Twenty five years ago only a dozen reenactors attended the First Annual Brooksville Raid in Florida. Since then, It has grown to become a "major league" reenactment and on January 21 and 22, 2006 more than 3200 reenactors gathered, bringing at least 25 artillery pieces and 43 mounted cavalry for the 26th annual event. And it stands to reason that this large of a reenactment will draw an even larger spectator crowd. Gatekeepers estimated (after losing count) 5 to 6 thousand spectators on Saturday. With 25 years of experience the Hernando Historical Museum Association runs a topnotch event at the Sandy Hill Scout Reservation. Several large reenactment groups turned out in full force for the event including Hardy's Brigade, Department of the Gulf, Alabama Volunteers, and 4th Brigade Dept. of Florida. The huge battlefield measures one half mile by one quarter mile with a gentle upward slope on the viewing side which provides the audience with a splendid panoramic view. Spectators and reenactors enjoyed the near perfect Florida winter temperatures and music provided by the 97th Regimental String Band. Unprepared spectators could even watch the battle in rented chairs that "self leveled" in the soft soil.
Saturday evening after the paying customers were gone, a period Ball was held under an enormous "circus" tent. Despite the tent being larger than the year before, it was filled to overflowing with perhaps 800 dancers and watchers. Out on the field a somber memorial was held for deceased reenactor Paul S Dlugolecki. Previously reenacting with the 5th FL Co B, he is now with all who fought the "last battle". At his request his ashes were fired in honor out over the battlefield.
Sunday morning's Colors ceremony were attended by most. Sunday Church Services were attended by many. And then Sunday's Battle was preceded by all the infantry and cavalry marching in formation, in a Grand Parade Review for the audience.
-the battle report written as it may have been seen-
As a newsman I am very fortunate to be based in Florida during the winter. I know that most of the continent is clutched in the icy grip of "Old Man Winter" but the milder climate here is a blessing for those in a wool uniform. As this infernal conflict rages on year after year it seems as if the Great State of Florida is providing more and more of the supplies that the Armies of the Confederacy need. The North has also taken notice of this fact and has increased their raids inland by the Federal troops. Indiscriminately and severely they burn the countryside, destroying entire farms and mills. It seems that more often now, the Federals ranks are filled with deserters and former slaves who once called the very places they burn "home".
While resting over the New Year holiday I had learned of a planned Union raid near the west coast area around Bayport and Brooksville. Being a faithful chronicler of these unpleasant events I traveled toward the sound of the drums and fifes till I found myself about 10 miles west of Brooksville in between two large encampments. Both were filled with many god-fearing men and many who did not. Despite their fears, both camps seemed set on destroying the other. The Florida boys mainly consisted of the old and sickly "Home Guard" who bravely fought for hours delaying the Northern invaders till help could arrive from the garrison at Tampa. Near nightfall, after hours of a fighting retreat the locals were reinforced and the Federals stopped the attacks for the night. Later that night I heard many of the Confederate soldiers and marines who had forced marched for hours complaining, but they had without doubt saved the Home Guard from destruction. Sundays daylight broke late and gray for a steady wind had arrived pushing clouds overhead. As the ominous clouds soared swiftly, now the much larger forces of Confederates beat the Union raiders out of their hastily prepared defenses while the Rebel Artillery pounded them in the open as they retreated back to their boats that brought them from the forts on the coast. Unfortunately the Union had done what they had set out to do; destroying the local crops and supplies that had been destined to flow north sustaining the Rebel armies.
Click on the photo to see 59 photos of the Saturday battle reenactment
Click on the photo to see 20 photos of formations, camp scenes and the evening dance
-the real Brooksville raid-
As the War Between the States continued into 1864, Florida had become more important as a supplier of materials to the Confederate Armies. By then the Union had successfully blockaded the Confederates use of the ocean and many rivers as a means of transportation and supply. So, Union troops garrisoned on the coast, began to send raids inland, destroying farms, plantations, mills and other sources of supplies that were being sent overland through Georgia, to the Confederacy. One hundred and forty-two years ago the Union mounted a raid to the Brooksville area which was a supplies distribution junction. US Captain J.W. Childs and 240 troops from the 2nd Florida Cavalry and the 2nd US Colored Infantry landed at Bayport. At Bayport they burned the custom houses and sheds full of cotton. All the boats in the area were sunk by the troops. Skirmishing with local "Home Guards" they proceeded inland destroying everything in a path 6 miles wide and 20 miles long. They tore up fields of crops, looted farms of everything of value and rounded up the locals' livestock and cattle to send back to the US Navy ships. News of the raid quickly spread and a company of nearly 60, mostly old men and young boys made a stand at Brooksville. The Union returned to Bayport and then Ft Myers, sustaining only one wounded.