Reliving the historic battle

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By Martin Steele

Back in December, 1835, 108 men of the U.S. Infantry marched through the flat pine lands near Bushnell on their way to Ft. King in what is now Ocala. 

Almost none of them left those woods alive after encountering a large force of Seminole warriors who did not want the soldiers in their land.

U.S. soldier and Seminole warrior reenactors last weekend brought out their muskets, cannons and rifles for a replay of the dramatic event some 182 years ago that set off the Second Seminole War.

Saturday and Sunday at the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, scores of volunteers helped recreate one the bloodiest ambushes in U.S. Military history. 

Only three of Major Francis Dade's men managed to escaped the battle ground and only two lived to tell an account of what happened that fateful day of Dec. 28.

The annual reenactment brings out thousands of visitors for two days of living history with military and Seminole camps, Florida pioneer life demonstrators and exhibitors and a contingent of “suttlers” - traders and crafts people – offering everything from finely crafted flint-lock muskets to animal hides to elaborate bead-work.

In the mix of it all, there's always a plethora of things to learn. And, there's a good bit of fun and excitement built into it.

Youngster Levi Bartz and his mother, Summer, were in the park early, taking in all the sights as they ventured through the suttlers' camp. “We came last year,” she said. “ He likes to see all of it. It's always a good time."

Levi has attended the park's summer day camp and she was “very impressed,” she said. “I'm so grateful its here for the summer. This is a really cool place – it means something.”

The Bartz family were getting a photo with one of reenactors as he also wandered among the suttlers' tents. Reenactor Daniel Tommie is a resident of the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation in south Florida and works at the Seminole museum and as an interpretive guide.

“I do this as a passion, to be involved, to inform and educate,” Tommie said. “I want them to know how things went.”

Robert Mitchell, a soldier reenactor from Gainesville, first began with Civil War reenactments. “I was just drawn by the history,” he said. “This is the best reenactment east of the Mississippi. It's presented with as close as we can make it depiction.”

David Ramsey, who grew up in and resides in Dade County now knows the source of his county name. 

He was roaming along the old Ft. King road where the battle actually occurred. He said he was visiting family at breakfast in Ocala and got word of the reenactment and “just looped by.”

“I never knew this was here,” he said with some degree of excitement. “I used to teach and love all things history.”

There was much to see, activities for the kids and enough dramatic action to enthrall most everyone. 

Visitors not only go to see the battle replayed, complete with cannon and musket fire, but got ample opportunity to visit with the reenactors after the ambush.

Wandering through the camps gave visitors a chance to learn about the fine details of military life in that period, to see how the pioneers lived – even how to make fire without matches.

The Seminole camps hold many familiar faces as most are veterans at the event. They share their love of history of their heritage, mostly in a family oriented atmosphere that has traditionally-clad children from two years up playing and having fun in the camps.

Most all are were enthusiastic about sharing the history and culture.

The annual two-day battle reenactments are typically the largest events held at the park, but there are more throughout the year. This event was sponsored and organized by the Dade Battlefield Society, a non-profit group that helps the park.

To learn more about about the park, visit https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Dade-Battlefield. Information on The Dade Battlefield Society can be found at https://www.dadebattlefield.com/. Both can be found on Facebook.