The truth about Florida's Civil War historytags: Florida, Civil War
Olustee, Florida—Lugging their private artillery pieces behind their pick-up trucks, heavy-weapons hobbyists drive days to get to the annual celebration of the Civil War Battle of Olustee, fought 150 years ago, on February 20, 1864. Fire fills the night sky as celebrants shoot off their mini-howitzers, and the next day rebel yells fill the air as reenactors whup the Yankees. Other events include a crafts fair and the annual Tiny Miss Tots Battle of Olustee contest.
These festivities commemorate what news reports, history books, and the organizers describe as Florida’s greatest moment of the Civil War. According to the Ocala Star-Banner, Olustee was “a decisive victory for the South.” Standard accounts also describe Olustee as “the largest Civil War battle on Florida soil.”
That’s historical misinformation, and the official Confederate archives prove it. In his official report following the battle, General P.G.T. Beauregard sourly informed President Jefferson Davis that the results of the fighting at Olustee were “insignificant,” thanks largely to the fact that his own forces made “no serious attempt… to pursue” U.S. troops as they withdrew.
When asked why he and his men were letting the federal forces escape, one Confederate field officer responded: “Killing niggers, sir.” A timely advance by black troops saved the day for the Union forces. As one white eye-witness put it, “The colored troops went in grandly, and they fought like devils,” suffering high casualties as they advanced. As white U.S. troops withdrew, the Confederates set upon the wounded American black men in uniform. In their eagerness to murder wounded blacks, the Confederates threw away what Beauregard called “the apparent opportunity of striking the enemy an effective blow.”...
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