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The Sunshine State Marks the 154th Anniversary of the Battle of Olustee

February 17, 2018 - 6:00am

Civil War aficionados, sporting both the Union Blue and the Confederate Gray, will be gathering this weekend some 15 miles east of Lake City, in the middle of the Osceola National Forest and right off of I-10, to re-enact the battle of Olustee -- the largest Civil War battle in Florida. 

While there will be a parade and festival held in Lake City the entire weekend, the highlight will be the re-enactment of the battle which will be at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park on Sunday.

The battle of Olustee was fought on Feb. 20, 1864, when Union forces advancing from Jacksonville to take Lake City were defeated by a force of Confederates. Almost 40 percent of the Union troops were casualties, compared to 20 percent of the Confederates. Three regiments of newly emancipated black troops, including the 54th Massachusetts regiment celebrated in the movie "Glory," took part in the battle.

Of course, this being Florida -- the state of hanging chads and the front lines of close presidential elections ranging from 1876 to 2000 -- there were more than a few politicians involved in the fighting.

The Confederate forces were led by Joseph Finegan -- a Floridian who was a leading figure in the state. A Nassau County political leader who was at the state secession convention in 1861 and a railroad promoter who was a partner with David Levy Yulee, Finegan later commanded the Florida Brigade in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Finegan's house on Amelia Island was taken during the war by the federal government -- namely future Gov. Harrison Reed of the U.S. Treasury Department. Reed pushed to turn Finegan’s house into a home and school for black orphans. The school was led by Chloe Merrick, an idealistic teacher from the North. Reed would later marry Merrick and embark on one of the stormiest political careers in Florida’s history.

Some scholars -- and certainly more than a few contemporary observers -- credited Georgian Alfred Colquitt with the Confederate victory at Olustee. A veteran brigade commander with Lee’s army who also saw service in North Carolina, Colquitt had been a congressman before the war and would serve as governor of Georgia and a U.S. senator after the war.

Needless to say, partisans of both leaders argued over who deserved credit for the victory. Even Alexander Stephens, the diminutive Georgian who served as Jefferson Davis’ vice president, could not resist entering the fray. In "The Reviewers Reviewed," his strange response to critics of his monumental but, alas, nearly unreadable, "A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States," Stephens praised both generals -- but gave Colquitt more credit than Finegan for winning at Olustee.

The general leading the Union forces had an odd career of his own. Truman Seymour, the Union commander, was a member of the West Point class of 1846 which produced some of the leading generals of the war -- Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and George Pickett, for example. Seymour, who had experience fighting the Seminoles in Florida in the 1850s, was not much of a general and, after losing Olustee, was relieved of command and sent to command a brigade in Virginia -- and was captured by Confederate forces at the Battle of the Wilderness.

Seymour found his calling after the war. He had married the daughter of Robert Weir, his drawing instructor at West Point. Fitting enough, Seymour ended up as close friends with one of Weirs students who failed out of West Point and ended up as an artist -- James Whistler, creator of "Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1" (commonly known as "Whistlers Mother"). Seymour ended up in Europe painting watercolors after the war and is buried in a fitting location for artists -- Florence, Italy.


Reach Kevin Derby at Kevin has a masters thesis on Edmund Ruffin, the secessionist leader who fired the first shot of the Civil War, collecting dust on his bookshelf.


While i belive states have a right to determine their future i must condem racist views of any kind.slavery was and is a blight on any socitey that claims to be free.

"Slavery" still going on in the rest of the world. Our "Civil War" was a war over economics ( Northern budget of 92 million a year vs. A Southern "income" of 87 million from the sale of cotton & rice to Europe etc. (Northern politicians wanted a piece of those profits; Hence: Civil War !) Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation" was actually a "war tactic" intended to cripple the South's labor force. The result?.. Over 600,000 AMERICAN boys DEAD!!! [...AND ignorant "history deficient" liberals are intent upon destroying Confederate statuary?!?!?... May these "destroyers" rot in a lonely hell of their own making].

If there's a "Joe Finegan" statue in the Olustee area,.. the Liberal Democrats will soon be on their way to topple it.. and attempt to "clearcut" the obviously "Confederate Osceola National Forest"! [I'm hearing rumors that Hillary is considering that forest as a final "resting place"! ]

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