The Battle of Olustee: A Tale of the United States Civil War, Part III

Union soldiers guarding the Potomac River in 1861. Behind them is the old Aqueduct bridge and Georgetown University on top of the hill

Union soldiers guarding the Potomac River in 1861. Behind them is the old Aqueduct bridge and Georgetown University on top of the hill

A February chill rushed through the air as Henry watched two regiments of men mount their horses and ride off. If the plan worked, they would make contact with the Union army and draw them back to the fortified battle line where the remaining Confederate soldiers waited. With Ocean Pond to the north, heavy swampland to the south, and thousands of troops scattered throughout the tree line, victory was almost certain. The plan made perfect sense, however, after contact had been made, the enemy failed to advance toward the trap that had been so carefully set. When word came that heavy fighting was taking place less than two miles away, more troops were sent as reinforcements. Henry stood firm at his post in the trees, but grew more anxious as he watched the other men leave. Finally, the order was given to move forward, and Henry hesitantly joined the others, his heart pounding heavily as “Company G” marched in double time toward the front lines.

Cannon fire rumbled in the distance as the Sixth Florida Battalion made their way to the battlefield. It wasn’t long before shouting and heavy gunfire could be heard all around. They came up to a place where the doctor was busy treating some of the wounded men. The moans of the suffering soldiers only added to Henry’s anxiety. He closed his eyes as the doctors rushed by, the bloody images of badly wounded soldiers etched themselves in his memory.

By the time Henry got to the battlefield, the fighting had been going on for over two hours. They were quickly moved up to the front lines and told to scatter along a large embankment. Henry crawled to the top of the large hill on his belly, passing two or three dead soldiers along the way. He pushed himself along numbly, trying hard not to look into their faces. The smell of gunpowder filled the air while gun fire, cannon blasts and the shouts of fighting and dying men rang out everywhere. There was no escaping the sounds of war.

When Henry reached the top of the hill and looked out on the battlefield he couldn’t believe what he saw. Bodies were scattered about, and the Union troops seemed to be in disarray. One particular body that lay grossly disfigured on the ground caught his attention. Staring at the dead man’s face, it took a few moments before Henry realized he the dead man had black skin. He squinted, trying to see the other fallen soldiers and noticed suddenly that almost all of them were black. His mind was still trying to take that in when the desperate troops tried to rally around a cannon. It was clear they were trying to make a final stand, but man after man was shot down. At last, when it was clear they didn’t have a chance, someone grabbed the colors and they all made a hasty retreat, leaving the cannon behind. Shots rang out after them and more men fell to the ground as they tried to get away from the relentless Confederate gunfire.

A sound to charge was given and the Rebels took chase. Hundreds of men rushed after the retreating Union troops and Henry jumped to his feet. With adrenaline pumping he took off down the hill, but when he was almost to the bottom he stepped on a small pine branch and it rolled out from underneath his foot. In the split second that he was falling he saw a large pile of rocks and knew instinctively that he was going to hit them head on. He closed his eyes to brace for the impact and then felt something slam into his side. He missed the rocks by two feet, but his head crashed onto the hard ground causing him to pass out.

Last 5 posts by Tom Hames

Last 5 posts by Tom Hames