By MARK STONE
Bushnell, Fl – Wednesday, December 28th, 2022, marked the one hundred eighty-seventh anniversary of a battle fought in central Florida, later known as the Dade Massacre. A memorial service was held at the Dade Battlefield State Park, with the story of the battle presented by reenactors and other members of the Dade Battlefield Society.
Almost two centuries ago, December 28, 1835, dawned a cold rainy day. It was unusually foul weather for the south, especially so in Florida. One hundred eight men of the US Army pulled their wool coats tight around themselves and their gear as they marched, battling the cold, wet weather. As they trudged along the military trail that ran from Fort Brooke, near present-day Tampa, to Fort King, near Ocala, conversation was muted as they just wanted the march to end.
The detachment, led by Major Francis F. Dade, departed Fort Brooke five days earlier on a mission to reinforce Fort King. It was the period known as “the Second Seminole War,” and a band of Creek Indians led by Osceola was known to be en route to Ft. King. Their objective was to kill the US Indian Agent at Ft. King.
Having traveled well more than half of the one-hundred-five-mile military trail known as Ft. King Highway, the soldiers were keenly aware that Seminole Indians had been following them for days. They did not realize that December morning that the Seminole, who were always out of sight, now lay in the tall grass and scrubby trees along the trail, waiting in ambush. This day was to be their last stand.
Major Dade was killed, along with over half of his command, in the first wave of the attack. The remaining soldiers, following the military doctrine of the day, chopped down trees to fortify their position, building a triangular breastwork at a site marked today by the Dade Battlefield State Park in Bushnell. There, all but three perished under relentless Seminole attacks.
Wednesday’s ceremony featured a Naval JROTC Color Guard, local reenactors, and a wreath laying at the site of the breastwork, commemorating the lives lost on both sides. Dade Battlefield Society re-enactors provided an Honor Guard and told tales of the battle from the viewpoints of the soldiers, as well as the Seminole Indians. State Park Rangers, as well as members of the Dade Battlefield Society, proved to be subject matter experts, providing attendees with many fascinating details of the lives and deaths of battle participants, as well as warfare tactics of the day.
A full reenactment of the battle is scheduled at the Park on January 7th and 8th, 2023. For more information, contact the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, 7200 Battlefield Parkway, Bushnell, FL 33513, or call (352) 793-4781. You can also learn more by visiting www.dadebattlefield.com.
Correction: Originally the article stated that it was 197 years since the Dade Massacre. It has been 187 years since the Dade Massacre.