FORT PIERCE — As I traveled towards the battle site, I knew I was in for something special. As I drove past U.S. 1, just prior to my turn off, I saw Gator Trace. I had to stop and admire the area. …
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The Raid on Fort Pierce reenactment
By Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
FORT PIERCE — As I traveled towards the battle site, I knew I was in for something special. As I drove past U.S. 1, just prior to my turn off, I saw Gator Trace. I had to stop and admire the area. It made me wonder how soldiers fought in such a swampy area filled with gators, snakes, and narrow passages. Then there are those things called ‘no see’ems.’ I got back into my car and went a short distance to Savanna Recreation Area and turned into the gate.
I drove to the encampment and must say, I was very impressed with the different streets settings and the beautiful location in which we were going to make history come alive. I reported to Commander Jim Odell and as we talked, all my questions were answered. We decided to write a joint after-action report. The following are our reflections.
The setting of palm trees, channels, gators, small clearings were well maintained and surrounded the sutlers, encampments and battlefield. The bridges that crossed the channel offered an opportunity to look down on alligators, turtles and other aquatic life that meandered casually through the water. The tall grass and denseness of the swamp provided a realistic look into the old Seminole Indian paths and the route of troops from the Conquistadors, Settlers, Revolutionary soldiers, to the War Between the States.
School day started off with the arrival of the students and chaperones from various venues. Home schoolers as far away as Delray, to the local groups of the Treasure Coast. The Local Fort Pierce Central High School and the ROTC Cadets from the Cobra Battalion were ready for action. Commander Odell and Senator David Levee Yulee greeted the groups. The cowbell was used as a signal to move the groups to different stations by the tour guides. There were thirteen stations, including the Don Moody (Blacksmith), illustrated turning steel into wagon parts and the necessities of the day. Cannons boomed, muskets cracked, and the cook was hard at work getting dinner ready for the troops. A lone widow sat by her tent, as she shared her story of heartache and loss. General Lee shared his story of the decision to leave the Federal Army after thirty-six years of service and to follow Virginia’s calling. Medical practices of the day were discussed.
The encampments offered life amongst the Federal and Confederate troops. The troops demonstrated drill as well as shared their knowledge about weapons, along with firing the period guns. Senator David Levy Yulee presented his role during the war. The students in attendance and those supervising were exemplary, and were well prepared to ask questions in a very respectful way. This old general was very impressed with the JROTC from Ft. Pierce High School. Some of the students kept coming back with questions.
Saturday provided a lovely day and the encampment was bustling with activity in expectation of spectators. Sutler roll was prepared as well. A lady’s tea and social was held at eleven o’clock with over forty ladies participating. They talked of period attire and social graces. The prelude of the battle found the spectators walking among the camps and living historian asking questions. At approximately one o’clock, Commander Odell welcomed the onlookers and began sharing his knowledge of local history and that of Florida’s participation and sacrifices during the war. He emphasized the importance of the area, since it contained a vast amount of beef. Both armies needed the steady supply of meat and each side was determined to control the area. He discussed the importance of a naval presence since Florida possessed so many harbors and coastline. Fort Pierce and other ports had to be guarded. He introduced General Lee, who offered a prayer to God for our country, and safety of all who were present. Senator David Levee Yulee was the Master of Ceremonies.
The crowd was requested to cross the bridge and watch the reenactment unfold from the other side of the channel. General Lee and General Wolf walked the lines in an effort to ensure safety, and to get the crowd excited. They were not to be disappointed. A grand flag review was held. General Lee, and General Damien Wolf of the 47th New York Volunteer Infantry, reviewed the procession. The 75th Ohio Volunteers Infantry Regiment (OVI) was commanded by Maj. Gen Sereg. Then the warring factions crossed the bridge and took their places.
Without warning, the Federal forces attacked the encampment of the Confederates. They were supported by artillery fire. The Southern Volunteer Battalion and Colonel Langs Finest, the eighth Florida Company “C”, 15th Alabama and 28th Georgia, rallied and a stiff resistance was offered. The battle raged for several minutes with both armies pushing the other in an attempt to drive one or the other off the field. Slowly the Confederate forces were pushed back to the bridge where they made the last stand. A final surge and before the spectators eyes, laid the defenders of Florida. After the order ‘resurrect’ was given the two sides regrouped and offered a moving volley honoring God, Country and those who witnessed the event. The crowd was invited to stay and visit with the reenactors. Several walked amongst the troops asking questions and gaining a new knowledge and respect for the war in which Americans fought Americans. At dusk, a Bon Fire Frolic, with music and camaraderie, was held for the reenactors.
Sunday’s schedule witnessed the following: After with Reveille, the troops prepared themselves via the morning drill. Church call was given and the honorable Dowling Watford officiated. Sunday’s battle was a victory for the boys in gray. With the final barrage of cannon fire, the Union forces lay in shambles, as resurrect was shouted. This year’s event was dedicated to those men and women who have gone before and to the passing of Mr. Jack Heitman and his wife.
The following are recognized and thanked for their contributions in making the Raid on Ft. Pierce a success. Colonel Dwight Doveville (Vietnam Vet-Army) of the 75th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, for his tactical skills. Colonel Corky Joseph Pezimenti (Vietnam Vet and former Police officer in Daytona). First Sergeant James Damastino (Vietnam Vet-Marine) retired Flagler County Deputy who portrayed a sniper is a member of B Company, 15th Alabama, and the 7th Florida, Company K (straw hats), 28th Georgia, the 37th Alabama Volunteer Infantry (with the Southern Volunteer Battalion) and finally, all the reenactors/vendors who gave of their time to bring history alive. Special thanks to the Order of Confederate Rose Laura Ratcliffe Chapter 19, for their hard work in feeding the troops and the Ladies tea.
For next year’s RAid ON Ft. Pierce, go to https://www.facebook.com/FTPierceRaid, or contact Commander Odell via Thejdawg569_2000@yahoo.com.