BUSHNELL — It was a familiar scene with a familiar ending. As the din of cannon and musket fire died away, the scrub palmetto and pine barren where nearly 200 combatants clashed a few moments before became as still as a graveyard.
Once again, the annual Dade Massacre re-enactment revealed the tragic outcome of a December 1835 encounter when 107 U.S. Army soldiers under the command of Maj. Francis Langhorne Dade were met with an ambush by a fierce band of Seminole warriors. Only three U.S. soldiers survived the attack.
Saturday's 28th annual re-enactment, which took place a few hundred feet from the actual battleground inside the Dade Battle Historic State Park, drew the attention of more than 1,500 spectators, who watched from a hillside as the encounter played out with historical accuracy.
"We try to make it as true to life as possible," said Jean McNary, president of the Dade Battlefield Society, which stages the event. Nearly 200 re-enactors from all over Florida , plus a number from out of state, took part in the mock battle.
For nearly an hour, soldiers costumed in blue wool uniforms fought against their Seminole adversaries bedecked in buckskin trousers, linen shirts and colorful headdresses.
McNary, a high school history teacher in Pasco County, said that despite the growing popularity of Civil War battle re-enactments in Florida, little attention is paid to Indian wars that occurred some three decades before.
"When in came to casualties the Indian wars were much more profound," McNary said. "The U.S. Army was so much smaller then, so to lose more than a hundred men in one battle was quite devastating."
In fact, Dade's infantry detachment was on its way from Fort Brooke in Tampa to Fort King near what is now known as Ocala to provide relief for the small garrison. The unit was just 15 miles short of its destination when it was attacked.
The grimness of the massacre sparked a retaliatory effort against the tribe that became known as the Second Seminole War. Other important battles of the war occurred at Fort Cooper in Citrus County and Fort Foster in Hillsborough County .
Bill Greenwood, a re-enactor from Key West who has participated in the Dade battle for nearly 20 years, underscored the educational value of such events.
"It helps to shed light on an important part of our past and allows us to better understand how we got to this point," Greenwood said. "I'm pretty sure that no one who fought in the original battle could imagine that more than 170 years later that we would still be fascinated by what took place here."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or 848-1435.