Friday, October 17, 2014

Olustee, Florida February 1864

In January 1864, General Truman Seymour's expeditionary force set out to capture Jacksonville, Florida.  Among Seymour's troops were the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment - with James Furman, of Washington, still in its ranks with Company E, the First North Carolina (Colored) Regiment, and the 8th Regiment US Colored Troops, which included Abram Andrews, of Washington, in his first military campaign.  On February 7, Jacksonville was captured without resistance.  The troops moved inland on February 8 to capture Camp Vinegar.
On February 17, without permission from General Quincey Adams Gillmore, Seymour decided to march toward the Suwanee River, 100 miles from Jacksonville, without first learning the location of General Joseph Finnegan's Confederate troops.  Seymour's expedition moved forward without first making a reconnaissance of the area and without flanking patrols.  Seymour's columns extended for several miles. 
On February 20, after two days marching, the troops stopped near Olustee.  In front was a large swamp and a large wooded area.  General Seymour did not know the wooded area was filled with Finnegan's Confederates.  Confederate artillery, riflemen and sharpshooters opened fire on the Union troops.  After 20 minutes of continuous rebel gunfire, 80 percent of the Union artillery was wiped out.  Without artillery support General Seymour still decided to continue the fight.
 The Seventh Connecticut and the Seventh New Hampshire Regiments came under heavy fire and were beginning to weaken.  The Eighth USCT Regiment was ordered to move up to support the two weakening regiments.  The 9th USCT arrived in time to see the other two regiments retreating.  The 8th USCT Regiment was nearly surrounded by Confederates, but it held its ground for more than two hours before heavy losses forced the regiments to fall back. 
The 54th Mass. and 1st North Carolina Regiments  were ordered to move forward and hold back the Confederate troops until Seymour could rally his retreating troops and place his remaining guns in a good position.  At 4:00 p.m., General Seymour ordered the black regiments to retreat toward his position.  When the Confederates pursued the retreating Union troops, Seymour's guns opened fire and broke the rebel advance. 
Of the 1,861 total Union losses, 627 were from the three black regiments.  The 8th USCT Regiment suffered 50 killed, 187 wounded and 73 missing in action; the 1st North Carolina [later known as the 35th USCT Regiment] suffered 21 killed, 132 wounded and 77 missing; and the 54th Massachusetts suffered 13 killed, 66 wounded and 8 missing.  Furman and Andrew survived and mustered out of Federal Service with their regiments in 1865.
Copyright 1999-2014: Jay C. Richards

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