The Museum of Southern History
Preserving the History, Ideals and Chivalry of the South.
4304 Herschel St., Jacksonville, Florida 32210
Although sparsely populated and lightly defended by the Confederacy, Florida was important to the South’s war effort. Just as in modern times, the subtropical state produced critically needed supplies, such as salt extracted from seawater, cane sugar, scurvy preventing citrus fruit, a wide range of other produce and cattle. As the war ground on, the Union army made a policy of trying to break up the production and transportation of commodities from Florida to the rest of the Confederacy.
In July of 1964, the Union sent four ships carrying troops and horses from Ft. Myers north up the Gulf coast to fertile Hernando County, above Tampa Bay. The ships passed Anclote Key and unloaded the ships near Bayport.
A force of 240 men from the 2nd Florida Cavalry (Union) and the 2nd U. S. Colored Infantry disembarked from the ships. The Confederate home guards stationed nearby, seeing that they were seriously outnumbered and outgunned, fled inland and spread the alarm.
Some of the Union men, black and white, were natives of the area and familiar with the terrain. They raided their Secessionist neighbors, burning and plundering a swath six miles wide. They confiscated foodstuffs, cotton, livestock and took prisoners as they headed north along the path of the Anclote River toward Confederate-held Brooksville.
The Confederates consisted of a few old men, boys, and members of the Cow Cavalry, who were regular army men assigned to the region to gather cattle and drive them to the railhead at Live Oak.
One of the Cow Cavalrymen, Thomas Benton Ellis of Captain McKay’s command, gives an account of his part in the defense of Brooksville. “Just as morning was breaking I saw the Yanks coming, they were riding the captured horses. I sent Captain Delaney back at once, toward Brooksville, where a company of old men and boys were stationed, and told them to send a runner at once to Tampa and have Captain Leslie’s company, and if possible, Captain McKay’s detailed men to come at once. He left at full speed. I told him to send the old men and boy company at once, to come as far as a creek or branch about 20 miles from Brooksville and form themselves on this branch; that John Crighton and I would try to hold the Yanks in check as best we could till we could meet them. We stayed just ahead of the Yanks, allowing them to get within speaking distance, and we recognized the Pilto, a deserter and one of my neighbors. We kept our horses’ heads facing them and moved backwards. They hollered at me and told me to stop, that they would not hurt me. You may be assured that I did not trust them. We continued along in front of them for some miles until we reached the place I had ordered the Home Guard to form themselves but as I got to the branch, I saw across on the other side the men running all helter skelter, with no one and everyone in command.”
Despite the chaos, the defenders made a stand and the clash resulted in five Confederates and three Union men killed. The Federals reversed course, plundering McKay’s father’s plantation along the way. Eventually they retreated to their boats and steamed back to Ft. Myers with their booty.
Although the actual raid took place during that steamy July, the reenactment is held every January at the Sand Hill Scout Reservation near Brooksville. Sponsored by the Hernando Historical Museum Association and the North Pinellas County Scout Sertoma Club, the event is one of the largest Civil War reenactments held in Florida.
Sources for historical information: “Confederate Diary of Thomas Benton Ellis, Sr., 1842-1926”, “The Hernando County Raid, July 7-12, 1864” by Virginia Jackson, “It was the Civil War, and it was Brooksville, but…” by Logan Neill, staff writer for Hernando Times, January 14, 2005 edition; and “Official Program, The Brooksville Raid, 2005.”
The following account of the Brooksville Raid was authored by Lydia Colee Filzen and used with her permission.