On February 20, 1864, the Battle of Olustee (also known as the Battle of Ocean Pond) was fought in Baker County, Florida. It was the largest battle of the Civil War fought in Florida and involved more than 10,000 soldiers, including three regiments of US Colored Troops. When the five-hour fight was over, Confederate forces claimed victory, and Union soldiers retreated to Jacksonville, where some remained until the war ended 14 months later.
In late 1863, during President Abraham Lincoln’s campaign for a second term in office, Lincoln issued the Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. With several Confederate states under Federal control and needing to reorganize their governments, the President hoped the Proclamation would unify a country at war. It allowed states with at least 10% of eligible voters willing to pledge allegiance to the United States to rejoin the Union.
To secure enough loyalty oaths in Florida and form a government in time to send delegates to the 1864 party convention, Gen. Quincy Gilmore, commander of the Union Department of the South, dispatched Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour to Jacksonville. He hoped a Union incursion could cut Confederate supply lines, disrupt rail service, and recruit additional Black soldiers for the Union Army.
Seymour and his troops landed at Jacksonville on February 7th and secured the town. From there, they sent raiders inland, facing little resistance. On February 20th, 5,500 Union forces advanced toward Lake City, assuming they would only face small Florida militias. Instead, they encountered Confederate Brig. Gen. Joseph Finnegan’s 5,000 forces entrenched in open pine woods near Olustee railroad station. Finnegan had chosen an area with strong natural defenses, including Ocean Pond to the north, an impassable swamp to the south, with a narrow dry passage in between.
Advancing with Union troops were three regiments of Black soldiers – the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the 35th US Colored Troops, and the 8th US Colored Troops. Fighting broke out, and the intense battle raged for five hours until the Union line finally broke. Union soldiers retreated. There were some 1,800 Union casualties and 946 Confederate casualties. In proportion to the number of soldiers fighting, it was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.
Among those wounded was Corp. James H. Gooding from the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Gooding, an educated freedman, enlisted on February 14, 1863, just days after the recruiting office opened in his hometown. He had written an eloquent letter to President Abraham Lincoln in September 1863, denouncing that Black soldiers received $10 per month from which $3 was automatically deducted for clothing, while white soldiers received $13 per month with no clothing allowance withdrawn.
Gooding’s comrades thought his wound fatal and sent word of his death home. In reality, Gooding was wounded and taken captive. He was sent to Andersonville, where he died in July 1864 – one month after Congress passed a law granting equal pay to Black soldiers.
As a result of the Battle of Olustee, Confederate troops remained in control of Florida’s interior for the rest of the war, and Union troops were sent scampering back in Jacksonville. If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Olustee, search Fold3 today!
Thanks for the share. I never knew anything about this battle and I lived in Jacksonville for about 10 years. My children continue to live there.
The Battle Site has been protected and might be an interesting place for you to visit. I traveled there from the west coast. I visited the Battle of Olustee site and many others as well.
Isn’t this the battle that depicted in the film ‘Glory’ made in the late 1980’s starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman among others? Matthew Broderick was the commander (Colonel?) of coloured troops who had to take a well defended confederate position and took very heavy losses. Great film by the way.
This was the battle depicted earlier in the film where the 54th saw their first combat. They were shown repelling a Confederate charge in a forested area. It was sort of depicted as a Union victory so you can be excused for not connecting this story to that scene. To be fair, I am sure there was a lot of back and forth fighting, and instances where Union forces won tactical victories despite eventually losing the battle. The big climactic battle at the end where everyone dies in a suicidal attack, was the Battle of Ft Wagner.
No,its not…Fort Fisher was the other battle depicted in Glory
Excuse me,Fort Wagner
No, that was Battery Wagner on Morris Island.
No, Fort Wagner is battle in the movie.
no. The battle was the battle of James Island around July 1863
No, that was Fort Wagner in South Carolina.
Actually, the battle depicted in “Glory” was the Battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina. And you are right, it was a great movie.
No, that was the attack on Fort Wagner, SC. Check it out on the American Battlefield Trust. They have some really good material on that battle.
Nope, not that battle.
No the battle you are talking about in the movie was in South Carolina
No, that was at Battery/Ft. Wagner in South Carolina. Col Robert Gould Shaw was killed there. On the show “Who Do YouThink You Are”, Matthew Broderick was shown where his Union ancestor was buried in an unmarked grave near Marietta, GA.
I’m sorry but the LARGEST battle was Gettysburg, PA in 1863!
Picttets Charge contained approximately 14,000+ men. There were 104,256 for the Union and 71,000–75,000 for the Confederates at Gettysburg.
Whoever created this false narrative is obviously only looking at it from a Colored Troop perspective only and Did’t Point That Out!
BA/MA History and CW buff
The second sentence in the article says …..”….the largest battle of the Civil War fought in Florida……”
I’m sorry Mr. Pierson but the article simply points out that this was the largest battle in “Florida” and “one” of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. I didn’t read it as if the author was creating a false narrative. I’m not an expert on the Civil War but it appears to me this article is factual without any bias. Thank you to author Jenny Ashcraft. I enjoyed reading this small part of the history of the Civil War.
In the article it was noted “in proportion” to the total number of soldiers fighting and not type of troops. Worst single day was Antietam. You’re 100percent correct about the bloodiest battle being Gettysburg. Thanks for the numbers.
Yes, as others pointed out, you must have read the article too quickly – biggest battle in Florida and one of the bloodiest in terms of casualties as a percentage of the number of troops involved. Geez!
The article did not say that it was the largest battle. The article alluded to percentage of casualties compared to overall number involved in the battle.
“CW buff”, reading comprehension not so much…
“Largest” Battle in Florida”
the article states it was the largest battle in Florida not in the war.
The article also states Olustee was the bloodiest battle of the war (based on the number in participation vs the number of casualties). I guess you have to do the math and compare it to other battles.
Interesting when did Gettysburg move to Florida to be the “largest battle in Florida”
Not only did you miss important facts in the article in your haste to criticize it as a “false narrative”, but you apparently aren’t a big enough person to either correct or delete your comment, and/or apologize for unfair and unjustified criticism after so many pointed out your error.
Dual degree, Juris Doctor and Masters in American Studies/Historic Preservation. More important than my credentials, I pay attention to details and I thank people who politely point out I am mistaken (how I learn) and apologize if I have unjustly criticized someone.
My Great Grandfather fought in the Georgia Infantry in both the Battle of Olustee and Fort Wagner. My Grandfather, born in 1882, was a child of his father’s second marriage and his father lived long enough to tell my Grandfather what took place in both of these battles. My Grandfather lived to be 93 and he told me what his father experienced in both battles. I visited the site of the Battle of Olustee with my Grandfather before he died. In the battle at Fort Wagner, union ships fired thousands of cannon rounds into the fort before the Mass. 54th was sent in thinking it would be a mop up operation. Unknown to the union troop leaders was the Confederates had constructed a bomb proof shelter where over 1,000 soldiers were sheltered during the ships booming. As the 54th approached the fort they had to pass a narrow land passage to reach the fort. The Confederate troops waited until the 54th reached this passage before starting their attack. The 54th retreated with many casualties. Other Union units followed the 54th’s attack with similar results. This battle lasted several days and during the second night the Confederate troops retreated to safety. In the Battle of Olustee the Confederates had setup a V-shaped defensive position on a road. The sent out a small unit of men to engage the 54th. and retreated back thru thee V-shaped defensive position. The 54th. pursued this small unit of men and was caught in a crossfire and took many casualties, then retreated back to St. Augustine. Both of these battles were heavy losses for the Union.
Thank you. Enjoyed your narration. Lucky you to have spent so much time with your grandfather and the connection to times long past.
What an incredible experience and treasure your family has passed down, and to have visited the site with your grandfather I am sure meant a lot to both of you. Thank you so much for the adding the details of the strategies and results. My great grandfather was in the Navy during the Civil War. I will have to see if he or one of the ships he was on participated in this battle.
The gravestone pictured says “J. H. Hooding” , not “Hooding” as stated in the article.
Typos can happen, however:
Gravestone reads ‘Gooding’, in photograph, while caption reads ‘Hooding’, as incorrectly mentioned once in the article. Main article at each and every juncture elsewhere refers to ‘Gooding’.
Pays to double check when supposedly correcting the work of others.
Look at Pierson’s unbelievably embarrassing gaff above, as an example. One can be a buff without being an expert, it seems.
Really interesting read. I sure enjoy the history keep it coming.
The gravestone looks like J H Gooding to me.
Yes it does! When you blow the picture up, it definitely says “Gooding”. But interesting read!
Interesting to read. I graduated from a Jacksonville high school in 1958. Our American History teacher took all her classes to Olustee. We would take sides based on our ancestry, North vs South. We would then reenact the battle using
Aerosol shaving cream. The cream back then would shoot about 5 to 6 feet. Fun and educational.
Gravestone says name is A H Gooding!
The gravestone photo shown on this article by Jenny Ashcraft , February 20, 1864: The Battle of Olustee reads:
J. H. GOODING
You can see more photos and other information on Find A Grave, Memorial 7692869.
James Henry Gooding
1837 – 19 July 1864
His wife and her gravestone, Find a Grave Memorial 155764492.
Ellen Louisa Gooding
May 1836 – 24 Apr 1903
Thanks to Jenny Ashcraft for all the interesting articles. Mistakes happen to everyone. Hopefully, this article can be corrected.
Thanks all for catching the error. His correct name is James Gooding – not Hooding. I have made the correction.
I LIVED FOR MANY YEARS IN THE Jacksonville Beach area and knew of the annual reenactment of the Battle of OLUSTE E IN NORTH FLORIDA.
Ancestor of Cuba Gooding, by chance?
Gooding’s letters were published in 1991 under the title “On the Altar of Freedom.” I don’t know if it’s still in print, but you could certainly find a copy in a large library or probably a used copy online.
This would be intresting. History is not my main subject, but I do work at Ancestary. with both Families here way before the War. Will have to look this event up. I did see the movie, it was very intresting.
Chicamagua and Franklin were far worse fights, Frankin said to be as severe as Gettysburg. They use to have reenactments we would go to at Olustee, guess they are prohibited now with our history being revised and all.
This author isn’t very good at making it up! When I read the hype, I thought this battle must be right up there with Gettysburg, Antietam and similar. Instead it was a minor skirmish! Sort of like Pea Ridge in Arkansas where about 3,183 were killed or wounded.
I guess minor skirmish is in the eyes of the beholder. I would imagine if you were the one who died or was wounded your opinion of “minor skirmish “ would be different!
My gggrandfather was born in GA, but lived in Clay Co. FL, east of Ocean Pond, in 1860. He married a woman from Lake City after the war. He joined the 23rd Georgia Infantry (which fought at Olustee) a couple of months after Olustee in Cherokee Co., GA. He was 17. This was about the time Sherman was advancing towards Atlanta through that area from Chattanooga. I’ve often wondered if he was a “camp follower” of the 23rd after Olustee and joined in Georgia to defend his home state. However, the 23rd did not defend Atlanta, but was assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia. As far as I can determine, my gggrandfather was involved in one minor battle in Virginia, was captured and sent North as a POW. He was offered the chance to swear allegiance to the U. S., join the Union Army and go West to fight Indians, which he did. So, he was actually on both sides during the Civil War.
My Great Grandfather that fought at Olustee, that I mentioned above, was in the 32 Georgia Infantry.
If only 1 man was killed, to his momma the casualties were 100 percent
Well said Ron.
My mother was born in 1923 and grew up in Olustee and Lake City. He father was a crew supervisor for the Seaboard Railroad. She told stories of how every now and then parts of a
Skeleton would be found on and around the battlefield. He grandfather would take the kids down to Ocean Pond and throw them in to swim. He would swim in his BVD’s
Can’t we all just GET ALONG?! Yikes! This was like a reenactment of the Not So Civil War on paper. Just take the article for the intent it was written- to inform readers of a little known CW engagement where the Confederates won the battle. Ignore the superlatives and move on to the fact that the union forces consisted of largely African American soldiers. Enough fighting!!!
Yes, I agree.
I am always amused reading the comments. I will pass on to all I received many years ago in college. Re-read a story or that part you are going to coment on, before making any comments. I am 88 years young, and in my college days, I had Franciscan Friars as Professors. I made some comments on a story and was totally wrong. I never forgot what Father advised me: “re-read the story, and read it aloud, not to yourself, before you make any comments”
That is such wonderful advice! Thank you so much
Cliff the internet can be a wonderful thing, but I know myself I have been guilty of shooting off my mouth , so to speak, about a subject that upset me. Only to reread it, a month later ad think..”What is wrong with me?” Communication is so fast. At one time we wrote letters which had to be ailed, and then three days later they would reach your intended. By that time it was ancient history. I have written a few hot headed comments here, and deleted everyone haha. I do that a lot. Im 70 now. I am not so quick to anger these days. Whats the point. Usually a day later I will wonder why I was so mad.Yep, reread,read out loud. Sounds like sage advice.
My great great grandfather fought in this battle.
You mis-spelled Goodings name in the article calling him Hoodings
God bless you all for at least trying to remember history and some of the ugly truths it has to offer, we are all of the same species, we all breathe air and bleed red it does not matter what color you are it just matters who you are GOOD or BAD nothing more and nothing less.
God be with you.
I live in Baker county and have been in the forest hunting surrounding some of the battle field , grew up swimming in Ocean Pond and been to the cematery of some of the fallen soldiers. My grandmother has told stories about the war passed down through the years . My 3rd great grandfather lost a arm in The Battle of Olustee .,Thank God he made out alive farming to take care of his family .I can’t imagine what all the men must had have to go through ,rattle snakes, cotton mouth’s in the swamp , along with the fear of death from bullet wound’s. God bless all the men. If you go visit on a day you can hear the sadness blowing through the pines and feel the tearful pain they endured. The reenactment is this month Feb. 20 2021. It’s really a way to hear the cannon’s sound.
I don’t know whether I want to be shot dead or be bitten by a cottonmouth snake … I am a Canadian so am not knowledgable in the kind of reaction to cottonmouth poison.
I’ve wondered about snakebites during the Civil War. I’ve read a LOT of CW literature, and I can’t think of ever coming across a reference to a man being bitten, but you know some must have been. Except in the wildest areas there may well not have been as many snakes as we coming along later dealt with because people let their hogs range; you put a fence around your house to keep the livestock out and the livestock ranged freely. Hogs are deadly for snakes and clear out all the close ground cover as well. If you have a snaky area, just put the hogs in it.
My mother was born in Lake City FL in 1928, her grandfather was in the 2nd and 4th Florida Infantry which fought in the Army of the Tennessee and did not Surrender until the Battle of Cowpens at Grandfather Mountain. That was long after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, VA. He returned to Florida and read law after the war. He became a Judge and served in Alligator, now known as Live Oak until his death in the 1920’s.
God bless us all who love history!
The Battle of Cowpens was a Revolutionary War battle fought in 1781 in Cowpens, SC. It is a National Battlefield site maintained by the National Park Service.
Actually, the AOT surrendered 11 days after the ANV on April 26, 1865. The surrender was somewhere north of Columbia, SC. As another poster points out, Cowpens was a Revolutionary War battle in SC.
This would be intresting. History is not my main subject, but I do work at Ancestary. with both Families here way before the War. Will have to look this event up. I did see the movie, it was very intresting.
A historical novel about Olustee has been written by Greg Ahlgren called “Olustee, America’s Unfinished Civil War Battle”. A good read if you like these type of novels.
Ten bloodiest battles of the Civil War:
1. Gettysburg –
Union Casualties: 23,049(3,155 killed)
Confederate Casualties: estimated 25,000
2. Spotslvannia Courthouse –
Union Casualties: 18,399 (2,725 killed)
Confederate Casualties: 12,687 (1,515 killed)
3. Chickamauga –
Union Casualties: 16,170 (1,657 killed)
Confederate Casualties: 18,454 (2,312 killed)
4. Battle of the Wilderness –
Union Casualties: 17,666 (2,246 killed)
Confederate Casualties: 11,033 (1,477 killed)
5. Antietam –
Union Casualties: 12,410 (2,108 killed)
Confederate Casualties: 10,316 (1,567 killed)
6. Shiloh –
Union Casualties: 13,047 (1,754 killed)
Confederate Casualties: 10,699 (1,728 killed)
7. Chancellorsville –
Union Casualties: 17,287 (1,606 killed)
Confederate Casualties: 13,303 (1,665 killed)
8. Second Manassas / Second Bull Run –
Union Casualties: 14,462 (1,747 killed)
Confederate Casualties: 11,739 (1,294 killed)
9. Stone’s River –
Union Casualties: 12,906 (1,677 killed)
Confederate Casualties: 11,739 (1,294 killed)
10. Fredericksburg –
Union Casualties: 12,653 (1,284 killed)
Confederate Casualties: 4,201 (408 killed)
Writing this was “one of the bloodiest battles” leaves it open to wide speculation — was it one of the 100 bloodies battles? One of the 250 bloodies battles? One of the 500 bloodiest battles?
With 1800 Union casualties and 940 Confederate casualties, it was on par with hundreds of other battles during that long and bloody war.
Any of those in Florida where it was mentioned that it was the “……est in FLORIDA”?
Put your thinking cap on for this EH. The article states “ proportionately” this battle was one of the bloodiest. What that means I’d there were 10500 engaged on both sides. Approximately 2800 casualties on both sides. That’s a 27% casualty rate. The numbers you throw out don’t even address this.
The author didnt say that
“On February 20th, 5,500 Union forces advanced toward Lake City, assuming they would only face small Florida militias. Instead, they encountered Confederate Brig. Gen. Joseph Finnegan’s 5,000 forces entrenched in open pine woods near Olustee railroad station.”
How many soldiers are there in a “force”?
My 3rd Great Uncle Captain P. F. Ferguson was in Co C. 23rd Ga. Infantry. He fought at James Island and Olustee, as well as most of the engagements the 23rd was involved in. The 23rd was in Lee’s Army of No. Virginia. After Chancellorsville, where over two hundred of the 23rd, including my uncle, were taken prisoner. The 23rd was guarding a supply train and were successful. Colonel Best was tried for cowardice and disgrace before the enemy for his actions in several battles including South Mountain, prior to Antietam, in which Captain Ferguson’s 15 year old younger brother also in the 23rd, was mortally wounded. Lee sent the 23rd to the South Carolina Coast during that summer. They were at James Island, Wagner and fort Sumter, which to most of the soldiers was considered their worst duty station. From there the 23rd wnet mostly by rail to reinforce General Finnegan. They played a huge part in the battle. They rejoined Lee’s army after the battle and stayed with it until Lee’s surrender. My Uncle was severely wounded Aug 19th 1864 at the Battle of Weldon’s RR, during the Petersburg Campaign. His spine was clipped by a minie ball and was hospitalized for a year, first in Chimbarazo Hospital in Richmond. Then a Union hospital after the surrender. He came home, but died 8 years later and was buried in Marietta Georgia where we’re from.
I too had a family member involved in the Weldon Railroad campaign. He was a Sgt in Company H for the 12th US Infantry Regiment at that time. During the Siege of Petersburg (Virginia) he was taken prisoner (8/19) at the Battle of Globe Tavern while fighting along the Weldon Railroad (August 18-21, 1864). He was confined at the infamous Belle Isle Prisoner of War camp in Richmond. The following year he was released because of failing health and later died at the Fort Hamilton Army Hospital (NY). What’s also interesting to note here is that Henry Strandt was part of the garrison at Fort Sumter (SC) when the “first shots” rang out that started the war. You see, his career in the US Army actually started in 1856 where he enlisted at Fort Moultrie (SC), was later stationed in Fort Capron (FL) before being stationed back in Charleston. He soon married in 1859, had a son, and then war broke out in April of 1861.
We have family letters all the way back to the 1840s. Only one from the Civil War period and it was from someone stationed in FL. Until now I thought there were no battles fought in FL. And I took Civil War history from an Army Major and T Harry Williams.
What part of “It was the largest Civil War battle fought in Florida” don’t you understand? The meaning would have been different had the sentence contained a comma, as in “It was the largest Civil War battle, fought in Florida,” but it didn’t. Some people are just too dense to participate in these discussions.
Wow! I can’t wait until I know everything! Then I can be rude and testy and can viciously correct other people when something is misstated! It NEVER fails on these true attempts at sharing something. If you think someone has stated something in error, there are ways to share that information. Knowing that there is ALWAYS someone who knows more, it’s a good idea to check your facts from legitimate, historical sources. That goes for the person who KNOWS MORE!!!
Thank you to the folks who take the time to share. If there are any perceived errors, someone will be sure to clear that up…in one way or another.
Thank you Jenny. I had heard there was one Civil War battle in FL. It’snice to know a lot more about it.
I think that the reason that some people have taken issue is not because they know everything. The author seemed to have an agenda . Maybe she didnt. It doesnt matter. It was interesting, but not as interesting as the comments. We are not a very forgiving people these days..
Col Charles W Fribley, my gguncle, led the 8th US Colored Troops and was killed early in the Battle of Olustee. He was 28 and had been a teacher in Williamsport, PA and recently married. He had three brothers who all served in the Union army from Pennsylvania. The surviving brothers all eventually resided in Big Rapids, MI. My mothers father, also named Charles W Fribley, was the son of Hiram G Fribley, one of the three brothers of the “Olustee” CW Fribley. My mothers brother carries “Charles”as his middle name, as I do myself. A short summary of Col Fribley can be found in the November, 2006 issue of HARDTACK.
Charles Warden wrote:
“My mother was born in Lake City FL in 1928, her grandfather was in the 2nd and 4th Florida Infantry which fought in the Army of the Tennessee.”
Charles you have placed your ancestor in the Union Army of the Tennessee. I think you meant the Confederate Army of Tennessee.
The Union tended to name there armies after rivers. The Army of the Tennessee is named after the Tennessee River, while the Army of Tennessee is named after the State of Tennessee.
My gg grandfather was in both the Florida 5th and 2nd cavalry at various times with many of his brothers and brothers in law. Does anyone know if either or both of those units fought at Olustee?
Email Subject Line very misleading: “One of the Bloodiest Battles of the Civil War”
This article was very interesting to read but suffers from that title. How about a more accurate title like: “Bloody Civil War Battle in Florida”. Sadly, somebody at Fold3 (hopefully not the author) must have wanted to grab more interest in the email notice and used the misleading title instead. It diminishes good history when exaggerated claims are made like that. I was surely surprised to discover the name of the battle being written about – expected one of the bigger battles that are commonly known.
I know, the author claimed proportionality in casualties vs. number of combatants as the criteria for judging it amongst the bloodiest, but still felt the victim of a bait & switch.
Being from Tennessee, my family was split; Great grand father died during the Battle of Murfreesboro (CSA), Great uncle died during the Battle of Nashville (Union). Neither died from injuries sustained in battle, both died from disease (the biggest killer of the War). The 2 families lived across the road from each other in Cannon County Tennessee and after the War continued to farm next to each other and enter marry. Another interesting point was that at one time all were members of the same church ( Baptist Church of Christ). Just prior to the War, the Church split with half the congregation forming a new Methodist church. The ones that stayed in the Baptist Church joined the Union Army, the Methodist joined the Confederacy.
This battle was 158 years ago. The Confederate Army won the battle, but lost the war. Give it a rest. Let us move forward, and try not to repeat history.
We have visited Fort Clinch on Amelia Island, FL north of Jacksonville several times. A fort started by but abandoned by the Confederates. The Union army took it over and finished the fort. The fort’ s tour guides indicated it saw no action. I now wonder what role this fort played, if any, in the Battle of Olustee
Very interesting info about the battle, however much more interesting to me was J.H. Gooding. My mother’s maiden name was Gooding. I’ll need to look into this.
I’ll have to watch the movie “Glory” again (seen it many times already) but I think the movie portrays the first battle of the Mass 54th in Florida before the attack on Ft Wagner. If the movie depicted the battle at Olustee as that first engagement, the movie author’s/screen writer’s historical fiction “poetic license,” if you will, placed that battle out of sequence; Shaw couldn’t have been at the Olustee, Florida, battle because he was killed the year before at Ft Wagner. Historical fiction writers often do such out-of-sequence referencing , not to subvert history but to meet the narrative of their novel. Not really a problem as long as the reader/viewer realizes it’s historical fiction and not real history, per se.
Yes this is what the movie ‘Glory’ was about. It starred Denzel Washington. It was very good. But yes, that’s a sad fact about the unfair payment.
One minor typo, Gooding is referred to as Hooding somewhere near article end.
Thank you for sharing the story of these battles & the maps.