by ROCCO MAGLIO
Hernando Sun Writer
This year marks the 39th Annual Brooksville Raid reenactment. The raid commemorates the 1864 Civil War raid of the Hernando County area by the Union army. The purpose of the Brooksville Raid was to disrupt the supplies that were coming from the region to support the Confederate army. Some of the targets of the raid were local cattle herds, crops, and a salt works.The raid did not burn the major settlements, but the homes of prominent citizens were burned and their crops and cattle were taken.
It is illuminating to look at some of the people who were involved in the raid. Capt. Leroy G. Lesley led the homeguards- a small force of soldiers who were left behind to protect Hernando County. In addition to protecting against attacks from the Union army, their job was to deter lawless elements that took advantage of the lack of men to loot and generally behave badly.
On July 5, 1861, moving from the Tampa area Capt. Lesley purchased a home from Theophilus and Elizabeth Higginbotham known as Ellis’ place which was a few miles south of Brooksville. Capt Lesley was a minister, soldier, and cattle rancher.
An excerpt from Spessard Stone’s Rev. Capt. Leroy G. Lesley: Tampa’s Fighting Parson,
“With the outbreak of the Civil War, Leroy had readily given his allegiance to the South. In Hernando County in 1863 he raised his own company, Captain L. G. Lesley’s Company, Col. C. J. Munnerlyn’s Battalion. Numbering about 112 men, including officers W. W. Wall, John Parsons, Anderson Mayo, David Hope, and John Knight, the company was based at Brooksville and gathered and drove beef cattle north to supply the Confederate Army. They further acted as a home guard unit, engaged in picket work and general guard duty, and kept watch on the Federal blockade runners. Capt. Lesley had also been ordered by Gen. Finegan to arrest all deserters and send them to their respective commands and assist confiscatory and conscript officers in carrying out their orders.”
Also in 1863 Capt. Lesley and David Hope opened a salt works near present day Port Richey. This salt works was one of the main targets of the Union arm. A town near the salt works sprung up and was called Hopeville.
On July 1, 1864, the Union forces under the command of Capt. J. W. Childs depart from Fort Myers. The force consisted of 120 men of the Union 2nd Florida and 120 men of the 2nd U. S. Colored Troops.
On July 5, 1864, a few days before the raid, Capt. Leroy G. Lesley and six men found a Union Camp with a few soldiers. In the ensuing fight one of the Union soldiers a young man by the name of Duncan was shot and lying in the mud. Capt. Lesley placed his foot upon Duncan’s head and pushed it into the mud.
The particulars are in some dispute, but eventually Capt. Lesley managed to remove the ball and sent Duncan home. Duncan was apparently a Confederate deserter who had joined the Union Army.
On July 7th, the Union forces landed at Anclote Key. They commenced north toward Hernando County with some of skirmishes against Capt. Lesley’s force.
On July 10th, 1864, the Union soldiers raided and burned the homes of prominent citizens including David Hope, Aaron T Frierson, William B. Hooker, and Leroy G. Lesley. All of whom had fought with distinction in the Second Seminole War for the United States. In addition to the burning of homes and crops, cattle were seized. The Union forces approached within a mile of Brooksville.
On July 11th the Union forces reached Bayport and boarded ships to return to Fort Myers. That marked the end of the Brooksville Raid.
In February 1865, Capt. Lesley and his son John T. Lesley, were part of a group led by Major William Footman who attacked the Union stronghold of Fort Myers. The attack captured eight Union soldiers and killed a sergeant. They were unable to take the fort and were forced to retreat.
After the war Capt. Lesley was arrested for the assault on the Union soldier Duncan. On March 4, 1866, it was decided that the evidence and the offense did not reach the level of needing a military commission.
Capt. Lesley moved to a home on the the Alafia River near the town of Peru which is now known as Riverview. He became active in politics and was one of the leaders of the local Democratic Party.
He also is credited with establishing a Methodist Society in the Manatee settlement. The Methodist Society he established built the church in 1887 which is one of the cornerstones of the Manatee Village Historical Park.
If you get a chance to attend the Brooksville Raid remember the Fighting Parson. He was one of the colorful characters from the original Brooksville Raid.
The Brooksville Raid Re-enactment takes place Jan. 19 and 20, 2019. The location is on Hwy. 50 West at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation, Across from Oak Hill Hospital. For more info call (352) 799-0129.