Anyone looking for a concise accounting of the July 1864 battle for which the Brooksville Raid is named had better be prepared to dig deep. To most Civil War historians, the skirmish was little more than a blip on the radar.
Unlike the re-enactment of the event being staged this weekend at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation, there were no batteries of cannons firing barrages across an open field, no regiments of soldiers charging shoulder to shoulder into combat.
In truth, says Mike Hardy, troop commander and coordinator of the annual Brooksville Raid Festival battle spectacle, the encounter was little more than a cat and mouse game that involved a small Union force traversing the dense, swampy woods of Hernando County in search of nonmilitary targets to destroy, all the while fending off occasional potshots from its Confederate enemy.
"From the point of view of a re-enactor, it was pretty uninteresting, just like most of Florida's Civil War battles," Hardy said.
Hardy, who has chronicled the skirmish in an upcoming 85-page book titled A Heinous Sin: The 1864 Brooksville Bayport Raid, will stage a re-creation of the raid at 10 a.m. Saturday using a scenario based on data he has collected from historical archives.
Toward the end of the Civil War, Union strategies had begun to shift from costly close-range confrontations to a more surgical type of warfare aimed at disrupting Confederate supply lines in an attempt to starve out the enemy.
According to Hardy, the Bayport-Brooksville raid actually involved two separate confrontations over two days. The first skirmish occurred on or about July 7, 1864, when about 250 Federal calvary soldiers landed near Bayport and quickly overtook a Confederate outpost manned by 18 Confederate soldiers. The next day, another Union expedition marching from Anclote encountered a larger 60-man Confederate unit charged with guarding the town that would eventually become Brooksville.
Although only a few lives were lost in the battles, the massive pillaging and vandalism of nearby plantations by the enemy had a devastating effect on the local economy that was felt for years after the war.
"A lot of families simply moved out after that," said Hernando Heritage Museum director Virginia Jackson. "They simply lost more than they could afford to replace."
Though the raiders spent about five days outside of Brooksville, Union forces never actually entered the town. By the time it was all over, five Confederate and three Union troops lay dead. Though it has been suggested that Union troops planned to stage another assault, they chose instead to retreat and regroup for another landing near the Anclote River farther down the coast.
Hardy said that though his book is based on documented facts, he can understand why the skirmish has attracted a fair amount of folklore through the years.
"War history is written by the victor," he said. "That doesn't mean it's always right."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.