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June 20, 2018

Florida Life - Getaways

Soldiering On

Florida's living history includes re-enactments of battles and much more

Chris Sherman | 9/1/2010

Brooksville Raid
About 1,500 re-enactors take part in the Brooksville Raid, held Jan. 14-16.

Rifles and cannon will fire and drums and bugles will ring across central and north Florida this fall as Union forces skirmish with Confederates, warring over 150-year-old supply lines and long forgotten strongholds. Flags flying, swords flashing, they’ll fight on foot, on horse and by boat and train, but those in uniform will be ordinary 21st century civilians who’ve happily enlisted in replaying history.?

Two of the biggest gatherings of re-enactors will occur this month, both in north Florida. At Olustee, the site of Florida’s biggest Civil War battle, the September event is relatively peaceful, a festival?with no combat. Troops of both sides will parade, pitch tents, cook and demonstrate camp skills, retrofit their uniforms and socialize with townswomen and camp followers. Fighting at Olustee comes later, in January on the anniversary of the actual battle, famous both as a Southern victory and as a significant action by black Union troops. Blacks fought in gray as well and today re-enact the role of the original Milton Light Artillery on the Confederate side in Florida battles.?

In Marianna, Union troops will again confront a motley force of home guard, militia and Confederate regulars who will battle in the town streets and again on the banks of the Chipola, where the Union was turned back. It’s only the second year for this battle, but Robert Daffin expects a half-dozen artillery pieces on the scene, cavalry and units from as far as Texas and Maine to answer the organizer’s call to arms.?

The events make for lively weekends, costly for the hobbyists (an authentic rifle, uniform and shoes will cost $1,000, more for tents, horses, etc.) but cheap for families with an interest in history.

Despite Florida’s brief history as a modern state, the five centuries since DeSoto arrived have seen a lot of shooting, swordplay and ax-wielding. For its November Veteran’s Day observances, Fort Clinch State Park near Fernandina Beach musters soldiers kitted out in uniforms and weapons of eight?eras.

Whatever the era, one authentic danger persists even if today’s musket shots and sword thrusts are harmless: Braving Florida heat wearing traditional uniforms of wool, leather, cotton duck, armor and fur. “First thing they tell all the men (at re-enactments) is ‘fill your canteens,’ ’’ says Daffin, who has “fought’’ in some of the hottest re-enactments.

Daffin is Southern and very Old Florida. His kinsmen have been in Marianna since 1830 but like many re-enactors, he’s “galvanized’’ — equipped to play on either side of the war. A medical technician by day, Daffin has portrayed a shotgun-toting rebel militiaman and served on a Union artillery crew. At this year’s Marianna encampment, he will be the provost, a civilian keeping order with a long gray beard, a badge and a linen suit.

Living history starts in north Florida, where the Spanish and the native Americans first met at places such as Mission San Luis and St. Augustine. Castillo de San Marcos has seen 450 years of civilians and troops, Spanish, English, Minorcan, U.S. and native Americans. Uniformed re-enactors celebrate the changing of the flag regularly and fire old bronze cannons every weekend. Each June during Drake’s Raid, volunteers in jerkins, doublets and old helmets scramble to defend the Old City from an invasion of English buccaneers in 1586.?

Centuries later, the young United States pushed south into the Seminole Wars, replayed today by re-enactors as 1830’s troops in shakos and Seminole warriors in turbans.?

While the Civil War remains a focus for re-enactors, it is no longer the terminus of history. During centennial observance of the Spanish American War 10 years ago, re-enactors mustered out as Rough Riders and Cuban militia.?

Today, Florida’s past has moved forward and includes events re-creating World War II, complete with Ike jackets, Liberty ships and dog-fighting war birds.?

The past is not past. It’s still hot.?

Brooksville Raid
Re-enactments also include WWII battles.

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