Although nearly 1,500 Civil War re-enactors will descend on the Sand Hill Scout Reservation this weekend, the 31st annual Brooksville Raid Festival isn't all about staging an epic battle between the Blue and the Gray.
The spirited exchange of musket and cannon fire is just part of the draw that beckons thousands of spectators each year to the storied event at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation. In fact, the weekend's fare offers something unique to Civil War re-enactments: a chance to step back in time to see what life and American culture were like during the mid 19th century.
"There's always a little something for everyone," said event director Joan Casey. "We provide a lot to do and see in between the battles. It's always a fun event to be part of."
Casey, who has a 25-year association with the raid re-enactment, said the festival has developed a reputation for being one of the most varied re-enactments in the Southeast, with activities that include a ladies tea social, a formal ball for re-enactors, a sutlers row, plus active troop camps that are open daily to spectators.
Through the years, the ladies tea has become one of the more popular nonbattle events. A somewhat sophisticated affair, the tea, which begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, seeks to recreate the presuffrage women's social gatherings of the old South.
The tea, for which period dress is required, is something of a light, fun event, said organizer Vicki Jimmerson. Although traditionally the gatherings encompassed poetry readings, fashion showcases and music, Jimmerson said she tries to have different activities each year.
This year's tea will feature a "fun auction" that allows participants to bid on items by answering Civil War trivia questions.
After the tea, the festival will once again feature an artillery demonstration with as many as 28 cannons.
"The artillery always draws a huge crowd," Casey said. "They set them up just a few feet away from the spectators, and when they start going off, you should see everyone jump."
Another major draw at the festival is the troop camps. A source of pride to the re-enactors, visitors are able to get an up-close look at the living conditions for Civil War soldiers. The camps are devoid of nonperiod items, so visitors will often find soldiers cooking over wood fires, cleaning weapons or practicing marching drills.
Longtime Brooksville Raid re-enactor and field commander Bob Niepert said that although it's just a hobby for most, re-enactors take great care in outfitting themselves properly. Many even make their own guns, uniforms and camp equipment.
"Everything you see out there is authentic of the Civil War period," Niepert said. "These guys view this not just as fun, but as a responsibility to deliver a living history lesson to the public that comes to watch."
Of course, it's the battle re-enactments, which will be at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday that people come to see, Casey said.
She expects to have about the same number of participants as last year.
"This is the one re-enactment that everyone wants to attend," Casey said.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.
"There's always a little something for everyone. We provide a lot to do and see in between the battles. It's always a fun event to be part of."
Joan Casey, Brooksville Raid Re-enactment director