Discussion Death at Olustee of a Sergeant of the 54th Massachusetts

John Hartwell

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The following article comes from the National Tribune, of October 1, 1896.

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For many years, Kit Anderson wrote the column “Reminiscences of the War” for the Macon Telegraph, but I have not been able to locate the August 2nd (presumably 1896) issue. So, I cannot verify the source. Nor can I positively identify the Sergeant White in question, if the name is accurately given.

George W. Sandiford and Needham S. Lee, however, were present at the battle of Olustee (aka Ocean Pond), as members of Co.I, 6th Georgia Infantry, so that much rings true. Also tone of the remainder of the article:
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Fairfield

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The 54th C.T. includes Sgt. Ambrose White. He served in Co. K and there is no information about what may have happened to him.

There is a widows pension filed by Phillis White (widow of Ambrose White of the 54th C.T.)--filed from Arkansas in 1892. Sgt. White didn't fill in an entry on the 1890 vets' schedule so either he was deceased already or he simply declined to do so.
 
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Fairfield

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There were also 2 sergeant Whites in the 35th USCT (which was at Olustee), both with affiliations to Mass. but neither in Co. I:

Caleb White, who started our with 23rd Mass.

Josiah White, who started out as a sergeant with the 30th Mass. and was later commissioned into the 35th (G) as a 2nd lieut. in 1863
 

Fairfield

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I've been pondering Sgt. White. This may be that unfortunate man: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/50422/50422-h/50422-h.htm. According to this source, he was an orderly with Company I who was so badly wounded that he was left. No first name. But HDS doesn't list him with Co. I (infact, all Whites can be accounted for).

In fact, he may have been white--many of the officers were. There is only the word of the bigoted Kit Anderson to say otherwise. In my own research, several local men served as officers with Colored Troops--I found that they were at special risk because of a Confederate directive that white officers of colored units were subject to execution (there's a good article on this at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/423315...c5adcce70a5e089&seq=15#page_scan_tab_contents (original: Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association
Vol. 35, No. 4 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 475-489. One of those I researched, a white officer in a black unit, became untraceable. I hope that he didn't wind up like Sgt. White.
 

John Hartwell

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I'm suspecting that White wasn't the sergeant's real name, but just given for a name that had been forgotten, if they ever actually asked. In which case he may be entirely untraceable. Descriptions like "boiled shirt," paper collar, and shiny knee-high boots don't match the uniform of the 54th, and probably were intended as ridicule ... perhaps the name White was chosen to be ironic. Again, there were other colored units at Olustee ... perhaps the 54th was named simply because it was the most well-known.

I'm sure this wasn't a unique incident. What is particularly disgusting is that, 30+ years later it is being openly bragged about in the press.
 

19thGeorgia

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George W. Sandiford and Needham S. Lee, however, were present at the battle of Olustee (aka Ocean Pond), as members of Co.I, 6th Georgia Infantry, so that much rings true. Also tone of the remainder of the article:
Sandiford may have been, but it's unlikely that N. S. Lee was. Lee was wounded and admitted to a hospital in Macon, GA, December 2, 1863. He was still at the hospital on February 8, 1864 - this was 12 days before the Battle of Olustee. Another undated hospital register shows a final disposition of "detail" (light duty) which means he was not returned to his command.

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I don't suppose there is anything unique about Sgt. White's fate, but this is a sad and callous recollection.

The February 1864, Battle of Olustee in Florida comes pretty close to black-flag affair, at least in regards to the Georgia state troops in their treatment of the USCT's:

HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF FLORIDA,
Jacksonville, Fla., September 25, 1864.

Major General E. A. HITCHCOCK,
Commissioner for Exchange of Prisoners:
GENERAL: Soon after the battle of Olustee, in Florida, a list of wounded and prisoners in the hands of the enemy was forwarded to our lines by the commander of the rebel army. The very small number of colored prisoners attracted immediate attention, as it was well known that the number left wounded on the field was large.

It is now known that the most of the wounded colored men were murdered on the field. These outrages were perpetrated, so far as I can ascertain, by the Georgia regulars and the Georgia volunteers in Colquitt's brigade.

As many of these troops are now in our hands as prisoners, an investigation of circumstances might easily be made. All accounts represent the Florida troops as not engaged in the murders.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JNO P. HATCH,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.
O.R. Series 2, Volume VII, part I, pg. 876


"In passing over the field, and the road ran centering through it, my attention was first attracted to the bodies of the yankees, invariably stripped, shoes first and clothing next. Their white bodies looked ghastly enough, but I particularly notice that firing seemed to be going on in every direction, until the reports sounded almost frequent enough to resemble the work of skirmishers.

A young officer was standing in the road in front of me and I asked him, 'What is the meaning of all this firing I hear going on.' His reply to me was, 'Shooting nlggers Sir. I have tried to make the boys desist but I can't control them.' I made some answer in effect that it seemed horrible to kill the wounded devils, and he again answered, 'That's so Sir, but one young fellow over yonder told me the nlggers killed his brother after being wounded, at Fort Billow, and he was twenty three years old, that he had already killed nineteen and needed only four more to make the matter even, so I told him to go ahead and finish the job'. I rode on but the firing continued.

The next morning I had occasion to go over the battle field again quite early, before the burial squads began their work, when the results of the shooting of the previous night became quite apparent. Negroes, and plenty of them, whom I had seen lying all over the field wounded, and as far as I could see, many of them moving around from place to place, now without a motion, all were dead. If a negro had a shot in the shin another was sure to be in the head."
William Frederick Penniman , 4th Georgia Cavalry
 

19thGeorgia

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The February 1864, Battle of Olustee in Florida comes pretty close to black-flag affair, at least in regards to the Georgia state troops in their treatment of the USCT's:....
A young officer was standing in the road in front of me and I asked him, 'What is the meaning of all this firing I hear going on.' His reply to me was, 'Shooting nlggers Sir. I have tried to make the boys desist but I can't control them.' I made some answer in effect that it seemed horrible to kill the wounded devils, and he again answered, 'That's so Sir, but one young fellow over yonder told me the nlggers killed his brother after being wounded, at Fort Billow [Fort Pillow was in April 1864 - two months after the Battle of Olustee]....William Frederick Penniman , 4th Georgia Cavalry
I've seen this account before. He portrayed himself as an officer even though he was only a private.
Penniman is what we would call today a BullS'er.
 
I've seen this account before. He portrayed himself as an officer even though he was only a private.
Penniman is what we would call today a BullS'er.
I understand that his post-war habit of referring to himself as a "captain" may have been due to the honorary title bestowed on him by friends but regardless, Penniman's recollection about Ft. Pillow could be an outright lie or may be nothing more than just a tad rusty memory since he wrote about Ft. Olustee in 1901.
 

Fairfield

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I've seen this account before. He portrayed himself as an officer even though he was only a private.
Penniman is what we would call today a BullS'er.
Apparently the title of Capt. was applied by friends and neighbors as an honorary one as he grew older. It seems to me that this was somewhat frequent (were it not, the Confederate army was made up almost entirely by colonels!) 😂 Some how, Private Saunders Kentucky Fried Chicken isn't very sexy--or marketable.
 
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