Bringing history to life: Dade’s Battle

Those who enjoy history and the spectacle of re-enactments may want to make their way to Bushnell in early January to watch the dramatization of a battle that sparked the beginning of the Second Seminole War.

Re-enactors will take to the Historic Dade Battlefield to assume the roles of Seminole warriors and American soldiers during the 32nd annual commemoration of Dade’s Battle.

U.S. troops charge during Dade’s Battle, an annual re-enactment that occurs at the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Bushnell. (Courtesy of Dade Battlefield Historic State Park)

U.S. troops charge during Dade’s Battle, an annual re-enactment that occurs at the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Bushnell. (Courtesy of Dade Battlefield Historic State Park)

The actual battle took place on Dec. 28, 1835 — 10 years before Florida even became a state, said Bill Gruber, park manager at the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park.

While the re-enactment is a condensed version of the actual battle, it is authentic in many respects, Gruber said. The re-enactors wear uniforms and clothing that resemble those used during that period, and many fire blank cartridges from weapons that are reproductions of the kind that were used in the battle.

Re-enactors from throughout Florida and beyond gather in Bushnell to dramatize the conflict, Gruber said, and a couple of thousand people typically watch.

About 100 re-enactors take part in the dramatization, said Paul Remis, president of the Dade Battlefield Society Inc. Re-enactors come from all over the country, as well as from Canada and overseas.

The event is the largest Seminole re-enactment and has been taking place longer than any other Seminole re-enactment, Remis said.

The annual event began as a small memorial service at the site, which includes a portion of the historic battlefield, Gruber said, and has evolved over time into a major re-enactment.

The event marks an important historic battle that many people know little or nothing about, the park manager said. The Dade Battle sparked the longest, costliest and deadliest war between the United States and Native Americans.

When Florida became a U.S. territory and settlers began moving here, the Native Americans were forced to move south, according to the DadeBattlefield.com website.

By the 1830s, there was significant conflict between Seminoles and white settlers. The conflict intensified because of the Seminole practice of giving refuge to fugitive slaves, the website says.

When the Treaty of Payne’s Landing was signed in 1832, some chiefs agreed to move to territory west of the Mississippi River. But there was widespread opposition to this treaty, led by a Seminole chief named Osceola, and that resulted in the outbreak of the Second Seminole War.

In December 1835, more than 100 U.S. troops and officers were marching from Fort Brooke in what is now Tampa to reinforce Fort King, Gruber said, which is in present-day Ocala.

At the site where the park now stands, 180 Seminole warriors ambushed the U.S. troops, killing all but three, Gruber said. One died a short time later, leaving only two survivors.

The soldiers had expected to be attacked during their march, but had believed it would come earlier, Gruber said, so they had let down their guard.

Remis agreed that the soldiers thought the danger was behind them.

“They figured if they’re going to get us, they’re going to burn a bridge and we’re going to be trapped, we’re not going to have anywhere to go,” Remis said.

Visitors to the 80-acre state can stop by the visitor center to see displays about the historic battle, Gruber said, and watch an informative 12-minute video about it, called “This Land, These Men.”

They also can walk a short battlefield trail, which actually follows a stretch of the historic Fort King Military Road. It displays interpretive labels, along with monuments to Dade and his command.

Besides its historic significance, the park also offers visitors a chance to see a variety of wildlife such as white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, gopher tortoises, eastern cottontails, red-shouldered hawks and pileated woodpeckers.

In addition to the annual re-enactment of Dade’s Battle, there are other special events during the year, Gruber said. The park also features picnic areas, a playground and other amenities.

If you go
WHAT:
Dade’s Battle
WHY: A re-enactment of the battle that sparked the Second Seminole War, as well as period soldier, Seminole and civilian camps, historic arts and crafts demonstrations, full-scale firing, tree cutting, barricade building, 19th century games and activities for children and vendors.
WHEN: Jan. 3 and Jan. 4, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Re-enactment of Dade’s Battle each day at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, 7200 County Road 603, Bushnell
COST: $5 per person, with children younger than 6 free. Parking is $3.
INFO: (352) 793-4781, or FloridaStateParks.org

Published December 17, 2014

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