The Battle of Olustee: A Tale of the United States Civil War, in Four Parts

Editors’ Note: This short fiction will be published in four parts. Author Tom Hames gave us this background information. It was so interesting we decided to print it along with his work:

I’d like to give you a little information about the idea behind the short story. Henry Shaw was my great-great-grandfather. His biography starts out, “A short history of my life written April 27th, 1927, for my children and grandchildren.” In his biography he writes of his service during the Civil War and makes a very short mention of the Battle of Olustee, which sparked my interest in the battle, so I began to research it. I found out that his company had been positioned directly across from the “8th Colored” during the battle, which meant that he had to fight against them. Armed with this information, I proceeded to create my story, using as much of Henry’s character as I knew.

James Lyons, however, is a completely fictional character, though I did get got his name from another great-great-great grandfather who served in the Civil War. He was from Florida, but enlisted in the Union Army. In order to keep from embarrassing his family, he enlisted under the alias of George Lyons. I’d thought about creating a story where these two meet in battle, but changed my mind to go with the racial aspect instead. Still, it made me think that if one of them had killed the other, then I might not be here today.


Henry Shaw scraped a small layer of frost from a fallen pine tree and sat down. As his wool trousers quickly soaked up the leftover ice particles, he took a deep breath of morning air and scrutinized his surroundings. The terrain was similar to his home along the banks of the Withlacoochee River. The forest was filled mostly with tall, gangly pine trees, but every once in a while, a great oak could be seen elegantly spreading its giant branches. Palmetto bushes littered the forest floor, their large, green fronds adding a splash of color to the ground cover of brown pine needles. The distinct smell of swamp water filled his nostrils, stirring pleasant memories of hunting trips with his father. For just a moment he was back home, listening to the dogs as they tracked down a white tailed deer.

The woods around him were filled with thousands of Confederate soldiers. All along the tree line men were preparing for the battle that was soon to come. The Union troops were only a few miles away, slowly making their way along the Florida Atlantic Gulf Railroad. Their objective was to capture Lake City and then continue on to Columbus Bridge. They had no idea the Southern troops were setting up a defensive position in the trees near Olustee Station, thirteen miles east of Lake City, Florida.

Henry was six-foot tall and skinny, weighing all of one hundred and fifty pounds. Despite his size, years of hard work had left his muscles hard and strong. With dark brown hair, deep-set hazel eyes and farm-tanned skin, he looked much older than his nineteen years. Born and raised in Florida, he’d joined the Confederate Army two years earlier, ready and willing to die in defense of his homeland, but the last year had been rough and the war was starting to take its toll. He worried about his mother, who was at home alone, and wondered if his father and brother were still alive. He was deeply concerned about his family, but he was equally as troubled by the upcoming battle. He had been in a few skirmishes, but this was shaping up to be his biggest battle so far.

Things had looked somewhat better three days earlier, when General Colquitt and his brigade of Georgia regulars arrived. This brought the Confederate numbers up from fifteen hundred to well over four thousand. The number of troops on both sides were fairly even now, but as the Yankees drew closer, Henry was scared.


About the photo: Robert J. Jones joined the African American 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. He served in Company I. Prior to joining, he was a farmer in Hamilton, Ohio. He died at the Battle of Olustee, in Florida. Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection


Last 5 posts by Tom Hames

Last 5 posts by Tom Hames