Report of Captain John Hamilton
Third U.S. Artillery,
and Chief of Artillery
on the engagement at Olustee, Florida
SPECIAL ORDERS No. 122.
HILTON HEAD, S.C. February 24, 1864.
SIR: I have the honor to report, for the information of the commanding general , such operations as fell under my observation in the battle of the 20th, near Olustee, Fla.:
Upon the general engagement of the pickets along the line, Colonel Henry went forward on our left flank to reconnoiter the enemy's position. Coming back he informed me, in General Seymour's presence, that by planting, say two sections of artillery at a point he would designate, he thought I might enfilade their line, and that we might worst them in a short time. The sections were advanced, but received, on coming into battery, a fire from a more extended line of infantry than what had been first observed. My battery was under 250 yards from the enemy's right of infantry, while an oblique line of cavalry bore off to their right and nearly, as far as I could see, into the woods. The Eighth U.S. Colored, Colonel Fribley, then deployed, but its left wing filled all the intervals of my pieces and prevented their working to any advantage. As soon as I saw this position I felt that all hopes of withdrawing my guns to a more favorable position were gone, for the reason that the Eighth U.S. Colored were green troops, and should I have limbered to the rear I was sure they would run before the second line could come up to our support. As this line--Colonel Barton's brigade--was about deploying, I knew that the running of troops through or over them would subject us to an immediate defeat from the enemy's cavalry turning our left flank. I should judge the enemy's flanking line of cavalry to have been 500 strong. I was soon struck on the left hip, but not disabled. Then Lieutenant Eddy was badly wounded; then my horse. I could pay almost no attention to my battery, which was being mowed down as grass without the power to reply with any effect. My whole attention was involved in holding the Eighth on their ground. My heart bled for them; they fell as ten pins in a bowling alley; but everything depended on their sacrifice and that of my battery until we could be relieved or the new line formed. In about twenty-five minutes, out of 82 men and 4 officers, 44 men and 3 officers were disabled, and 39 horses were hit so as to be left behind. Langdon's battery then took position on my left, and bleeding heavily, and sick, I directed Lieutenant Myrick to get off the pieces, and I reported to General Seymour, who sent me off the field. Colonel Fribley had fallen, mortally wounded, some time before, and had been placed on the footboard of one of my limbers. I saw him dead, and directed one of his officers to take him off, as I had to use the limber to get off one of my guns. He was placed about twenty-five feet to the right and rear of my right piece, where I think he was left. I do not think that we, on the left, did much hurt to the enemy. Our time was occupied in filling gaps; my pieces were marred by the infantry commingling with my own men. The left wing of the U.S. Colored Infantry could have done little injury to the enemy; they fired very wildly and without purpose. It was not from cowardice as much as ignorance. Their officers appeared to do their duty as brave men, but without self-reliance, and I did not see any of the regiment run, yet they only served the purpose of keeping the enemy in check from charging. They should not be condemned, for I saw nothing.wrong that could not be accounted for by want of experience and ignorance of object, apparently. My own men behaved well, devotedly, and individually so. My attached "Enfans Perdus" did not. They clustered and gabbled in all languages; some were punished.
It was impossible at the time of removing to a second line to bring off two pieces and two caissons for want of horses or cannoneers. I regret to say they were left to the enemy with nearly full ammunition chests. All my officers were hit, four of us severely wounded, and the charge of the battery fell into the hands of Lieut. D. Irwin, Third Rhode Island Artillery, serving with the battery. As chief of artillery I can make no report that can be so called. I had to act on the line of infantry as a general staff officer. This is to be the more regretted, for could I have had the directing of Langdon's battery it would not have taken the position it did. I had not even time to communicate with the general. But personally I have nothing to regret. By the sacrifice of five pieces of artillery I saved the whole of our left flank from breaking and its disastrous consequences. We thus changed a rout into a simple defeat or beating back. For the dead, a very large majority died honorably; the wounded have all the sympathy a wounded man can extend. My thanks are due to Lieutenant Irwin for his labors. My officers discharged their duties unflinchingly, and only left when, their presence would have been a drawback. To Lieut. J. R. Myrick is due the credit of withdrawing the two pieces saved. Messrs. Eddy and Dodge, Third Rhode Island Artillery, have my thanks for their coolness and steadiness in managing their sections. There is an officer, unknown to me, to whom I wish to pay a tribute of praise. I hear that he had been mustered out of service from the New York Independent Battalion. I handed him my pistol when I was wounded and he sent it to me after wards. All I can say is that it is a brave man who would come where it was simply to give encouragement to troops by his example. He is worth seeking out. I shall ask Lieutenant Myrick to add his report to this.
I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Capt., Third Artillery, Comdg. Light Co. E, and Chief of Artillery.
Copied from The Official Records of the War of Rebellion.
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