By MEGAN HUSSEY
Called the largest Civil War reenactment in Florida, the 40th Annual Brooksville Raid Reenactment Festival is set to take place Jan. 18 and 19 at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation, 11210 Cortez Blvd, Brooksville.
Presented by The Hernando Historical Museum Association, Inc., and North Pinellas County Scout Sertoma Club, Inc., this event is intended to mark the milestones of an American war that changed history, and a reenactment event that has formed a pivotal part of Hernando history for four decades.
Hernando County was the site of raids in the years 1863 and 1864. This reenactment, according to http://brooksvilleraidreenactment.com/, is not intended as a simulation of the raids, but as "a re-creation of typical Civil War battles."
"Now in its 40th year, this reenactment is a big deal," said Mary Sheldon, president of the Hernando Historical Museum Association. "It's a community event."
Conducted the third weekend in January each year, the festival features about 1000-1500 costumed reenactors, 20 cannons, 20 horses, and more than 30 sutlers or tradespeople. The event's centerpiece takes the form of two wide scale battle reenactments featuring authentic uniforms and artillery.
"For younger people in particular, who are not learning as much history in schools, this is a great opportunity for them to learn," said Kathy Vidal, treasurer of the Hernando Historical Museum Association. "You see their reaction as the horses run onto the field, when they see the cannons, they really get into it."
Vidal also knows a great deal about the history of the reenactment, which started as an event staged yearly at a farm maintained by the late Murray Grubbs, Hernando County Commissioner and businessman and a US Navy Veteran.
"A few hundred reenactors would bring their horses, uniforms and weapons to engage in war games," said Vidal, a longtime event volunteer. "The event was free to attend, and we cooked food for all the reenactors."
As the event escalated in size, organizers turned to the Greater Hernando Chamber of Commerce for assistance, with Hernando State Bank also lending support. And finally in 1989, the reenactment found a new home at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation, as presented by The Hernando Historical Museum Association, Inc., and North Pinellas County Scout Sertoma Club, Inc. .
"We were determined to make this thing work," said Joan Casey, festival co-chairperson. "And we did."
Casey said that she sees many familiar faces at the Raid each year, including longtime volunteers and co-organizers Ron and Janet Daniel. And Cindy Renz of Brooksville, who along with husband Scott Renz (known as Captain Scotty in the reenactment community) has participated in many reenactment events, identifies the Brooksville Raid reenactment as the best of its kind.
"This is an authentic, educational event, a portrayal of local history," she said. "This is the closest thing to the real thing."
Today's festival is even broader in scope, including authentic confederate and union camps, and 30 sutlers (vendors) offering period clothing, gunworks and leatherworks, ironworks created by a blacksmith, classic treats like kettle corn, fry bread and ice cream plus festival eats like hamburgers, strawberry shortcake and hot dogs. A Sarsaparilla Saloon will offer classically styled root beer.
And speaking of good eats; female reenactors will be invited to participate in a Ladies Tea Saturday morning. All tea guests must be dressed in period costume, and will enjoy hot and cold teas, finger sandwiches, fruits, cookies, pastries and cheeses while enjoying door prizes and listening to an educational speech regarding life in the Civil War era.
Indeed, food for thought ranks high on the menu of the Ladies Tea.
"I've seen the tea clothing evolve from prom dresses with hoop skirts to handmade day dresses of pure cottons and other fine materials," said Mary Sheldon. "These are beautiful and authentic dresses, that teach you how people dressed during that time."
Tea coordinator Cindy Renz says that she sees many historically accurate costumes on display at the teas, as worn by the 100 or more women who generally participate in the event. These include one- and two-piece day dresses culled from cottons and silks, and adorned with jewels and trim, lace and embellishments, and sometimes with detachable collars and sleeves.
"For ladies of this day and age, getting together and having tea was a major social event," she explained. "High tea was a time to put on your best dresses and be with friends."
And at this particular tea, Union and Confederate reenactors sit down together, sharing a communal table.
"This is the time when we all come together," said Renz.
Also on the educational front, a festival School Day feature will take a multitude of local children on a journey through history.
"The kids will get a map and go from station to station, where they will learn about Civil War," said Casey. "They will learn about cannons, Medical Hospital Units, rifles, uniforms, and toys kids played with during this time."
School Day coordinator Stephanie Sheridan, who has experience as an area educator and Sertoma Cub Scout camp director, reports that 1700 area students are scheduled to attend the program this year.
"The school day program is a self guided tour through living history stations that are performed by the reenactors," she explained. "The stations include a medical tent, artillery team, and history of the flag, just to name a few....Students will walk away from the school day event with a better understanding of what life was like during the Civil War for both soldiers and families."
And, as always, learning has its rewards.
"All students that attend the school day event receive a student admission ticket for free entry to the Saturday or Sunday reenactment battle," she said, "so they can return with their families."
Other festival spectacles will include colors presentations on the battlefield, a vintage baseball game, an artillery demonstration, signal flags and bugle calls, a photo display of past reenactments, appearances by authors offering books that concern the Civil War era, a grand review parade of reenactors, and a flag retirement ceremony.
"We want to show the public how an American flag is properly retired," said Casey.
A culminating spectacle will assume the form of the grand Blue/Grey Ball, at which beautifully adorned reenactors in historic suits and ballgowns will do classic dances like the Virginia Reel. The band 7 LBs of Bacon, which performs classic Dixie music, will provide musical entertainment at the ball.
Admission for the 40th Annual Brooksville Raid Reenactment Festival is $10 for adults, $5 for youth 6-12 Years old, free for children 5 and under, and $3 for Scouts in uniform. For more information, visit http://brooksvilleraidreenactment.com/.
"There will be so much to learn at the festival. What I hope people learn is that these soldiers were not playacting. This was a horrific time period," said Mary Sheldon. "The intention of a reenactment is not to glorify war, but to learn from it."