By MEGAN HUSSEY
The forgotten battle that started a war. This is how Bill Gruber, park manager of The Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, describes Dade’s Battle of 1835; a pivotal battle in American history that will be reenacted Jan. 4 and 5 at the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park.
“What I hope people will take away from this reenactment is a real appreciation of Florida history and American history,” said Gruber. “Many history buffs never have heard of this battle, let alone the general public.”
Each year, the park works in conjunction with The Dade Battlefield Society to rectify this; presenting a wide-scale battle reenactment–including a cannon firing–that involves 100 reenactors portraying soldiers and Seminole participants in the battle that changed history.
“This is the biggest battle we reenact, the one with the most historical relevance,” said Ross Lamoreaux, Spring Hill resident and soldier coordinator for the board for The Dade Battlefield Society. “We reenact the battle in real time on the real land.”
According to the informational page History of The Dade Battlefield, “Seminole resistance to removal to a reservation brought about the Second Seminole War.” On Dec. 28,1835, a troop of 107 soldiers led by Major Francis L. Dade was ambushed by Seminole warriors at the Dade Battle in Sumter County, Florida.
“It was a severe blow to the U.S. Army,” said Gruber.
The reenactment presents a balanced view of the battle featuring Pedro Zepeda, an artist and historian of Seminole descent, as a narrator who describes the Seminole side of the battle, and experienced reenactor Steven Rinck–past president/board member of the Dade Battlefield Society–narrating events from the prospective of the United States Army. The reenactment involves the portrayal of Seminole soldiers who faced displacement from their native lands, and runaway slaves who had sought refuge with the Seminoles and fought on their behalf; as well as U.S. soldiers who represented a diverse group, some of them immigrants.
“So many issues were at play in this battle,” said Gruber. “And those who are reenacting the battle are not just actors. They’re historians.”
Matt Griffin agrees. At age 28, Griffin is already a 20-year veteran of war reenactments and a Black Seminole Reenactor/Living Historian.
“For me, this battle is a part of Florida history–and a part of my family history,” he said. “This is a story of two different groups of people, Seminoles and blacks, that came together against all odds with a common goal: To stay here in Florida.”
“My work as a reenactor has had a huge impact on my life,” he said.
Beyond the battlefield, guests will learn about how all involved on both sides ate, slept and lived during their time at war.
“We’ll have two static camps,” said Ross Lamoreaux.
On the lighter side, the reenactment will feature adult activities like tree cutting and barricade building, historic arts and crafts, a Sutler Trade Fair, and children’s games and activities.
“We’ll have spinning, palmetto basket making, corn grinding, an appearance from the Pioneer Woman, and a general store,” said Kristin Wood, park services specialist at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park. “Kids will love the 20 kinds of pioneer toys we’ll have at play stations in the park, and the pioneer games like sack races, puddle jumps, and more.”
This event will begin at 9 a.m. Jan. 4 and 5 at The Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, 7200 Battlefield Parkway, Bushnell, FL 33513. with the battle reenactment taking place at 2 p.m. Admission is $5 per person, with children under 6 free. Parking is available at a cost of $3. For more information, visit www.dadebattlefield.com or call (352) 793-4781.
Ultimately, Ross Lamoreaux hopes that guests will take away a greater knowledge of local history from their attendance at Dade’s Battle of 1835.
“This happened in our own backyard.”