SPRING HILL — In describing his role as battlefield general for the annual Brooksville Raid re-enactment, Mike Hardy likes to think of himself as something akin to epic filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, whose legendary movies were famous for their "casts of thousands."
For the past dozen years or so, Hardy has been the man responsible for keeping a couple thousand Civil War re-enactors happy and in the limelight as they meet on the battlefield. He also has to keep them safe.
Indeed, moving 1,500 soldiers in and out of the battle theater requires precise coordination. During the action, Hardy uses horse couriers to relay commands and control the action of artillery and foot soldiers.
In the re-enactment game since the 1980s, Hardy started out as an infantry soldier carrying a muzzle-loaded rifle. But his interest in Civil War history opened another door about 15 years ago. Many of the battles he has directed for the Brooksville Raid and other notable re-enactments replicate the troop and artillery movements much as they played out in 1864.
Though his main challenge is putting on a good show for the crowd, Hardy also wants to provide a worthwhile experience for the volunteer troops, many of whom travel great distances to take part. And he has discovered that people aren't thrilled to be left out of the action.
"If I don't move them fast enough or if I let the artillery take too long, I know I'm going to hear about it," Hardy said.
Sometimes, he has to take into account personality clashes and the fact that some brigades prefer not to fight alongside each other.
One good thing about the Brooksville Raid location is that it's held on flat, open ground, which offers ample space to spread people out, giving spectators a panoramic view of the action.
Hardy has several battlefield scenarios he can use, depending on the number of re-enactors who show up, but generally tries to complete a skirmish in about 90 minutes.
"It can get tricky sometimes because some of these guys will take all day to fight if you let them," he said. "The public, on the other hand, wants a fast-paced show with lots of action and noise. Somehow I have to find a balance between the two."
For this year's 34th Brooksville Raid re-enactment, which kicks off Saturday at Sand Hill Scout Reservation on State Road 50, Hardy plans to start things off with a commemorative re-creation of the original skirmish that occurred 150 years ago between a small unit of Union soldiers and a handful of Confederate locals. It began when blue-coated soldiers rushed the shores of Hernando County near Bayport to destroy enemy supply lines near the sleepy hamlet that would later become known as Brooksville.
The original battle from July 1864, of course, was nothing like the massive re-enactment that commemorates the event every year. There were no batteries of cannons firing barrages across an open field, no regiments of soldiers charging shoulder to shoulder into combat. In fact, it was all pretty boring from a re-enactor's standpoint, Hardy said.
"I doubt you could draw many people to come and watch a bunch of soldiers running through the woods," he said. "What we do these days is put on a show. That's what the people come to see."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.