Preserving Florida’s Past
By Susan J. Young
The Sunshine State usually isn’t top of mind for Civil War history. Interesting enough, though, Florida has its own mix of sites important in the 1860s conflict. A sampling of the state’s highlights?
Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park
More than 10,000 Union and Confederate troops fought at Olustee on Feb. 20, 1864, in Florida’s largest Civil War battle. Cavalry, infantry and artillery troops fiercely fought for five hours in a pine forest near Olustee.
According to the Florida State Park Service, African-American troops – including those from the famous 54th Massachusetts regiment – were active in the battle. Combat ended with 2,807 casualties and the retreat of Union troops to Jacksonville along the state’s eastern coast.
Today, visitors can peruse artifacts and exhibits about the battle at a small interpretive center. They might also hike a one-mile interpretive trail. The site features monuments to soldiers on both sides. An annual battle re-enactment, with more than 2,000 re-enactors, is held each February.
This Florida battlefield site is two miles east of Olustee on U.S. 90, 15 miles east of Lake City and 50 miles west of Jacksonville. Visitors can access the site from the U.S. 90 exit of either Interstate 10 or 75. Admission is free. Call 386-758-0400 or www.floridastateparks.org/olustee.
Brooksville's Blockade Runners
Located an hour north of Tampa, the small, quaint city of Brooksville was a Confederate powerhouse for supply movements during the war. As Union troops began blockading the Gulf of Mexico, cunning blockade runners supplied cattle, hogs, food and salt from Brooksville to Confederate troops as far north as Virginia.
A Confederate militia formed under Captain LeRoy Lesley defended the runners from the federal troops closing in on the Bay Port area. Toward the war’s end, though, Union troops closed in and took Brooksville.
On the third weekend of every January, Civil War buffs head to the area’s annual Brooksville Raid portrayal, with more than 3,200 re-enactors and dozens of cannons and horses. It recreates the July 1864 battle in the area. It’s the largest Civil War re-enactment in Florida.
Located at 601 Museum Court in Brooksville, the Hernando Heritage Museum is deeply involved with the re-enactment festival. The museum itself boasts more than 11,000 artifacts, including 1860s-era cannonballs. Call 352-796-6766 or www.hernandoheritagemuseum.com.
Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park
While you won’t find an above ground fort at Jacksonville's Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park, but the site was an encampment for both sides in the Civil War. Constructed in 1862, it was fortified and equipped with large guns.
At times, the site was home to more than 250 soldiers. Today, visitors may walk around the T-shaped earthworks The 1.3-acre site is a great place for picnicking amid oak trees and Civil War relics.
Location-wise, it’s at the Yellow Bluff peninsula on the northern side of the St. Johns River, on New Berlin Road. Admission is free. Call 904-251-2320 or visit http://floridastateparks.org/yellowbluff.