The Battle of Olustee
After enlistment and training in New Bern, North Carolina, the 35th USCT headed down south to South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida to participate in the Civil War outside the Tar Heel State. What could be seen as the climax of the 35th USCT in the Civil War was their participation in the Battle of Olustee in Florida. Though this battle ended with a Union loss and a high casualty rate for both sides, the men of the 35th USCT fought gallantly and skillfully and proved to many that they were worthy of not only participation in the army, but citizenship in the United States of America. The battle of Olustee saw participation from three black regiments alongside white regiments on the side of the Union army: the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the 8th USCT, and North Carolina’s 35th USCT. Aside from the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, this was the first time these African American troops would see actual combat. While in South Carolina and Georgia before this battle, the men of the 35th USCT had only seen duty at garrisons and as laborers. (Smith 2002, 136-138) The battle of Olustee took place on February 20, 1864, with General Seymour in charge of the Union army and General Finnegan leading the Confederates. During this battle, the usual commander of the 35th USCT, James C. Beecher, was on leave recruiting more black troops up North, so Lt. Col. William Reed led the 35th. (Urwin 2004, 70) The 35th USCT saw action in the latter stages of the battle when Seymour sent these men in to hopefully drive back the left flank of the Confederates, though they would not be successful and end up retreating.
The 35th USCT had twenty-two killed, 131 wounded, and seventy-seven missing. (Smith 2002, 142-144) The following are Civil War Service Records that give examples of former North Carolina slaves that were wounded, missing, or killed in action at the Battle of Olustee. Edward Bell, former “laborer” in North Carolina that enlisted in New Bern, was wounded at the Battle of Olustee. (Item 2749) Elias Moore, a nineteen year old former slave from North Carolina who also enlisted in New Bern, was also injured during this Florida battle. (Item 2750) Adams Davis, a former slave from Beaufort, North Carolina, went “missing in action at Olustee Fla.” (Item 2751) Unfortunately, Julian Williams, a former slave from Camden County, North Carolina, was killed in action at the Battle of Olustee. (Item 2753) These are only four of the many men that suffered in one way or another at the Battle of Olustee, but as will be explored next, their bravery, not only their losses, is what should be remembered about their service in the 35th USCT.