The Battle of Olustee, also called Ocean Pond) was the largest Civil War battle in Florida. The battle lasted for six hours in the woods close to Olustee station on February 20, 1864. It has been described as one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War. Nearly 3,000 men out of the 11,000 who fought were lost.
The Union army’s goal was to launch an expedition from the coast to cut off supply lines to the Confederates. A second goal for them was to find African Americans to join their side. Three regiments of African American troops did fight well in this battle on the Federal side, but many of these men were lost.
Union Brigadier General Truman Seymour with 5,000 men began moving towards Lake City, west of Jacksonville, to destroy a railroad bridge and secure northern Florida. Confederate General Joseph Finegan with his 5,200 men met him near Olustee railroad station. A fierce battle raged on.
The Confederates, close to breaking the Yankee lines, were running low on ammunition. But more cartridges arrived and the attack continued. By late afternoon, Seymour realized the fight was lost and retreated back toward Jacksonville.
One of the men who fought at Olustee, Henry Shackelford of the 19th Georgia Infantry wrote home,
“The Yanks couldn’t stand before ‘Georgia Boys’ and finally gave way and ran, our boys pursuing. We got all their artillery, 8 pieces, took about 400 prisoners…”
He continues, “…we built big fires and then how we did enjoy captured coffee, sugar, hams, bread and everything else. We…then returned to our old camps ‘kivered’ with honor and glory.”
“To sum the whole thing up, we whipped the Yankees badly and they acknowledge it themselves. Our brigade did honor to themselves and their country. Proud old Georgia will never have cause to be ashamed of Colquitt’s Brigade.”
Brigadier General ALfred Colquitt, praised as the “Hero of Olustee” for his leadership during the battle reported:
”The gallantry and steady courage of officers and men during this engagement are beyond all praise. For more than four hours they struggled with unflinching firmness against superior numbers until they drove them in confusion and panic to seek safety in flight.”
The massive Confederate victory at Olustee ended the first major Union attempt to penetrate the interior of Florida. The Confederates kept control of Florida’s interior for the rest of the war.