Monday, June 25, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Skirmish and a sideshow at state park

The Legislature has more important things to do than take sides in a fight over Civil War monuments at a state park in North Florida. That battle has prompted legislation that would require lawmakers to approve historical monuments in the state park system. There is no need for lawmakers to micromanage park monuments, and Gov. Rick Scott should direct state parks officials to continue to determine what is appropriate — regardless of which side in the Civil War is honored.

It was Feb. 20, 1864. Union soldiers marched on Olustee, a town 45 miles west of Jacksonville that was desirable to the North for its potential to disrupt transportation and food supplies and to serve as a recruiting station for black soldiers. Aided by a swamp on one side, a pond on another and reinforcements from Georgia on the front line, Confederate soldiers beat back the Union Army's advance. It was a small battle but likely the largest in Florida during the Civil War. The casualties included 1,861 Union soldiers, twice as many as among the Confederate soldiers.

Fast forward 150 years. The Sons of Confederate Veterans have lined up against the Sons of Union Veterans over the same ground, now the 3-acre Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park. The Union supporters have raised money to erect a monument inside the park to honor the Union's dead. The progeny of the Confederate soldiers say those efforts represent revisionist history and would duplicate what is already there. If the Union supporters must have a monument, they say it can be built on federal parkland, just outside the original park where the historic battleground sits.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, has filed legislation to provide cover for the Confederate position. It would require legislative approval for all monuments in state parks, stripping what has been the responsibility of state parks officials. But Baxley is off base when he argues that supporters of a modest monument for Union soldiers are engaging in revisionist history, and there already are three monuments commemorating Confederate soldiers in the park.

Next month, the Battle of Olustee will mark its 150th anniversary, complete with an annual re-enactment of the fight that draws attendees by the thousands. The modern-day skirmish over who should be honored and where is a trivial sideshow. Settling such a disagreement has no place in the Legislature, which should allow the parks department to do its job. For parks officials, this decision does not require Solomonic wisdom, but courage and common sense. Allowing a modest monument to honor the Union dead inside the original park does not revise history. It accurately reflects it.

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