With dawn, history awakes at Brooksville Raid Festival

SPRING HILL — Just as the sun was creeping over the horizon Saturday morning, members of the 4th Florida Company G Infantry Unit were circled tightly around their frying breakfast.

Several pounds of bacon sizzled in a huge skillet and the group packed in — but not just because they were hungry.

Their campfire was also providing a nice source of heat. And after spending the night in tents with temperatures that dipped as low as 34 degrees, that warmth was inviting.

In an adjacent tent, Joe Kurtright was busy cleaning up to prepare for the arrival of the first members of the public. In this case, cleanup meant getting rid of the Styrofoam egg cartons from breakfast and quizzing the men about whose plastic banana pudding cup had been left on the ground.

"Whose flashlight is this?" he asked. "Whose cappuccino bottle?"

Those modern trappings needed to go. This was the Civil War, after all.

"Let's take care of all this now so we don't have to do it later," he told the men.

This was the start of the day in the surreal surroundings of the 29th Annual Brooksville Raid Festival. The event, which concludes today, is a mixture of replays of historical events and social interaction in the here and now. Thousands of people participate in the war re-enactments and thousands more are spectators.

The duality was clear as the members of Kurtright's company chatted about this week's upcoming presidential inauguration as they watched bacon fry over the campfire while they wore their Confederate garb.

Back on the road, two Confederate soldiers whizzed by in a golf cart, their swords sticking out the back of the vehicle.

In front of another company, a gray-cloaked man was shooting digital pictures of a uniformed line of soldiers.

At first light, the swath of the Sand Hill Scout Reservation was a surreal scene. Smoke rose up in the streaming sunlight and in between the neat rows of white tents were men and women in period attire bustling through their morning chores. From each came a cloud of mist as they exhaled in the chilly air.

Soldiers checked their rifles and adjusted their uniforms as the hickory smoke wafted through their ranks.

Soon the men began to assemble in small companies and then assembled into a larger group.

Bugles blew in the distance and drums banged out a marching beat, drawing foot soldiers and cavalry to gather one group at a time into the main arena. The strains of Yankee Doodle Dandy floated across the large field and the first gathering of re-enactors posted the flag, then dispersed to the other activities of the day.

Other events included a nearby skirmish of the Union and Confederate soldiers designed to be much like the actual Brooksville Raid, a soldier's court-martial and a tea for the ladies.

A large area for vendors provided additional activities for the expected 4,000 re-enactors and what organizers hoped were spectators numbering thousands more than that.

For the participants, the draw of events like the Brooksville Raid was clear. Last year, Hannah Oxar's tent blew over and there were bad storms in the area but the 20-year-old Miami resident returned once again because she found the event to be fun.

"It's a bunch of people who are interested in history," said 25-year-old Zach Sherraden, a college student from Brooksville. "We come out and have a good time. And we hope more people get into it."

Casey McLean, 14, of Gainesville has been participating in re-enactments since she was 10. "You hang out with other people," she said. "You get to teach heritage to the little kids."

For Kurtright, whose daughter dragged him to his first re-enactment a dozen years ago, the activity is a perfect outlet. A math teacher at Hudson Middle School, he has used his experiences to talk to students about history.

"I like math," he said, "but I love history."

He doesn't claim that the lives of soldiers were like what the re-enactors see in their camps. "It was a lot rougher," he said. Still, he hopes that visitors do gain some insight into that critical period of history.

"I hope it gives the public some idea," Kurtright said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

If you go

Whens and wheres

The 29th annual Brooksville Raid Festival concludes today at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation, 11210 Cortez Blvd. (State Road 50), just east of Weeki Wachee. Gates open to the public at 9 a.m. Admission is $6 for adults and teenagers, $3 for youths 6 to 12 and free for Boy Scouts in uniform and children 5 and younger. Free parking. Chair rentals will be available, and there will be food concessions. Coolers are allowed, but no alcohol is permitted on the grounds. For information, call (352) 799-0129 or visit the Web site at www.brooksville

reenactment.com.

Today's schedule

9 a.m. Presentation of

colors/camps open

10 a.m. Church service

11 a.m. Battalion drill

12:30 p.m. Concert by the 97th Regimental String Band

1:30 p.m. Grand review

2 p.m. Brooksville Raid battle

4:30 p.m. Camps close

With dawn, history awakes at Brooksville Raid Festival 01/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 17, 2009 1:20pm]

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