Report of Col. Joseph R. Hawley,
Forty-eighth Connecticut Volunteer Infantry ,
commanding Hawley's Brigade,
on the engagement at Olustee, Florida

Jacksonville, Fla., February 26, 1864.

SIR: I have the honor to report concerning the part taken by the forces under my command in the battle fought at Olustee on the 20th instant.

On the morning of the 20th, at Barber's Ford, my brigade consisted of the Seventh New Hampshire, Col. Joseph C. Abbott, numbering about 30 officers and 675 men; the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry, Col. Charles W. Fribley, 21 officers and 554 men, and the Seventh Connecticut, Capt. Benjamin F. Skinner, 10 officers and 365 men; aggregate, 61 officers and 1,594 men. Deducting wagoners, hospital attendants, &c., and men broken down on the march, perhaps 1,500 men went into the battle. We had ten days' supply of hard bread, and about three days' of coffee and sugar.

The Seventh Connecticut and half of the Seventh New Hampshire carried Spencer carbines, the remainder Springfield or Bridesburg rifles. Colonel Henry's command of mounted men led the column. My brigade followed, Captain Hamilton's light battery, Company E, Third U.S. Artillery, taking the road, and the regiments moving by the flank abreast thereof, the Seventh New Hampshire and Seventh Connecticut on the right of the road, the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry on the left. Before reaching Sanderson, by General Seymour's order, the Seventh Connecticut took the road and kept about one-half a mile ahead of us. Two or 3 miles beyond Sanderson we came up with Colonel Henry's command, apparently arranged for a bivouac.

The rebels beginning to annoy our vedettes the general sent for a company, and soon for the whole of the Seventh Connecticut, to throw out skirmishers and move westward. Colonel Henry's command soon followed them, and in a few minutes my brigade moved on also. After going 2 or 3 miles, occasionally hearing a few shots, several discharges of artillery were heard and we quickened our pace. I directed the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry, which was abreast of the Seventh New Hampshire on the railroad on the left, to leave that, change direction to the right, and come nearer the highway. The general commanding sent me orders to get into action quickly. Taking the Seventh New Hampshire, and leaving the Eighth to go in on the left of a pond or swamp, near which was a portion of our artillery, we hurried on, the Seventh New Hampshire moving by the flank, left in front. Lieutenant Bradshaw indicated the general direction to me, and I Sent Lieutenant Van Keuren for definite orders. Diverging a little to the right again to clear an open pond, I had the regiment brought into column by company, and closed en masse on the tenth company. The enemy's fire began to be felt, not very severely, but it was increasing as we approached.

We met the skirmishers of the Seventh Connecticut falling back, firing, before the enemy, who showed, I judge, two battalions in line. 1 distinctly ordered the Seventh New Hampshire to deploy on the eighth company, which would have brought the left of the line near the pond. Somebody must have misunderstood the order, for a portion of the regiment was going wrong, when myself and staff and Colonel Abbott repeated it vigorously, but vainly. All semblance of organization was lost in a few moments, save with about one company, which faced the enemy and opened fire. The remainder constantly drifted back, suffering from the fire which a few moments' decision and energy would have checked, if not suppressed. Most of the officers went back with their men, trying to rally them. The brave color-bearer, Sergt. Thomas H. Simington, Company B, obeyed every word or signal, and sometimes faced the enemy alone. Though wounded, he carried the colors to the end of the battle. Lieut. George W. Taylor, Company B, acting adjutant of the regiment, was fearless and incessantly active, and I sorrow to record that later in the action he fell fatally wounded in the head.

Lieutenant Van Keuren, of my staff, asked a cavalry officer to deploy his company and stop the fugitives, and the latter promptly complied. Colonel Abbott obtained a similar favor and gathered nearly 200 of his men on the right of the field, where they kept up a lively fire until they heard the order to retreat.

Reporting the break to the general, I hastened back, and after a short attempt to rally the scattered men, I met the colors and buglers of the Seventh Connecticut, and the officers soon all gathered there with their reserves and skirmishers. They had been hotly engaged a very considerable time alone, and had an opportunity, which I believe they improved, to do good service. Colonel Barton's brigade was just now engaged, and moving the Seventh Connecticut to a position a little to the left and in rear of his left, I sent for the reserved ammunition, a portion of the battalion being entirely exhausted, and the others having a limited supply. Had they gone as they were, they would very soon have been compelled to fallback. As soon as the supply arrived, I moved the battalion forward on the left of Barton's brigade, which was slowly and stubbornly retiring. The Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry, moving up on the left, went into line and found itself in a very hot fight. The regiment is new and was never before in battle, and I deem it creditable to both officers and men that they endured so long, and to the best of their ability returned a fire which killed and wounded over half their number.

Colonel Fribley died on the field, and the only other field officer present, Major Burritt, was severely wounded. They fell back, and were rallied on the edge of the field by the next in rank, Capt. R. C. Bailey. Three color-bearers and 5 of the color guard were killed or wounded.

The Seventh Connecticut, having been brought to the positions above described, soon opened fire, with guide sights at 600 [yards], upon a rebel column and disordered and checked it. I kept them lying down quiet for a time, only a few of the men firing at single rebels or small groups. Colonel Montgomery's brigade had come up. The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, Colonel Hallowell, went into action on our left. The First North Carolina, Lieutenant-Colonel Reed, on our right, between us and Barton's retiring brigade, went up into the field, halting and firing fiercely, with its right well forward, so as to form an angle of perhaps 120 degrees with the line of the Fifty-fourth, with full space for us between. Just before they went up, the Seventh Connecticut advanced again a short distance and, lying down, opened fire for a short time, with guide sights at 400 yards, upon the enemy fairly in view. I had before this sent Lieutenant Van Keuren to the general to say that we seemed to be crowding the enemy's left, and to ask for orders, and about this time an aide came to say that the general wished me to fall back, as the enemy were only feinting on our right, and were preparing to flank us in force. I repeated what I had said to Lieutenant Van Keuren, and waited, permitting only such firing as seemed to be necessary and useful. Captain Skinner held foot until the forces on our right and left had fallen back, when he went back in line a short distance, halted, and faced the enemy a short time, and then moved by the right of companies to the rear some distance to a new line of battle, where, under my orders, he halted and came into line on the left of a light battery (which I do not know) and with a body of cavalry on his left. The firing here was chiefly by artillery.

After the battery went to the rear, we followed it to another line. Here all joined in the loud and defiant cheers which, started by the general, rang along the whole line of our army, and showed that though defeated we were not routed nor broken in spirit. We then moved to the field hospital, where we made a longer halt. Just before this, Colonel Abbott reported to me, bringing a large portion of his command to his colors, Captain Bailey also coming up with the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry. The general ordered them to continue their retreat. Not long after, he detailed the Seventh Connecticut to cover their retreat, by deploying across the rear of all the infantry. At Sanderson I placed the Seventh New Hampshire and the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry in line north of the hamlet to check any advance in that direction. After the stragglers and wounded had been started, by the general's orders I guarded the train, marching those two regiments by the flank and by the side of the wagons and ambulances to Baldwin, where we bivouacked on the ground we left eighteen hours before, having marched about 32 miles, and having been about three hours in battle. The Seventh Connecticut arrived an hour or two later, having marched without rest 16 miles after the battle, with a large portion of its men deployed as skirmishers.

On the morning of the 21st, my brigade was ordered to follow the wagon train, with Colonel Montgomery's brigade following me and under my command. We had gone half a mile when the Seventh Connecticut was again detached as a rear guard. It covered the rear, the mounted command of Colonel Henry excepted, to Baldwin, and when all other forces on foot left, remained over night there with Colonel Henry, on picket and fatigue, and, after loading cars, pushed some a portion of the way, leaving Baldwin at 9 a.m. on the 22d.

From Baldwin I went on to McGirt's Creek, where the command bivouacked for the night in a good position. The train and Colonel Barton's command passed through, and Colonel Montgomery took the First North Carolina on to Camp Finegan. At 7 o'clock the next morning, with the Seventh New Hampshire, Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry, and Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, I started eastward. The general detached the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts to remain for a time at Ten-Mile Station, and by his orders I went with the other two regiments to Six-Mile Creek, on the King's road, on grand guard.

The loss of the brigade in the battle was: The Seventh New Hampshire, 208; Eighth U. S. Colored Infantry, 310; Seventh Connecticut, 69; aggregate killed, wounded, and missing, 587, about 37 per cent.

Colonel Abbott did all in his power to rally his command after that regiment, which has proved its valor on other fields, so strangely broke, and its loss proves that, though not in good order, it did not go away from danger.

I have already referred to the death of the brave Lieutenant Taylor.

Colonel Fribley, of the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry, a gallant and capable officer, fell mortally wounded while in the fearless discharge of his duty, and died on the field. It was a great loss to the regiment and the service. Major Burritt, of the same regiment, was severely wounded while bravely at work. The command devolved upon Capt. R. C. Bailey, who has since discharged his new duties with zeal and discretion.

Capt. B. F. Skinner, who commanded the battalion of the Seventh Connecticut (a large portion of the regiment being absent on veteran furlough), was on the sick list when the regiment took the field, but he performed his laborious duties with the energy and fearless bravery that have always characterized him, and his battalion received the hearty commendation of the general at the close of the fight. It is greatly regretted that he has felt compelled, by ill health, to quit the service. Lieutenant Dempsey, of that regiment, a faithful, patriotic man, was killed early in the action.

My staff, First Lieut. E. Lewis Moore, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, acting assistant adjutant-general; First Lieut. John Van Keuren, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, acting assistant inspector-general, and Second Lieut. Heber J. Davis, Seventh New Hampshire, accompanied me closely, were mindful of every opportunity for careful service, and certainly no officers in similar positions ever did better. Lieutenant Davis received a minie-ball in his neck in the midst of the engagement. When an opportunity offered he had the ball quickly extracted and continued on duty. Dr. W. W. Brown, surgeon Seventh New Hampshire, senior medical officer, and Lieut. W. T. Seward, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, brigade quartermaster and commissary, performed their duties admirably. Their labors on the 20th, and for two or three days after, were excessive and exhausting. Private Vinton, Company K, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, mounted orderly, had his horse twice shot, and finally killed, but he soon found another and continued on duty.

I send herewith reports of the regimental commanders.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Colonel Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, Comdg. Brigade.

Copied from The Official Records of the War of Rebellion

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