When we think of Florida, we think of beaches, sunshine and tropical weather. We think of palm trees, oranges, the everglades, and coastline along that ocean peninsula. Yet Florida is so much more and filled with the American legacy.
When we think of the War Between the States, one must recognize the contribution of all during that tragic time. Each state provided soldiers and might to the causes of the blue or gray.
The state of Florida has a glorious history that must be preserved. Ranging from the northern region of the Pan Handle to the most southern point of Key West, Florida’s Civil War Heritage is well entrenched with history.
Florida’s population was less than 142,000 at the beginning of the war. An estimated forty-five percent were slaves. Most of the people lived in urban areas such as Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Marianna, and Key West.
Though few in number, their tenacity of spirit showed when on January 10, 1861, the Succession Convention voted overwhelmingly (62-7) to leave the Union. Over eleven thousand men from Florida joined the Confederacy. They were from all walks of life and ethnic background. Florida was the third state to do so (South Carolina and Mississippi being the 1st and 2nd).
Both sides scrambled to take over fortifications and establish bases within the state. Fort Pickens and Key West were major stronghold for Federal forces. Later, Key West would play a pivotal role in the Anaconda Blockade, as well as capturing blockade runners.
Several battles took place on Florida’s soil inclusive of the Battle of Marianna, Fort Pickens, Olustee, and Natural Bridge. Numerous skirmishes and engagements occurred as represented by the city of Jacksonville being occupied four times during the war. All along the coast line of the peninsula tension ruled, as sentries, scouts, ad those loyal to either blue or gray, would monitor the bays and inlets.
Florida’s history has been far too long shortchanged. Florida’s contributions have long been overlooked by historians One Northern newspaper referred to Florida as the ‘‘smallest tadpole in the dirty pool of succession.’’
The state contributed to the war between brothers by sending soldiers on both sides, were a major producer of cattle, manufactured uniforms, the ladies sewing societies made unit flags, provided salt from the ocean and the ladies offered their services as nurses and establishing hospitals.
Those not fighting tended to the farms and plantations, while maintaining a semblance of a home. Florida units were in the heat and heart of the battles not only within the state but in Gettysburg, Chattanooga, Shiloh, Nashville, and Franklin to name only a few. Those brave men and women of blue and gray persuasion gave so much for what they believed. Their stories and legacy must be preserved for the rising generation.
On December 1-2, 2018, a wondrous event was held on Indian River Fair Grounds, near Vero Beach, Florida. The event, labeled as a ‘Patriotic Charity Event’, was one honoring our American Veterans and a reflection of those men and women from yesteryear. Reenactors and presenters from pioneer days, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam.
Period correct encampments were set up in street like fashion for educational experiences of those in attendance. Some of the high lights of the two-day celebration included various military weapons demonstrations, visitations to different camps, presenters talking about their impressions, a car and truck show, inside gun show, helicopter rides, posting and presentation of the flag by the Sebastian VFW and Vero Beach High School Air Force JROTC and the National Anthem passionately performed by Delaney Oliver, a junior from Melbourne High School. On Sunday, Ashlie Smith (singer/songwriter from Vero Beach) sang the National Anthem.
Prior to the Battle of Yellow Pines, some of the soldiers talked to the audience and explained the nine steps involved in loading a three-band Enfield. General Lee addressed the crowd, welcoming them and saluting all Veterans in attendance, along with honoring those serving. The battle began to the delight of the spectators.
The scenario was likened unto those that were fought in so many places across America during the days of brother against brother. A brisk exchange was offered, with the Federal forces falling back into the trenches (which were later used as fox holes by the WWII reenactors).
The fighting continued, as the artillery provided support on both sides and the men fought hand to hand. After the reenactment, a pass and review was presented with a volley that honored God, Country, and our Veterans. Then the crowd was invited to visit the encampments and learn more about our military history.
As I walked through the ‘time line’ and met so many wondrous people, I was impressed with the love of history and heritage displayed at the event. So many gave of their time to come and offer educational experiences for the spectators. One of the more touching displays witnessed by this fielder was the Florida Confederate Memorial Wall. It is a traveling display of men from Florida who fought and died for their beliefs. The wall consists of ten panels and has the names of the 4,265 who died as a result of the conflict. Lest we forget. Friends, it falls upon our shoulders to remember as we reflect upon the high cost of freedom. The good, the bad, and the ugly of our American tapestry must be preserved to ensure that the rising generation does not repeat the mistakes of the past and honors the society known as America.
Note; Florida’s Civil War Heritage Trail has an outstanding publication filled with facts and history of the state during that turbulent time. For a free copy, write or go on line: Florida Department of State Division of Historical Resources, 500 South Bronough Street, Tallahassee, Florida, 32399-0250 or call 10800-847-7278.
For more information about upcoming events in Florida, go to the following links: www.flheritage.com,