Report from Brigadier General
Commanding Officer, U.S. Forces, District of Florida,
Explaining the Defeat at Olustee
HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
Jacksonville, Fla., February 22, 1864
Brig. Gen. J.W. Turner, Chief of Staff:
GENERAL: I am in receipt of a communication from the major-general commanding the department, of the 18th instant, but I do not think it advisable at present to enter fully into a consideration of the points therein referred to, so much have the events of the last few days modified the condition of affairs under my command.
On the morning of February 20, I moved from Barber's, with all the disposable force at my control, with the intention of meeting the enemy (supposed to be from 4,000 to 5,000 strong, according to the best information I could obtain) at or near Lake City, and of then pushing the mounted force to the Suwannee River, to destroy if possible the railroad bridge at that stream. On the afternoon of the 20th, within 3 miles of Olustee, I came upon the enemy, intrenched, and after a severe action decided to retire, leaving upon the field five guns, and not a few dead and wounded. Of course the object of the movement was entirely frustrated, and from all that I could learn the enemy was in largely superior force and was intending to advance upon the position at Barber's, and was only delayed by the belief that this movement of mine was in progress. And so greatly superior in force is the enemy that the position at Barber's against him would be entirely insecure, as the left flank could be readily turned so that an action would have been with our backs on the Saint Mary's. This post is accordingly evacuated. The same objections apply to Baldwin with equal strength. Everything was removed from that place, and Colonel Henry was directed to remain as a rear guard, and he has doubtless fallen back to-night to McGirt's Creek. The infantry is behind Six-Mile Creek, on the King's road, and the Cedar Creek, on the Lake City road. How long it will remain there depends upon the movement of the enemy and my judgment as to the necessity of a less extensive and more easily defended position.
In reply, partly, to the letter from the major-general commanding, of the 18th, I must add that my movements have been entirely and fully in accordance with my views of the designs expressed to me by him, modified as I have a right to modify them by a personal presence and command. I opposed a permanent occupation of Lake City, as the major-general desired, because it could not be supplied with the (to this movement) utterly worthless railroad transportation at my command, and I therefore recommended the permanent holding of the South Fork of the Saint Mary's; but, of course, I expected to advance from this last point whenever and wherever it might seem proper, and as the provisions were accumulated at Barber's for the sufficient time, I saw no reason why I should not carry out the major-general's expressed desire—that is, to push on to the Suwannee, and, by cutting that bridge, hinder any strong occupation of West Florida by the enemy. I have stated the result. I did not consider that I was committing any violation of the general plan of operations, nor do I believe so now. If the troops are under my command and are expected to be active against the enemy, I presume the major-general commanding has sufficient confidence in my judgment to leave such points somewhat to my decision. If I am in error I shall doubtless be informed. I must also add that, under the present aspect of affairs, I do not consider it proper to occupy Magnolia or Palatka, which modification of the plan agreed upon between Major-General Gillmore and myself will, I trust, be approved by him. And there are not a few of the details of the instructions of February 19, relative to the construction of defensive works at the South Fork of the Saint Mary's, at Baldwin, and at Jacksonville, that I think are incorrect, or rather should be modified, and I earnestly request that some latitude may be allowed me in such matters, and that I be not so bound by instructions concerning matters that can be perfectly originated and carried out here, by the proper officers, that I must be placed in the unpleasant position of disobeying them outright, or of doing what my experience and judgment tell me clearly is not to be approved by the posture of affairs. And I am sure that I desire no more than is naturally to be claimed by any office, of my rank and experience.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Copied from The Official Records of the War of Rebellion.
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