; R. Alley, arm; S. H. Ward, thigh; Lieut. F. Davis, leg; Lieut. T. W. Arlin, leg; C. C. Bridge, side; J. Emerton, leg; John Allen, arm; G. W. Abbott, shoulder; John Blard, face.

40th Massachusetts. Lieut. Lathe, Co. A, arm, amputation feared; Charles F. Pierson, slight; Charles E. Lee, Co. D, arm, not serious; John Millikin, Co. H, foot, not serious; Frank Crafts, Co. K, breast, serious; J. A. Amos, chronic diarrhea; W. H. Rogers, head; E. Lane, hand; Samuel Craft, groin.

54th Massachusetts (colored). Capt. R. H. L. Jewett, jaw, not serious; 1st Lieut. ? W. Jewett, hand, not dangerous; 1st Lieut. E. G. Tomlinson, not dangerous; J. E. Kelly, wrist; S. Galway, foot; A. D. Thompson, arm; John U. Johnson, slight; Alexander Gaius; face. Haverhill.

Article from the Boston Journal; March 2, 1864; pg 4, 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
Battle of Olustee home page