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Actual Brooksville Raid was more of a skirmish

As spectators watch the re-enactment of the event being staged this weekend at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation, they will see batteries of cannons firing barrages across an open field, regiments of soldiers charging shoulder to shoulder into combat.

But those familiar with Hernando County's Civil War history know that such a scenario doesn't even remotely resemble what actually happened.

In truth, the battle that occurred in early July 1864 was more of a sly game of hide and seek, with about 240 Union troops moving hastily through the dense, swampy woods in search of nonmilitary targets to destroy, all the while fending off occasional attacks from a "home guard" militia consisting mostly of farmers.

However, Virginia Jackson, director of the Hernando Historical Museum Association, and a longtime adviser to the Brooksville Raid Re-enactment, said the success of the Union guerrilla mission probably meant much more to a Northern victory than most historians are apt to concede.

"They did exactly what they came to do," said Jackson, who has researched and written extensively about the Brooksville Raid. "They knew that Hernando County was supporting the Confederacy, and they were determined to stop it."

According to Jackson, the four Union ships that anchored off the coast of Bayport near a Confederate outpost were part of an orchestrated effort late in the war to starve the Confederacy of needed goods that were grown and produced locally.

Over a six-day period, Union forces destroyed salt mills, slaughtered livestock and burned farms and private dwellings before leaving with tons of confiscated sugar, salt and cotton.

Casualties from the skirmish were minimal: five dead on the Confederate side and three dead on the Union side.

Federal soldiers never entered the town of Brooksville, but their pillaging of the surrounding area left a wake of devastation from which it took residents years to recover.

"Some families lost everything they had and just left," Jackson said.

Among those who stayed was William Hope, a founding settler of the area now known as Spring Lake, who arrived in the area in 1836. Though his family suffered the burning of two plantations, he rebuilt his farm and went on to be the patriarch to generations of Hopes, some of whom remain in the area.

Despite its historical liberties, the modern staging of the Brooksville Raid does have its merits for those interested in the Civil War era.

The thousands of re-enactors expected to show up this weekend are noted for their dedication to detail. Many forgo modern conveniences in favor of sleeping in canvas tents and cooking in cast-iron pots over open wood fires.

"The war was an important part of the heritage of our community," Jackson said. "People who come to the festival can see for themselves how people lived back then."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@tampabay.com.

Actual Brooksville Raid was more of a skirmish 01/19/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 6:46pm]

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