Friday, February 28, 2014

Old Wounds Re-Open With Civil War Monument

In Florida it’s an old saying that “the farther north you go, the farther south you get.” Nowhere is this saying more true than in Baker County at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park.  Home to one of the largest Civil War re-enactments in the Southeast, Olustee is considered “sacred ground” for those whose ancestors fought on the Confederate side of the war.  The latest conflict on the battlefield is the push by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to place a monument within the park to commemorate the soldiers who died there.  The park currently features 3 monuments already, all for Confederate soldiers.

Charles Custer, 83, is one of the descendants pushing for the Union obelisk.  “There were twice as many Union casualties there as Confederate.  They fought. They bled. And they are really not recognized anywhere.”  Custer had relatives fight on both sides of the war, like many people in the South today.
On the opposite side of the “second battle of Olustee” are the Sons of Confederate Veterans who are pushing to have the new monument banned from the park.  Unlike other Southern states, the influx of “Yankees” into Florida has never stopped.  Attracted by the weather and tourist destinations, Florida’s Southern heritage has been slowly eroding since the war.

“My biggest concern is that this is revisionist history and that these decisions are being made by park officials and not an elected body. You have to have some obligation to the people," said Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley, Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The main problem is not so much the monument itself but the location where proponents want to place it.  As long as it is not erected within the original three-acre state park, advocates on the Southern side are fine with it.  “We are not opposed to the monument at all; we are opposed to the location, and here is why — it’s like any other historical building,” said James S. Davis, 66, the Florida Division Commander for the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “You put something brand new in there and it destroys the significance of it.”

During the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee held last month, re-enactors and visitors alike enjoyed the festivities and all political issues were placed on hold during the event.  Over 2,000 demonstrators gathered together to bring living history to attendees.  Originally fought on February 20, 1864, the Confederate victory still left over 900 Southern soldiers dead with a defeated Union camp losing over twice that number.  This was seen as a huge victory in Florida as Union troops were prevented from reaching Tallahassee from Jacksonville, taking the capital and setting up Florida as a Union state.  Visitors also enjoyed authentic encampments, historical demonstrations and educational events along with the battle.  The original town of Olustee is setup, allowing visitors to walk through and experience what it was like during the Civil War.  2014 marks the 38th year the re-enactment has taken place.