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On to Olustee

Article and Photos by Kathleen Walls

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Olustee Monument

 

During the War Between the States, Florida played an important, if understated, role. True, no major battles were fought there. None of the battles were turning points in the war. Florida's main service to the Confederacy was feeding its armies. Florida provided  much of the beef, pork, fish, fruit and salt needed by the troops.

For the visitor interested in visiting the historic Civil War Trail sites, one place stands out. The Battle of Olustee was the largest and most bloody fought in the state. Both sides had a lot at stake. For the South, it was necessary to maintain a food supply. For the Union, Florida 's inland area was a stronghold of the Confederates and a danger to any Union soldiers who ventured in to it. That plus the fact it contained a large population of African Americans who could be coerced into volunteering for the Union Army. 

In February 1864, the Union army launched an expedition inward from the coastline to cut Confederate supply lines. They also were actively recruiting African Americans to join Union Army. Brigadier General Truman Seymour led over 5,000 men toward Lake City. Confederate General Joseph Finegan with about 5,200 men met him at Olustee on February 20th. The battle resulted in a Confederate victory and drove the Union Army back toward Jacksonville. The Battle of Olustee was one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War. Almost 3,000 men out of the approximate 11,000 soldiers were killed.  Three regiments of African American Union Troops fought in this battle and suffered heavy casualties.

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Confederate Parade African American Regiment Reenactors

The annual reenactment there is a great way to experience history first hand (well, almost first hand). Each year on the second weekend in February, reenactors gather in great numbers to relive this tragic battle. Visitors are welcomed. Besides the battle, there are historic presentations, displays of period crafts and a authentic Suttlers' Row. ( I usually attend and if you come to my booth and tell me you read this article, I will give you a 10% discount on any of my books.)

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A fallen Union soldier takes his part very seriously Eric Hague and myself in front of my booth on Suttlers' Row

There is also a one day event in September, Civil War Expo,  with reenactors, both military and civilian, blacksmithing exhibits, period musical performers and other period correct displays.

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is a Florida State Park in the Osceola National Forest, near the town of Olustee. The park is located 50 miles west of Jacksonville and 15 miles east of Lake City, on U.S. 90. If you are on I-10 the exit is clearly marked. Besides the battle field, you can visit the museum and monument dedicated to this battle and the Olustee Visitor Center. The Visitor Center is located in an 1860s depot and also played an important in the transportation of troops and supplies by rail.

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Old Depot Visitor Center Confederate and Union soldier at Musuem

The State of Florida actually owns only 3.09 acres of the Park, but manages another 688 acres of the original battlefield under a Special Use Permit from the United States Forest Service.

Under the title of Olustee Battlefield, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on  August 12, 1970.

Primitive camping is available at nearby in Osceola National Forest at Ocean Pond.

For more info:

www.battleofolustee.org

 

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