Boston Journal Report of the Battle of Olustee
FEBRUARY 24, 1864.
THE FLORIDA EXPEDITION.
FORTIETH MASSACHUSETTS MOUNTED INFANTRY.
INDEPENDENT BATTALION MASSACHUSETTS CAVALRY.
SEVENTH NEW HAMPSHIRE.
FIRST NORTH CAROLINA.
EIGHTH UNITED STATES.
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
The expedition was immediate command of
Brig. Gen. Seymour,
consisted of about eight thousand men. Among them were the
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.,
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
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
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
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.
who commanded, led the disastrous (first)
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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