The Battle of Olustee
General Seymour described
the battlefield as open and
firm, but claimed he had been
severely outnumbered. He
actually had the larger force.
The 54th Massachusetts
The famed African American
unit, the 54th Massachusetts
Infantry, occupied this ground
during the battle.
The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Union Reports
The Battle of Olustee, Florida - Union Reports
The following excerpts are from The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official
Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
, Series I, Volume 35, Part One. The documents
reproduced here provide insight into the political objectives of the expedition and Gen.
Seymour's advance without orders.

Letter from President Abraham Lincoln to Major General Q.A. Gillmore
January 13, 1864

I understand an effort is being made by some worthy gentlemen to reconstruct a loyal State
government in Florida. Florida is in your department, and it is not unlikely that you may be there
in person. I have given Mr. Hay a commission of major and sent him to you with some blank
books and other blanks to aid in the reconstruction. He will explain as to the manner of using
the blanks, and also my general views on the subject. It is desirable for all to co-operate; but if
irreconcilable differences of opinion shall arise, you are master. I wish the thing done in the
most speedy way possible, so that when done it will be within the range of the late
proclamation on the subject. The detail labor, of course, will have to be done by others, but I
shall be greatly obliged if you will give it such general supervision as you can find convenient
with your more strictly military duties.

Major General Q.A. Gillmore to Maj. Gen. H.W. Halleck, General in Chief
January 31, 1864

…I beg leave to state that the objects and advantages to be secured by the occupation of that
portion of Florida within my reach, viz, the richest portions between the Suwannee and the
Saint John’s Rivers, are: First. To procure an outlet for cotton, lumber, timber, turpentine and
the other products of that State. Second. To cut off one of the enemy’s sources of commissary
supplies. He now draws largely upon the herds of Florida for his beef, and is making
preparations to take up a portion of the Fernandina and Saint Mark’s Railroad for the purpose
of connecting the road from Jacksonville to Tallahassee with Thomasville, on the Savannah,
Albany and Gulf Railroad, and perhaps with Albany, on the Southwestern Railroad. Third. To
obtain recruits for my colored regiments. Fourth. To inaugurate measures for the speedy
restoration of Florida to her allegiance, in accordance with instructions which I have received
from the President by the hands of Maj. John Hay, assistant adjutant-general.

Maj. Gen. Q.A. Gillmore to Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour
February 18, 1864

…You say that by the time your letter of the 17th should reach these headquarters your forces
would be in motion beyond Barber’s, moving toward the Suwannee River, and that you shall
rely on my making a display upon the Savannah River, with “naval forces, transports, sailing
vessels,” and with iron-clads up from Wassaw, &c., as a demonstration in your favor, which
you look upon “as of great importance.” All this is upon the presumption that the
demonstration can and will be made; although contingent not only upon my power and
disposition to do so, but upon the consent of Admiral Dahlgren, with whom I cannot
communicate in less than two days. You must have forgotten my last instructions, which were
for the present to hold Baldwin and the Saint Mary’s South Fork, as your outposts to the
westward of Jacksonville, and to occupy Palatka, Magnolia, on the Saint John’s. Your project
distinctly and avowedly ignores these operations and substitutes a plan which not only
involves your command in a distant movement, without provisions, far beyond a point from
which you once withdrew on account of precisely the same necessity, but presupposes a
simultaneous demonstration of “great importance” to you elsewhere, over which you have no
control, and which requires the co-operation of the navy. It is impossible for me to determine
what your views are with respect to Florida matters, and this is the reason I have endeavored
to make mine known to you so fully….

Report of Brigadier General Truman Seymour
March 25, 1864

I have the honor to report that on February 20, at 6 a.m., I left my position on the South Fork of
the Saint Mary’s (Barber’s plantation) with the intention of advancing on Lake City, and, if
successful, of destroying the railroad communication between East and West Florida at the
Suwannee River, such being the general plan of operations upon which the occupation and
control of East Florida had been founded….

…Accurate information, it was believed, as to the enemy’s strength had been obtained, and
the excellent character of the troops under my command forbade any doubt as to the propriety
of a conflict on equal terms. After a march of 15 miles, and about 3 p.m., Colonel Henry’s
cavalry came upon the enemy’s infantry pickets somewhat to the east of Olustee. A couple of
companies from the Seventh Connecticut soon drove them back upon their supports, which
opened fire. Captain Elder felt them with his guns, the remainder of the Seventh Connecticut
was handsomely deployed forward, and under this display the enemy’s position in line of
battle was clearly developed. The ground was favorable for the movement of troops, being firm
and even, and although covered with pine timber, was devoid of underbrush. My intention was
to engage the enemy in front with the artillery, supported by a regiment on either flank, while a
brigade should be moved to the right so as to fall upon the prolongation of his line. The
Seventh New Hampshire was accordingly thrown forward to the right, and the Eighth U.S.
Colored Troops to the left, and Hamilton’s and Langdon’s batteries were brought up
alongside of Elder’s. The Seventh Connecticut had been energetically and successfully
engaged in its work of driving in the enemy’s skirmishers; it was now withdraw from before our
infantry. The Seventh New Hampshire, an old regiment, armed in part with the Spencer rifle,
had scarcely deployed and felt the enemy’s fire before it broke in confusion, and the most
strenuous efforts of Colonel Hawley and its own colonel, assisted by Lieutenant-Colonel Hall,
of my staff, could not reform or rally it, and this regiment counted as nothing during the
remainder of the engagement. The Eighth U.S. Colored Troops formed promptly in position,
lead by the gallant young Fribley, but he soon fell, and these men also, losing the stimulus of
his command, gave way in disorder. The enemy closed up after these yielding regiments, and
brought a close fire upon the artillery, which, nevertheless, was worked by its admirable
officers with perfect tenacity and coolness. An unremitting fire was maintained upon the enemy’
s infantry, with the very best effect. Barton’s brigade, close at hand, was now formed on the
ground occupied by the Seventh New Hampshire, and the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts had
replaced the Eighth U.S. Colored Troops and a rapid fire was opened, the influence of which
was soon visible. The left of the enemy’s line was forced backward, and in the hope of still
effecting my original intention, the First North Carolina was brought up to the right of Barton’s
brigade by Lieutenant-Colonel Reed in the most brilliant manner. The entire force was now
hotly engaged save the cavalry. Colonel Henry watched the flanks and prevents on the left a
movement of the enemy’s cavalry that threatened trouble. But the disparity in numbers was too
great and the defense too obstinate to permit of decisive results. The struggle continued until
dusk, and ended with cheers of defiance, and finding it hopeless, under existing
circumstances, to advance farther, the troops were withdrawn in perfect order to Sanderson
and then to the Saint Mary’s, Colonel Henry’s cavalry, supported by the Seventh Connecticut,
serving as rear guard. From loss of horses alone, I was compelled to leave six guns on the
field, and a small portion of the badly wounded were left in the power of the enemy from
insufficient means to remove them.

Report of Major General Q.A. Gillmore
November 1, 1865

In the foregoing report of Brigadier-General Seymour, he says he moved forward on February
20 –

With the intention of advancing on Lake City, and, if successful, of destroying the railroad
communications between East and West Florida at the Suwannee River, such being the
general plan of operations upon which the occupation and control of East Florida had been

In reference to the above statement I will say that General Seymour was never intrusted, and it
was never my intention to intrust him with the execution of any general plan in Florida. I
confided to him the objects I had in view in occupying East Florida, and the salient features of
the plan by which I proposed to secure those objects. But he was never authorized to advance
beyond the South Fork of the Saint Mary’s River in my absence. On the contrary, he had plain
and explicit instructions with regard to what was expected and required of him, and the ill-
judged advance beyond the South Fork of the Saint Mary’s River was in direct disregard of
those instructions, and the disastrous battle of Olustee its legitimate fruit. General Seymour
says, “But the disparity in numbers was too great, and the defense too obstinate to permit of
decisive results” at the battle of Olustee. We now know since the close of the war that there
was no “disparity in numbers,” and we knew at the time that the “results” were a “decisive”
defeat upon the field of battle and the frustration – as well by loss of men as by loss of prestige
– of a well and carefully digested plan of campaign. General Finegan, who was in command of
the enemy’s forces, told two members of my staff (Capt. D.S. Leslie, One hundred and fourth U.
S. Colored Troops, and Capt. Henry Seton, Fifty-fourth New York) that he had only about 5,000
men at the battle. General Seymour had 5,500 men. Our losses were 1,800 men in killed,
wounded and missing, 39 horses, and 6 pieces of artillery. Indeed, our forces appear to have
been surprised into fighting, or attempting to fight, an offensive battle, in which the component
parts of the command were beaten in detail. The enemy did not fight behind intrenchments or
any kind of defenses.
Murders at Olustee
Eyewitnesses, both Northern
and Southern, reported that
wounded Union soldiers
were killed after the battle.
Colquitt Monument
This stone at Olustee
memorializes Brig. Gen.
Alfred H. Colquitt, the
commander of the Southern
advance during the battle.
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Last Updated: February 19, 2014