Every year, we travel about an hour west to the Lake City, Florida area to participate in the Civil War Battle Reenactment at Olustee. This year was my 17th year doing so and was really looking forward to another at Olustee. Unfortunately, the weather did not really cooperate….well, it did, just not on the right schedule.
The Battle of Olustee or Battle of Ocean Pond was fought in Baker County, Florida on 20 February 1864, during the American Civil War. It was the largest battle fought in Florida during the American Civil War.
In February 1864, Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commander of the Union’s Department of the South at Hilton Head, South Carolina, ordered an expedition into Florida to secure Union enclaves, sever Confederate supply routes (especially for beef and salt), and recruit black soldiers. Brigadier General Truman Seymour, in command of the expedition, landed troops at Jacksonville, in an area already seized by the Union in March 1862 of the Civil War. Seymour’s forces then made several raids into northeast and north-central Florida. During these raids he met little resistance, seized several Confederate camps, captured small bands of troops and artillery pieces, liberated slaves, etc. However, Seymour was under orders from Gillmore not to advance deep into the state.
Seymour’s preparations at Hilton Head, South Carolina had concerned the Confederate command in the key port city of Charleston, South Carolina during the Civil War. General P. G. T. Beauregard, correctly guessing Seymour’s objective was Florida, felt these Union actions posed enough of a threat for him to detach reinforcements under Georgian Alfred H. Colquitt to bolster Florida’s defenses and stop Seymour. Colquitt arrived in time to reinforce Florida troops under the command of Brigadier General Joseph Finegan. As Colquitt’s troops began arriving, Seymour, without Gillmore’s knowledge, began a new drive across north Florida with the capture of Tallahassee as a possible objective.
Following the Florida, Atlantic and Gulf Central Railroad, Seymour led his 5,500 men in the direction of Lake City. At approximately 2:30 in the afternoon of February 20, the Union force approached General Finegan’s 5,000 Confederates entrenched near Olustee Station. Finegan sent out an infantry brigade to meet Seymour’s advance units and lure them into the Confederate entrenchments, but this plan went awry. The opposing forces met at Ocean Pond and the Civil War battle began. Seymour made the mistake of assuming that he was once again facing Florida militia units that he had previously routed with ease and committed his troops piecemeal into the Civil War battle. Finegan and Seymour both reinforced their engaged units during the afternoon and the battle took place in open pine woods. The Union forces attacked but were savagely repulsed by withering barrages of rifle and cannon fire.
The civil war battle raged throughout the afternoon until, as Finegan committed the last of his reserves, the Union line broke and began to retreat. Finegan did not exploit the retreat, allowing most of the fleeing Union forces to reach Jacksonville. However, the Confederates did make a final attempt to engage the rear element of Seymour’s forces just before nightfall, but they were repulsed by elements of the famous 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and the 35th United States Colored Troops, both composed of African-American soldiers. The Confederate cavalry commander received criticism for failing to pursue the retreating Union forces.
We arrived at the Olustee National Battlefield for the civil war reenactment on Friday, got registered, picked out our campsite and set up camp. We no more than get our tents up than the skies open up. It rained for most of Friday night and the Weather Channel was predicting more of the same (and worse) for Saturday afternoon and night. The forest rangers closed our exit road Friday night and we were afraid that they’d do the same on Saturday night; keeping us “locked in” until late Sunday afternoon, after the civil war reenactment had concluded.
Between thunderstorms and being locked in with several 6-8 year olds, we decided to pull up stakes early Saturday morning; leaving the civil war behind and head back to civilization. As you’ll see in the video, we did manage to visit the sutlers and pick up a few goodies before heading home. To our dismay, Saturday and Sunday turned out to be beautiful days and we should have stayed in camp. Oh well….if we’d stayed, it would have poured. At least that’s how I justify it.
What would you have done? What would make you end a vacation or travel adventure early?