150 Years Later, Floridians are Still Fighting over the Civil War
Florida’s first state park has become ground zero for a raging political fight to establish a monument honoring Union Army soldiers who died during the Civil War.
The three-acre Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park currently includes three monuments honoring Confederate soldiers who died fighting to secede from the country.
The park, first established in 1912, was the site of Florida’s largest and bloodiest Civil War battle that killed 3,000 Union and 1,000 Confederate soldiers. It occurred on February 20, 1864, and raged on for four hours.
With no marker respecting the sacrifice of so many northern men, the Florida chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War asked the state parks department last year for permission to place an obelisk to honor Union soldiers.
State officials agreed that the park needed some historic balance. They held a public hearing about the new monument and chose a location within the park for it.
But those actions angered the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which called the proposed monument a “Darth Vader-esque obscene obsidian obelisk.”
Opponents enlisted the help of key politicians, like State Representative Dennis Baxley, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, to stop the addition to the park. “There is a sacred trust that's being violated when you go in and change an historic site from the way it was commemorated by those who established (it),” Baxley told the News Service of Florida.
“Putting a Union monument at Olustee would be like placing a memorial to Jane Fonda at the entrance to the Vietnam memorial,” added Leon Duke, a wounded veteran.
Longtime historical park exhibitor Mike Farrell, who is a descendent of a Union soldier who died at Olustee, said that park visitors often seek out a Union memorial at the site. “I always have the visiting public approach me and ask me where the Union monument is on the battlefield, and I often tell them, ‘There isn't any,’” he told the News Service. “I'm not talking about…a cemetery marker to the dead. What I'm talking about is a battlefield monument.”
Ancestors of Charles Custer fought on both sides of the war, and he favors a Union monument. “There were twice as many Union casualties there as Confederate,” he told The New York Times. “They fought. They bled. And they are really not recognized anywhere.”
The battle of Olustee is reenacted each year, making it one of the Southeast’s largest Civil War re-enactments.
Although it was not nearly as large as many other Civil War battles, the Olustee one was significant because the South’s victory denied the North from establishing a government in Florida and cutting off supplies to the Confederate army.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman
To Learn More:
Blue and Gray Still in Conflict at a Battle Site (by Lizette Alvarez, New York Times)
Civil War Passions Still Run Deep as Union Supporters Propose Monument on Confederate Site (by Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida)
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