History and Names of 8th Regiment
Recruiting for this regiment was commenced in September, 1863, the men rendezvousing at Camp William Penn, near Philadelphia, where a regimental organization was effected with the following field officers:
- Charles W. Fribley, Colonel
- Nelson B. Bartram, Lieutenant Colonel
- Loren Burritt, Major
Colonel Fribley had served as Captain in the Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania, Lieutenant Colonel Bartram in the Seventieth New York, and Major Burritt in the Fifty-sixth Pennsylvania. The camp was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Louis Wagner of the Eighty-eighth, and as two other Pennsylvania Colored regiments had been formed here, the routine of duty was well established.
In December, Major Burritt, with three companies A, F, and D, proceeded to the State of Delaware, for the purpose of obtaining recruits. At Wilmington and Seaford, these troops were handsomely received by the citizens, and a number of recruits werb obtained.
On the 16th of January, 1864, the regiment left camp, and proceeding to New York, embarked upon two transports, the Prometheus and the City of Bath, bound for Hilton Head, to which point the command had been ordered. The City of Bath made a speedy passage, but the Prometheus was tossed about by adverse weather, and was compelled to put in at Fortress Monroe, delaying its arrival at its destination for two days.
The regiment was assigned to Howell’s Brigade of Seymour’s Division. On the 4th of February, the division was reviewed by General Gilmore, in command of the Department, the regiment eliciting much commendation by its good soldierly appearance.
On the 5th of February, the regiment, in conjunction with a force of about seven thousand men, all under command of General Truman Seymour, embarked for a campaign in Florida, and on the evening of the 7th, landed at Jacksonville, on the St. John’s River. At sunset on the following day, the march began. Eight miles out, the advance came upon an encampment of rebels from which they had just fled, abandoning, in their haste, a quantity of stores and several pieces of artillery.
Early on the following morning, three companies of the Eighth, under command of Captain Wagner, made a descent on Finnegan’s Depot, on the Tallehassee Railroad, capturing a quantity of stores, and one prisoner.
For a short time, the regiment was detached from the brigade, and placed on duty guarding and repairing railroad bridges, and was successively stationed at Finnegan’s, Picket House, Baldwin, and Barbour’s.
On the 19th of February, a change in organization was made, whereby the Seventh Connecticut, the Seventh New Hampshire, and Eighth Colored, were united in a brigade, to the command of which Colonel Hawley, of the Seventh Connecticut, was assigned.
Battle of Olustee
The enemy was known to be posted at Lake City, under General Finnegan, and against this post General Seymour determined to lead so much of his force as could be spared from garrison duty in his rear. Finnegan, discovering a disposition of the Union commander to advance upon him, determined not to await an attack at Lake City, but to advance some fifteen miles to meet it at a point near Olustee, where he took a strong position, with his forces formed on a swamp extending southward from Ocean Pond, his centre protected by the swamp, his right resting on an earth-work shielded by rifle-pits, and his left posted on a slight elevation, sheltered by pines, and guarded by cavalry.
Unaware of this advance and new disposition of the enemy’s troops, Seymour, who was at Barbour’s early on the morning of the 20th, began to move. A march of a few hours, brought the column to Sanderson’s, a distance of twelve miles. After a brief rest, the march was resumed, and at two P. M., a body of the enemy’s cavalry was encountered, which quickly gave way. The artillery moved upon the road, and was flanked upon either side by a column of infantry.
When nearing Olustee, and while proceeding quietly along without any expectation of meeting the foe, the head of the column was suddenly fired into by the enemy, from his strong lines in his well chosen position. The cavalry, and the Seventh Connecticut, which was armed with Spencer rifles, were thrown forward as skirmishers, but soon found that they could make little impression. Hawley’s Brigade was in advance, Barton’s and Montgomery’s following at short intervals. Hamilton’s Battery was quickly brought into position, but in that dead level could get no commanding ground.
Without awaiting the arrival of the rest of his force, Seymour put the Seventh New Hampshire in position on the right of the road, and the Eighth Colored upon the left, and pushed them at once into action. The Eighth, though scarcely a month from camp, and with hardly any skill in handling a musket, boldly advanced in face of a withering fire from the enemy’s strong and well chosen lines. Hamilton’s guns thundered in its rear, adding to the terrors, and in some instances to the dangers of its position; but still it stood firm. For three-quarters of an hour, the action raged with unabated fury, these raw troops maintaining their ground without the least shelter, with a courage worthy of veterans. Several color-bearers were shot down, and many officers fell; but it preserved an unflinching front.
At this juncture, the enemy, whose lines greatly overreached the Union front, charged upon the unprotected left flank of the Eighth, threatening its capture. Seeing that the ground could be no longer held, General Seymour ordered the regiment to retire. It was executed in good order, the men firing heavily as they went. Barton’s and Montgomery’s brigades rapidly came up and took the places of the troops withdrawn, and were in a similar manner beaten in detail, Seymour being finally compelled to retire rapidly, with a loss of a part of his artillery.
The loss in the Eighth was very severe. Two officers and forty-nine men were killed, nine officers and one hundred and eighty men were wounded, and sixty three missing, all of whom, it was subsequently ascertained, were wounded and left on the field. Colonel Fribley and Lieutenant Thomas J. Goldsborough were killed; Major Burritt, Captain Wagner, and Lieutenants Seth Lewis and George Warrington, were among the officers wounded. The color company went into action with forty-eight enlisted men, and lost in killed and wounded all but six.
The retreat was continued to Barbour’s, the point from which the command had advanced in the morning, arriving at a little after midnight, having in the meantime, marched forty miles, and fought a severe battle. After a few hours rest, the retreat was renewed, and continued to Jacksonville, where breastworks were thrown up, and preparations made for holding the place, the enemy having followed closely, and threatening an attack.
On the 17th of April, the Eighth, now under command of Captain Bailey, was ordered to St. John’s Bluff, and was set to fortifying that point, and guarding the stream to prevent the enemy from planting torpedoes. In June, Major Mayer, of the Seventh Colored, was temporarily assigned to the command of the regiment, and under him, participated in numerous raids into the surrounding country, destroying a portion of the Cedar Keys Railroad, and taking some of the enemy’s ammunition.
On the 4th of August, General William Birney’s Brigade, to which the Eighth now belonged, was ordered to Virginia, and joined General Butler’s forces at Deep Bottom on the 12th. As the regiment went into position, the enemy opened upon it from his heavy guns at Fort Darling, wounding eight or ten men. On the 25th, it crossed the James, and went into position upon the Petersburg front, where it was kept on active duty.
On the 9th of September, Major Burritt, who was still suffering from the wound received at Olustee, returned and assumed command, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, in place of Lieutenant Colonel Bartram, who had been chosen Colonel of the Twentieth Colored, Major Mayer returning to his place in the Seventh, and Captain Wagner being promoted to Major. After a few weeks’ duty, Colonel Burritt’s wound again opening, he was sent to the hospital, and was subsequently, by order of the War Department, put in command of the recruiting rendezvous at Newport News, the command devolving on Major Wagner.
Towards the close of September, the Tenth Corps, to which the regiment belonged, crossed the James, and in connection with the Eighteenth Corps, advanced upon the enemy’s works at Chapin’s Farm, and the New Market Road. An attack was made early on the morning of the 29th, by the Eighteenth Corps, supported by the Tenth, and a long line of works was carried, and sixteen pieces of artillery and three hundred and fifty prisoners were captured. On the afternoon of this day, General Birney determined to carry a bastioned fort in his front, and selected for the desperate work, a brigade consisting of the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Colored.
The Ninth was first led to the charge, and after a resolute movement was forced to retire, having suffered severely. The Eighth was next put in. It numbered only about two hundred men; but deploying eight companies as skirmishers, Major Wagner promptly moved to the assault, and gained a position within one hundred yards of the enemy’s works, where the men commenced pouring in a steady fire, effectually driving the rebel gunners from their pieces.
For several hours, and until the troops on its left were withdrawn, this position was held, the regiment not being in sufficient strength to carry the fort. Seeing the flank of the regiment exposed, the enemy immediately charged; but Major Wagner delivered a counter charge, breaking the hostile line, and thus saving his entire regiment from capture. At dark, it was relieved, and with the division fell back to the line of works captured in the morning. The loss in this engagement was twelve killed and sixty-one wounded. Captains Cooper and Richardson, and Lieutenants Seth Lewis and Charles C. Cone, were among the severely wounded, the latter mortally.
On the following day, while the troops were busy reversing the breast-works, the enemy attacked. The Eighth was hurried to the threatened point. and assisted in repulsing the enemy, sustaining some loss.
On the morning of the 13th of October, the division was ordered out for an offensive movement. The Eighth was put upon the front as skirmishers, and led on through a dense wood, on the Darbytown Road. The enemy’s skirmishers were encountered, and after sharp fighting were driven from three successive lines where they had taken shelter back to their main line. Late in the afternoon, the regiment was relieved by fresh troops. It entered the engagement with one hundred and fifty men, and lost seven killed, thirty wounded and one missing. Captains Alexander G. Dickey, Elijah Lewis, and Electus A. Pratt, were among the severely wounded, Captain Dickey mortally, and Captain Pratt with the loss of an arm.
At the beginning of November, Major Wagner was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the Ninth Regiment, and Lieutenant Colonel Burritt, owing to his wounds, being still unfit for duty in the field, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel C. Armstrong, of the Ninth, was placed in command of the Eighth, and promoted to Colonel. Soon afterwards, a number of recruits were sent to it from Camp William Penn, largely increasing its strength.
Fall of Petersburg/Duty in Texas
When the spring campaign opened, the regiment crossed the James, and participated in the operations which resulted in the fall of Petersburg, and was among the foremost to enter the city. Soon after the surrender of Lee, it returned to Petersburg, and thence proceeded by sea to Texas. Upon its arrival there, it was stationed at Ringgold Barracks, on the Rio Grande, and beyond the usual camp duty, and an occasional expedition to settle Indian troubles, was little employed. The Mexican (Liberal) troops were quartered, on the opposite side of the river, and between the officers of the two encampments, an intimacy sprang up, which resulted in a free interchange of social hospitalities.
On the 10th of October, the regiment started on the homeward march, and proceeding via Santiago, New Orleans, and New York, arrived at Philadelphia on the 3d of December, and on the 12th, was mustered out of service. It is worthy of note, that of all the colored regiments in the United States service, this one, as shown by the official army register, lost in battle, more officers and men than any other.
Source: Bates, Samuel P. History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865 , Harrisburg, 1868-1871.
Organized at Camp William Penn, Philadelphia, Pa., September 22 to December 4, 1863.
Left Philadelphia for Hilton Head, S.C., January 16, 1864.
Attached to Howell’s Brigade, District of Hilton Head, S. C,,
Dept. of the South, to February, 1864.
Hawley’s Brigade, Seymour’s Division, District of Florida,
Dept. of the South, to April, 1864.
District of Florida, Dept. of the South, to August, 1864.
1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 10th Corps, Army of the James, Dept.of Virginia and
North Carolina, to December, 1864.
2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, 25th Corps, to April, 1865.
1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 25th Corps, and Dept. of Texas, to November, 1865.
Expedition from Hilton Head, S.C., to Jacksonville, Fla., February 5-6, 1864.
Occupation of Jacksonville February 7.
Advance into Florida February 8-20.
Camp Finnegan February 8.
Battle of Olustee February 20.
Retreat to Jacksonville and duty there till April.
Moved to St. John’s Bluff April 17. and duty there till August.
Raid on Baldwin July 23-28.
Moved to Deep Bottom, Va., August 4-12.
Action at Deep Bottom August 12.
Duty at Deep Bottom and in trenches before Petersburg till September 27.
Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, New Market Heights, September 28-30.
Fort Harrison September 29.
Darbytown Road October 13.
Battle of Fair Oaks October 27-28.
In trenches before Richmond till March 27, 1865.
Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9.
Hatcher’s Run March 29-31.
Fall of Petersburg April 2.
Pursuit of Lee April 3-9.
Appomattox Court House April 9.
Surrender of Lee and his army.
Moved to Petersburg April 11, and duty there till May 24.
Sailed from City Point for Texas May 24.
Duty at Ringgold Barracks and on the Rio Grande, Texas, till November, 1865.
Mustered out November 10, 1865.
Moved to Philadelphia, Pa., November 10-December 3.
Discharged December 12, 1865.
Regiment lost during service:
4 Officers and 115 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and
132 Enlisted men by disease.
Letter of Rufus Jones 8th USCT
May 7, 1864
THE CHRISTIAN RECORDER
For the Christian Recorder.
Exchange of Camps – Departure of troops for the Army of the Potomac – Number of old troops in Department – Rebels treat Colored Troops as prisoners of War – Officers of Colored Troops – Treatment of Colored Troops in Hospitals – Pay day – Colored 2d Lieut. in the 54th Mass. – Captain Anderson – “Lion,” the Regimental Dog.
My last letter, dated March 24th, was written on the premises of Mrs. Fort, on the bank of the beautiful river St. John’s. The camp was just beginning to look handsome, when the 8th was ordered to exchange camps with the 7th Conn., one of the regiments with which the 8thwas brigaded. The 8th having suffered in the late battle of Olustee, and their strength being hereby greatly diminished, were not considered sufficiently strong to hold as important a position, though strong enough to perform the labor of intrenching, fortifying, and beautifying that point. Details for fatigue were very heavy, and the work pushed forward with rapidity, for the first eight or ten days after encamping there.
The exchange of camps was reluctantly made by the men of both regiments; having just completed their camps to suit their eccentric tastes. The exchange, on the part of the 8th, was rather profitable than otherwise, as to convenience of water facilities. Water in the camp of the 7th Conn., is obtained with little or no labor. Barrels had been sunk at the front of nearly all the company streets.
These improvements were appreciated by the 8th, with the exception of the view of the St. John’s river.
Soldiers, as well as farmers, have their signs, and can tell pretty truthfully when the moving cap day comes, though they do not use the horn; but the preparing and decorating of a camp, are signs that orders for moving will soon follow, and no one is surprised when the order comes. Although such irregularities occur, the soldier is not reluctant in trying to make another camp to please him as well as the one he left behind.
I have just learned that three regiments are embarking on board of transports, to join the army of the Potomac. The 7th Conn., 7th New Hampshire, (with which the 8th has been brigaded,) and 40th Mass. Mounted Infantry, leaving this department almost to the colored troops. Colored regiments are, the 1st N.C., 54th Mass., 55th Mass., 2d S.C., 7th Wis., organized at Baltimore, Md., 3d U.S.C.T., (first regiment organized at Cap Wm. Penn, Pa.,) and 8th Regt., U.S.C.T. Company F, of the 3d, have been detached as artillerists, and garrison “Fort Sammons, on the extreme left.” Co K, of the 3d, also garrison a fort on the right of the line of intrenchments. Some of the troops of which I speak, have been sent to Pilatka, and other different points, to perform garrison duty.
Co. D, of the 8th, has been ordered to St. John’s Bluff, some ten miles down St. John’s river, to do garrison duty. It is intimated that the 8th will soon be ordered to Yellow Bluff, on the St. John’s. The rebel Gen. Patten Anderson, commanding the rebel forces in Florida, has furnished the commanding General of the federal forces, at this place, with a list of the names of those taken prisoners at the battle of Olustee. It may possibly be that they will be treated as prisoners of war; yet it is uncertain what disposition will be made of the colored troops in their possession, eventually.
It is hoped that the authorities at Washington will give special attention to the selection of officers to command colored regiments. Such officers as Isaiah E. Richardson, Adjutant of the 8th, and 1st Lieut. Elijah Lewis, possess qualities, as officers of colored soldiers, I truly admire. These officers are kind and respectful to those whom they command, and feel interested in the welfare of the colored soldier; and at the same time, demand that respect which is due to an officer. These good qualities are appreciated by the men; and if the promotion of these officers were in the power of the men of the regiment, they would soon occupy the most prominent positions in the regiment.
The sick and wounded colored troops of this department, in the hospital at Jacksonville, are treated with the utmost attention and kindness.
Hospital No. 5, occupied by the colored troops, is pleasantly located. The building, probably, once belonged to one of the prominent citizens of Jacksonville, from the appearance of the construction of it, and the beautiful shade-trees, and flowers with which it is surrounded. It must be humiliating to those who once lived in style, and owned slaves, to see their property, and that of others, occupied as hospitals by negro soldiers from the North. It often happens here, that the mistress and servant eat together in sutler stores.
I have seen beautiful bouquets, here, in the month of March. Florida, for pleasantness of climate, and beauty of country, is almost a “Paradise.” With the exception of the prospective crop of the Alligator family, and flourishing condition of the reptile kingdom, I should prefer making Florida as my future home.
The part of the State which I have seen, with a little capital and labor, on the yankee system, could be greatly improved; and in a short time, make it an enviable State.
It seems the farther South the 8th advances, the farther “pay-day” gets away from it. Just think of the colored troops not receiving any pay for nine months! Every vessel which lands at Jacksonville, from the North, is expected to bring the Paymaster; but I have begun to think none has been sent; and that the privilege of fighting and getting killed, is the only pay given.
The 54th Mass. has had one of their sergeants recently promoted to a 2d Lieutenancy, on recommendation of Col. E.N. Hallowell, of the 54th, (now acting Brig. General of the 3d Brigade, composed of the 54th, 55th, Mass., and 8th U.S.C.T.,) and by Gov. Andrew, of Massachusetts; and no doubt the appointment of one of “African descent,” to that position, will create a little flutter among those officers (of the 54th, and other regiments,) who are not favorable to promoting black soldiers.
The Government probably places some estimate of value on the services and patriotism of the nearly organized army, which it has put into the field to combat with slave catchers. The freedom given to the rebels in Jacksonville, who were taken prisoners by the federal forces on the advance to the front, and sent to Jacksonville, really surprises me. It seems that they can obtain permission to open stores, restaurants, and engage in business generally, in preference to citizens from the North.
In appearance, one would think that all the rebels about Jacksonville were millers, (by occupation,) going or returning from their meals. The clothing worn by them is of a grayish color, and made after the fashion of tights, showing that cloth is scarce, or too many men for the supply of cloth.
Captain Anderson, (the instructor of the band,) of Philadelphia, is with the regiment, and gives the band his undivided attention; having already taught it some twenty pieces of music. The band is highly prized by the regiment, being the only one belonging to a colored regiment, except the 55th Mass., in the department.
“Lion,” the old white dog, which has been with the 8th ever since its organization, (at Camp “Wm. Penn,” Pa.,) is with it yet, and has no objection to being among black soldiers. He was in many battles in the army of the Virginia previous to enlisting in the 8th, and lastly took part in the battle of Olustee, and was wounded in the fore-leg, from the effects of which he has not recovered, but is ready to march at any moment the regiment is; if going on board of a vessel, he is the first one on board. He is a soldier, and has no respect for citizens who may visit the camp; and does not hesitate to bite. He attends “Dress parade,” and usually lies in front of the band, having some musical taste, and shows that he has not been brought up a savage.
RUFUS SIBB JONES,
Serg’t Maj. 8th U.S.C.T.
Jacksonville, Fla., April 16th, 1864.
This is ITEM #60781 from the Accessible Archives, Inc. Database and Web site at http://www.accessible.com/. You or your organization must be a licensed subscriber to access the databases on its site. This letter is posted here with the kind permission of Mr. John Nagy, Accessible Archives, Inc.
The Battle of Olustee, FL
Also known as The Battle of Ocean Pond
February 20, 1864
CWSAC Class B
Map of the Battle of Olustee (also called Ocean Pond). Based on a sketch by Confederate Lieutenant M. B. Grant, the map was published in the Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1895. The positions of Confederate forces are shown in red and the Union forces are in blue.
In February 1864, Union forces landed in Jacksonville and launched a major expedition westward into the interior of the state. Union objectives included cutting off Confederate supply lines, locating recruits for black Union regiments, and establishing a pro-Union government in east Florida. The Union expedition was commanded by Brigadier General Truman Seymour. To counter this move, Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Finegan gathered southern troops sent from north Florida, southern Georgia, and South Carolina.
The Battle of Olustee had both historical and military significance in its detail. It was the largest battle fought in the state of Florida during the Civil War. Fought on February 20, 1864, the battle took place 48 miles to the west of Jacksonville.
When the Civil War finally came to North Florida, it did so with an intermittent fury that destroyed much of Jacksonville and scattered its residents. The city was taken four separate times by Federal forces but abandoned after each of the first three occupations. During the fourth occupation, it was used as a staging ground for the ill-fated Union invasion of the Florida interior, which ended in the bloody Battle of Olustee in February, 1864. This late Confederate victory, along with the deadly use of underwater mines against the U.S. Navy along the St. Johns, nearly succeeded in ending the fourth Union occupation of Jacksonville.
The battle also saw the introduction of a newly trained regiment of the United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.).
Colonel Joseph Roswell Hawley
Colonel Joseph Roswell Hawley commanded the second brigade of Seymour’s army, including the Seventh Connecticut, Seventh New Hampshire, and the Eighth United States Colored Troops. An unusual collection of veteran and inexperienced units, Hawley’s brigade would play an important role in the battle.
Their commander was a thirty-seven year old native of North Carolina, who at the age of eleven moved to his father’s native state of Connecticut. After graduating from Hamilton College in 1847, Hawley served as a delegate to the 1852 Free Soil Convention, and was an early leader in the state Republican Party. Hawley also served as editor of the Hartford Evening Press, a staunchly Republican and abolitionist newspaper.
As a captain in the First Connecticut Infantry, Hawley fought at First Bull Run after which he was appointed lieutenant colonel of a new, three-year regiment, the Seventh Connecticut. Rising to the Colonelcy of the Seventh, Hawley participated in the unit’s battles along the Atlantic seaboard, eventually rising to brigade command.
The third regiment in Hawley’s Brigade was the Eighth United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.). This unit was new and completely untried in combat, having been organized between September, 1863 and January, 1864 at Camp William Penn, near Philadelphia. Several companies were also raised at Wilmington and Seaford, Delaware.
The Eighth’s commander was Colonel Charles W. Fribley, a native of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. Fribley had risen from the non-commissioned officer ranks to become a captain in the Eighty-fourth Pennsylvania Volunteers. On November 18, 1863, he was appointed colonel of the Eighth by the Secretary of War.
Colonel Charles W. Fribley
Fribley’s inexperience with high rank is evident from the fact that, soon after assuming command, charges were preferred against him by the commandant of Camp William Penn, Lieutenant Colonel Louis Wagner. Wagner accused Fribley of exceeding his authority and of “obeying my orders when it suits him and disobeying when it does not suit him.” The army’s Judge Advocate Office eventually ruled that the charges were not sufficient to warrant a court-martial.
Most of the other officers in the Eighth were veterans of other regiments who had appeared before examining boards selecting officers for the new U.S.C.T. regiments being formed. One example was First Lieutenant Oliver Willcox Norton, formerly a private in the Eighty-third Pennsylvania, and veteran of Gettysburg and many other eastern theater battles. The Eighth’s Lieutenant Colonel was Nelson B. Bartram, formerly of the Seventieth New York, while Major Loren Burritt had experience with the Fifty-Sixth Pennsylvania.
The unit’s enlistees consisted mostly of free Northern blacks from Pennsylvania, some Southern contrabands, as well as inhabitants from the border states of Maryland and Delaware. Some recruits came from Indiana and, surprisingly, Jamaica. Little is known of these or other black soldiers, as the overwhelming majority were illiterate and left no personal recollections of their service.
On the 16th of January, 1864, the regiment left Camp William Penn, and proceeding to New York, embarked upon two transports, the Prometheus and the City of Bath, bound for Hilton Head, South Carolina where the command had been ordered. The City of Bath made a speedy passage, but the Prometheus was tossed about by adverse weather, and was compelled to put in at Fortress Monroe, delaying its arrival at its destination for two days.
The regiment was assigned to Howell’s Brigade of Seymour’s Division. On the 4th of February, the division was reviewed by General Quincy Adams Gilmore, in command of the Department, the regiment eliciting much commendation by its good soldierly appearance.
On Friday, the 5th of February, the regiment, in conjunction with a force of about seven thousand men, all under command of General Truman Seymour, embarked for a campaign in Florida, and on the evening of the 7th, landed at Jacksonville, on the St. John’s River. At sunset on the following day, the march began. Eight miles out, the advance force came upon an encampment of Confederate troops. In their haste to flee they abandoned a quantity of stores and several pieces of artillery.
Early on the following morning, three companies of the Eighth, under command of Captain Wagner, made a descent on Finnegan’s Depot, on the Tallahassee Railroad, capturing a quantity of stores, and one prisoner.
For a short time, the regiment was detached from the brigade, and placed on duty guarding and repairing railroad bridges and successively stationed at Finnegan’s, Picket House, Baldwin, and Barbour’s. On February 19th, a change in organization was made, whereby the Seventh Connecticut, the Seventh New Hampshire, and Eighth Colored, were united in a brigade, the command of which Colonel Hawley, of the Seventh Connecticut, was assigned.
Despite its enthusiasm, the Eighth was still dreadfully ill-prepared for combat. Barely one month out of training camp, the regiment had little or no battlefield drill, and many of its troops were even unfamiliar with the proper procedure for loading their rifles! At Olustee, the inexperience of the regiment would have disastrous results.
Brigadier General Truman Seymour
As a prelude to the battle, Brigadier General Truman Seymour had moved deep into the state of Florida, occupying, destroying, and liberating, meeting little resistance from the Confederates. On Saturday, February 20th, he approached Brigadier General Joseph Finnegan’s 5,000-man force entrenched near Olustee.
When one infantry brigade came out to meet Seymour’s advance units, the Union forces attacked them but were repulsed. As the battle raged, and as Finegan committed the last of his reserves, the Union line finally broke and began to retreat. Finegan made no attempt to take advantage of the Union retreat allowing most of the fleeing force to return to Jacksonville.
An image of victorious Confederate Brigadier General Joseph Finegan is shown below followed by the official report of losing commander, Colonel Joseph Hawley. The estimated casualties in the battle of Olustee were a total 2,806 of which 1,860 were Union troops and 946 were Confederate troops.
The loss in the Eighth was very severe. Two officers and forty-nine men were killed, nine officers and one hundred and eighty men were wounded, and sixty three missing, all of whom, it was subsequently ascertained, were wounded and left on the field. Colonel Fribley and Lieutenant Thomas J. Goldsborough were killed; Major Burritt, Captain Wagner, and Lieutenants Seth Lewis and George Warrington, were among the officers wounded. The color company went into action with forty-eight enlisted men, and lost killed and wounded all but six.
Colonel Fribley’s death early in the battle unsettled the recruits, but while some retreated in disorder, most stayed to fight and die. The regiment would lose 87 men killed and mortally wounded in the fighting, one of the higher death totals suffered by a U.S.C.T. unit in the war. The unit’s total casualties numbered 310.
Brigadier General Joseph Finegan
SIR: I have the honor to report concerning the part taken by the forces under my command in the battle fought at Olustee on the 20th instant.
On the morning of the 20th, at Barber’s Ford, my brigade consisted of the Seventh New Hampshire, Col. Joseph C. Abbott, numbering about 30 officers and 675 men; the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry, Col. Charles W. Fribley, 21 officers and 554 men, and the Seventh Connecticut, Capt. Benjamin F. Skinner, 10 officers and 365 men; aggregate, 61 officers and 1,594 men. Deducting wagoners, hospital attendants, &c., and men broken down on the march, perhaps 1,500 men went into the battle. We had ten days’ supply of hard bread, and about three days’ of coffee and sugar.
The Seventh Connecticut and half of the Seventh New Hampshire carried Spencer carbines, the remainder Springfield or Bridesburg rifles. Colonel Henry’s command of mounted men led the column. My brigade followed, Captain Hamilton’s light battery, Company E, Third U.S. Artillery, taking the road, and the regiments moving by the flank abreast thereof, the Seventh New Hampshire and Seventh Connecticut on the right of the road, the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry on the left. Before reaching Sanderson, by General Seymour’s order, the Seventh Connecticut took the road and kept about one-half a mile ahead of us. Two or 3 miles beyond Sanderson we came up with Colonel Henry’s command, apparently arranged for a bivouac.
The rebels beginning to annoy our vedettes the general sent for a company, and soon for the whole of the Seventh Connecticut, to throw out skirmishers and move westward. Colonel Henry’s command soon followed them, and in a few minutes my brigade moved on also. After going 2 or 3 miles, occasionally hearing a few shots, several discharges of artillery were heard and we quickened our pace. I directed the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry, which was abreast of the Seventh New Hampshire on the railroad on the left, to leave that, change direction to the right, and come nearer the highway. The general commanding sent me orders to get into action quickly. Taking the Seventh New Hampshire, and leaving the Eighth to go in on the left of a pond or swamp, near which was a portion of our artillery, we hurried on, the Seventh New Hampshire moving by the flank, left in front. Lieutenant Bradshaw indicated the general direction to me, and I Sent Lieutenant Van Keuren for definite orders. Diverging a little to the right again to clear an open pond, I had the regiment brought into column by company, and closed en masse on the tenth company. The enemy’s fire began to be felt, not very severely, but it was increasing as we approached.
We met the skirmishers of the Seventh Connecticut falling back, firing, before the enemy, who showed, I judge, two battalions in line. 1 distinctly ordered the Seventh New Hampshire to deploy on the eighth company, which would have brought the left of the line near the pond. Somebody must have misunderstood the order, for a portion of the regiment was going wrong, when myself and staff and Colonel Abbott repeated it vigorously, but vainly. All semblance of organization was lost in a few moments, save with about one company, which faced the enemy and opened fire. The remainder constantly drifted back, suffering from the fire which a few moments’ decision and energy would have checked, if not suppressed. Most of the officers went back with their men, trying to rally them. The brave color-bearer, Sergt. Thomas H. Simington, Company B, obeyed every word or signal, and sometimes faced the enemy alone. Though wounded, he carried the colors to the end of the battle. Lieut. George W. Taylor, Company B, acting adjutant of the regiment, was fearless and incessantly active, and I sorrow to record that later in the action he fell fatally wounded in the head.
Lieutenant Van Keuren, of my staff, asked a cavalry officer to deploy his company and stop the fugitives, and the latter promptly complied. Colonel Abbott obtained a similar favor and gathered nearly 200 of his men on the right of the field, where they kept up a lively fire until they heard the order to retreat.
Reporting the break to the general, I hastened back, and after a short attempt to rally the scattered men, I met the colors and buglers of the Seventh Connecticut, and the officers soon all gathered there with their reserves and skirmishers. They had been hotly engaged a very considerable time alone, and had an opportunity, which I believe they improved, to do good service. Colonel Barton’s brigade was just now engaged, and moving the Seventh Connecticut to a position a little to the left and in rear of his left, I sent for the reserved ammunition, a portion of the battalion being entirely exhausted, and the others having a limited supply. Had they gone as they were, they would very soon have been compelled to fallback. As soon as the supply arrived, I moved the battalion forward on the left of Barton’s brigade, which was slowly and stubbornly retiring. The Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry, moving up on the left, went into line and found itself in a very hot fight. The regiment is new and was never before in battle, and I deem it creditable to both officers and men that they endured so long, and to the best of their ability returned a fire which killed and wounded over half their number.
Colonel Fribley died on the field, and the only other field officer present, Major Burritt, was severely wounded. They fell back, and were rallied on the edge of the field by the next in rank, Capt. R. C. Bailey. Three color-bearers and 5 of the color guard were killed or wounded.
The Seventh Connecticut, having been brought to the positions above described, soon opened fire, with guide sights at 600 [yards], upon a rebel column and disordered and checked it. I kept them lying down quiet for a time, only a few of the men firing at single rebels or small groups. Colonel Montgomery’s brigade had come up. The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, Colonel Hallowell, went into action on our left. The First North Carolina, Lieutenant-Colonel Reed, on our right, between us and Barton’s retiring brigade, went up into the field, halting and firing fiercely, with its right well forward, so as to form an angle of perhaps 120 degrees with the line of the Fifty-fourth, with full space for us between. Just before they went up, the Seventh Connecticut advanced again a short distance and, lying down, opened fire for a short time, with guide sights at 400 yards, upon the enemy fairly in view. I had before this sent Lieutenant Van Keuren to the general to say that we seemed to be crowding the enemy’s left, and to ask for orders, and about this time an aide came to say that the general wished me to fall back, as the enemy were only feinting on our right, and were preparing to flank us in force. I repeated what I had said to Lieutenant Van Keuren, and waited, permitting only such firing as seemed to be necessary and useful. Captain Skinner held foot until the forces on our right and left had fallen back, when he went back in line a short distance, halted, and faced the enemy a short time, and then moved by the right of companies to the rear some distance to a new line of battle, where, under my orders, he halted and came into line on the left of a light battery (which I do not know) and with a body of cavalry on his left. The firing here was chiefly by artillery.
After the battery went to the rear, we followed it to another line. Here all joined in the loud and defiant cheers which, started by the general, rang along the whole line of our army, and showed that though defeated we were not routed nor broken in spirit. We then moved to the field hospital, where we made a longer halt. Just before this, Colonel Abbott reported to me, bringing a large portion of his command to his colors, Captain Bailey also coming up with the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry. The general ordered them to continue their retreat. Not long after, he detailed the Seventh Connecticut to cover their retreat, by deploying across the rear of all the infantry. At Sanderson I placed the Seventh New Hampshire and the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry in line north of the hamlet to check any advance in that direction. After the stragglers and wounded had been started, by the general’s orders I guarded the train, marching those two regiments by the flank and by the side of the wagons and ambulances to Baldwin, where we bivouacked on the ground we left eighteen hours before, having marched about 32 miles, and having been about three hours in battle. The Seventh Connecticut arrived an hour or two later, having marched without rest 16 miles after the battle, with a large portion of its men deployed as skirmishers.
On the morning of the 21st, my brigade was ordered to follow the wagon train, with Colonel Montgomery’s brigade following me and under my command. We had gone half a mile when the Seventh Connecticut was again detached as a rear guard. It covered the rear, the mounted command of Colonel Henry excepted, to Baldwin, and when all other forces on foot left, remained over night there with Colonel Henry, on picket and fatigue, and, after loading cars, pushed some a portion of the way, leaving Baldwin at 9 a.m. on the 22d.
From Baldwin I went on to McGirt’s Creek, where the command bivouacked for the night in a good position. The train and Colonel Barton’s command passed through, and Colonel Montgomery took the First North Carolina on to Camp Finegan. At 7 o’clock the next morning, with the Seventh New Hampshire, Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry, and Fifty-fourth Massachusetts, I started eastward. The general detached the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts to remain for a time at Ten-Mile Station, and by his orders I went with the other two regiments to Six-Mile Creek, on the King’s road, on grand guard.
The loss of the brigade in the battle was: The Seventh New Hampshire, 208; Eighth U. S. Colored Infantry, 310; Seventh Connecticut, 69; aggregate killed, wounded, and missing, 587, about 37 « per cent.
Colonel Abbott did all in his power to rally his command after that regiment, which has proved its valor on other fields, so strangely broke, and its loss proves that, though not in good order, it did not go away from danger.
I have already referred to the death of the brave Lieutenant Taylor.
Colonel Fribley, of the Eighth U.S. Colored Infantry, a gallant and capable officer, fell mortally wounded while in the fearless discharge of his duty, and died on the field. It was a great loss to the regiment and the service. Major Burritt, of the same regiment, was severely wounded while bravely at work. The command devolved upon Capt. R. C. Bailey, who has since discharged his new duties with zeal and discretion.
Capt. B. F. Skinner, who commanded the battalion of the Seventh Connecticut (a large portion of the regiment being absent on veteran furlough), was on the sick list when the regiment took the field, but he performed his laborious duties with the energy and fearless bravery that have always characterized him, and his battalion received the hearty commendation of the general at the close of the fight. It is greatly regretted that he has felt compelled, by ill health, to quit the service. Lieutenant Dempsey, of that regiment, a faithful, patriotic man, was killed early in the action.
My staff, First Lieut. E. Lewis Moore, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, acting assistant adjutant-general; First Lieut. John Van Keuren, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, acting assistant inspector-general, and Second Lieut. Heber J. Davis, Seventh New Hampshire, accompanied me closely, were mindful of every opportunity for careful service, and certainly no officers in similar positions ever did better. Lieutenant Davis received a minie-ball in his neck in the midst of the engagement. When an opportunity offered he had the ball quickly extracted and continued on duty. Dr. W. W. Brown, surgeon Seventh New Hampshire, senior medical officer, and Lieut. W. T. Seward, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, brigade quartermaster and commissary, performed their duties admirably. Their labors on the 20th, and for two or three days after, were excessive and exhausting. Private Vinton, Company K, Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, mounted orderly, had his horse twice shot, and finally killed, but he soon found another and continued on duty.
I send herewith reports of the regimental commanders.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOSEPH R. HAWLEY,
Colonel Seventh Connecticut Volunteers, Comdg. Brigade.
Copied from The Official Records of the War of Rebellion
William F. Chambrés
Company of Military Historians