The 77th New England didn’t exist, of course, since Union army volunteer regiments were identified by the states rather than the regions that produced them. The “77th New England” was a nickname for the 7th Connecticut and the 7th New Hampshire, two regiments usually brigaded together during the campaigns of 1862-1865 in the southeast,.
Today, February 20, 2014, is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee in northern Florida, perhaps the least successful day in the history of the 77th New England. Earlier in February of 1864 Brigadier General Truman Seymour had arrived in Jacksonville, tasked with destroying Confederate supply routes and securing modest union influences in northern Florida. Otherwise, that part of the Confederacy was insignificant.
Seymour led his small 5,000-plus man expedition (including the 77th New England) westward along existing rail lines, expecting to meet nothing more than Florida militia, composed primarily of young boys and older men. Instead, on the afternoon of February 20, the force met up with 5,000 entrenched Confederate soldiers near the town of Olustee, just east of Lake City.
After hours of battle, the Union expedition was forced to retreat towards Jacksonvile, leaving the Confederates in control of the field. The 77th New England performed poory, particularly the 7th New Hampshire. The 7th Connecticut was never fully engaged. Both regiments were part of the brigade under the command of then-Colonel Joseph R. Hawley of Connecticut, who was enjoying (or not) his first command independent of General Alfred Howe Terry, also of Connecticut.
One regiment did perform admirably. The 54th Massachusetts, the regiment of black soldiers so honored in the 151 years since its glory in defeat at Battery Wagner near Charleston, played the key role in saving a broken down train carrying wounded Union soldiers back to Jacksonville.
Otherwise, the day was a disaster for the Union. With 1,800 men killed, wounded, or missing, the expedition suffered a 34 percent casualty rate—among the worst of any battle of the war.
News of the victory elated the South, for whom successful days were becoming fewer and fewer. The 77th New England left Florida for Virginia where the two regiments became part of the seige of Petersburg. Then,in January of 1865,they were sent to join Terry's Provisional Corps. They participated in the relentless move of Sherman’s Union army across the Carolinas to the real end of the war, which happened in North Carolina rather than at Appomattox.