The Seventh Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers in the War of the Rebellion

Henry F.W. Little
Medal of Honor Receipient
Published 1896

The following section dealing with Olustee begins on page 220.

We were again ordered forward on the morning of February 20, towards Sanderson; at daybreak we quietly fell into line, and at once crossed the southern fork of the St. Mary's River and started for the front, halting for a few moments only as we gained the turnpike across the branch, to allow a battery of flying artillery to gallop past. The sky was cloudless, and as the sun appeared, it warmed up the chilly atmosphere of the early morning. It proved to be one of those beautiful Floridian days, known only to those who have experienced them in the everglade country.

We arrived at Sanderson's Station about noon, where we were halted and allowed a short rest, after which we again resumed our march in the direction of Lake City, the Fortieth Mass. Mounted Infantry and four companies of the First Mass. Cavalry protecting the flanks of the skirmish line, which was composed of the Seventh Conn. Volunteers, which were thrown out in advance upon leaving Sanderson's; the order of march being, as heretofore, a column of infantry flanking each side of the artillery column as a protection against a flank movement of the enemy.

About four miles from Sanderson's we first encountered the rebel pickets, but they were driven steadily before us for about two miles farther, when the enemy was found in force. It was now about 3 o'clock p.m. as we came upon the main body, but as yet we had found no artillery opposing us, and one of our batteries getting into position began shelling the enemy, who at once replied with howitzers which they had brought down on platform cars from Lake City. Their infantry occupied a fortified position at the edge of a large swamp in front of the railroad bed or dump, which was at this place a few feet higher than the surrounding grounds, forming a ready breastwork in case they were driven out of their trenches, and which, owing to the curvature of the road, made nearly a semi-circle around us. Their artillery fire was very inaccurate and elevated, cutting and slashing the tops of the tall pine trees in the open woods through which we were then hurrying to the front, amidst the danger to us from falling branches and tree tops. As soon as the situation was clearly defined, an attempt was at once made by General Seymour to bring the troops into line, the line formation to be a brigade in column of regiments on either side of our artillery, which was to occupy the centre of the line. The firing was now beginning in earnest, as it was the work of a few minutes only to get the artillery into battery front. The particular position of the writer, at this moment, was on the left of the Seventh New Hampshire, company D being the tenth company which was then marching by flank, left in front. When within two hundred yards of the enemy's works, the order was given by our brigade commander, General Hawley, to form column by companies, the order from Colonel Abbott being, "By company into line," which was rapidly executed, the company commanders repeating the order; our regiment occupying a position at this time immediately on the right of the artillery, while the brigade of colored troops was attempting to form a line on the left of our batteries. An order was then given by General Hawlery, to "Deploy column on fifth company," which was the color company. Colonel Abbott, repeating the order clearly and distinctly, ordered the battalion to face to the right and left, when General Hawley, finding himself wrong said, "On your eighth company, Colonel Abbott!" when again seeing his mistake, the General said, "On your tenth company, sir!" All the companies, except the tenth, having already faced to the right and left, were marching to get into line as though deploying on the fifth company; and under the successive change of orders the companies who were trying to deploy into line became badly embarrassed, and being under a terrific fire from the artillery and infantry of the enemy, and the wrong orders having been given and obeyed upon the instant, and the maneuver having been partially executed before the correct order reached them, the battalion had become so badly mixed that it it could not be re-formed, although those broken masses of troops bravely stood their muskets

It was impossible under the then existing circumstances to deploy other than on the tenth company, as the artillery was immediately our left, and the companies of the left wing could not have crowded into the space between the fifth company and the artillery; and on the eight company the same obstacle would have presented itself. But the mistake of our commanding officers could not then be remedied; the ground was becoming thickly dotted with the bodies of the fallen, yet those brave men faced to the front and what execution was possible under the circumstances, although the whole left wing was armed with those same old muskets which had been exchanged some of the mounted troops attached to the command but a few days before, not, however, until the guns had been completely spoiled for effective use at a time like this.

The broken column, which had now lost one third of its entire number, only gave way when a portion of the colored brigade was brought up in splendid style and filled the space.

Sergt. Otis A. Merrill, of company H, in a letter written home six days after the battle, in regard to the attempt at the formation of the line of battle, says:

"We had marched all day by the flank, left in front. The column was not deployed until we were all under fire, and the wrong order was given. The order was, 'By company into line, march!' 'Close column!' 'On eighth company deploy column, battalion, left face!' when the order should have been, 'Battalion by the right and left flank, march!' The regiment was not fairly deployed before the men began to fall back amidst the confusion, and became more or less scattered, and could not be properly re-formed again."

He thinks General Hawley, who then commanded the brigade, blamable for the manner in which the regiment was sent into the fight, as it marched over a hundred yards under his direction before the order was given to form a line of battle. Sergeant Merrill says when the men commenced falling back, owing to the heavy fire in front, he stopped where his company stood until the bullets came faster from the rear than the front, and he had to get back. He also says:

"When Colonel Abbott saw that a mistake had been made, he added 'As you were,' but the different companies had already begun to execute the movement to deploy, and before the tangle could be straightened out they had begun to fall back."

At the moment the command was given to deploy column the bullets were flying thick and fast from the rebel line, but their artillery fire was high and did but little execution to our infantry line on the right. The tenth company stood fast, and was the only company that formed on the line, as it so happened, and only fell back when the companies attempting to deploy had fallen back and they had no support.

Meanwhile the battle had raged fiercely on our left. The two regiments of colored troops [Editor's Note: actually, it was only one regiment. the 8th U.S. Colored Troops], who had there been ordered into line, never having been under fire before, hearing the thunder of our artillery a little to the right and rear of their position, and surmising that they had been attacked in the rear, became partially demoralized, and the Confederates at the moment attempting a flank movement around on the right, they at once fell back through the artillery. The enemy now not only outnumbered us, but had outflanked our infantry on our right, and had in a very short time killed all of our battery horses, rendering it wholly impossible to remove our artillery; and as they were constantly receiving reinforcements, which where being hurriedly brought down to the scene of action by rail in time to take part in the affray, the tide of battle soon turned in their favor, and the Union troops were obliged to retire, leaving six pieces of artillery, which had to be abandoned as we could not drive the rebels from the field; for we had no support nearer than Jacksonville or Hilton Head, S.C., and no fresh troops could be ordered up to our relief.

At the commencement of the battle, according to the statistics of both Confederate and Federal reports, the forces were about evenly divided (5,400 Confederates and 5,500 Federals), with the intrenched position in favor of the Confederates; but during the afternoon reinforcements were constantly arriving, which finally gave them the advantage in numbers.

Our forces were ordered into action by detachments and were beaten in detail, and orders were given by the commanding officers about sunset to retire from the field.

An attempt was made during the battle by the Sixth and Thirty-second Georgia regiments (Confederate) to turn our right flank; but the movement was frustrated by men from the Seventh under officers of the different companies, conspicuous among whom were Captains Chase, Ames, Mason, and Clifford.

One little incident came immediately under our eye and is particularly worthy of mention as it showed the coolness of some of the New Hampshire boys, and it will also be remembered by other comrades who happened to be in the same crowd. As we were leaving the field, the writer, by mere chance, came up with Capt. James M. Chase, of our regiment, who by some means had, like the writer, got left, for the regiment had been gone for some moments; the captain proposed that we gather up all the men we could and act as a rear guard, as none seemed to have been detailed to perform that duty before leaving the field and we at once commenced collecting all the men we could find as we slowly retreated. Our defeat was so severe and unexpected, and our lack of transportation so meagre, that we were compelled to leave our killed and most of our wounded in rebel hands. However, we soon succeeded in stopping and collecting nearly a hundred soldiers belong to the different organizations, and among them we remember the faces of Sergts. George F. Robie and James H. Caldwell, of the Seventh New Hampshire. The captain, as the ranking officer present assumed command, dressed the line, and at once advanced towards the rebel line over a portion of the field which our defeated troops had just left, until we came upon a rebel skirmish line slowly but cautiously advancing, and whose fire we at once received, at which time a Minie ball struck the captain on the instep of the left foot, but not disabling him. Noticing a heavy line of battle following close in the rear of the rebel skirmishers, we had no alternative but to retreat, which we did, firing as we went, for nearly half a mile. We had now been under fire more than three hours, and as the last rays of the setting sun shone in amongst the trunks of those tall old Florida pines which sparsely wooded the country around us, we knew we were the last of our defeated army to leave the field; and as darkness was fast coming on, we hurried along, overtaking the Seventh Regiment, to which we belonged, although a portion of our mixed command only succeeded in finding their troops near Sanderson's Station.

The whole command was ordered back as far as Barbour's Plantation that night, the rebels not following us up as closely during the darkness. Had they done so they might have "gobbled up" a great number of our men who were so jaded out that they could not keep up with the column, and it was a great mistake on their part that they did not follow us very closely as far as Jacksonville.

Regarding the disastrous engagement at Olustee, there has been abut little said regarding the manner in which our troops were handled. To those who were present and took part in the battle, and especially those who had been many times under fire and were veterans in service, the cause was apparent. That the commanding officer did not observe due caution is an admitted fact. Any general officer of experience would deploy one or two regiments into line when his skirmishers had developed the even partial strength of the enemy in his front. This should have been done as a precautionary measure, and should have been done as soon as the firing on the skirmish line became at all heavy. This would have prevented any confusion or excitement in attempting the formation of a battle line under a heavy fire and almost upon the line to be assaulted. With such a line already formed, our troops would have swept over the field, and could have easily driven the rebel forces on toward Lake City; but this position would after a few days have been untenable, owing to the small force of the Union troops and their distance from support, which was sixty miles away. If the movement was intended for permanent occupation, then the supporting troops, many of which had not even reached Jacksonville on the date of the battle of Olustee, should have been at Baldwin's Station, Barbours's, and Sanderson's, could have been equipped and utilized in moving our troops and supplies. Under such generals as Strong and Terry, the results attained by such an expedition would have been far differently. However, we lost sight of General Seymour after this expedition, and were never again under his command.

The men who came out of the fight at Olustee and who were so fortunate as to be able to keep up with their commands during the retreat, will never forget the very hard march that night back to Barbour's Plantation, without a halt, making a distance marched since morning of thirty-two miles. Many comrades fell out from sheer exhaustion and were probably "gobbled up" by the enemy. The greater part of our wounded, and especially all of the worst cases, had to be left on the field, very reluctantly of course, but it was a military necessity. Some of the less serious cases were helped along until we could get them on flat cars run up from Jacksonville, and in some cases the cars had to be pushed by hand. The whole command arrived at Barbour's about 2 o'clock on the morning of the 21st, and having crossed the branch of the St. Mary's river, proceeded at once to occupy the same ground for camping that they had left the previous morning. Upon our arrival at this place the troops were about as near "tuckered" as it was possible to be, and the men where only to glad to throw themselves down anywhere to rest.

While halted at this place a list of casualties was at once made out. It was found that the loss of the Seventh was two hundred and nine killed, wounded, and missing, and of this number eight were officers, one of whom, First Lieut. George W. Taylor, of Company B, acting adjutant, was killed. First Lieut. Charles H. Farley, of company H, was severely wounded, taken prisoner, and died of wounds in Lake City four days after. Second Lieut. True W. Arlin, of Company E, was severely wounded...

External Web sites related to the Battle of Olustee
Henry F. W. Little, Medal of Honor Receipient, on Wikipedia

Other Letters from Olustee
Battle of Olustee home page