The Battle of Gainesville
by Major Keith Kohl, 4th Florida Infantry, Company G
All Pictures Courtesy of Florida State Archives
Captain John J. Dickison had enjoyed a string of successes in defending
Florida from Union troops. Along with his own command of Company
H, 2nd Florida Cavalry and various units occasionally serving with him,
he seldom mustered a force of more than 200 soldiers. Yet time
again, Dickison repeatedly thwarted Union efforts in the state.
August of 1864, Dickison would face his largest engagement of the war.
On August 15, 1864, Union troops marched from Baldwin
in two columns. One force consisted of three U.S. Colored
regiments and the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery with three cannons.
The other column commanded by Colonel Andrew Harris of the 75th Ohio
Infantry, included the 75th Ohio Mounted Infantry and one cannon of the
3rd Rhode Island Artillery. The two columns took different
and met that night at a place called Trail Ridge. Here
Harris added to his command some of the 75th Ohio that had been with
infantry column. Colonel Harris' column resumed their march
the same night, and early in the morning of August 16 the cavalry force
was at the town of Starke. Here about 100 soldiers joined the
including two companies of the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry commanded by
Joseph Morton and a small force of Floridians loyal to the Union. Now
cavalry column numbered some 342 troops.
Captain Dickison was at Waldo, 14 miles south of Starke,
on August 16 when he received word of the Union troops at Starke.
He assembled a force that included his own Company H, 2nd Florida
with 130 men, Captain Samuel Rou's Company F, 2nd Florida Cavalry, a
of Company H, 5th Florida Cavalry Battalion, ninety new infantry
and an artillery battery with two cannons commanded by Lieutenant A. J.
Bruton. The Union cavalry column left Starke at about 7:30 on the
morning of August 16. The infantry to be commanded by
Elias Earle, one of Governor Milton's staff officers, marched toward
while Dickison pursued the enemy with the cavalry and artillery.
A small force of local militia joined the command, and now Dickison had
some 290 soldiers.
Colonel Harris' troops made their way through the
raiding plantations as they went. Around 6:30 on the morning of August
17, the Union cavalry arrived at the town of Gainesville, 12 miles from
Waldo. Seventy local militia commanded by Judge Thomas King
the Federals, but they were driven from the town by Company B, 4th
Cavalry. Colonel Harris deployed his men about the town and
pickets. The marches had taken their toll, and the horses were
in need of a respite. The men were ordered to leave with
accoutrements on but also to attend to their mounts while coffee
was made for the troops. Once they were posted in a grove of
and had seen to their horses, the artillery troops wandered the town.
had they returned to their battery when an artillery round struck near
Captain Dickison had halted his march some two miles
from Gainesville when he saw the rear guard of the Federals. When
they had entered the town, the Confederates advanced to within a
mile of Gainesville where they encountered Union pickets and formed
a line of battle while the artillery open fire. At about 7:00
Union pickets south of town reported the approach of the Southerners.
Harris promptly began to organize a defense. The 75th Ohio
the right flank becoming the left and their left was now the right
Both flanks were anchored on swamps and brush, and Union troops took up
positions along the railroad and in the depot. Only one company
the 75th Ohio remained mounted, and was posted near a railroad fill and
surrounding fences. The 4th Massachusetts Cavalry was in
and the 12-pound howitzer of the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery was placed
along the road near the center of the Union line.
Colonel Harris' troops were not fully deployed when the
Confederate attack began. With their artillery engaged,
of the Confederates dismounted and advanced, driving in the Union
The railroad depot on the Confederate left was attacked by Captain
and Lieutenant McCardell's troops. The 5th Florida Cavalry
under Lieutenant A. J. Dozier was to push the enemy from the road
in the Union center while a mounted company commanded by Lieutenant
moved on the Southern right.
For nearly two hours the battle would rage in
The Union line held the initial attack, but despite the Federals'
numbers, the Confederates began to encircle the town. Union
were pushed from the railroad depot and the Southern troops opened a
on the artillery limber.. Of the six horses on the limber, five
killed along with the artilleryman holding them. Nevertheless,
Rhode Island battery kept up a steady fire from its position near the
Hotel, and soon found the range of the Southern artillery.
Bruton moved his guns and soon renewed the duel.
The Union troops put up a steady fight. The
Cavalry had been deployed into the battle, helping to briefly hold back
the Confederates. The flanks of the 75th Ohio had been extended and for
a time the Union line held. But by 9:00 A.M. Colonel Harris
his situation. The enemy was surrounding him, his troops had been
pushed back, many of the horses had been hit, and his artillery had
expended its ammunition. Harris then ordered a retreat from the
The Federals had held for nearly two hours, but now the
line began to break as they retreated from the town. With the
closing in as they left their line, the Union troops had no time to
an organized retreat, and Federal columns attempted to withdraw
the town in several directions. Union Captain Morton, along with
some of the cavalry and the howitzer, mistakenly took the wrong
Colonel Harris caught up with him and led the troops to the road to
but the gun was halted when one of the horses was hit. The Confederates
closed in and captured the cannon and many of the artillery
Captain Dickison rode through the town, ordering his troops to their
to pursue the enemy, and many of the Federals were captured as they
to withdraw. Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Morgan of the 75th Ohio
and the advance troops were driven from the Waldo Road. Morgan
to abandon his wounded horse and went on foot through the swamps before
being captured. Some 40 Union soldiers, Colonel Harris among them,
Of the Confederate force, 175 took part in the
The rest did not enter the town until following the engagement and
in pursuing the enemy. Southern troops searched the countryside
for a few days, some of the scattered Union soldiers were captured
other Federals found their way to Union forces. The Union losses were
28 dead, 5 wounded, and 188 captured. The Confederates also
260 horses and the 12-pound howitzer. Southern casualties were
killed and five wounded; two of these men were mortally wounded and
the following day. Colonel Harris' report of the battle put the
of Confederate troops at 600 to 800, with three pieces of artillery.
. Upon hearing of the battle and the loss of the
cavalry column, the Union infantry column was withdrawn to a Federal
The Battle of Gainesville was for a time an annual
held in the town of Orange Springs in Marion County.
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