|Union Mass Grave Memorial at Olustee Battlefield|
Darkness fell on a bloody field that stretched for almost two miles along the roads and railroad east of what is now the town of Olustee. The Federals retreated from the battlefield exhausted and badly bloodied, while the Confederates at well had sustained significant casualties. Men roamed the battlefield helping the wounded as they could and collecting weapons and supplies.
|Route of the Retreat (Olustee is at far left)|
The Union army, meanwhile, did not stop for the night but continued its retreat. Pushing on to Sanderson and from there back across the South Prong of the Little St. Mary's to Barber's Plantation and Baldwin, General Seymour was taking no chances that Finegan, Colquitt and Harrison would close in and destroy his army the next day. By sunrise the next morning, his men had marched well over 30 miles in 24 hours, had fought a bloody battle and were so exhausted they could barely move.
Giving his men only the briefest rest, General Seymour retreated even from Baldwin on February 22, 1864, 148 years ago today:
|Gen. Truman Seymour, USA|
As Seymour's report to his commander, General Quincy A. Gillmore showed, he had by then convinced himself that he had opposed an army much longer than his own at Olustee. So bad was the defeat inflicted on him that he and other officers became convinced that they had been fought by a Confederate force of more than 10,000 men. The Confederates were convinced, meanwhile, that they had defeated a Union army of more than 10,000 men. In truth, both armies were approximately the same size, although the Federals had a slight edge in men and a larger edge in artillery.
General Gillmore, who knew now that his Florida Campaign had been defeated, put things in proper perspective after the war:
|Union Wounded were treated at Lake City's Improvised Hospital|
|Gen. Joseph Finegan, CSA|
Sadly for the more than 1,800 Union soldiers killed, wounded or captured in the battle, General Gillmore's orders to General Seymour to halt his unauthorized advance were delayed in reaching Florida by stormy weather in the Atlantic and by the time the orders reached Jacksonville, Olustee was over.
The Confederates remained on the battlefield caring for the wounded, burying the dead and collecting the 1,600 stand of small arms left on the ground by the retreating Federals. Then on the 22nd, Finegan and his army began to move forward. Having repaired the damage inflicted on the railroad by Seymour's retreating troops, he pushed to Sanderson by the night of the 22nd and then crossed the South Prong of the St. Mary's to Barber's Plantation. He then advanced to Baldwin and eventually to McGirt's Creek between Baldwin and Jacksonville.
You can learn more about the Battle of Olustee anytime at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.