At the end of 1863 the Federal forces in the Department of the South were tied up in siege operations against Charleston and Savannah, operations that showed little progress or promise. The commander of the Department, Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, led an expedition into Florida to recruit blacks, cut off commissary supplies headed for other parts of the Confederacy, and disrupt the railroad system within Florida. Expedition forces landed at Jacksonville on February 7, 1864.
The engagement at Olustee, not far from Gainesville, took place on February 20, 1864. it was the largest Civil War battle in Florida and one of the bloodiest Union defeats of the entire war. Nonetheless, because the engagement forced the Confederacy to divert 15,000 men from the thinly manned defense of Charleston and Savannah, it delayed critical reinforcement of the Army of Tennessee, which was fighting desperately to prevent the Union invasion of northwestern Georgia. Makin use of detailed maps and diagrams, Nulty presents a vivid account of this fascination Civil War effort.
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About the Author
William H. Nulty, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S.M.C. (ret.), is an instructor at Orange Park High School, Orange Park, Florida.
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The Road to Olustee
By William H. Nulty
The University of Alabama PressCopyright © 1990 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
The Jilted Bride
Florida's Early Years in the Confederacy
On the day Florida adopted its ordinance of secession, January 10, 1861, U.S. troops were transferred from Barrancas Barracks to Fort Pickens in Pensacola harbor. There was good reason for the Union to take this precaution. A number of Florida's more ambitious citizens, aided and abetted by such people as the state's U.S. congressmen and the governor, had not waited for such formalities as the secession convention before taking action. On January 5, U.S. senator David Levy Yulee sent a message to "Joseph Finegan or Colonel George W. Call" in Tallahassee stating that the "immediately important thing to be done" was the occupation of the Federal forts and arsenals in Florida, giving first priority to taking the naval station and military installations at Pensacola before the Federal government could reinforce them. He continued on to emphasize the need for the earliest possible organization of a "Southern Confederacy and of a Southern Army" adopting, for the present, the existent Federal Constitution. Unfortunately for the South, the political and military organization of the Confederacy was not easily accomplished.
It would take over a year before the Confederacy could move through the various stages of a provisional government to a more formal one. During this progression, a great deal of misdirection, confusion, duplication of effort, critical omissions, and wastage of scarce resources took place. This national situation was repeated on a lower level within the various states that made up the emerging Confederacy, and Florida was no exception. The early burst of patriotic enthusiasm that had led to secession eroded among the harsh realities of mobilization for a war that no one had adequately planned or prepared for, one which was vastly different, conducted on a much larger scale than had ever been experienced by the participants, and lasting much longer than anticipated. The first year under the provisional government was a critical one in deciding the direction of the war. For Florida, it was one of great frustration and disappointment. In a hurry to be one of the first to secede, she found herself as one of the first abandoned by the Confederacy. With little to offer, requiring much, and highly vulnerable, Florida was a liability to both herself and the Confederacy.
Senator Yulee's suggestion to seize Federal installations prior to Florida's secession was not his first challenge to the Federal government. On December 21, 1860, he had requested from the secretary of war a list of U.S. Army officers appointed from Florida, and on the twenty-eighth, in conjunction with Sen. Stephen R. Mallory, Yulee had asked for a detailed listing of the numerical strength of troops garrisoning Federal posts in Florida, including their arms and ammunition. On January 7, Yulee and Mallory again requested the information about the Federal installations and finally received a reply from the Federal secretary of war on January 9 denying them the requested information.
On the same day that Senator Yulee had written Finegan and Call to encourage them to initiate action to seize the Pensacola installations, Governor Perry had sent a letter to a Colonel Duryea (or Dunn) authorizing him to raise a company, proceed in secrecy to the Federal arsenal at Chattahoochee, and seize it along with all arms and ammunition located at that site—with assistance, if needed, available from the Seventh Regiment, Florida Militia. The arsenal was seized the morning of January 6, with a loss to the Federal government of one six-pounder gun, fifty-seven flintlock muskets, 173,476 rounds of musket cartridges, and 5,122 pounds of gunpowder. A desperate ordnance sergeant telegraphed his superior in Washington reporting this seizure and requested instructions. His message was followed by one from the ordnance sergeant in charge of Fort Marion at St. Augustine on January 7, reporting its seizure "by the order of the governor of the State of Florida." Fort Clinch, unoccupied and unfinished and, at least on paper, defending Fernandina, was taken by state troops a few days after Fort Marion was seized.
As early as November 1860, while traveling through Florida, U.S. Army captain M. C. Meigs concluded from his observations of the people and their feelings that there would be attempts on Federal installations in the state, and he so warned General Scott. The Federal commander of the garrison at Key West had echoed this warning, but he received no instructions. While, in fact, orders had been issued by the national government on January 4 detailing reinforcements for both the Key West and Pensacola areas, they would be either too late to be effective or not received in time to prevent takeovers by state troops of some of the Federal installations. On January 12, state troops seized Barrancas Barracks, Forts Barrancas and McRee, and the navy yard at Pensacola. On January 14, upon hearing of the adoption of the ordinance of secession, Federal captain John M. Brannan at Key West moved his force of forty-four men from their barracks into the interior of Fort Taylor. He acted without instructions from Washington, anticipating the orders that, unknown to him, had already been issued but would not get to Key West until almost two weeks after he had acted.
Lt. Adam Slemmer, who commanded the Fort Barrancas garrison, now withdrawn into Fort Pickens at Pensacola, found himself isolated and besieged, awaiting instructions, supplies, and reinforcements in a situation similar to one Major Anderson was in at Fort Sumter in South Carolina. With a garrison of 81 men, Slemmer was in command of a dilapidated fort originally built for 1,260 that had been abandoned and allowed to deteriorate. Prior to moving to the fort, Slemmer had hastily spiked the guns at Barrancas that were bearing on Fort Pickens, while Lt. Henry Erban of the storeship Supply managed to do the same to the guns at Fort McRee. Both Slemmer and Erban had made unsuccessful attempts to get cooperation from Comdr. James Armstrong, in charge of the navy yard, to keep Federal property from falling into the hands of the rebels. While Lieutenant Slemmer worked feverishly to upgrade the defenses at Fort Pickens, troops from Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia started to pour into Pensacola as early as January 11 to augment the local militia.
On January 12, the navy yard at Pensacola was surrendered by Commodore Armstrong, and the Federal government lost what was probably its most important naval base on the Gulf. The Southerners gained an extremely valuable dry dock, extensive and valuable marine workshops, warehouses, barracks, a well-equipped marine hospital, two powerful forts, 175 cannon, more than 12,000 projectiles, and ordnance stores at the navy yard variously estimated in value from $117,000 to $500,000.
On the night of January 12, a group of four, representing themselves as commissioners of Florida and Georgia, demanded surrender of Fort Pickens. It was refused by Lieutenant Slemmer. Demands for surrender were repeated on January 15 and 18 and were also refused. While the standoff between the two sides continued, the defenders continued their feverish efforts to rehabilitate the old fort in preparation for the expected attack.
At a meeting between President Buchanan and a delegation of Southern senators in Washington, the Southerners were assured by the president that an attack on either of the two currently besieged Federal forts, Pickens or Sumter, before Lincoln's inauguration would only play into the hands of the Republicans. The Federal secretary of the navy, thereupon, sent a message to Lieutenant Slemmer at Fort Pickens instructing him not to allow Federal vessels to land at Pensacola. The trade-off was telegraphed instructions from the Southern senators to the commander of the forces besieging Fort Pickens to prevent an assault on that fort. While the Federal forces at Key West prepared for an attack that would never come, and the Federal forces at Pensacola prepared for an attack that, from the size of the forces arriving and being trained, appeared imminent, Florida turned her attention to preparing for war.
Progress had been uneven in the time since Governor Perry had requested appropriations for a military fund and authorization from the legislature to reorganize the state military. A number of local militia companies had come into existence in the closing months of 1860, but they were poorly armed at best and probably had more effect on the development of a militant political attitude than they did on the organization of an effective militia. The money requested was appropriated, but no militia-reorganization law was enacted. By the close of 1860, Florida was no more ready for war than were most states, North or South. The first troops to be raised were organized and equipped through private means. A number of irregular groups of vigilantes, regulators, and minutemen had been formed which in most cases had no legal basis and were poorly trained and armed. The governor accepted their offers of service "with alacrity" into the state militia.
In early February 1861, Governor Perry appealed to the general assembly for legislation to enable the increase and to organize the state militia more effectively. The general assembly responded on February 14 with a law that created Florida's Civil War Militia. The state adjutant general was authorized to distribute blank rolls to every captain or lieutenant then holding a commission from the state, and these blanks were to be used to enroll men for six months' service with the forces of the state. The adjutant general was then authorized to divide the men into companies, regiments, and brigades according to geographic area. Companies were to have from sixty-four to one hundred men. Provision was made for election of officers and for establishment of such noncombatant military elements as surgeons and chaplains. The governor was authorized to raise immediately one cavalry and two infantry regiments.
Recruitment for the state militia became increasingly difficult as the year 1861 progressed. On March 1, the Confederate army was formally organized, and the secretary of war informed the various state governors that the Confederate War Department was henceforth authorized to shape the course of military organization in the states. Furthermore, by the act of February 28, the president was authorized to receive twelvemonth volunteers, assuming command of all military in matters "concerning outside powers." On March 9, the first requisition for troops was levied by the Confederate government, with Florida to provide five hundred troops. Concurrent recruitment for both state militia and Confederate army forces was fully underway by mid-March 1861. Recruitment was locally based, and men began to assemble at Tallahassee, Apalachicola, Gainesville, Quincy, Marianna, Monticello, Pensacola, Chattahoochee, Fernandina, Jacksonville, and other designated locations.
Despite the hurry and confusion of a short-notice mobilization, units began to take form, and soon a regiment of West Florida volunteers known as the First Florida Infantry came into being. The regiment was mustered into the Confederate army on April 5 and arrived at Pensacola on April 12. Four days before their arrival, the Confederate government put out a second call for volunteers, and Florida was assigned a quota of 1,500. The following day, this levy was amended in the case of Florida to say that the war department "wishes the whole force to be infantry, unless Your Excellency should be able to furnish two companies of artillery." This would appear to be the first time specific types of military units were requested. In the absence of any particular guidelines, units were coming into existence on the basis of what the individual members felt they would like to be rather than what was needed or could be armed and equipped. This was true on local, state, and national levels. As was to be expected, the most glamorous arm was cavalry, and anyone who could avail himself of a horse saw himself as a cavalier.
On April 16, an additional 2,000 men were requisitioned from Florida. Apparently not having received this latest levy, Governor Perry responded to the secretary of war on April 19 with a little concern about the number of troops required for Confederate army service. He informed the secretary that he was currently engaged in raising 1,500 troops (the original levy) and asked whether an additional 500 would be called for. Perry stated that the effective forces for the state did not exceed 13,000 men. The secretary replied immediately that he had called for an additional 2,000 but suggested that if they could not be raised, the requisition on Florida would be revoked, and the troops raised elsewhere. Apparently stung by this last message, Governor Perry replied shortly that he would raise the 2,000 troops as soon as possible.
On May 13, Governor Perry informed the secretary that the troops were almost ready but that he could supply them with only one thousand muskets. After requesting arms for the rest, the governor asked if he could concentrate troops at certain undefended points on the coast and requested officers to drill and instruct the newly mustered troops. Having received no answer by May 17, the governor again requested information as to when and where the troops were wanted. On May 18, Governor Perry informed the secretary that one regiment was available and awaiting orders, with two others ready except for arms and equipment, asking if the secretary could provide these. A note of frustration is apparent in his message, as after stating that several of the companies were encamped at the expense of the officers, he ended his message with the phrase, "Say where wanted and when."
The secretary of war informed Governor Perry on May 23 that the armed and equipped regiment was accepted and detailed for duty in Florida, but the Confederacy could not accept another regiment unless it was armed. On the twentieth, Governor Perry complained to Florida's representatives in the provisional government, J. Morton, James B. Owens, and George T. Ward, that he had raised two thousand troops as requested, but since they were not accepted, he was in a quandary as to what to do with them. On May 29, Governor Perry informed the secretary that he had two regiments organized for the defense of the state and one for Virginia and requested an answer. Finally, on June 1, the now-desperate governor wired the Confederate secretary of war: "I have been telegraphing you since the 13th ultimo relative to the two thousand troops raised under your requisition. We have batteries erected at several points on the coast, requiring at least two regiments to garrison. If Florida is to take care of herself, say so."
Nevertheless, requisitions on Florida for 1,000 men for the Confederate "Reserve Corps" were sent out on June 30. This last requisition was still not filled six months later. During 1861, the Confederate War Department levied Florida for 5,000 troops. The total number that entered either the state or Confederate military service that year was 6,772, organized into four infantry regiments, one cavalry regiment, nine unattached infantry companies, four artillery companies, and three cavalry companies. Individually, there were 5,491 infantry, 1,150 cavalry, and 331 artillery. The state militia numbered fewer than 1,000 men and included most of the unattached companies. In the governor's message to the Florida House of Representatives on November 27, 1861, he summarized his problems in relation to the state militia. He called attention to the imperfect military organization of the state and stated that a militia system could not coexist with a voluntary system. Furthermore, the official returns from recent elections for military officers revealed that there was not a complete militia regiment and hardly a complete militia company in the state. "The manner in which volunteer companies have been raised has subverted militia organizations.... The number of fighting men has not increased but the number of officers has doubled.... Hence is seen occasionally a considerable display of swords and buttons and but few muskets and bayonets."
Excerpted from Confederate Florida by William H. Nulty. Copyright © 1990 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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Table of Contents
1. The Jilted Bride: Florida's Early Years in the Confederacy,
2. Blockade and Raid: The Middle Civil War Years in Florida,
3. Renewed Interest in Florida,
4. Surprise and Success: The Landing and Exploitation,
5. The Battle of Olustee,
6. Lost Opportunities: The Retreat and Pursuit,
7. Heroes, Goats, and Survivors,
8. A Final Look,