This past weekend, I went to my first Civil War battle reenactment. The 44th reenactment of the Battle of Olustee was a sight to behold. There were many people there to witness the reenactment, which I am sure motivated the volunteer armies of more than 1,000 soldiers to put on a good show for us all.
I arrived at the designated parking area right around noon. There were plenty of cars already parked and a line of people forming to take the shuttle to the battlefield. After a short wait, I was on the school bus that transported us right to the front gate. There were several booths set up for us to purchase the $12 tickets to enter the park. After passing through those ticket booths, I felt like I went back in time.
There were tents and booths set up everywhere. One of the first areas I came to was the camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans of Jacksonville, Florida. There was someone wearing period clothing displaying the firearms used during the Civil War in one of the tents. I could have listened to his vast knowledge of those weapons for hours, but I had to keep moving in order to see as much as I could before the battle, which was scheduled for 1:30. Right next to his tent, there was a replica of a submarine that was used by the Confederates to sink Union army ships. Right next to that was a hot air ballon that would have been used in the war.
There were several tents set up to sell items that would have been used in the 1800s. You could buy actual stuff from the 1800s if you wanted to spend a bunch of money, or you could buy replicas if you wanted to spend less. Nearly everyone who was in these tents was wearing period-correct clothing. There were several blacksmiths, plenty of clothes and jewelry for sale, and books about every aspect of the Civil War available. I even got a chance to listen to a trio of musicians play a song that I am guessing was from the Civil War era.
I decided to start the trek towards the battlefield so I could get there a little early to find a good seat. I wasn’t the only one with that plan. Nearly every seat in the bleachers was full by 1 p.m. There was a row of people seated in folding chairs right by the rope that marked the edge of the battlefield. I sat on the ground right behind them. It turned out to be a great place to watch this epic battle reenactment. Announcements about the event began shortly before 1:30. We learned that the battle of Olustee was the largest Civil War battle in Florida and one of the deadliest of the entire war.
The Confederate army was to my left and the Union army was to my right. There is no way for you to understand the spectacle of this event without experiencing it one day for yourself. There were large firing lines shooting muskets at each other across the field, and when the cannons were fired it shook the ground. Before long, the smell of gunpowder filled the air. When the back-and-forth skirmishes were over about an hour later, there were many soldiers lying on the ground. Unlike what happened on that fateful day in 1864, the dead were able to rise again after the “resurrect” order was given.
I stayed near the battlefield for the final barrage and to take pictures of the cannons. There was a long line of people waiting for the shuttles back, but the many highway patrolmen in attendance helped move the lines quickly and direct the traffic on U.S. Hwy. 90. We boarded the shuttles and were transported back into the modern world.
Eric lives in Suwannee County and is a public school educator. He is an independent contractor. You can reach him at email@example.com.