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Let the battle begin

To most historians, the Civil War skirmish in Hernando County was nothing more than a minor footnote, a brief battle between a few dozen Union troops and a handful of Confederates.

But over its 25-year history, the annual Brooksville Raid Festival _ which commemorates the events of July 1864 _ has become the mother of all Florida Civil War re-enactments.

Each January, more than 4,000 weekend warriors descend on the Sand Hill Scout Reservation for the largest battlefield re-enactment in the state. Though the roar of cannon fire and the crackle of muzzle-loaded rifles may be make-believe, the desire for accuracy among participants is real, says Brooksville re-enactor Larry Dodson.

"People involved in it are very attentive to detail," said Dodson, who acts as provost marshal for a Confederate brigade. "The general thinking is that if it didn't exist back then, we don't use it."

For the typical re-enactor, that means procuring not just a wool uniform and black powder rifle, but accessories such as a cartridge belt, a powder carrier and camp equipment _ the cost of which can exceed more than $1,400. A number of stalwarts make their uniforms.

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. Spectators may tour the Confederate and Union camps throughout the day and visit the suttlers (vendors) row for souvenir items.

"It's a fun thing to be involved with," Dodson said. "Re-enactors know that when they're out on the battlefield they're making history come alive and helping to keep it alive for future generations."