By Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Florida National Guard
OLUSTEE, Fla. (2/28/13) - Nearly 150 years after Union and Confederate soldiers spilled blood during the largest Civil War conflict in Florida, the state adjutant general helped recognize the state’s militia heritage during a visit to the historic battlefield.
On Feb. 15, Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw visited the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park in north-central Florida to collect a soil sample from the site where Union and Confederate forces clashed in February 1864.
The sandy soil the general collected is part of an ongoing project to consecrate the parade field in front of the Florida National Guard headquarters in St. Augustine with soil from battlefields around the world where the Florida National Guard, or its militia predecessors, have fought.
“You look back upon our almost 448 years of (military) heritage in the Florida National Guard – back to the date of our first muster – and you realize that this was a piece of that,” Titshaw said after collecting the soil from a bare patch of ground amidst a sea of palmettos and pine trees.
The Battle of Olustee took place on Feb. 20, 1864, near a railroad station west of Jacksonville, Fla. An estimated 10,000 troops skirmished throughout the day, with the Confederate forces – including Florida militia soldiers – declaring victory after pushing the Union soldiers back during the fierce battle.
According to reports, more than 1,800 Union soldiers were killed, wounded or captured, while the Confederate forces lost fewer than 1,000 men.
For Titshaw, the visit had a bit of a personal feeling to it: an ancestor on his mother’s side named James R. Terell fought and died at the battle while serving with the Confederate forces.
“I just hope that everyone appreciates the tremendous heritage that we have in our nation and our state,” Titshaw said. “We’re the benefactors of something very rich. I take so much pride in what our Soldiers and Airmen do today, but understand that we (have just a small part in) a long line of events that created this nation.”
The visit coincided with the battlefield’s annual festival, so the general and his staff were surrounded by Civil War re-enactors representing both the “blue” and the “gray.”
Clad in the period uniform of a Union Army colonel, Civil War re-enactor Chuck Munson, of Eustis, Fla., led a color guard of soldiers who offered military honors during the brief soil-gathering ceremony.
“This is an unbelievable honor for us to participate as (the Florida National Guard honors) our ancestors,” Munson, whose uniform included an authentic 19th century pocket watch and human hair watch chain, explained.
Re-enactor Chuck Pennino, of Deltona, Fla., a retiree from the Florida National Guard’s 631st Maintenance Company who was portraying a private in the 107th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, explained how they really tried to “capture” the mannerisms and life of soldiers in battle in the 1860s.
“This is theater,” Pennino said while standing at attention in a blue wool Union Army uniform. “I have to be in-character and play the part – talk the way they did, eat the way they did, and be as authentic as possible. (This is) living history.”
According to Florida National Guard historian Gregory Moore, the 1864 Battle of Olustee was one of the only battles where Florida militia members had the opportunity to defend their home state.
“It has always remained prominent as a symbol of the prowess and fighting spirit of the men of Florida who came and served their state during the war of the rebellion,” he said.