This past weekend was the annual re-enactment of Major Dade's last encounter with the Seminoles. One hundred seventy-two years ago, in December 1835, Major Francis Dade of the U.S. Army led 107 men out of Fort Brooke (now Tampa) to reinforce Fort King (now Ocala). While walking through piney woods and palmettos on December 28, they were unpleasantly surprised by over 100 Seminoles. After a day's battle, only three Army soldiers survived. Simmering tensions between the United States and the Seminoles became the long and costly Second Seminole War, which didn't end until 1843.
The Dade Battlefield Society hosts a re-enactment of the battle each December at the Dade Battlefield State Park near Bushnell, Florida. We went on Saturday, and had a great time. Parking was easy, with shuttle buses from a sports complex to the park entrance. The park is open year-round (not just during the re-enactment) and there are trails, picnic shelters, and a museum. The re-enactment doesn't take place on the actual battlefield, but in the park are several markers pinpointing key points ("Here Major Dade Fell") and the Battlefield Society has erected a replica of the small log barricade the soldiers built as a shield.
Before and after the battle (held promptly at 2pm), we wandered through the Seminole and Soldiers camps, where re-enactors explain the food, tools, and shelter of the time and place. In another area vendors offer a wide range of goods, some authentic to the event, some not.
An earthern mound creates ampitheather seating for the battle. The bleachers fill up fast, but there's pleanty of room for those with folding chairs or blankets. This re-enactment is a little different from others, in that the battle is narrated by Ransom Clark (one of the few survivors), with the assistance of a wireless microphone. The Seminoles come in first, and get into their places, waiting for the troops to walk into the ambush. There is gunfire, and cannon fire, and smoke, and soldiers falling artistically into what look like some rather uncomfortable plants. Horses gallop by, Indians whoop, and at the end it is quiet except for a bugler playing taps. When the battle is over, they drop the rope separating the audience and the players, and you can go meet the re-enactors, and ask questions.