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Civil War passions still run deep as Union supporters propose monument on Confederate site

OlusteeBy MARGIE MENZEL
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

The state parks system is on the hot seat and a House leader is calling for action over a proposed monument to Union soldiers at the site of the biggest Civil War battle fought in Florida.

The bid to add a Union monument to the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park near Lake City has drawn a furious response, with about 100 people attending a Monday night public hearing at the Columbia County School District Auditorium. Representatives of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the state parks, moderated the hearing.

Passions ran high, at one point erupting in a spontaneous chorus of "Dixie" led by a black man, H.K. Edgerton, who called Union soldiers rapists and wielded his large Confederate flag like a conductor's baton as the audience sang.

Speakers blasted the proposal as disturbing hallowed ground in a rural community where most families stay for generations.

"Putting a Union monument at Olustee would be like placing a memorial to Jane Fonda at the entrance to the Vietnam memorial," said Leon Duke, a wounded veteran.


"Men died there. Let their spirits rest in peace," said Nansea Marham Miller, who is descended from a Confederate soldier who died at Olustee. "Let my grandfather rest in peace."

The park is in the Osceola National Forest, 50 miles west of Jacksonville and 15 miles east of Lake City. It was the site of a four-hour battle on Feb. 20, 1864, in which Union forces were routed by Confederate troops. 

In 1909, the Florida Legislature acquired three acres there to build a memorial. In 1912, Olustee became the first state park in Florida, and each February, a re-enactment of the battle is staged there. There was heavy debate during Monday's meeting about whether the already-existing memorial is a Confederate memorial or is broader in scope. 

Last February, DEP received a proposal from the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to add a memorial specifically for Union officers and soldiers. The agency vetted the proposal and scheduled Monday's public hearing to discuss possible locations at the park for the memorial.

But the discussion never got that far. 

Many of the speakers identified themselves as descendants of soldiers who lost their lives at the Battle of Olustee. Many said they participated regularly in Civil War re-enactments. Many began their speeches by stating how many generations of their families had lived in Florida.

Jeff Grzelak of Orlando, a Civil War historian whose business card depicts him in a Union uniform, said a Union marker had been placed in the cemetery at Olustee 23 years before.

Mike Farrell, a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, is also descended from a soldier who died at Olustee. Farrell said he's been a historical exhibitor at the park for years and proposed the new memorial as a result. 

"I always have the visiting public approach me and ask me where the Union monument is on the battlefield, and I often tell them, 'There isn't any.' I'm not talking about what Jeff was talking about, which was a cemetery marker to the dead. What I'm talking about is a battlefield monument," Farrell said.

That prompted disagreement from audience members, and moderator Lew Scruggs, DEP's chief of park planning, called for them to let Farrell finish.

Many speakers said the land on which the current memorial is placed was originally secured by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which generated donations to match the state's contribution. The United Daughters of the Confederacy also administered the site until 1949, when the state took over.

Jamie Likins, president general of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and a fifth-generation Floridian, noted that the idea for the monument had come from a member of her group whose husband had fought at Olustee. 

"The Olustee monument is to the Battle of Olustee and honors all, both, Confederate and Union soldiers," Likins said.

Agreed Susan McKinney, also a member of group: "Either abide by the agreement or give the land back!"

House Judiciary Chairman Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, said he was concerned that no elected body had reviewed the proposal.

"There is a sacred trust that's being violated when you go in and change an historic site from the way it was commemorated by those who established (it)," Baxley said. 

He suggested getting the matter "off the table" by means of a bill that he would sponsor. "I can do a very simple proposal to the Legislature that we protect all monument sites," Baxley said to cheers and applause. 

But Rep. Elizabeth Porter, a Lake City Republican, said she had spoken with DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard and that the public hearing --- by getting local reaction onto the record --- would help resolve the dispute.

She also disagreed with Baxley's suggestion of a legislative remedy.

"If I agreed with that, I would have asked for it to go through the Legislature," Porter said. "I wouldn't have asked Secretary Vinyard, 'Could we have a local meeting with local people and stakeholders who have a real say in what goes on here?' " 

"And let's face it," she continued, "Does anyone here think the Legislature always has the right answer? I'm in it, and I don't."

DEP officials also came in for some criticism for having allowed the proposal to come as a surprise to the locals, but Porter said they were just doing their jobs.

David McAllister of Tampa, however, wasn't reassured. He said his great-grandfather had donated four acres in Wakulla County to commemorate the Battle of Natural Bridge, and he was worried that that site would also be tampered with.

"Is Natural Bridge next?" he demanded.

Other suggestions included incorporating the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War as donors and collaborators in a battlefield museum, with an exhibit of their own.

The hearing lasted nearly three hours, and after everyone had spoken, DEP's Scruggs said he would take all their comments back to his superiors.

"We have not reached any sort of decision," he told the audience. "I don't believe there's a rush to judgment here."

Photo: Florida Parks Service

Comments

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George

I have been the Vicksburg battleground in Mississippi and there are monuments all over the place to both sides. WTF Florida? Oops, I just answered my own question.

Redundant

This disagreement makes about as much sense as the spam filling up the comments space. Was it a war of rebellion or a war of union aggression?

Mike Cohen

This is why I left Florida. People actually still display confederate flags, and when I see one, I want to rip it up and stomp on it.

ignatz

So, they are apparently celebrating firing on the American Flag, and making war against the United States of America.

If they still hate the flag and the United States, why don't they leave the U.S.?

Redmond Jennings

Monuments to traitors and slavers, none for Americans or liberators of slaves. Sounds about right for Florida.

Robert Jenkins

I would gladly donate to this memorial. Like many I have kin that fought on both sides. Let all be remembered. Remember the furor when The Son's of the Conferacy bought land next to M.L.K. Blvd in Tampa, and erected Old Dixie? What's good for the Goose... Oh by the way; the South lost. Defeated armies seldom have much say over what the Vitourious Army says. I was in Atlanta once and signed The Son's of The Confederay's guest book as Gen. Sherman's Grand Son several generations removed and left my real email address; talk about hate mail!!! LOL!!!

Dale Cox

What is wrong with preserving a battlefield and having only a monument that honors the men of both sides? The current Olustee monument pays tribute to both sides. There already are monuments to the dead of both sides in local cemeteries. Let's just leave it alone.

Deborah Sickmon

A memorial exists. That is all that is needed. It honors all who suffered in this battle. The desire by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to segregate recognition is what is causing this turmoil and perpetuating the division among Americans....not the multi-generational residents of North Florida.

It saddens me to see the hateful comments previously made by people who still have a bias against anything/anyone who is historically connected to the Confederacy. We all should be able to identify with our own heritage and family history regardless of which side it. It doesn't mean that anyone is un-American. America was built on being a conglomeration of people from a variety of backgrounds. Why can't those who posted hateful comments above honor that American spirit now?

Can't take anymore

The neo-Confederate Republicans that now control that party throughout the South won't come out and say the main reason they oppose any memorial to the Union dead at the Battle of Olustee. The majority of Union troops were black (US Colored Troops or USCT) and instead of being taken prisoner if they surrendered to the Johnny Reb's they were executed on the spot. So much for these "cherished" Southern values. Most Union troops at Natural Bridge were USCT whose scouts were whites from the 2nd Florida Cavalry US. Also very few prisoners were taken in this Union defeat.

Josephine Bass

Why do American Southern Confederates have to give way to these invaders now. We have established our places for us to commemorate our ancestors a long time ago, yet you keep trying to drive us underground. Mostly with the R word and slavery as your excuse. We are a sick sick society ranting about USCT, sick sick sick of it. If you want peace leave us alone. Someone mentioned Vicksburg and it is disgusting to see all the Union bragging greedy monuments; I saw them before the South had any money to spend on monuments. The monument at Olustee was built with donations from Southern people who hardly had two pieces of bread.

R. Berthaut

An ancestor of mine died at the Battle of Waterloo! Curse you, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington! Vive la France!

Terry Binkley

Nothing ever changes. The South was forced back into the Union by Northern troops who burned and pillaged their way across the South,and yet we are supposed to just forget about all that and remember only that we were defeated and know our place. If we were and are such terrible people, why didn't the North just let us go in 1861, or let us go now?? Seems to me that all the "hate" is coming from anti-South bigots who want to fight the war all over again. The real traitors to the Constitution and the Union were the Radical Republicans and the Northerners who waged an illegal and immoral war on their fellow countrymen. Those of you who believe that they were right are traitors too. The Confederacy was established to prevent becoming a part of the monstrosity that is the Federal government we see before us today. Don't bother to trot out the usual "it was all about slavery" nonsense. Slavery existed in the North since the foundation of the country and only when it was no longer economically feasible did it decline up there. Then they sold them "down the river", meaning, to the South. Every slave ship that came to America flew the Stars and Stripes and sailed from Massachusetts or Rhode Island. (I guess that shoots the old "flag of slavery" argument in the foot too!)Finally, if you don't like the South or Southerners who honor their ancestors, please don't come down here.

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