Florida Getaways of the Day
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Lake City: Largest Civil War battlefield in Florida( PHOTO BY ERICA PORTER, COURTESY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA )
In their old age, battlefields are lovely places. Having earned their fame in the violence of war, they retire to a life of serenity as hallowed ground.
So it is with Olustee, site of the largest Civil War battle in Florida. The piney woods are quiet except for weekend visitors to a nearby lake known as Ocean Pond. But on Feb. 20, 1864, about 5,500 Union soldiers met a Confederate force of equal size. More than 2,800 men, including almost 2,000 federal troops, were killed or wounded during one day of horrific fighting. In the evening, Union troops withdrew in defeat.
Union forces had arrived in Jacksonville two weeks earlier with several objectives: cut crucial Confederate supply lines of salt and cattle, recruit black soldiers and establish a pro-Union state government. They failed at all three.
Among the Union troops were three regiments of black soldiers: the 1st North Carolina Colored Infantry, the 8th U.S. Colored Infantry and the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry. The 54th was made famous in the 1989 movie Glory, which starred Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman.
Black troops suffered heavy losses in the daylong battle but are credited with preventing the Union defeat from becoming a complete rout.
Olustee Battlefield State Historic Site is 12 miles east of Lake City in north Florida. There is a small museum, trails, cannons and a monument. It is open Thursdays through Mondays; 904-752-3866. Every February, the Battle of Olustee is re-enacted.
-- Ken Clarke, Orlando Sentinel
Details of the battle and the site are available at several Web sites: dhr.dos.state.fl.us/museum/civwar/17.html and www.cr.nps.gov/goldcres/sites/olust.htm and extlab7.entnem.ufl.edu/olustee/events.html.