1864 March 12: The Battle of Olustee, Kilpatrick’s Raid, and Sherman in Alabama
Following is The Polk County Press’ summary of the week’s war news, from its March 12, 1864, issue. It is followed by a short description of the Battle of Olustee, the largest Civil War battle in Florida.
From the Army of the Potomac we have accounts of a great cavalry raid by Gen. KILPATRICK [Hugh Judson Kilpatrick], who, with 5,600 picked cavalry and light artillery, started for Richmond. He penetrated to the outer fortifications of Richmond and engaged the enemy. When finding them too strong for him he returned within BUTLER’S lines on the Peninsula [Benjamin F. Butler], with a loss of 150 men in skirmishes. He destroyed LEE’S communication with Richmond [Robert E. Lee], tore up their railroads, cut their telegraphs and played the devil generally.¹
The news regarding SHERMAN [William T. Sherman] is somewhat conflicting. One despatch from Cairo says he was eleven miles east of Meridian on the 11th, and had sent a part of his force to Selma.—This purports to come direct from Gen. SHERMAN. Another says he has got back (to Vicksburg) from his extended reconnoissance [sic], and did not go near Selma and never intended such a thing. Still another states that he holds Selma, Meridian and Montgomery.² Choose ye which to believe.
The office of the Dayton (Ohio) “Empire,” a coppery sheet, was riddled by soldiers on Thursday. In a subsequent row two soldiers were wounded, and a mere spectator was killed.
The Committee on the Conduct of the War are overhauling Gen. MEADE [George G. Meade], Gens. SICKLES [Daniel E. Sickles] and DOUBLEDAY [Abner Doubleday] testify that after the first day’s fighting MEADE wrote an order to fall back seventeen miles, and but for a chance a retreat would have been ordered.
The “World’s” Key West letter of the 27th reports that Farragut [David G. Farragut] opened fire on Fort Morgan.³
It also gives the rumor that BEAUREGARD [P.G.T. Beauregard] is in command at Mobile.
The obstructions in the harbor are similar to those at Charleston.
It is believed that Fort Morgan would be ultimately destroyed or captured.
The “Herald’s” letter from off Mobile, of February 23, renews the report that SHERMAN is moving on Mobile. Also the capture of Selma and Montgomery. All non-combatants have left Mobile.
Defeat in Florida.
The expedition moving into the interior of Florida, from Jacksonville, under Gen. SEYMOUR,5 has met with an unexpected and serious reverse.—Fifteen miles beyond Jacksonville, on the Tallahassee railroad, the rebels were met, and after a desperate battle lasting three hours, our forces were overpowered and forced to retreat. Our loss is set down from 500 to 1500, and five guns. The force of the enemy is set down at 15,000 strong. Their loss is unknown.6 This reverse disappoints the hopes that were raised by previous accounts of the successful landing and progress of the expedition. On the 9th inst. Gen. GILLMORE [Quincy A. Gillmore] sent a glowing despatch to Gen. HALLECK [Henry W. Halleck] detailing the capture of one hundred prisoners, 8 pieces of artillery in serviceable con-condition [sic], and other valuable property to a large amount, and the newspapess [sic] began to talk of the restoration of Florida as a fact accomplished. But the wily and treacherous foe lured our forces on to destruction. Gens. Hardee, Beauregard [P.G.T. Beauregard], and Buckner [Simon B. Buckner] commanded the rebels.7
1. On February 28, 1864, Kilpatrick’s division conducted a raid toward Richmond and through the Virginia Peninsula. He hoped to rescue Union prisoners of war held at Belle Isle and in Libby prisons in Richmond. By March 1, they were within 5 miles of the city, but the defenses around Richmond were too strong. Kilpatrick decided to bolt down the Virginia Peninsula where General Butler’s Army of the James was stationed. Soon—next week perhaps—we should see reports of what will become known as the Dahlgren Affair. Ulric Dahlgren’s brigade, which was detached from the main force, had not made it across the James River. Dahlgren and 200 of his troopers were either shot or taken prisoner.
2. The Selma iron works and foundry was considered the second most important source of weaponry for the South. General Sherman attempted to reach Selma, but his forces retreated to the Mississippi River after taking Meridian.
3. The Battle of Mobile Bay, when Admiral Farragut’s fleet attacked the Confederate fleet and three forts, including Fort Morgan, will not take place until August 5, 1864.
4. “Battle of Olustee, Fla.: Feby. 26, 1864,” by Kurz & Allison. This digital image is from the State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. The UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center has in its Special Collections a copy of Battles of the Civil War: The Complete Kurz & Allison Prints, 1861-1865, Birmingham, Ala.: Oxmoor House, 1976 (Oversized E 468.7 .B3 1976), which includes this print.
5. Truman Seymour (1824-1891) graduated from West Point and was a career military officer. When the Civil War began in 1861, Seymour participated in the defense of Fort Sumter. He became a brigadier general of volunteers on April 28, 1862, and participated in the Peninsula Campaign. Seymour performed well at the battles of Second Bull Run, South Mountain, and Antietam. In late 1862, Seymour was sent to the Department of the South where he served as chief of staff to the commanding general from January 8 to April 23, 1863. He led a division on Folly Island, South Carolina, on July 4, participated in the attack on Morris Island on July 10, and commanded the unsuccessful attack on Fort Wagner on July 18. General Gillmore put Seymour in charge of the District of Florida. Gillmore’s division made an expedition to Florida in February 1864, and took possession of Jacksonville. Gillmore returned to South Carolina and left Seymour in tactical command. After Olustee, Seymour remained in command of the District of Florida until March 28, 1864. He then returned to Virginia and was captured at the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864. Seymour was exchanged in August 1864 and was present at Lee’s surrender in April 1865.
6. Union strength was 5,500 and the Confederate strength was only 5,000. Union loss was 1,861 (203 killed, 1152 wounded, 506 captured/missing) and Confederate loss was 946 (93 killed, 847 wounded, 6 captured/missing).
7. The Confederate troops were commanded by Brigadier General Joseph Finnegan (1814-1885). Beauregard commanded the coastal defenses in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, stationed in Charleston, and was responsible for sending troops to Finnegan when Confederate officials heard about the build-up of Union troops in Jacksonville. William Joseph Hardee (1815-1873) will take command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, but not until the autumn of 1864. In February 1864, Buckner was briefly given command of General John Bell Hood’s division.