The Battle of Olustee was a
fierce stand up fight that took
place across hundreds of
acres of open pine forest.
Casualties were severe.
Monuments at Olustee
Unlike many major
battlefields, Olustee is largely
pristine. These monuments
stand near the visitor center.
The Battle of Olustee - Olustee, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Battle of Olustee, Florida
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - The Battle of Olustee, Florida
Olustee Battlefield State Park
On February 20, 1864, a major Civil War
battle took place in the open pine woods
between Jacksonville and Lake City, Florida.
A stunning Confederate victory, the Battle of
Olustee was the largest Civil War battle
fought in Florida and dashed Union dreams
of conquering the state in time for its
electoral votes to figure in the 1864
The site today is preserved through a joint
effort of Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park
and the Osceola National Forest. Visitors to
the battlefield can explore a small museum,
walk along the extensive battle lines and see
the mass grave where hundreds of Union
soldiers were buried. Olustee Battlefield is
located along U.S. Highway 90 just east of
Olustee and about 15 miles east of Lake
City, Florida. It is only 3 miles off Interstate 10.
The battle actually developed in political
strategy meetings in the White House of
President Abraham Lincoln. Concerned
about his chances for reelection, Lincoln and
his advisors devised a plan to invade Florida
and return that state to the Union in time for
the 1864 elections.
Because Florida was lightly defended, it was
thought that a military occupation of at least
the eastern portions of the state might prove
Launched by sea from Hilton Head Island in
South Carolina, the invasion came ashore at
Jacksonville. Occupying the city, Union troops
easily drove away the small Confederate
forces in the area and occupied a permanent
Confederate camp near the city.
What followed, however, was a fiasco of the
first order. Disobeying orders to remain on
the defensive, Union General Truman
Seymour marched west the St. Johns River
with an army of nearly 5,500 men. Included
among his regiments was the famed African
American unit, the 54th Massachusetts
Seymour's objectives were Lake City and the
railroad bridge over the Suwannee River. His
advance took place along the Lake City and
Jacksonville Road, a dirt path that roughly
paralleled the Florida and Atlantic-Gulf
As the Union army advanced, Confederate
cavalry skirmished and fell back ahead of it,
drawing the Federals toward the main
Southern army that was forming at Olustee.
Hoping to fight a defensive battle,
Confederate General Joseph Finegan had
ordered the construction of a line of
earthworks at Olustee Station on the railroad.
The unfinished defenses stretched from
Ocean Pond on the north to a large swamp
south of the railroad. It was not a particularly
strong line, as the nature of country offered
few natural advantages for defense.
Thanks to quick action by Confederate
General P.G.T. Beauregard, Southern troops
had flooded south from Savannah and
Charleston to join Finegan's beleaguered
force. Beauregard successfully disguised the
fact that he was pulling men from his main
lines to reinforce Florida and by the time
Seymour advanced on February 20, 1864, the
Confederates also had an army of around
5,000 men in place and ready for battle.
Finegan's plan was to draw the advancing
Union army to his fortifications at Olustee
Station, but unexpectedly his advance forces
began to show signs of stopping the
Federals several miles to the east. He
advanced additional troops to the scene,
under the command of Brig. Gen. Alfred R.
Colquitt, and a sharp battle developed in the
open pine woods.
|The Guns of Olustee
Florida's largest Civil War battle was fought in the
open pine woods near Olustee. The battlefield
became Florida's first state park.
Colquitt demonstrated considerable tactical
skill and kept pouring men into line in
positions that allowed him to overlap both
flanks of the developing Union line. Seymour
tried to respond by pushing more of his own
men forward, but the Confederates had
seized the initiative.
In response to Colquitt's calls for additional
troops, Finegan moved his entire army
forward. Their lines stretching for over one
mile, the Confederates engaged in a fierce
firefight with the Union troops.
After hours of fighting, the hard-pressed
Federal lines began to crumble and the
battle turned into a rout.
By the time the smoke had cleared,
Seymour's army had sustained roughly 40%
casualties. This was the greatest loss in
percentage of total force experienced by the
Union during the entire Civil War.
The Union army withdrew back to
Jacksonville, leaving the Confederates in
complete command of the battlefield. The
bodies of thousands of men, both killed and
wounded, littered the scene.
More than 200 Union soldiers were killed in
the fighting and were buried in a mass grave
on the battlefield. In addition, the Federals
lost 1,152 wounded and 506 missing, most
of whom were captured.
Confederate losses in the battle included 93
killed, 847 wounded and 6 missing.
The massive number of wounded left on the
battlefield at Olustee stretched Confederate
resources almost to the breaking point.
Injured soldiers were spread out to hospitals
across Florida, Georgia and Alabama for
The massive Confederate victory at Olustee
ended the first major Union attempt to
penetrate the interior of Florida. Subsequent
attempts ended at the Battle of Marianna on
September 27, 1864, and the Battle of
Natural Bridge on March 6, 1865.
Mass Grave at Olustee
The Union dead from the
Battle of Olustee were buried
in a mass grave. This cross
now marks the site.
Cannon at Olustee
Due to the open nature of the
fight, artillery inflicted severe
casualties during the Battle of
Visitors to Olustee can follow
trails that lead along the battle
lines. Displays provide an
overview of the battle and a
better understanding of the
Well-marked walking paths
now lead visitors along the
positions of the armies at the
Battle of Olustee.
|Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.