Published Newspaper Letter from
Colonel Duncan L. Clinch, Jr.
Fourth Georgia Cavalry
The following letter from Colonel Clinch was contributed by O.J. Hickox (email@example.com), who has spent over a decade researching Clinch's 4th Georgia Cavalry. Mr. Hickox states:
"This is from an undated article found in the Vertical File, Florida Collection, State Library of Florida, which was apparently published in a newspaper named the 'Morning News,' probably the Savannah Daily Morning News. The letter it reproduces, from the 4th GA Cavalry's commander, COL Duncan L. Clinch, Jr., PACS, was probably written between 1876 & 1890. These dates are indicated by Clinch's reference to GEN Morgan (John Tyler Morgan, CSA, the 4th GA's senior in the chain-of-command for a part of the Georgia campaign in 1864) as 'the present United States Senator from Alabama.' General Morgan served in the U.S. Senate from 1876 to 1907, but Clinch passed away in late 1890, which dates the piece to the 14-year period between 1876 and 1890. Moreover, the piece is hand-scribed with the notation 'History - Civil War to 1876 - Battle of Olustee,' which may indicate a date as early as 1876.
THE BATTLE OF OLUSTEE
The Part Taken in the Action by the Fourth Georgia Cavalry
Editor Morning News: The narrative of the battle of Olustee which you recently published reflects so severely upon the conduct of the cavalry that I do not think I have a right to allow my personal dislike of publicity to deter me from giving a more correct statement. Its publication would not interest the general public but will be gratifying, not only to those engaged in the action, but to all interested in that branch of our service.
The Fourth Georgia Cavalry was at that time stationed on our coast and was widely dispersed on picket duty, when on or about the 10th of February I received a telegram from Major General Gilmer directing me to proceed at once to Florida with all my available force to hang on the rear and flank of the enemy and to communicate with General Finegan. Couriers were at once dispatched to my several detachments with orders when and where to meet me, in a few hours I had marched, leaving behind all impediments, trusting to luck to provide subsistence for men and horse in that sparsely settled section. A Federal cavalry force had just preceded me and destroyed the flats and boats at the ferry on the St. Mary's river where I intended to cross, but I had made my arrangements to swim the river at daylight, pursue the enemy, recapture some guns which I learned were within striking distance of me, and were weakly guarded when, during the night, an officer from General Finegan reached me with peremptory orders to proceed at once to his headquarters. Every cavalry officer will understand I naturally intended to give the General a wide berth, for my instructions were just such as we all most coveted, besides being eminently proper, as they sent me where I should have been sent. I was glad to recruit my horses for a day or two at Olustee, when hearing General Finegan complain of his want of accurate information, I offered to remove that difficulty by taking charge of the front, but the General declined, stating he had entire confidence in the officer then in charge. On the morning of the 20th, just as breakfast call was being sounded, I was called to General Finegan's headquarters, where I found Colonel Smith, of the Second Florida Cavalry. We were informed by the General that the enemy were reported within a few miles, but he was still without a knowledge of the character or number of his force, and we were directed to move at once and ascertain it, but on no consideration to engage the enemy. And upon my representing that it might become compulsory in order to force the enemy to develop himself, the General reiterated his orders. The cavalry marched at once, the Fourth Georgia in advance, Colonel Smith, who ranked me, in command. We soon met a Confederate picket, from whom we learned the enemy had halted just in advance. Colonel Smith, Lieutenant Campbell, and myself rode forward to within a hundred yards of a solitary mounted vidette of the enemy stationed just in front of a hammock. Colonel Smith consenting, I dismounted the Fourth Georgia and directed Lieutenant Colonel McCormick, Second Florida, to place his regiment so as to cover my horses. Lieutenant Campbell, an old United States Cavalry man, but then a very gallant officer of the Fourth, requested the honor of opening the fight by picking off the vidette, but upon my suggesting its impropriety, he rode forward, discharged his cartridge in the air, and waved him back. Deploying as skirmishers, the Fourth entered the hammock and drove back the enemy's advance guard, but soon lost their alignment in the thick woods and were pushing in much too rapidly, when the enemy was discovered moving down in force. The recall was at once sounded, but as I emerged from the woods, I saw the Second Florida in full retreat, driving, of course, my horses before them. Overtaking them, I found every office and man as indignant at the movement as I was, swearing they had been ordered to retreat and loudly demanded to be led back. Who gave the order could never be ascertained but the regiment promptly wheeled and returned, sustaining without flinch the enemy's fire until the Fourth was remounted. Riding forward to ascertain the character and form of the Federals, I was joined by Colonel Smith, and he was reminded that it was his duty to keep General Finegan fully and frequently informed. It affords me much pleasure to state that Colonel Smith's personal gallantry cannot be questioned. He was perfectly cool under a heavy fire, evincing no concern when his horse was shot down, but for the fate of his fine animal. It was now full time for me to retreat as the enemy were rapidly closing in on us. We fell back quietly in a walk without confusion, the Second Florida, who brought up the rear, coolly and steadily returning the fire of the enemy, every officer and man of that regiment appearing determined to remove remembrance of the unfortunate mistake they had made. And their conduct (deserved) and would have received the commendation of the most veteran officer, could such have witnessed it. Colonel Evans, of the Sixty-fourth Georgia Infantry rode up, stating that he had been directed by General Finegan to report with his regiment and a section of artillery to me for orders, but as I knew by this time pretty well the strength of the enemy, and supposed that General Finegan would avail himself of his entrenchments, I directed Colonel Evans to retire as quickly as possible his regiment within our lines, and that I would look after the artillery, intending to put them on a certain causeway to protect my rear, if hard pushed. And I was much surprised subsequently to find the Sixty-fourth drawn up across the road. I thought then that a fatal mistake had been committed by someone, but determined not (to) abandon them. I extended my front so as to conceal them as long as possible from the enemy and upon reaching them deployed the Fourth Georgia to the right, Second Florida to the left, directing both regiments to dismount and form on either flank. Whilst the Fourth was in the act of doing so, Colonel Smith, whom I had not seen since his horse was shot, rode up and gave me an unfortunate order, which I refused to obey, until he placed me under arrest.
I then complied, but cavalry manoeuvers (sic) are slow and complicated, especially when great care is taken to make them so. I was thus engaged when an aide of Gen Gardner's rode up with the General's compliments, who wanted to know "what the h-l I was doing" . Explaining my dilemma, I soon received orders that General Gardner held me responsible for the security of the left flank. I then dismounted and formed on the left of the Sixty-fourth, but soon General Colquitt's brigade came down on the double-quick, the Fourth Georgia extending to the left to give them place. It was a magnificent sight to see those noble fellows fall into line of battle, many of them, before they settled down to work, uttering a pious ejaculation of surprise upon seeing cavalry actually fighting in the ranks.
Doeming (sic) it now proper to resume my proper duty, I remounted, but soon found the regiment was placed in a false position, exposed to the full fire of the enemy, with its left resting on a swamp, which extended, I knew not how far, to my rear, but which appeared to terminate, or trend abruptly to the left, just in front or our line of battle. And finding my officers and men eager and willing to face the music, I moved forward, trusting to the screen of woods to conceal me from the enemy until I could occupy a position which would enable me to act as circumstances would require. I soon found the swamp much worse than was anticipated, but trusted to the experience of the men and horses to get through, but was myself compelled to retire, from the effects of a wound received in the early part of the day. Capt. Brown, a brave but young and inexperienced officer, upon whom the command devolved, reported that the swamp soon became quicksand, where he lost several horses, and the regiment became for a time disorganized; but upon extracting itself, it had soon reformed and Capt. Brown awaited orders. I have been assure that, up to this time, that good soldier, General Colquitt, had expressed himself as entirely satisfied with the conduct of the cavalry, and whilst I cannot personally be held responsible for what was not done after the battle, I still feel keenly for the good name and reputation of the many brave men who composed that force.
All men are not gifted with the faculty of intuitively understanding what to do under all circumstances. I have even heard of sad mistakes made by Brigadier (and even Major) Generals when not under the guidance of their corps commanders; and there can be no question but that the cavalry would have most gallantly performed its full duty if properly directed. It is not my province or intention to cast blame upon any cue. I have simply stated facts, and if I can relieve my brave comrades of some portion of the censure cast upon them, I will cheerfully submit to any charge of personal egotism which this communication may elicit.
I have also seen it stated that General Hardee's delay in moving from Mount Gilead Church to Jonesboro was due the inefficiency of his cavalry. I can prove that at least thirty hours before he left Mount Gilead, I repeatedly reported in writing to General Hardee that the enemy were moving past him in heavy force. I reported the same to him, both in writing and in person, early next morning, and earnestly endeavored to convince him that the enemy were outflanking and would not attack him where he was, but in vain; and yet the cavalry, as usual, are censured for what is, at worst, an excusable mistake of judgment on the part of General Hardee. History tells of what happened at Jonesboro, but it is silent as to what occurred to the Fourth Georgia the next few days; and yet that regiment received, through General Morgan, the present United States Senator from Alabama, the thanks of General Hood, who was pleased to ascribe to their good conduct the safety of his artillery, ordnance and wagon trains upon the evacuation of Atlanta, and as a mark of his appreciation, bestowing upon them the post of honor, that of bringing up the rear of the Army of Tennessee. Any regiment may well be proud of such recognition of its services, but the Fourth Georgia cavalry has never claimed any merit beyond a faithful discharge of its duty. Our good name is dear to us and our children, and its former commander would be derelict to his duty if he failed to continue to guard it from all misrepresentation.
Duncan L. Clinch
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