Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era

By John David Smith | Go to book overview

4
THE BATTLE
OF OLUSTEE

Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr.

The Battle of Olustee, also known as Ocean Pond, occurred, on February 20, 1864, and was a part of the largest campaign waged in the state of Florida during the Civil War. Three black regiments constituted a part of the Union forces engaged: the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the 1st North Carolina Colored Infantry, and the 8th U.S. Colored Infantry. Only one of these units, the now famous 54th Massachusetts, had seen combat prior to the battle. In fact, the men of the 8th USCT had not even completed their training. Like engagements before it, Olustee would turn into a proving ground for black soldiers. Had the valor shown by other regiments at Port Hudson and Milliken's Bend been anomalies, or could these men indeed fight as well as their white comrades?

Until early 1864, Florida had seen little in the way of military actions. The Union government had had no incentives to invade the state even though Confederate armies drew large amounts of foodstuffs from it, primarily salt, beef, pork, and sugar. When in January 1864 President Abraham Lincoln gave his approval for an expedition, the operation was meant to have primarily a political agenda—the restoration of Florida to the Union in time for it to send a pro-Lincoln delegation to the Republican National Convention. The previous December, the president had issued a Proclamation of Amnesty and Reconstruction. Under its provisions, a seceded state could come back into the Union when only 10 percent of its i860 voters had taken an oath of allegiance.

Major General Quincy A. Gillmore, commander of the Department of the South, had submitted a proposal for an invasion of Florida in that same

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