Plus Correspondence Related to
Dissatisfaction with his Report and Performance
HDQRS. CAVALRY BRIGADE, DIST. OF EAST FLORIDA,
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the Cavalry Brigade in the late engagement near Ocean Pond the 20th instant:
On the morning of the 20th, it being reported that the enemy were advancing from the direction of Sanderson, I received orders from the brigadier-general commanding to advance and meet them for the purpose of ascertaining their position and number. I accordingly moved out with all the cavalry force then available, which consisted of 250 men of the Fourth Georgia Cavalry (Colonel Clinch commanding) and of 202 men of the Second Florida Cavalry (Lieutenant-
Colonel McCormick commanding). I discovered the enemy about 4 miles distant from our encampment, occupying in force the second crossing of the railroad from Olustee. I immediately reported the fact to you and directed Colonel Clinch to advance a body of skirmishers from his regiment to attack the enemy's pickets, which he did promptly, and was pushing the attack earnestly when they were met by a much larger force from the enemy, which compelled them to retire to their horses. This they did in good order. The enemy then moved forward with his whole
force, skirmishing on our rear, which we resisted with our rear guard, keeping him in check, while the cavalry retired in line and in perfect order. This skirmishing was kept up until we reached the first crossing of the railroad from Olustee. There I found our infantry and artillery under the command of Brigadier-General Colquitt, from whom I received orders to dispose the cavalry on the right and left wings of our army to prevent any flank movement of the enemy. I accordingly ordered Colonel Clinch to occupy the left with his regiment, and Lieutenant Colonel McCormick, with the Second Florida Cavalry, to take position on the right.
Early in the action Colonel Clinch received a severe wound in the leg, which made it necessary for him to retire from the field, and the command of his regiment then devolved upon Captain Brown, who kept an efficient guard on the left flank while Lieutenant-Colonel McCormick
protected the right. On two occasions I discovered that the enemy was attempting to cross the railroad on the right of our infantry, evidently for the purpose of turning that wing, when I directed Lieutenant-Colonel McCormick to dismount a portion of his regiment and drive them back, which he did effectually. Thus by the vigilance of the cavalry on the right and left the enemy was prevented from deploying his large force so as to turn either flank. The Fifth Florida Cavalry Battalion (Maj. G. W. Scott commanding) was not brought upon the field until late in the evening, in consequence of the jaded condition of the men and horses from hard service for
the twenty-four hours preceding. He, however, joined with Lieutenant-Colonel McCormick on the right about the middle of the contest and rendered him prompt assistance.
The fight terminating at night, and our infantry lines not being perceptible to me through the woods, and the face of the country being cut up by swamps, making it very favorable for ambushing under the cover of night, I deemed it unadvisable to press forward with the whole cavalry force until further information could be had of the position of affairs. In addition to this, after the order to move forward was being executed another order was received to the effect that we were getting under the fire of our men, and also that I should beware of an ambush. I attached the more importance to this order because it had already been discovered that a large body of the enemy's cavalry were resting on the opposite side of a swamp from us. The cavalry, however, as soon as possible followed up the enemy and gathered a number of prisoners, amounting to about
150. In addition to this several prisoners were taken by Lieutenant-Colonel McCormick and Major Scott while protecting the right flank.
I have to report that Colonel Clinch and 3 men of the Fourth Georgia Cavalry were wounded.
One of the wounded men is missing, and supposed now to be dead.
It is due to the companies of Captains Stephens and Maxwell, of the Second Florida Cavalry, to state that the conduct of the men and officers, while acting as the rear guard of the cavalry as we were falling back before the enemy, was highly satisfactory. They behaved with the coolness and deliberation of veterans.
I have the honor to be, captain, your obedient servant,
February 24, 1864.
Colonel, Commanding Cavalry Brigade.
Capt. W. CALL,
HDQRS. DEPT. OF S. CAROLINA, GEORGIA, AND FLORIDA,
Camp Milton, Fla., March 7, 1864.
Maj. JOHN F. LAY, Inspector of Cavalry, &c.:
MAJOR: I am instructed by the general commanding to inform you that the report of Col. Caraway Smith of the operations of the Cavalry Brigade during the engagement at Ocean Pond and pursuit the same evening is not satisfactory, and to direct you to make inquiries in regard to the same, and report if the orders of superior officers were carried out by Colonel Smith, and if his command took such share in the attack on the enemy as could reasonably be expected under those orders. I am instructed to communicate to you, for your attention, the following extracts from official reports:
First. From Brigadier-General Finegan's, in regard to the opening of the engagement:
Second. From Brigadier-General Colquitt's report, which, having given an account of the fight, states:
I ordered Brigadier-General Colquitt to advance with three of his regiments and assume command of the entire force then ordered to the front.
* * * * * * * * * *
During the continuance of the battle, also after the enemy had given way, I sent repeated orders to Colonel Smith, commanding cavalry, to press the enemy on his flanks and to continue in the pursuit; but through some misapprehension these orders failed to be executed by him, and only two small companies on the left, and these but for a short distance, followed the enemy.
We continued the pursuit for several miles, when night put an end to the conflict. Instructions were given to the cavalry to follow close upon the enemy and seize every opportunity to strike a favorable blow.
Third. Col. Caraway Smith's report, which, after summing up the fight (and which does not show that the cavalry made any positive attack after the fight began), states:
Thus by the vigilance of the cavalry on the right and left the enemy was prevented from deploying his large force so as to turn either flank. The Fifth Florida Cavalry Battalion was not brought upon the field until late in the evening, in consequence of the jaded condition of the men and horses.
* * * * * * * * * *
The fighting terminating at night, and our infantry lines not being perceptible to me through the woods, and the face of the country being cut up by swamps, making it very favorable for ambushing under cover of night, I deemed it unadvisable to press forward with the whole cavalry until further information could be had of the position of affairs. In addition to this, after the order to move forward was being executed another order was received to the effect that we were getting under the fire of our men, and also that I should beware of an ambush. I attached the more importance to this order because it had already been discovered that a large body of the enemy's cavalry were resting on the opposite side of a swamp from us.
The commanding general also directs that you will inquire who gave Colonel Smith the order that he was getting under the fire of our own men and to beware of an ambush; also, how it was that our infantry lines were not perceptible to Colonel Smith at the termination of the fight, although a large body of the enemy's cavalry were discovered resting on the opposite side of a swamp.
It is a matter of some surprise to the commanding general, which you will endeavor to explain, that the 202 men of the Second Florida Cavalry should have escaped without a casualty, none being mentioned in the report; also, that out of the whole cavalry only 1 officer and 3 privates were wounded.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major and Assistant Adjutant-General.
P. S.-- The commanding general desires that you will also investigate the following extract from General Finegan's report:
And in consequence of a report from our advance cavalry picket that the enemy had halted for the night and taken a position (which was subsequently ascertained to be incorrect), I withdrew the order.
Very respectfully, &c.,
TALLAHASSEE, FLA., March 20, 1864.
Maj. JOHN F. LAY
MAJOR: Understanding from the official reports of the late battle of Ocean Pond that impressions had been formed prejudicial to my conduct as an officer, I respectfully ask for a court of inquiry for an investigation of the same. I would have made this request at an earlier date if I had been informed of the facts.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel Second Florida Cavalry.
CAMP MILTON, FLA., March 28, 1864.
Respectfully forwarded, with the recommendation that a court of inquiry be awarded, and that it convene at or near these headquarters at the earliest practicable day.
JNO. F. LAY,
Major and Assistant Inspector-General.
HEADQUARTERS SUB-DISTRICT No. 1, FLORIDA,
MAJOR: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication of the 18th instant, calling my attention to my indorsement upon an application of Col. Caraway Smith, Second Florida Cavalry, to be restored to the command of his regiment. I make the following statement, which I hope may prove satisfactory to the general commanding:
My connection with the army now operating in East Florida may be said to have only commenced after my arrival at Baldwin on the 26th ultimo, and I only got to the actual front the next day. This was several days after the engagement of Olustee. It was during and immediately subsequent to this battle that Colonel Smith is said to have been delinquent in the discharge of his duties. When I assumed command of the forces to which he was attached, and during the short time I was in command, no complaint was lodged against Colonel Smith by the then commander of the forces in the field; but, on the contrary, he was still retained in command of all the cavalry, except a detachment under Maj. G. W. Scott. I therefore ignored all camp rumors as far as my official action was concerned. Upon assuming command I did not find the cavalry in a satisfactory condition. Colonel Smith could not give
prompt and reliable information as to the points occupied by his detachments, nor of the actual number of serviceable men of his command. Colonel Smith professes to be able to account for this by statements that detachments were being constantly sent out without orders passing through him. In any event I was much relieved, upon the arrival [of] Colonel Anderson, by Colonel Smith's application to be relieved from duty with the forces in East Florida, in consequence of his having been superseded by that officer, his junior. From all
I could see and learn during the few days I was in command I should have hesitated to order Colonel Smith to the rear until I was fully satisfied it was my duty to bring him before a military tribunal of some sort. It was, and is still, my opinion that Colonel Smith should be brought before some court to investigate his alleged neglect of duty or incompetency, or be returned to his regiment. My indorsement upon his application was made in entire ignorance
that any investigation was pending in his case. Had I known that such was the fact I should have forwarded the paper without remark.
I may add, in conclusion, that my opinion, expressed verbally to the general commanding, is still unchanged. In indorsing Colonel Smith's application, not knowing that an investigation was to be had, I acted as I should wish my commanding officer to act by me.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Tallahassee, March 21, 1864.
W. M. GARDNER,
Maj. J. F. LAY,
Assistant Inspector-General, Tallahassee, Fla.
Copied from The Official Records of the War of Rebellion.
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