To most historians, the brief Civil War skirmish that Hernando County celebrates each January was little more than a minor footnote, a brief battle between a few dozen Union troops and a handful of Confederates.
But to folks who dress up for the fun of charging through the woods at Sand Hill Scout Reservation, the event that takes place Saturday and Sunday has become the mother of all Florida Civil War re-enactments.
Now in its 29th year, the Brooksville Raid Festival typically draws 4,000 weekend warriors who wade through the roar of cannon fire and the crackle of muzzle-loaded rifles to bring spectators a glimpse of the past.
For the festival's organizer, Joan Casey, it's more than a show.
"It's become a huge source of pride for our community," Casey said. "People keep coming back because it's exciting, it's well run and it's affordable for people with families."
Casey has been involved with the Brooksville Raid for more than 20 years, mostly in a behind-the-scenes capacity with the North Pinellas County Sertoma Club, the group that operates the Scout reservation. Recently, Casey replaced longtime co-chairwoman Jan Knowles, who retired from the position last year.
Casey said that staging the event, which draws upward of 6,000 spectators, is a daunting task that has been made more challenging in an uncertain economy. Everyone, from re-enactors to concessionaires to patrons, has felt the squeeze, she said.
"It's been hard, especially on people who come from a long distance," Casey said. "For a while, it looked like we were going to have a shortage of suttlers because gas was so expensive. When gas prices started going down, they decided it was going to be okay to come."
Bob Niepert, a re-enactor with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Florida Regiment, known as "Hardy's Brigade," said that although costs have risen for participants, he knows of few re-enactors who have given up the hobby.
"They'll give up something else before they let it affect something they truly love," Niepert said.
Whether the downturn has an effect on the turnout at this year's festival is anyone's guess, Casey said.
"We've done our best to hold prices down," she said. "You hope that everyone has room in their budget for a $6 admission."
Over the years, the Brooksville Raid Festival has grown to include an 1860s-era baseball game, a ladies tea and a Saturday evening formal ball. This year's event will introduce two new activities: a commemorative re-enactment of the original July 1864 skirmish at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by a mock court-martial trial at 11.
Spectators may tour the Confederate and Union camps both days and visit the suttlers (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.
"It's a fun thing to be involved with," Casey said. "I especially like seeing the kids enjoying it. To them, it's all about seeing history come alive."
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.