Suwannee County’s citizens have served their country on numerous occasions, starting all the way back in the 1830s with the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Since its establishment in 1858, the County has seen fit to honor many of those veterans in various ways over time, and we will discuss a few of them starting today.
Due to the dearth of newspapers in Suwannee County’s early history, we really have no way of knowing if the veterans of the Second and Third Seminole Wars (1855-1858) were honored in any way by the fledgling County. Knowing the County’s financial difficulties during its early years, especially due to the Civil War that was fought between 1861 and 1865, there was probably not much done for those early veterans. Suwannee County was focused on providing the bare necessities for its citizens during the Civil War, and when it ended, the Radical Reconstruction era was fraught with lawlessness, bitterness and huge social upheaval.
By 1909, the Civil War had been over for nearly 45 years, and its surviving veterans were aging rapidly. Most of the animosity between the North and South had died down to tolerable levels and Suwannee County’s prosperity abounded. Annual conventions were being held around the State to honor those who had fought and died during the bloody war, and the 1909 State Convention was held in the bustling city of Live Oak, at the time one of the largest cities in the State.
Downtown was festooned with banners and welcome signs for the thousands of people that thronged to Live Oak in October of that year. Veterans received a white button with two crossed Confederate flags, with a red and white ribbon hanging beneath that said, “Nineteenth Reunion, United Confederate Veterans, Live Oak, Fla. October 20-21, 1909.” A big dance was held in conjunction with the encampment at the old opera house located behind Old City Hall (now the Chamber of Commerce), and a parade honored the veterans. School was let out so that the children could participate in the activities and talk to the veterans.
As part of the commemorations to honor those who had served, Suwannee County erected a large obelisk at the intersection of Ohio Avenue and Howard Street. The obelisk, although it appeared to be of marble or stone, was actually a temporary structure built of wood and plaster by James Peavy and made to look like stone. On the four sides of its base it had, “In honor of the Confederate soldier dead and living”, “To die for one’s country is glorious”, and the like. On the north side of the monument, the inscription read, “The Confederate States of America”, above which was a picture of General Robert E. Lee. Once the convention was over, the marble-like monument was torn down to allow regular horse and vehicle traffic to resume.
Annual picnics were also held for Suwannee County’s local Confederate Veterans, who had banded together as Camp Finnegan, No. 1514. A 1915 Suwannee Democrat article noted that the year’s annual picnic was held at Drew’s Grove, a long-forgotten community where the Florida Railway crossed the Suwannee River (and where the abandoned swinging railroad bridge still remains to this day). At that time, about a dozen of the veterans and 75 local citizens were present for a very laid-back program. The article noted:
“At noon, the food was placed on a table about as wide and long as a sidewalk. A man from Live Oak said he never seen so much food in his life, and didn’t suppose there was so much. He wished his wife had come, however, after he was introduced to the girls, he never said another word about his wife. Why should he?”
Despite the racial and political issues involved with the Civil War, we can honor the sacrifices of Confederate soldiers while disagreeing with some of the ideas and attitudes of the day, as “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”
More on veterans’ memorials next week.
Eric Musgrove can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 386-362-0564.