Today a quiet park adjacent to a railroad line takes one back one hundred and fifty seven years. For this woodland of long leaf oak and slash pine was the scene of a fierce battle between forces of the Confederacy and the Union. It was 1864 and five thousand Union troops had moved inland from Jacksonville toward Lake City following an existing rail line. At Olustee they were met by an equal number of men under Confederate General Joseph Finegan.
The ensuing battle was the largest to take place in Florida and not of major importance to the war as a whole. But it was a bloody affair indeed and a complete defeat for the Union forces that suffered casualties of one third of the number that took part. The Confederates lost twenty per cent of their soldiers to death and wounds.
Our visit to the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park was on a Sunday, a one hour drive from Jacksonville. We were greeted by Park Ranger Frank Loughlan who immediately turned on the Television monitor for a fifteen minute video documentary that recreates the battle. Each year a reenactment takes place in February, the month of the battle with thousands of volunteers dressed as Confederate and Union soldiers. And most of the scenes depicted in the film were taken during an reenactment.
Then Frank left us to wander around taking photos and mulling through the museum which was once the Olustee Depot for the railroad. The Park and Museum are open daily from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. The surrounding land is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. There are tables for picnics and trails that follow the battle lines. Called the Battlefield Trail it loops through the park allowing one to see the tactics of the battle and what followed the defeat of the Union forces. The Park is on U.S. 90, a short distance from I-10. for more information call 366 758-0400, the web at www.floridastateparks.org.
A short distance from the Park is Ocean Pond Campground operated by the U.S. Forest Service. Ocean Pond played a role in the Olustee battlefield by restricting the movements of the Union advance toward Lake City.
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