Considered the only major Civil War battle to occur in Florida, the Battle of Olustee was still a rather small engagement involving 10,500 troops.
Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is considered the first state park in Florida. Established well before the Florida State Park system was begun, it’s origins date back to the beginning of the 20th century.
In 1897, a project to raise funds for a monument was begun by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) (an organization which has been labeled “Neo-Confederate” in tracking of hate groups and extremists by the Southern Poverty Law Center). By 1912, the state allocated the needed funds. The UDC was given permission to manage the battlefield, which they did until 1949.
In that year, the state took over management and eventually added the site to the newly created Florida parks department.
The battle of Olustee occurred on February 20, 1864. While Union forces, including the US Navy, had effectively shut down shipping to and from Florida ports during the war, there were still significant numbers of Florida cattle being driven north from the state to feed the Confederacy and its army.
Against orders, a force of 5500 Union soldiers left Jacksonville to head to Tallahassee. Meanwhile, 5000 Confederates were heading south from Charleston. They met in the scrub pine forest near a small lake called Ocean Pond in Olustee.
Taking place over the afternoon of the 20th, the battle was a victory for the Confederates and the Union retreated back to Jacksonville. Casualties were heavy on the Union side, with offically 203 killed and 506 missing. The troops were made up of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment and the 35th US Colored Troops, which were both entirely Black soldiers.
Numerous memoirs and letters of the Confederates describe that their army killed most of the captured and wounded Black soldiers so many of the 506 missing were likely slaughtered.
The battlefield was ostensibly developed into a memorial to the Confederates with little thought for the Union forces and their heavy losses. To this day, the monument still has sculptural representations of the Confederate Battle Flag.
The state park is within the Osceola National Forest. While the state owns only 3 acres (1 hectare) there, it manages 688 acres (278 hectare) of the US Forest Service land.
The battlefield was added to the list of National Historic Places in 1970.
Currently, the park has a winding one mile (1.6 km) walking trail that gives an overview of the battle and its elements. There is also a small museum at the entrance which I find is the best place to speak with park rangers. There are several monuments and cannon located near the museum as well.
Of course, the activity at the park happens each year near the anniversary of the battle with the park hosting historically-focused camping as well as recreations of the battle.
The park does a decent job of sharing the history of the battle and the trail is a nice walk through a Florida scrub pine forest.