Battle of Gainesville - Gainesville, Florida
|Battle of Gainesville, Florida
The battle took place at Gainesville's central
intersection and was a disaster for Union forces. It is
commemorated today by historical markers.
Battle of Gainesville, Florida
The engagement was the second
of two Civil War encounters that
took place in Gainesville. It ended
in victory for Captain J.J. Dickison.
The battle took place here in the
center of Gainesville. The main
fighting was at the intersection of
Main Street and University Avenue.
THE BATTLE OF GAINESVILLE
Florida's Swamp Fox does battle!
|Copyright 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.
Last Updated: August 17, 2014
Civil War Sites in Florida
A monument to soldiers of the
Confederacy stands on the site of
the Battle of Gainesville, just
yards from the key intersection
where the heaviest firing took
The Battle of Gainesville was small, fierce
action of the Civil War in Florida. It took place
at the city's key intersection on August 17,
"I...am sorry that I have little good news." So
began the report of Union Brig. Gen. John P.
Hatch on the raid he had sent against the
Florida Railroad at Gainesville. His forces
were badly defeated there by Capt. J.J.
Dickison, the Confederacy's famed "Swamp
Fox" of Florida.
The raid began when Col. Andrew L. Harris
of the Seventy-Fifth Ohio Infantry left Baldwin
near Jacksonville on August 15, 1864. His
command included 173 officers and men
from the Seventy-Fifth Ohio Volunteer Infantry
(mounted); 12 men with one cannon from
Company A, Third Rhode Island Artillery, and
15 cooks, blacksmiths, wagon drivers, etc.
After destroying a fortified picket post on the
New River, the raiding party advanced to
Starke where it was joined by 90 officers and
men from the Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry.
A party of 12-15 Florida Unionists also turned
out to help, raising the total strength of Harris'
command to around 310 men.
Hoping to strike Gainesville at first light on
August 17, the Federals marched through the
night. They arrived on schedule to find the
town occupied by one company from the
Second Florida Cavalry, numbering around
Company B, Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry
attacked and dislodged the Confederates,
forcing them to retreat. Believing the
immediate danger to be over, Col. Harris
allowed his men to feed their horses, make
coffee and engage in some looting.
Just 30 minutes later, however, pickets
pickets brought in news that a Confederate
column was approaching. Col. Harris had
the Seventy-fifth Ohio, now dismounted, take
up a position in "the fill of the Florida railroad"
and behind adjacent fences. The cannon
was aimed down the road and the remainder
of the Union force formed into a hasty reserve.
The Federals had just taken this new
position when the Confederates attacked:
...The enemy was checked in front, but he
immediately surrounded me with his whole
force, thus compelling me to send Company
B, Fourth Massachusetts Cavalry, to the rear
of the town, and throw portions of the
Seventy-fifth Ohio Volunteer Mounted Infantry
on both the right and left flank, thus
weakening my first line. (Col. Andrew L. Harris,
USA, to Maj. Edward L. Rogers, USA, August 23,
The Confederate force was headed by the
famed "Swamp Fox" of Florida, Capt. J.J.
Dickison. An officer in the Second Florida
Cavalry, he often commanded larger forces
than his rank might indicate.
This was the case at Gainesville, where the
captain's command consisted of two
companies (H and F) from the Second
Florida Cavalry, a detachment of 40 men
from the Fifth Florida Cavalry, local home
guards and at least two cannon. His total
strength was around 290 men, although only
175 took part in the actual fighting.
The Federals outnumbered Dickison and his
men but were taken by surprise. This alowed
the "Swamp Fox" and his men to hand Harris
a stunning defeat:
...After a forced march from Waldo they met
the enemy at Gainesville, and, undaunted by
the superiority of his numbers, attacked and
completely routed him. The fruits of this
victory were 221 of the enemy killed,
wounded, and taken prisoners, 1 piece of
artillery (all he had), 3 wagons, and a large
number of horses with their equipments
captured. Our loss was but 2 killed and 4
wounded. - Brig. Gen. John K. Jackson, CSA,
General Orders No. 41, August 26, 1864.
So dramatic was the Confederate victory at
Gainesville that the Union commander, Col.
Harris, believed that Dickison had brought
600-800 men into the fight instead of the 175
After holding off the Confederate attacks for
about two hours, Harris decided to retreat.
His men fell back, but the Confederates were
on their heels. The retreat turned into a
disaster when some of the Federals took the
wrong road and were captured. Harris and
his men lost their only piece of artillery and
the retreat became a rout.
Brig. Gen. John K. Hatch, the overall Union
commander in Florida, correctly deduced that
the cause of the disaster was the fact that
Harris had "undoubtedly allowed his men to
scatter through the town and, I fear, to
Final U.S. losses at the Battle of Gainesville
were 28 killed, 5 wounded and 188 captured
(some of whom had been wounded). Final
Confederate losses were only 1 killed and 5
wounded. Two of Dickison's wounded later
died and final C.S. losses were 3 killed and 3
The site of the Battle of Gainesville is not
preserved as a park area, but can be viewed
around the intersection of Main Street and
University Avenue in Gainesville, Florida. A
marker can be seen in front of the Municipal
Building one block east.
Cannon used at Gainesville?
This small howitzer displayed at
the Silver River Museum in Ocala
is said to have been used by
forces under Captain Dickison.