Horse Landing Civil War Reenactment
By Lydia Filzen
During the weekend before Thanksgiving, Rodeheaver Boys Ranch near Palatka, Florida becomes a Civil War battleground. On the grassy expanses of pastureland, reenactors camp in authentic tenting and meet to stage battles for crowds of spectators. Clashes of cavalry, the crash of cannon fire and the snap of small arms fire punctuate charges of yelling soldiers. As the black powder smoke clears, a medical unit cared for the “wounded.” Sutlers’ tents offer period clothing, weaponry, books, implements, food and other items for Civil War aficionados and the general public.
The battle reenactment commemorates an actual Civil War battle that occurred in May, 1864. Confederate cavalry commanded by Captain J. J. Dickison managed to capture a Union Gunboat, the U. S. Columbine, in the St. Johns River near the Boys Ranch. Confederate sharpshooters killed or disabled most of the men on board while his two artillery pieces damaged the sidewheeler, disabling the steering mechanism. The boat ran aground, allowing the Confederate troopers to board the boat and capture the survivors. According to Pat Adkins of Edgewater, Florida, Event Coordinator, historians suspect some of the dead Union soldiers are buried in unmarked graves somewhere on the ranch property.
Adkins is a member of the 3rd Florida, Company A, which hosts the event. He said, “We started out ten years ago with 250 registered participants, including women and children. We’ve grown to 1,100 to 1,300 reenactors for the past few years.” The units come from as far away as Alabama, northern Georgia, and South Carolina. Adkins noted that attendance was down at the 2004 event. “We have a lot of absentees due to the war and the hurricanes.” He said that some of the Florida reenactors were still coping with damage from the four recent hurricanes that hit Florida, and others serve in National Guard units that have been activated. He said, “We’re always looking to have more reenactors because we want people to have fun and the ranch gets the proceeds. The ranch gives us free rein historically.”
Friday kicked off the event with school tour day. According to organizers, about 2,000 students rode as far as an hour and a half to come and tour the campsites. Living history presenters manned 20 stations to educate the students.
Saturday and Sunday afternoon were highlighted by the confrontation of blue and gray in staged battles similar to those fought 140 years ago.
“We call it the Battle ‘at’ Horse Landing rather than the Battle ‘of’ Horse Landing,” Adkins said. Because the expense and
difficulties of renting a boat to reproduce the actual battle along the muddy riverbank made it unworkable, the organizers engineered a battle that authenticates how artillery, cavalry and infantry fought. Adkins said that the earthworks constructed at the battlefield are similar to those that were used in actual Florida Civil War engagements.
Other features of the weekend include live fire competitions, a ladies social, and a Saturday night dance. All proceeds from the weekend went toward the maintenance of Rodeheaver Boys Ranch, a 790 acre ranch is bounded by the St. Johns River and the Ocala National Forest. The private, non-denominational children’s home cares for about 50 neglected or dependent children who live in group residences.
For information on the November 20-22 2005 event, log onto http://www.rbr.org/battle_at_horse_landing.htm
Lydia Filzen is a Civil War novelist who writes under the name Lydia Hawke. Her first novel, Firetrail, is set during Sherman’s march through the Carolinas. Her second novel, Perfect Disguise is due out in April. For further information, log onto www.lydiahawke.us.