The summer of 1864 brought blue-coated soldiers to the shores of Hernando County. Their intent was to crush enemy supply lines during the Civil War and strike a withering blow against the Confederate Army and the residents of the sleepy hamlet that would later become known as Brooksville.
This weekend will see the return of Civil War soldiers in full force once again. This time, however, they're arriving in cars, pickups and campers, and their rifles only shoot blanks.
While the 33rd annual Brooksville Raid Re-enactment doesn't come close to resembling the minor skirmish for which it is named, Civil War enthusiasts still flock every year to watch the Blue/Gray matchup that is as much a glimpse into an era of American life as it is entertainment, said Joan Casey, chairwoman of the event, which takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation, near Weeki Wachee.
"It's a fun, family-oriented event that allows people to travel back in time," said Casey, who has headed up the event since 1999. "I don't think there is anywhere near here you can go and get so much for the money."
Long considered the mother of all Florida Civil War re-enactments, the raid got its start in 1980 on a 90-acre site owned by former Hernando County Commissioner Murray Grubbs, a longtime enthusiast of Civil War-period guns and artillery. For 10 years, he played the amicable host, tending to all-night barbecues for re-enactors and volunteers before taking his perch on a patio overlooking the battlefield.
In 1990, the event moved to its permanent location at the Scout reservation. Under the direction of the Hernando Historical Museum Association and the North Pinellas County Scout Sertoma Club — the two organizations split the proceeds — the event typically draws more than 8,000 spectators over the weekend.
Bob Niepert, a longtime re-enactor, believes the secret to the Raid's success has been its dedication to authenticity. Visitors, he said, enjoy the opportunity to get a glimpse of 19th century life and see how soldiers of that era lived day to day.
"There's always been a deep educational aspect to what we do," said Niepert, who serves as field commander of the Florida 3rd Battalion, known as Hardy's Brigade. "Everything you see out there is authentic to the Civil War period. You walk into a camp and you won't see cell phones, or an electric coffee pot or anything you wouldn't see if you lived back then."
Casey said she has worked hard at making certain the event never gets stale, and tries to introduce new experiences she thinks the public will appreciate.
This year, Casey invited master anvil shooter Ron Gilbert, a Civil War enthusiast who uses explosive charges to send 100 pounds of steel rocketing skyward.
"People won't believe their eyes," Casey said. "It's a great show."
Spectators will also have plenty of other opportunities to amuse themselves when the mock battles aren't raging. People may tour the Confederate and Union camps both days and visit the sutlers (vendors) row for souvenir items.
The traditional re-enactment battles will be fought at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.