I advanced onto the eerily quiet battlefield as a spectral fog accented the towering pine trees. The trees stood at attention as did the soldiers on February 20, 1864. The hallowed ground beneath my feet was carpeted with palmetto bushes and fallen pine cones. The quiet was periodically interrupted by the sounds of a woodpecker and crickets. All of this in stark contrast to the battle that had been waged in this forest. Once into the forest the view in all directions was very similar. The glimmer of the suns rays through the pines provided a natural compass for direction. I paused longer in the area where the “47th New York Regiment” had been positioned. Somewhere in this vicinity my great-great grandfather was killed by a gunshot fired by a Confederate soldier.
A lone butterfly was perched upon a palmetto at the side of the the path. As I moved forward, the butterfly rose and gently circled as if to welcome me. Throughout my journey I was accompanied by this beautiful black and white butterfly. Making my way through the now abandoned and silent Confederate battle line, a brightly colored yellow butterfly joined in a display of aerial acrobatics. How gentle, how peaceful was this journey through one of the bloodiest battlefields of the Civil War.
In an area seemingly no larger than a football field, North fought South, Blue fought Gray and brother fought brother. For a period of three hours the battle raged. One witness commented that the fighting was so close, “you could read the inscriptions on the enemies belt buckle!” The sounds that day of rifle fire, cannonade and screams, would have been deafening. The fact that nearly 3,000 men were killed or wounded in this small area, in such a brief period of time, is incomprehensible.
The Battle of Olustee is not mentioned along with Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville or, the more famous battles of the Civil War. However, for the wounded, the survivors, those who evaded harm, February 20, 1864, would be forever etched in their memory.
As the words of the Confederate battle song go, “….. old times there are not forgotten …..”