Florida's Role in the War
In many respects, Florida remains the forgotten state of the Confederacy. Although the third state to secede, Florida's small population and meager industrial resources made the state of little strategic importance to either side. However Florida's 13,000 mile coastline proved invaluable for the production of salt, made by boiling sea water in large kettles or evaporating it in man-made tidal pools. Florida also became an important source of beef cattle for feeding the Confederate troops. The railroad which ran north from central Florida and connected with routes east and west in Atlanta provided a steady supply of food.
Even before the firing on Fort Sumter, volunteer companies organized throughout Florida. Many of these "minute man" units became the nucleus for companies that later entered Confederate service. During his last months in office Governor Madison Starke Perry, whose single term was to expire in the fall of 1861 and who would later command the 7th Florida Infantry, strove to organize and equip Florida's troops. During this period he made several trips out of state to obtain weapons and accoutrements. Perry was criticized, however, for his decision to allow state militiamen to volunteer into Confederate service as individuals rather than by units. John Milton, who won election in the fall of 1860, became governor the following October. Described by one biographer as "a loyal Confederate," Milton labored to rebuild the state militia and also worked to improve the defenses of the Apalachicola River and of Fort Clinch on Amelia Island.
By the summer of 1862 Florida had raised, equipped, and sent out of state the 1st through 8th regiments of infantry, the 1st Florida Calvary Regiment, and various smaller commands. The only forces remaining in the state were a variety of independent companies, several infantry battalions, and the newly-organized 2nd Florida Cavalry Regiment.
The largest battle in Florida during the war took place 20 February 1864 at Olustee. The battle followed the fourth and final Union occupation of Jacksonville, which had occurred on 7 February. Launched primarily to reinstitute a loyal state government under the terms of President Lincoln's Reconstruction Proclamation, the Federal troops also hoped to interdict Confederate supply operations in the state, to open the port of Jacksonville for northern commerce, and to recruit troops for union black regiments.
About twelve miles east of Lake City they met a Confederate force of similar size, commanded by Brigadier General Joseph Finegan, situated near the railroad depot of Olustee and a body of water known as Ocean Pond. In the days following the original Union landing, Finegan had consolidated the few troops still in Florida and had obtained additional manpower from Georgia and South Carolina. After sharp fighting lasting four to six hours the Federals retreated. Union losses totaled more that 1,800 killed, wounded, and missing. Confederate losses were roughly half that number. For the Federals, the casualty percentage at Olustee was one of the highest of the entire war.
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