As readers of this blog may recall, there’s been quite a discussion about a proposal to erect a monument to United States soldiers at Olustee, site of a battle on February 20, 1864. While some of the debate over this monument may have to do with the precise location of the monument, the louder debate concerns whether any such monument should be erected at all.
Olustee is not a well-known battle. One of the more interesting facts concerning the clash is that the famed 54th Massachusetts of Battery/Fort Wagner fame participated in it. It’s also worth reflecting on the aftermath of the battle. As one Confederate cavalryman from Georgia recalled years later:
In passing over the field, and the road ran centering through it, my attention was first attracted to the bodies of the yankees, invariably stripped, shoes first and clothing next. Their white bodies looked ghastly enough, but I particularly notice that firing seemed to be going on in every direction, until the reports sounded almost frequent enough to resemble the work of skirmishers.
A young officer was standing in the road in front of me and I asked him, “What is the meaning of all this firing I hear going on”. His reply to me was, “Shooting niggers Sir. “I have tried to make the boys desist but I can’t control them”. I made some answer in effect that it seemed horrible to kill the wounded devils, and he again answered, “That’s so Sir, but one young fellow over yonder told me the niggers killed his brother after being wounded, at Fort Pillow, and he was twenty three years old, that he had already killed nineteen and needed only four more to make the matter even, so I told him to go ahead and finis the job”. I rode on but the firing continued.
The next morning I had occasion to go over the battle field again quite early, before the burial squads began their work, when the results of the shooting of the previous night became quite apparent. Negroes, and plenty of them, whom I had seen lying all over the field wounded, and as far as I could see, many of them moving around from palace to place, now without a motion, all were dead. If a negro had a shot in the shin another was sure to be in the head.
A very few prisoners were taken, and but a few at the prison pen. One ugly big black buck was interrogated as to how it happened that he had come back to fight his old master, and upon his giving some very insolent reply, his interragater drew back his musket, and with the butt gave him a blow that killed him instantly. A very few of the wounded were placed on the surgeons operating table-their legs fairly flew off, but whether they were at all seriously wounded I have always had my doubt.
I wonder whether anyone designing signage at the battlefield would like to include this information.
You can learn more about the battle here. One letter will draw especial notice, for it is from the man who supposedly first blew “Taps,” served at Gettysburg with Strong Vincent, and was now an officer in the 8th USCT … Oliver W. Norton.