|Artist's Conception of the Battle of Olustee|
As the Confederate cavalry was advancing to engage the head of the approaching Union column, General Joseph Finegan decided to strength the troops from the Thirty-second and Sixty-fourth Georgia Infantry regiments he had sent out beyond his fortified lines.
His plan seems to have been to wage a defense in tiers. His cavalry would engage first, then fall back onto an infantry line which would then engage the enemy lightly and draw him on to Finegan's main line of breastworks. This would slow the Federal advance and give his men more time, possibly even a complete night, to continue work on their incomplete fortifications.
It was a reasonable plan for fighting Seymour, but opportunities soon opened that were too good for the Confederate generals to ignore.
|Gen. A.H. Colquitt, CSA|
With help from his staff, the general formed his men in a line of battle just back from the first crossing of the railroad and Lake City road east of the main line at Olustee. Gamble's battery was placed in the center to fire straight down the open corridors created by the road and railroad. Infantry was placed on each of his flanks. Orders were sent forward to the cavalry line for Colonel Carraway Smith to form half of his brigade on each of the flanks of this line when he was forced to fall back ahead of the Union main body.
|The Railroad at Olustee Battlefield|
Realizing that he had a chance to draw the Federals into a trap that might well crush them, Colquitt formed his force into a line of battle and prepared to meet the enemy.
|Cannon at Olustee Battlefield|
As Harrison's brigade was moving forward, the Confederate cavalry was forced back on Colquitt's main line. In a last second bit of caution, General Seymour decided to fire a cannon shot at the withdrawing Confederates to see what they would do:
Seeing the Federal infantry forming in his front, General Colquitt moved immediately to send a shock through the enemy's ranks by ordering his battle lines forward:
...The line of infantry was then ordered to advance, which was gallantly done, the enemy contesting the ground and giving way slowly. Perceiving that the enemy were in strong force, I sent back for re-enforcements and a fresh supply of ammunition. The Sixth Florida Battalion and Twenty-third Georgia Regiment soon arrived for my support. - Gen. A.H. Colquitt, CSA, February 26, 1864.
|Col. George P. Harrison, CSA|
...I had scarcely put my command in the double-quick when the report of artillery in my front indicated that the fight had opened. Quickening our pace, we moved on until within a few hundred yards of the place where the road we were upon crossed the railroad. Here I halted for a moment, but observing General Colquitt forming his line, and seeing the enemy's position across the railroad, who was then sweeping the front of my column with a battery in position near the cross-roads, I moved to the left in double-quick, crossed the railroad, and formed line of battle upon the left of that just established by General Colquitt. - Col. George P. Harrison, CSA, February 22, 1864.
All this was done under heavy Union fire. A critical situation developed as Harrison was coming up when Federal artillery disabled the caissons and killed the horses of the Leon Light Artillery, which was fighting from the center of the Confederate line. Finegan, however, had already sent forward the famed Chatham Artillery to Colquitt's support. The battery had first formed on the Confederate right, but quickly moved to a new position in the center where it replaced Gamble's bloodied men.
The engagement was now fully underway. Please click here to continue to Part Three: Victory in the Pine Woods.
I will post more on the Battle of Olustee later today, so be sure to check back. You can also read more at www.exploresouthernhistory.com/olustee.