Battle of Olustee (February 20, 1864)

In commemoration of Black History Month, this series of blog posts highlights African-American history in Florida.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, also known as the Battle of Ocean Pond.

In February 1864, the Union launched what would be the war’s largest military campaign in Florida. Designed to interrupt the supply of cattle and goods from the state that were destined for Confederate armies outside of Florida, add more escaped and freed slaves to the ranks of the U.S. Army, and possibly bring Florida back into the Union as a reconstructed free state, the northeast Florida campaign of 1864 consisted of some 7,000 Union troops, including three black regiments: the 1st North Carolina Colored Infantry, the 8th U.S. Colored Infantry (USCT), and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

The 54th had already distinguished itself on the ramparts of South Carolina’s Fort Wagner during the unit’s now famous assault on that Confederate bastion in July 1863. Unlike the 54th, however, the two other regiments had never been in combat, and the 8th USCT had not even completed its training when it arrived in Florida along with the rest of the Union troops on February 7, 1864.

Soldiers of the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers

Soldiers of the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers

Leaving about 1,500 men to secure Jacksonville and conduct other missions, the main Union force of 5,500 troops under the command of Brigadier General Truman Seymour began marching on February 20 west towards Lake City and the Suwannee River beyond. East of Lake City the Federals ran into advanced elements of a Confederate force of 5,000 men that established defensive positions outside of Lake City at Olustee, a station along the Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Railroad. The battle, which lasted through the afternoon of February 20, was a particularly bloody encounter that ended in a Confederate victory and a humiliating Union retreat back to Jacksonville.

The more experienced 54th Massachusetts as well as the 1st North Carolina played an important role in the battle by holding back the Confederate advance as the rest of Seymour’s regiments withdrew. One of those regiments, the 8th USCT, experienced some of the day’s heaviest fighting. Its untested ranks were ordered forward and ran into a storm of Confederate fire.

At the end of the battle, the 8th USCT lost more men than any other Union unit: 49 killed, 188 wounded, and 73 missing. Of these missing, several became prisoners and were eventually transferred to the infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia. Others may have faced an even worse fate. Several postwar accounts, mostly from Confederate sources, recalled that individual Confederate soldiers killed some of the wounded and captured black soldiers.

Kurz and Allison lithographic print of the Battle at Olustee

Kurz and Allison lithographic print of the Battle at Olustee

After Olustee, black troops continued to play an important role in Union operations in Florida. In September 1864, they made up part of the force that attacked Marianna, Florida, and on March 6, 1865, black soldiers formed the mass of the Union troops that engaged the Confederates south of Tallahassee at Natural Bridge. The Union lost the battle and was denied the opportunity to capture Tallahassee during the war. A little over two months later, however, black troops marched into Florida’s capital as part of the Union occupying force that received the formal surrender of Confederate Florida on May 20, 1865.

Today, while the operations of black troops are better known in theaters of the war such as South Carolina (the assault on Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863) and Virginia (the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864), the actions of black troops in Florida, although less famous, were just as crucial to establishing the importance of black units in the Union war effort. Although the direct path to Union victory and black freedom pointed to Atlanta and Richmond, the route included many detours, like Florida, which ultimately led to emancipation.

Love Your Pet Day

Pet lovers unite – it’s Love Your Pet Day!

Grab your dog, cat, tortoise, rabbit, or whatever creature you love and give them a big hug and a treat (you should probably leave your fish in the water though)…

George Barton Hall and his puppy in Hall City, 1915

George Barton Hall and his puppy in Hall City, 1915

 

Al Zaebst with "Fanny" at Weeki Wachee, 1948

Al Zaebst with “Fanny” at Weeki Wachee, 1948

 

Boy fishing with his dog, Palm Beach County, ca. 1950

Boy fishing with his dog, Palm Beach County, ca. 1950

 

April and Michael McQuaig with their pet raccoon at El Maximo Ranch in Frostproof, 1984

April and Michael McQuaig with their pet raccoon at El Maximo Ranch in Frostproof, 1984

 

Captain Spence Slate feeding "George" in Key Largo, 1982

Captain Spence Slate feeding “George” in Key Largo, 1982

 

Governor Lawton Chiles and "Tess" in Tallahassee, 1998

Governor Lawton Chiles and “Tess” in Tallahassee, 1998

 

Leslie Dughi and "Duchess" watch the rain, Tallahassee, 1972

Leslie Dughi and “Duchess” watch the rain, Tallahassee, 1972

 

Eloise Morris with her pet dog and fawn, Monticello, ca. 1913

Eloise Morris with her pets, Monticello, ca. 1913

 

Kit and Mrs. Banks holding their dogs, De Leon Springs, 1919

Kit and Mrs. Banks holding their dogs, De Leon Springs, 1919

Thank You to Our Friends at the Riley House!

The African-American photo identification event, held yesterday at the State Archives, was a great success. Several folks from the community helped us identify images of African-American life in Tallahassee from the 1950s and 1960s. Special thanks to Althemese Barnes and the John G. Riley House and Museum for helping to organize this important event!

Over one hundred images were identified. For example, we learned that future NFL star and Chicago Bears legend Willie “The Wisp” Galimore (far right) appears in this photo along with three still unidentified Florida A&M football players.

Willie "The Wisp" Galimore and three unidentified Florida A&M football players, Tallahassee, 1953

Willie “The Wisp” Galimore and three unidentified Florida A&M football players, Tallahassee, 1953

… And this photograph of Griffin Junior High School beauty queens, including Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Founding Executive Director at the John G. Riley House & Museum.

Griffin Junior High School beauty queens: Pauline Houzell, Yvonne Cofield, and Ida Holloman (back row), Edwina Martin (driver), and Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Tallahassee, 1957

Griffin Junior High School beauty queens: Pauline Houzell, Yvonne Cofield, and Ida Holloman (back row), Edwina Martin (driver), and Althemese Barnes (passenger seat), Tallahassee, 1957

Historic Photograph Identification Day (February 18, 2014)

On Tuesday, February 18, the State Archives of Florida, in partnership with the John G. Riley House and Museum, will hold a historic photograph identification day in room 307 of the R.A. Gray Building (500 South Bronough Street, Tallahassee, 32399). This event is free and open to the public, and will run from 9 AM to 4 PM.

Unidentified cigarette girls, Tallahassee, 1956

Unidentified cigarette girls, Tallahassee, 1956

Unidentified civil rights demonstrators, Tallahassee, 1962

Unidentified civil rights demonstrators, Tallahassee, 1962

Visitors will be able to review a slideshow of images selected from the recently digitized Tallahassee Democrat photographic collection, focusing on unidentified scenes of African-American life in Tallahassee in the 1950s and 1960s. Unidentified images from other photographic collections will also be included in the slideshow program.

Unidentified gardener, Tallahassee, 1940s

Unidentified gardener, Tallahassee, 1940s

Unidentified 3-year-old on his birthday, Tallahassee, 1959

Unidentified 3-year-old on his birthday, Tallahassee, 1959

The images selected depict a variety of scenes in Tallahassee and the surrounding area, from civil rights demonstrations to school dances, businesses, civic and religious organizations, and Florida A&M University students and functions. Archives staff will be on hand to record identification information from attendees on the people, places, and events shown in the photographs.

Unidentified couple on their wedding day, Tallahassee, 1954

Unidentified couple on their wedding day, Tallahassee, 1954

Unidentified Boy Scouts at Camp Semialachee, Leon County, 1957

Unidentified Boy Scouts at Camp Semialachee, Leon County, 1957

The Beatles are Coming!

Fifty years ago this week the Beatles arrived in Florida for the first time in order to begin rehearsing for their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

The Beatles in Key West, 1964

The Beatles in Key West, 1964

Their performance was broadcast live from the Deauville Hotel’s Napoleon Ballroom in Miami Beach on February 16. About 3500 people saw it live, and approximately 70 million watched on television. The Beatles were the opening act, and dancer and singer Mitzi Gaynor was the headliner. Beatle mania was in full swing.

Postcard view of the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach

Postcard view of the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach

After the show the Beatles enjoyed some much needed rest and relaxation in the balmy climes of South Florida. On February 18, they flew from Miami to London. As a band, the Beatles only visited the Sunshine State one more time, in the fall of 1964.

First Tallahassee Sit-In (February 13, 1960)

In commemoration of Black History Month, this series of blog posts highlights African-American history in Florida.

On February 13, 1960, Patricia Stephens (later Due), and other local CORE members held the first of several sit-ins at department store lunch counters in downtown Tallahassee.

First Tallahassee civil rights sit-in, February 13, 1960

First Tallahassee civil rights sit-in, February 13, 1960

On February 20, students from Florida A&M University (FAMU) and Florida State University (FSU) held another, larger sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Tallahassee. When they refused to leave, 11 were arrested and charged with “disturbing the peace by engaging in riotous conduct and assembly to the disturbance of the public tranquility.” Several of the students chose “jail over bail” and remained in police custody while their story circulated around the country and garnered additional support for the movement.

In the months and years that followed, additional demonstrations and picketing took place at downtown stores and theaters in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. The participants in these events were the “Foot Soldiers for Change” who worked tirelessly to defeat segregation in the United States.

To learn more, see Glenda Alice Rabby, The Pain and the Promise: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida (University of Georgia Press, 1999).

General Daniel “Chappie” James

In commemoration of Black History Month, this series of blog posts highlights African-American history in Florida.

Long before they shed their blood on the battlefields of Europe and Asia during World War II, African-Americans fought for freedom in conflicts throughout North America. Prior to Executive Order 9981 by President Harry S. Truman in 1948, African-Americans served in segregated units and, with a few notable exceptions, performed largely undesirable work and received little commendation for their service.

General Daniel James Jr., ca. 1975

General Daniel James Jr., ca. 1975

Florida native Daniel “Chappie” James (1920-1978) was one of the pioneers that paved the way for the advancement of black soldiers in the U.S. military. In 1975, he became the first African-American 4-star General in the Air Force.

James, born in Pensacola on February 11, 1920, graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in 1942. The following year he completed flight training at Tuskegee and was commissioned as an Army Air Force pilot in an all-black squadron. During the Korean War, he flew 101 combat missions in P-51 and F-80 aircraft. After the war, in 1957, James graduated from the Air Command and Staff College. He also flew 78 combat missions during the Vietnam War.

General Daniel James Jr. with Florida Governor Reubin Askew, Tallahassee, 1976

General Daniel James Jr. with Florida Governor Reubin Askew, Tallahassee, 1976

James earned numerous honors and awards during his distinguished career, both for military achievement and civic engagement. He died from a heart attack in 1978, just weeks after retiring from the military, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Mary McLeod Bethune Learning Unit

Check out our online learning unit to learn more about educator and civil rights pioneer Mary McLeod Bethune. The unit explores the life and legacy of Bethune, using primary source documents from the collections of the State Library and Archives of Florida. Lesson plans included in the unit are correlated to state and national standards.

Mary McLeod Bethune and girls from her school, Daytona Beach, ca. 1910

Mary McLeod Bethune and girls from her school, Daytona Beach, ca. 1910