Friday, February 21, 2014

Olustee Diary: William Woodlin, 8th USCT

Anyone who has done research on United States Colored Troops will tell you that finding an original letter or diary from an African American Union soldier is akin to the discovery of Noah’s Ark. Primary documents from USCTs are scarce, which makes the diary of William P. Woodlin, held in the collection of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute, a truly remarkable document. Woodlin belonged to the band of the 8th Regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry and accompanied the rest of the regiment on its expedition to Florida. He was present at Olustee, the 150th anniversary of which was commemorated yesterday. 
Woodlin's Diary. GLIAH

To recap, the Battle of Olustee was fought near Lake City, Florida, on February 20, 1864. It was the largest battle fought in Florida during the Civil War. In February 1864, the commander of the Department of the South, Maj. Gen. Quincy A. Gillmore, launched an expedition into Florida to secure Union enclaves, sever Confederate supply routes, and recruit black soldiers. Brig. Gen. Truman Seymour moved deep into the state and on February 20, his men met Brig. Gen. Joseph Finegan's Confederates entrenched near Olustee. The federal forces attacked but were repulsed and fled to Jacksonville. Union forces of more than 5,000 men included the 8th USCT, the 35th USCT and the 54th Mass. Federal forces suffered 40 percent killed, wounded, or missing.

When the day was over, Woodlin took up his pencil and scrawled the following in his diary:
20th    We rec'd our rations last evening and got underway about ½ past 6 A.M. at a quick step on the left of the division, passed Sanders Station about 11 A.M., about 12 m: {as near as could be learned} from B's Plantation; we had a very rapid as well as fatiguing march; passed through a dead turpentine forest.  after this halt we were ordered forward, & soon could hear the roar of  Canon & the rattle of Musketry ahead of us, we were hurried up to the line of battle at the double quick and our Reg was place in the center and rec'd the hottest fire that was given ; The Col. fell the Major  wounded a Capt,  & several lieutenants.  the band and Drum Core went up to the front ahead of the Cavalry and were exposed to a very hot fire:  for a while when we fell back to the R. R. until we were in danger of being taken by a flank movement of the Rebs:  we got away however and had another station for a while:  when we were again move a mile farther from the Battle field, which was in the front of Lake City.  we built some fires there, & were halted by the Division Dr. for a while after which we moved on untill we reached the station.  we left in the morning & PM  blew the scene of action nearly worn out with fatigue & cold.  we reached there about 1 A.M. that night and stayed untill daylight.

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