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Re-enactment to recall bloody massacre

(ran PC edition of PT)

In December 1835, Maj. Francis Langhorne Dade marched his troops for five days from Fort Brooke, on Tampa Bay, to Fort King near Ocala to reinforce the garrison.

None of the 108 soldiers made it there.

An annual re-enactment to be held at the Dade Battlefield State Historic Site in Bushnell this weekend tells the story of their attack by Seminole Indians, which launched the second Seminole War.

For 19 years, 72-year-old Frank Laumer has told the story of the battle, not through the eyes of Maj. Dade, who fell with the battle's first shot, but instead, with the voice of a 23-year-old infantryman, Ransom Clark, one of three surviving soldiers.

"His determination to survive, to live, was most incredible," the Bushnell man said. "Unbelievable, really."

It was 48 degrees the night after the battle and most of the foot soldier's clothing was gone. He lay in a pen full of dead men with a broken arm and leg, a bullet through his shoulder, a punctured lung and a bullet wound to the head.

Despite his injuries, he climbed over the barricade and began to crawl.

He trekked 60 miles through Seminole territory, crossing four rivers, to make his way back to Tampa.

"It surpasses belief," Laumer said in awe. "When I stand there as Ransom Clark and talk about the wounds he received, I know he received them.

When Clark's remains were exhumed in 1976, pathologists confirmed each of the injuries Clark had claimed.

"The re-enactment is as thorough as 30 years of research can make it," Laumer said with a dry laugh. "I don't think taking liberties with history is a good idea. It's compelling enough on its own merits."

Laumer has published two books on the Dade Battle. His interest in the local event was piqued when he looked for a book on the subject and found none.

"I was very interested in a battle that had taken place up the street," he said. "And now here I am 34 years later."

The re-enactment will be Saturday and Sunday at the Dade Battlefield Historic Site on County Road 476 in Bushnell. The weekend will include infantry maneuvers, authentic Seminole and soldier encampments and historical arts and crafts. Re-enactments will be at 2 p.m. each day and gates open at 9 a.m. Admission is $5 for adults; children 12 and younger are free. For information, call (352) 793-4781.

"The smoke would have cleared by now," he said in an almost wistful voice on the anniversary of the Dec. 28 battle. "The bodies would be cooling, lying where they would stay for six weeks until another command came along to bury them."

Even today, Laumer says, when he smells wood smoke at his home, a scant half mile from where soldiers camped before the bloody massacre, he thinks of those men.