Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day in Florida - Olustee Battlefield

Continuing our look at some places in Florida that hold special significance for Memorial Day visits, Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park was the scene of the greatest loss of life of any military event in our state's history.

Fought on February 20, 1864, the Civil War battle was the largest military engagement in Florida history. The battlefield is located on U.S. 90 near the town of Olustee, 15 miles east of Lake City and only 3 miles off Interstate 10. It is open to the public daily.

The Battle of Olustee developed when a Union army of more than 5,000 men pushed inland from Jacksonville in a bold push to destroy the vital bridge over the Suwannee River. Protected by Confederate forts, the bridge was the only rail link between East and West Florida.

Commanded by General Truman A. Seymour, who advanced despite orders to the contrary, the expedition followed the Florida and Atlantic-Gulf Central Railroad west into the interior of Florida. Seymour believed he would face only token opposition that could easily be swept aside, but failed to detect signs of stiffening resistance that indicated a major battle was building.

Instead of token resistance, he marched his army into the jaws of a waiting Confederate army commanded by General Joseph Finegan. Surprising the Federals, Finegan used his cavalry to draw Seymour's army into waiting battle lines formed by General A.R. Colquitt. As Colquitt positioned his men to overlap both flanks of the oncoming Union column, Finegan continued to push reinforcements forward from their pre-battle position at Olustee Station.

The result was a disaster for the Union forces. Colquitt drove through successive Federal positions, shattering Union regiments and ultimately forcing Seymour to withdraw. By the end of the day, the Union army was falling back on Jacksonville in a disastrous retreat.

Losses during the battle reflected the one-sided nature of the defeat. Union troops lost more than 200 killed, 1,152 wounded and 506 missing in action. Southern forces lost 93 killed, 847 wounded and 6 missing. The combined total of roughly 300 men killed and 2,000 wounded made Olustee the bloodiest day in Florida history.

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