Last weekend was the 37th Annual Reenactment of the Battle of Olustee; today, February 20, Historic City News readers remember the date in 1864 of the largest Civil War battle to take place in the State of Florida — and the soldiers who fought in it.
Confederates, under the command of General Joseph J. Finegan, had prepared defenses at Ocean Pond; in an area protected by two small lakes. It was also the location of the major road and railroad into the interior of the state.
In an evenly split theatre of about 10,000 Union and Confederate forces, Union commander, General Truman Seymour, failed to commit his forces in concert; giving the Confederates the strategic advantage they needed to control the battlefield.
Federal forces beat a hasty retreat toward Jacksonville and the safety of the guns of the Union navy. Finegan did not exploit the retreat; allowing most of the fleeing Union forces to reach Jacksonville.
However, just before nightfall when the Confederate soldiers did made a final attempt to engage the rear element of Seymour’s forces, they were repulsed by African-American soldiers with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry and the 35th United States Colored Troops.
Every February, thousands of reenactors from across the United States and around the world, come to the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park to reenact the Battle of Olustee. Part of the Florida State Park system, the battlefield is located within the Osceola National Forest.
Florida is rich in African-American history and Florida State Parks tell the stories of daily life, traditions and turning points in American history. Florida’s state parks are home to Civil War battle grounds where African-American regiments fought against Confederate soldiers at the 1864 Battle of Olustee, as well as sites along the Underground Railroad like the lighthouse at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne, listed as a site on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. America’s first free black settlement is located in St Augustine at Fort Mose Historic State Park, where escaped slaves took refuge in the 1700s.