Report of Lt. M.B. Grant,
on the engagement at Olustee
C. S. ENGINEER'S OFFICE,
Savannah, April 27, 1864.
COLONEL: In obedience to your instructions, I have the honor to submit the following report upon the battle of Ocean Pond, fought February 20, near Ocean Pond, on the line of the Florida, Atlantic and Gulf Railroad, in Columbia County, Fla., between the Confederate forces under Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan and the Federal forces under Brigadier-General Seymour:
Having been ordered to report to General Finegan, I left Savannah on February 15 and arrived at Olustee Station on the evening of the 17th, where I found our army encamped on a line extending from Ocean Pond, on the left, to the large cypress pond, on the right, as designated in the accompanying sketch(*) on the line A B. General Finegan had selected this position as the only one which furnished in itself any natural advantages for defense, and upon a thorough reconnaissance of the country on the following day I became satisfied that the selection was a good one, this being the only point offering any advantages whatever between Lake City and the south prong of the Saint Mary's River, which latter place being at that time in possession of the enemy, who had established themselves along the line of this creek preparatory to an advance.
I would here remark that the country along the line of railroad from the Suwannee River east is exceedingly low and flat, with but few streams, and those of so insignificant a character as to be of but little assistance to a defense or obstacle to an advance; in fact, the only natural features which could be taken advantage of for purposes of defense are the bays and ponds which are to be found to a greater or less degree throughout this entire section of country. Upon my arrival I found there had been no engineer officer in General Finegan's command, and consequently no organization of that department. I found no laboring force or tools, and I proceeded at once, by authority of General Finegan, to impress the required negroes and to collect such tools as might be procured from the surrounding plantations.
Previous to the arrival of Major Clarke, Corps of Engineers, on the evening of the 18th, I had determined to make an intrenched camp of Olustee, with the view to a further advance of our forces, also as a depot of supplies and position upon which to retire, should it become necessary, and had made my plans accordingly. By his direction, however, I laid out that portion of the line only as represented on sketch.
On the 19th instant, I commenced work upon this line with a detail of
soldiers. This force was necessarily small and inadequate, owing to the want
of tools, having at that time only one dozen axes and two dozen spades.
Previous to my arrival two small works had been thrown up as designated on sketch at C and D, under direction of Major Bonaud, Second Florida Battalion
[Twenty-eighth Georgia] . The parapet to these works was 6 feet wide, composed of logs covered with earth, and having a relief of about 4 feet 6 inches. The left of the line as laid out rested upon Ocean Pond, a sheet of water some 4 miles long by 2 to 2 1/2 miles wide, this furnishing a secure protection on the left. In front of this line and to the left of the railroad an open pond, averaging 250 yards in width, extended to within 300 yards of Ocean Pond. This ground was entirely impracticable, adding greatly to the strength of this portion of the line. To the right of the railroad, and at an average distance of 400 yards in advance of our line, there extended a thick bay, impassable except within 200 yards on the right of the railroad. This bay continued, as seen in sketch, to right of line with but one crossing at the road between bay and pond. Intervening between this bay and our line was an open field over which the enemy would have to advance in approaching the works. The right of the line, though not so well covered as the left, was still very much strengthened by the large pond which continued some 2 miles on the right, for which distance it was only practicable for infantry at a few points, and these crossings exceedingly difficult. This line of works, had they been completed, would have proven very strong against a direct attack, but was liable to the same difficulty which presents itself in the occupation of any position in this country, viz, the practicability of turning it by a detour of a few miles. While working upon this line and preparing for a defense at Olustee, the battle was most unexpectedly brought on 2 1/4 miles in advance of the position selected, under the following circumstances:
Early on the morning of the 20th, the enemy left their position on Saint Mary's River and advanced in force--variously estimated at from 9,000 to 12,000--one column by the railroad and the other by the Lake City and Jacksonville road, the distance from Saint Mary's River to Olustee being about 19 or 20 miles. Only a short time previous the enemy's cavalry penetrated the country as far as Lake City, near which place a skirmish took place between them and the few scattered troops which General Finegan then had at his disposal. Their cavalry doubtless reported that we had no troops, and it was owing to this fact, I suppose, that their main advance was conducted so rapidly, and being under the impression, which they certainly
were, that they would meet with but little opposition. Fortunately, however, for our cause General Beauregard, knowing their designs, had, in the interim between their cavalry raid and main advance, collected at Olustee an army of 4,000 veterans.
On the morning of the 20th, General Finegan having received information of the enemy's advance, the Sixty-fourth Georgia Regiment was ordered to the front to reconnoiter their position, and, if possible, discover their force. The Sixty-fourth took up a position at the crossing of the Lake City road with the railroad, 2 1/4 miles from Olustee, and were soon engaged with the enemy, who had advanced to this point in three columns, having formed a third column after crossing the branch where the roads fork. They were now drawn up in line of battle. It becoming necessary to re-enforce the Sixty-fourth, General Alfred H. Colquitt took the field, and bringing up the Sixth,
Twenty-eighth, and Nineteenth Georgia Regiments, with two pieces of Gamble's battery , deployed these four regiments in line of battle and fairly opened the fight. (See second position on sketch.) This was 3 o'clock in the afternoon.
Colonel (acting brigadier-general) Harrison having now arrived with the Thirty-second Georgia, First Georgia Regulars, and Sixth Florida, our line of battle was reformed, with the addition of Wheaton's battery (four pieces), and advanced, driving the enemy from their first position and occupying the third position, as represented on sketch. The horses in Gamble's battery having become disabled and unmanageable, his battery was obliged to retire. While our forces were in this position the enemy attempted a flank movement on our left, in which they failed from want of a knowledge of the ground, for, becoming entangled in the large bay on our left, they were forced to retire without accomplishing their object.
In the meanwhile our forces on the right drove in their left and captured the five guns (as shown in sketch), our forces now occupying the fourth position. At this point, our entire line having exhausted their ammunition, and the Twenty-seventh Georgia, First Florida, and Bonaud's battalion having come up, were placed in front to hold the enemy in check while a new supply of ammunition was being distributed, which having been accomplished our entire line advanced, driving the enemy before them. Just as our forces were assuming their fourth position one section of Guerard's battery came up and took position on the left of Wheaton's, the other section having already been stationed on the right, the battle having lasted three hours, and every inch of ground having been hotly contested from the road crossing to this point.
The battle-field was confined entirely to the open pine woods, with the exception of the pond and old field, as represented on sketch. At the latter place the fighting was very severe. At one time the enemy attempted to mass their troops here, and were driven off, as I understand from Colonel Harrison , by the Sixth and Thirty-second Georgia Regiments, who, by his order, took up a position on their right, gaining a destructive flank fire on them. Our forces pursued the enemy for a distance of 2 miles to the branch, when, night coming on, they were obliged to abandon the pursuit. Our cavalry
operated on the flanks of the enemy during the engagement, but did not pursue them beyond a few miles, which is to be regretted, as it is probable that in the disorganized and demoralized condition of the enemy we might have captured a large proportion of their troops, if not destroyed their army.
The infantry fire during the whole engagement was continuous, and on our side very effective. The artillery fire on both sides, judging from the marks upon the trees, was entirely too high, and did comparatively little damage. Our men sheltered themselves behind the trees, as was evident from the number who were wounded in the arms and hands, thus gaining considerable advantage over the enemy, who used the trees to a less extent.
This fight occurred upon ground which furnished a fair field to both parties, and no advantage to either. The advantage of the enemy upon this occasion consisted in the superiority of numbers and equipment. Their force was, at the lowest estimate, twice that of ours. As usual with the enemy, they posted their negro regiments on their left and in front, where they were slain by hundreds, and upon retiring left their dead and wounded negroes uncared for, carrying off only the whites, which accounts for the fact that upon the first part of the battle-field nearly all the dead found were negroes.
This victory, like many others, was mainly due to the superior fighting qualities of our troops, their determination and unflinching valor. So far as I was able to learn there was no preconceived plan of battle or combined movement of our troops after General Colquitt put them in position on the field.
To General Colquitt and Colonel Harrison, who commanded on the left, am I mainly indebted for much valuable information in reference to the positions
and movements of our troops, which aided me much in arranging my sketch, as also in the account of the battle.
The entire plan of battle on our part, as represented on sketch, is compiled from my own observation in part, and from careful inquiry among the principal officers engaged in the fight, and may be relied on as accurate. The topography of the ground is taken from a personal reconnaissance by myself, and is correct. I was upon the battle-field during the last hour of the fight, having been engaged upon the works at Olustee during the first portion. Major Clarke having been on the battle-field during the engagement, and thus being conversant with its details from personal observation, regards this sketch as correct as possible, considering that no regular survey was made of the ground.
Mr. G. W. Killen, assistant engineer, who accompanied me to Florida, rendered efficient and faithful service.
Upon the fourth day after the battle our forces advanced to Sanderson, where you found us upon your arrival.
I found it necessary to a thorough explanation and understanding of my sketch to describe, in so far as I have done, the principal positions and movements of our regiments and battalions.
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
M. B. GRANT,
Lieutenant, Corps of Engineers.
Col. D. B. HARRIS,
Chief Engineer, Dept. of S. Carolina, Georgia, and Fla.
Copied from The Official Records of the War of Rebellion.
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