Report of Adolph Majer, Chief Medical Officer,
U.S. Forces, District of Florida,
on the engagement at Olustee, Florida


Jacksonville, Fla., February 24, 1864.

SIR: It becomes my duty to report to-day the result of the engagement between our forces (under the command of Brig. Gen. T. Seymour) and the enemy, occurring at a place known as Olustee, Fla., and distant from Jacksonville some 45 or 50 miles in a westerly direction, under the following circumstances:

On the evening of February 19, the general commanding ordered his command to be in readiness, with several days' cooked rations, for a forward movement from Barber's Station, 32 miles from Jacksonville, on the Florida Central Railroad.

At daybreak, February 20, the command took its line of march on the road to Sanderson, with its cavalry brigade and Elder's battery (under the command of Colonel Henry) in the advance. Passing Sanderson, the general commanding was informed that we should meet the enemy in force (as the information would have it, 15,000 strong) some miles this side of Lake City; but no reliance was placed on such dubious information in regard to strength as well as position. About 5 miles farther on our advance reported some 60 or 70 skirmishers of the enemy falling slowly back, on the north side of the railroad, toward Lake City. A short distance from that point our cavalry force, together with one company of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, reported that it was suspected that the enemy was directly in front. The general commanding gave the order to halt and directed shells to be thrown through the pine barren as feelers. Hardly had the second shell departed when a compliment in the form of solid shot fell directly in front of the staff, a second one following closely on the first, and a third one passing in close proximity over our heads. No time was to be lost to bring our guns into battery, and to throw companies of the Seventh Connecticut Volunteers out as skirmishers on our right. The infantry line of battle was in cool promptness formed of the brigades, commanded, respectively, by Colonels Barton, Forty-eighth New York Volunteers, Hawley, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers , and Montgomery, Second South Carolina Volunteers [Webmaster's note: I suspect that Surgeon Majer has confused this regiment with the Thirty-Fifth United States Colored Troops in Col. Montgomery's Brigade. The 35th USCT was originally the First North Carolina Volunteers]. Soon our artillery fire became hotter and hotter and the musketry incessant.

Looking about for a convenient ambulance depot, I rode on our right toward a couple of log houses, the only ones within miles, but found on arriving that these houses were so much exposed that while inspecting them I was in imminent danger in the midst of heavy and light missiles; and while the topographical condition hardly offered a slight undulation of soil, there was no protection for a depot than the even extension of the pine barrens. About 200 yards in the rear of our left, observing a cluster of pine trees, I directed our ambulances (twelve in number) to be drawn up in line, the surgeons preparing their instruments and appliances, to be in readiness. While the roar of artillery and the musketry fire continued without intermission, our wounded men began to arrive, part walking, some on litters, and others in open ambulance wagons, as it were, first in single drops, then trickling, after a while in a steady stream, increasing from a single row to a double and treble, and finally into a mass. In a half hour from the commencement, stray shots passing through the tall pines, and, breaking them off at the trunk like canes, admonished us to remove the depot farther to the rear, when within 1 mile we drew our ambulances up behind a small stream and guarded in front by miry ground, thus securing a sufficiency of water, yet not of suitable protection against missiles from rifled guns. For three hours, without a second's intermission, had the battle been raging, when we heard from the front three lusty cheers and the firing ceased abruptly. Our troops fell back about 1 mile, and I received an order to bring our wounded as far to the rear as we could reach with our limited transportation. Ambulances, caissons, army wagons, litters, single horses, carts, in short, every conceivable mode of carrying was made use of to secure the large number of our wounded, and with a readiness which deserves high commendation did every one busy himself to execute the order. There was no depression of spirits manifested, and the morale of the command expressed the brave determination in the words, "We will give it back to them."

Our troops fell back to Barber's Station under the protection of our cavalry brigade, which, during the battle, was quietly drawn up in the rear of our right and left. While passing Sanderson I sent the following telegrams:

Surgeon in charge of field hospital at Barber's Station:

A large number of wounded. Prepare coffee, tea, and beef soup.

Post Surgeon SMITH,


Send immediately a train of cars with bales of hay, lint, bandages, and stimulants. Call on Sanitary Commission.


We reached Barber's Station at 12 midnight, and while, unhappily, some 40 cases of wounded had to be left at the ambulance depot near the battle-field under the charge of Asst. Surg. C. A. Devendorf, Forty-eighth New York Volunteers , and 23 more at Sanderson (badly wounded), two companies of cavalry were dismounted, thus saving an addition of 80 men. We had now to take care of and forward by cars and wagons some 860 wounded, 215 of which were at once delivered to the hospital ship Cosmopolitan, awaiting at the wharf at Jacksonville. A list of this first shipment will be forwarded by the surgeon in charge of that steamer. A list of the wounded admitted to hospital at Jacksonville from the surgeon in charge (William A. Smith, Forty-seventh New York Volunteers ). I have the honor to transmit, together with a list(*) of all the casualties, as gathered from the surgeons in charge of brigades.

I now beg leave to add the following remarks: The expedition into Florida and its occupation we believe to be not a sanguinary one. No one expected, at least, a resistance so bold and stubborn, because no concentration by the enemy of 12,000 or 15,000 men was deemed possible; and our hospital preparations at the post, as well as in the field, had up to the time of the engagement remained a mere consolidated regimental affair in supplies. When under these circumstances the comparatively large number of cases have been well cared for, I feel it to be my duty to be thankful to the aid and assistance of the ever-ready and assiduous agent of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Mr. A. B. Day, and to the untiring exertions of our worthy colleague, Surg. William A. Smith, in charge of hospital. Under no ordinary circumstances should I have departed from the rule of not making requisition on the commission, and unless such an emergency had arisen in which our wants were urgent and large. Again, the very limited number of ambulances could not, inside the department, have been increased; therefore, transportation on army wagons and caissons could not well have been avoided; yet, in spite of these deficiencies, will any contribution to the surgical history of the war speak but favorably of the manner in which the medical officers bore themselves, to the credit of their profession and administration? True, such could not have been the case were the character of the wounds in the majority grave; but, happily, the number of slight cases is large, showing for the most part wounds of the lower extremities, with but few cases of operations. Five hundred at least will be able for duty in less than four weeks, and our loss therefore will be merely temporary. We have to regret the many casualties among officers, and the fact that we could not recover all our wounded, in spite of an effort made to do so, by requesting this privilege under a nag of truce. I made this proposition to the general commanding, and while he entertained the opinion that they ought to be well taken care of by the enemy, the general finally yielded to the request, which unfortunately has been refused by our opponents. Meanwhile, the number of our wounded retained at this post has been decreased to 165 by transfer of cases by hospital ship Cosmopolitan and transport steamers Dictator and Delaware, the hospital steamer making two trips within one week to Hilton Head and Beaufort, S.C.

It is, perhaps, not out of place to recommend that no general hospitals, above those already existing, be established, and especially that the general hospital at Jacksonville may merely be conducted as a receiving depot, whence to forward to the above hospitals, adding thereto Saint Augustine, Fla. The remoteness from the main depot of supplies of the department, with all its annoying and delaying circumstances, and the readiness with which the returning empty transports can be employed for transportation of sick and wounded, prompts me to come to this conclusion; and while the interior of Florida, in regard to healthfulness among a large command, is yet to be tested, there presents itself at the convalescent hospital at Saint Augustine a hospital arrangement which, when completed, will meet all demands of sanitary law, with no heavy expenses. Should the army of occupation advance toward Middle Florida, there will be an easy and quick communication with the delightful seaside of the old Spanish colony.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Surg., U.S. Vols., Chief Medical Officer, Dist. of Fla.


Medical Director.

Copied from The Official Records of the War of Rebellion.

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