If the original Brooksville Raid had been more like this weekend's modern-day re-enactment, the fortunes might have gone better for the Army of the Confederacy. As it was, the small skirmish that blew up in Hernando County in July 1864 ended up being a decisive victory for the Union forces.
The battle, which is regarded by Civil War historians as little more than a footnote, was short and cost eight lives: three Union and five Confederates. Unlike the 1,500-man re-enactment being staged this weekend over flat, open ground, the original raid was more of a game of hide-and-seek, played out in a swampy, mosquito-infested hammock that stretched across the county.
The 250 or so Union invaders who landed along the coast near Bayport that hot summer day had no real military objective. In fact, Hernando County was little more than a rustic farming community on the outskirts of Confederate territory. No formal troops were stationed here — just a small militia, or "home guard," that was incapable of fending off any type of serious attack.
But the Union forces were dead serious. Their goal was to pillage and destroy as much cattle, cotton, sugar and salt as possible (denying it to the enemy in the process) before beating a hasty retreat.
Hernando County historian Virginia Jackson, who knows more about the conflict than just about any other local resident, claims that while the invaders failed to destroy the tiny settlement that would later become Brooksville, they comfortably fulfilled their mission.
"They did exactly what they came to do," said Jackson, who helps run the Hernando Heritage Museum and was a longtime organizer of the Brooksville Raid Re-enactment. "What they left behind was total destruction that took decades to rebuild."
According to Jackson, some families whose farms were destroyed chose to flee rather than risk the rumored return of the Union forces.
Among those who stayed was William Hope, a founding settler of the area now known as Spring Lake, who arrived in 1836. Though Hope's family suffered the burning of two plantations, he rebuilt his farm and went on to be patriarch to generations of Hopes, some of whom still remain in the area.
Jackson believes that had the area been more heavily defended, the Union troops might not have had their way. As it was, there was just no stopping them.
"It was easy for them because there was no one here to stop it," Jackson said. "The Confederate Army just didn't think the county was important enough to defend."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.