Staff and supporters of Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park at the Congressional Black Caucus meeting in Washington, DC where the park received a Veterans' Braintrust Award for its recognition of African American veterans.
Pictured (left to right) are: Susan Kett, USDA Forest Service; Valinda Subic, Park Manager at that time; Ron Williams, 54th Massachusetts reenactor; Corrine Brown, U.S. Congress Representative, 3rd District-Florida; John Thrush, then president of Olustee Battlefield Citizens Support Organization (CSO); and O.J. Lake, 54th Massachusetts reenactor.
Staff were joined by Robert Young, Mel Reid and Michael Coleman, members of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment Company B, from Washington, DC.
Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park was selected as a recipient of the 2003 Congressional Black Caucus Veterans' Braintrust Award. The award recognizes people and organizations that have provided exemplary national and community service on behalf of African American veterans.
Olustee Battlefield's selection is based on the historical significance of the 1864 Civil War battle in which three African American units fought as part of the Union Army. The award also recognizes the hundreds of African American Civil War reenactors who have paid tribute to the black regiments by participating in the annual reenactment of the Battle of Olustee.
The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, and the 8th and 35th United States Colored Troops took part in the battle on February 20, 1864 when Union troops encountered Confederate soldiers in the forest at Olustee. Caught by surprise and committing a series of tactical errors, Union soldiers were badly defeated. Among the 10,700 soldiers who fought that day, 2,807 were listed as killed, wounded or missing by battle's end. Letters written by the soldiers and historian's reports afterward have lauded the heroism of the 35th USCT and the 54th Mass in holding the rear guard against the Confederate Army while the rest of the Union soldiers retreated. The African American regiments were aware that black troops left wounded on the battlefield were being murdered by Confederate soldiers, but the regiments continued fighting until after dark. An estimated 626 members of the black regiments were killed, wounded and captured, representing one-third of the total Union casualties for the battle.
The Congressional Black Caucus Veterans' Braintrust Award was established by General Colin Powell in 1990 to recognize outstanding national and community commitment to black veterans. Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park Manager Valinda Subic received the award on behalf of the Florida Park service in a ceremony September 26 in Washington, D.C. Others attending the ceremony were Olustee CSO President John Thrush and two Columbia County reenactors who were instrumental in recruiting African American participants in the living history program - O.J. Lake and Ron Williams. Susan Kett of the USDA Forest Service, which co-manages the battlefield property within Osceola National Forest, also attended the awards ceremony.
The Congressional Black Caucus Veterans' Braintrust (CBCVB) serves as an advisory group to members of Congress on issues related to African Americans and veterans affairs. Recipients of the award are nominated by members of the CBCVB committee and by past winners of the award. U.S. Congressional Representative Corrine Brown (3rd District, Florida), who co-chairs the CBCVB, nominated Olustee Battlefield for the award.
Ron Armstead, executive coordinator of the Veterans' Braintrust, said the organization became aware of Olustee Battlefield's historical significance while it was researching the history of African American prisoners of war. Research on James Gooding, a well-educated infantryman with the 54th Massachusetts, brought them into contact with African American Civil War reenactors in Boston, who said that Gooding had fought at Olustee where he was captured and sent to the Andersonville, GA prisoner-of-war camp. Gooding died at Andersonville before the war's end, but his letters were published posthumously in On the Altar of Freedom: A Black Soldier's Civil War Letters from the Front, one of the few soldiers' accounts of the Civil War written by an African American.
The Battle of Olustee reenactments are held every February at the battlefield, located on US 90, 15 miles east of Lake City and 50 miles west of Jacksonville.
The reenactment is sponsored by the following organizations:
Battle of Olustee home page