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City Council Approves Olustee Battle Festival Permit (3-1):  The Battle of Olustee, this is what really happened

photo of Olustee battlefield reenactment with caption: Battle of Olustee, a Brutal Battle Obscured by Political Games & Historical Revisionism

Link to City agenda pageLAKE CITY, FL – Monday night’s City Council agenda included the following item: Permit application from the Blue Grey Army, Inc., to hold the Olustee Battle Festival…on Friday, February 18, through February 19, 2022.

The battle of Olustee occurred in Baker County, not in Lake City or Columbia County. The Olustee Battle and the events surrounding the battlefield were previously the centerpieces of the Festival. Thousands of white people, along with their children, many waving the Confederate Battle flag, would cheer their Confederate heroes on to victory while watching Americans blowing each other's brains out.

The local "hometown" newspaper, the event organizers, and other Florida news outlets proclaimed the Battle of Olustee as not only a decisive victory, but Florida's greatest moment of the Civil War.

So, what really happened at the Battle of Olustee that makes the event worthy of a festival supported and financed by the City and County fathers?

The Battle of Olustee: Whitewashing the Past

In the official Confederate archives, General P.G.T. Beauregard informed President Jefferson Davis that the results of the fighting at Olustee were “insignificant,” largely because his forces made "no serious attempt… to pursue" Union troops as they withdrew. (fn 1)

After the Union withdrawal, the timely advance and the bravery of the black Union troops, which allowed the Union forces to escape, was widely acknowledged.

One witness explained, “The colored troops went in grandly, and they fought like devils." (fn 2)

Reports also supported Beauregard's conclusion that the Union forces escaped and the reasons surrounding it.

Plight of Black Union Soldiers
"Shooting niggers Sir...I can't control them"

The plight of the black Union soldiers did not go unnoticed. The memoirs of Confederate cavalry officer William Frederick Penniman explained the events after the battle. 

"Nearing the dusk in the P.M. and as I rode slowly over the field, it was niggers dead, niggers wounded in all directions, some severely, other not so much so, groans and prayers from the wounded heard in all directions." (fn 2)

Penniman, heading back to his camp, continued, "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 rode on but the firing continued.'"

Penniman 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."

Black Lives Didn't Matter
The slave that came back as a Union solider

Penniman continued, "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." (fn 3 (end))

There was a recurring accusation that Confederate troops were killing wounded black troops on the battlefield throughout the Civil War.

U.S. General John P. Hatch was a U.S General, Union General, West Point graduate, and Congressional Medal of Honor winner.

Figures at the time showed the Union missing at the Battle of Olustee was telling: Union missing outnumbered Confederate by more than eighty-four to one.

“Most of the colored men were murdered on the field,” U.S. General John P. Hatch reported, following an investigation. (fn 4)

Burying the Dead

2015 Oak Lawn/Olustee memorial service. No union dead here.            (Battle Festival photo)

While the Confederates buried the remains of their own war dead, the remains of the Union soldiers, the loyal Americans who fought for, rather than against their country that day, were left to be rooted up “by the hogs...in consequence of which the bones and skulls were scattered broadcast over the battlefield,” a returning Union veteran of the battle recounted. (fn 5)

There has never been a thorough search to find and identify the remains of the Union troops, the loyal Americans missing at Olustee, of the kind that has occurred in Vietnam and most recently North Korea.

Olustee enthusiasts have not taken kindly to suggestions that loyal Americans be honored there.

During the hearings on proposals to erect an Olustee monument to honor the Union dead, neo-Confederate flag-wavers disrupted the hearings. One of Florida's most prominent legislators and head of the Judiciary Committee, Dennis Baxley, a member of The Sons of Confederate Veterans, argued against it.

Victory at Olustee: a historical sham

“Victory at Olustee,” as title headings in history books call it, was conjured up a generation after the Civil War ended. State law ordained that all children be taught the fictional version. (fn 6)

Monument dedication day, a day for the Confederacy.

In 1897, the Florida Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (fn 7), a white supremacist advocacy group that promoted the Lost Cause (fn 8) movement, began collecting funds to place a monument at the battlefield commemorating the Confederate dead. In 1912, with the help of a $2,500 contribution from the Florida Legislature, the monument was erected.

The "Battle Reenactment" began in 1977. Its origins and who supported or questioned it are still wrapped in local controversy.

The battle reenactment is mainly attended by white people and their white children and folks waving the Confederate battle flag, watching folks blow each other brains out. The event is billed as the "Olustee Battle Festival."

In the past, the event was sponsored by some of the areas largest corporations and the local mainstream media, the Lake City Reporter and the local Community College, Lake City Community College (now Florida Gateway College). In 2019, national sponsors like McDonalds no longer sponsored the event.

Murder at Olustee: An act too raw for little children

The murder of the wounded black soldiers, left on the field after the battle, played no role in the festivities, an event that the organizers must have thought was just too raw for the little children to see after watching the glory of grown men running each other through with bayonets; watching exploding shells blowing off limbs, and blowing each other's brains out.


"Confederate soldiers were cogs in the military arm of the Confederate States of America, a government founded for the avowed purpose of preserving human slavery and fostering that institution’s propagation into new territories." (fn 9)

"The primary purpose of the Blue-Grey Army is to increase the knowledge of its members and the public about the historical events of the Battle of Olustee," so said the Blue-Gray Army, Inc, which also said the battle re-enactment is "but just a history lesson that the battle was fought by men on both sides who stood for important causes to them...." They did this without mentioning the Confederate cause.

"Located near the spot where the intersecting Interstates 10 and 75 form a gigantic diagonal cross, like the one on the Confederate [battle] flag, Olustee is another of those places where important truths, along with the dishonored remains of true American heroes, lie just beneath Florida’s quirky, postmodern surface." (fn 10)

On January 8, 2019, the Florida Gateway College board unanimously decided to end funding of the "Olustee Battle Festival." It was an enlightened first step in telling the truth of the Battle of Olustee.

Columbia County and Lake City have not.


fn 1:  The Truth About Florida’s Civil War History, and Finding Florida, T.D Allman
fn 2:  see fn 1
fn 3:  From the Reminiscences of William Frederick Penniman
fn 4:  Finding Florida, T.D. Allman
fn 5:  see fn 4
fn 6:  see fn 4
fn 7:  United Daughters of the Confederacy
fn 8:  the Lost Cause
fn 9:  Fellow Southerners! (see 2 paragraphs before comments)
fn 10:  The Truth About Florida’s Civil War History


*Updated Oct. 6, 2021  10:29 am: added image of City Agenda in first paragraph.

This article originally appeared on January 28, 2019, and has been updated. It was titled, Battle of Olustee Festival: Revisionist History Where Black Lives Didn't & Still Don't Matter

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

On Oct. 6, 2021, JH of Lake City wrote:

I’ve enjoyed your writing and coverage of important matters in the community. I don’t get the mainstream mullet wrapper.

Publishing such pieces as the Olustee story comes with great responsibility as such stories stir emotions rekindle strong feelings, good and bad.

Leaving out written accounts of what happened to the black soldiers at the hands of the Union Army before they reached Olustee and during the battle is irresponsible and only serves a lopsided purpose, to create division and more hatred.

Congratulations you’ve hit all the marks.

Thanks,  Joseph Harrington 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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