Some of our readers may know that a controversy has arisen been promoted by neo-Confederates over a proposal to memorialize Union solders killed in the bloody Battle of Olustee (or Ocean Pond, as Northerners remembered it), which took place in Florida in February 1864. As Brooks Simpson reports on his excellent blog, at least one Confederate veteran recalled pretty clearly that black Union soldiers were murdered as they lay wounded in the aftermath of the battle. That assertion is supported by evidence from the papers of Colonel James C. Beecher, who commanded the 35th USCT (formerly the 1st North Carolina Colored Volunteers) at Olustee. Writing to his wife two months after the events, Beecher insists:
“…there is now no doubt that all of my wounded men left on the field at Olustee were bayoneted in cold blood. It is said to have been done by some South Carolina troops.
The enemy report only 18 prisoners from my command. At least fifty were known to have been left on the field and at the depot at Sanderson and Berbers Station.
You may judge this does not make me particularly happy. Especially when the new man came to relieve Gen. Seymour.* While he pities the poor ‘Loyal Floridians’ who suffer so much from the effects of the war [he doesn’t] see anything particularly out of the way in this. Says he has no doubt my wounded were murdered, but that its “very hard to restrain men when their blood is up” etc etc.
If there were but ten stupid Generals in the whole army of the United States, each one of the ten would be assigned to command a district, and there wouldn’t be but ten districts made unless an eleventh stupid G. could be put in charge of it.”
Source: J. C. Beecher (Jacksonville) to ‘My beloved’, 13 April 1864, James C. Beecher Papers, Radcliffe College, Schlesinger Library
*General Truman Seymour was relieved of his command after the Olustee disaster and replaced by General John B. Hatch, who would later come into confrontation with freedpeople in Charleston over his leniency toward former Confederates.
Images courtesy of Florida State Archives, Florida Memory
“I regret to inform you that I found the place [St. Augustine] full of open and avowed traitors. I was insulted in the streets by secession females. I learned that there were women residing there whose husbands are in the rebel service, and who are receiving rations from our Government. Seventy-five slaves are receiving wages from our people, who are owned by rebel masters, and their wages are paid over to the agents of these masters.
[Recounting an incident involving a slave handed over to his ‘master’ in Florida]: While I was in St. Augustine, I was informed…that a fugitive slave who ran away from his rebel master—a man named Col. Titus (of Kansas notoriety)* and who holds a commission in the rebel army—was delivered up to said Titus by virtue of an order signed by Capt. Foster [in] circumstances…so disgraceful to our army that I felt it my duty to report them. This negro came to our lines from his rebel master heavily [wounded], having traveled a distance of eight miles in this condition to our pickets. He remained with our troops until [Titus] came with an order signed by Capt. Foster…directing Col. Sleeper to deliver him to his owner. He was delivered to Col. Titus. On receiving this negro Col. Titus put a slipping noose rope around the negro’s neck, with a timber pitch at his arm, mounted his horse and dragged the poor victim off in the presence of our troops….
On the day of my arrival [at St Simon’s Island, Georgia] a party of rebels came over to the island for the purpose of murdering the negroes. They were immediately attacked by the negro pickets and surrounded in a swamp. There were about twenty men on either side, and quite a brisk action occurred. The negroes lost two killed and one wounded severely. The rebel loss is not known, as they fled, and succeeded in making their escape from the island….”
General Rufus B. Saxton to Edwin M. Stanton, 20 Aug 1862, Rufus and S. Willard Saxton Papers, Sterling Memorial Library: Yale University
* Colonel Henry T. Titus (after whom the town of Titusville, Florida, is named) was a northern-born Confederate who before the war had traveled to Kansas to join proslavery ‘border ruffians’ there, playing a prominent role in the sacking of Lawrence and at one point reportedly holding two of John Brown’s sons as prisoners.