Florida’s largest Civil War reenactment organizers said it is canceling it’s 2021 event after the local Boys Scouts of America council decided to stop letting organizers use their property where the event has traditionally been held.
The Brooksville Raid, held in Florida’s Hernando County, has been an annual fixture in the state for the past 40 years, with hundreds of reenactors and history buffs flocking to the event, which is devoted to the reenacting the June 1864 skirmish between Union and Confederacy soldiers.
The Civil War reenactment – the largest on the state – has been co-sponsored by the Hernando Historical Museum Association and the North Pinellas County Scout Sertoma Club for the past 30 years and had previously taken place on the Sand Hill Scout Reservation in Brooksville, Florida.
Organizers of the Brooksville Raid have said they are canceling the 2021 Civil War reenactment, which is the largest of the events in Florida (undated image)
The announcement noted that the local Boy Scouts council had decided to deny them use of the reservation where the Brooksville Raid has traditionally been held
The 1,300-acre reservation is owned by the Boy Scouts of America, Greater Tampa Bay Area Council.
The Brooksville Raid posted the cancellation of the 2021 raid on its Facebook page in early July, noting the ‘Regretful Announcement’ and stating that the last raid, held in January of this year, had been its 40th anniversary.
The Facebook post stated that ‘Like many large event hosts, the Council had to make a difficult decision. The Scout Council decided not to make the Sand Hill Scout Reservation property available for The Raid.’
The Brooksville Raid added that ‘The Corona Virus health crisis and declining profitability were part of the deciding factors.’
Boy Scouts Greater Tampa Bay Area Council CEO Jim Rees told the Tampa Bay Times that ‘There were several issues that were discussed and contributed to the decision.’
He also said that ‘Ultimately, the committee determined it was not in the best interest of the scout council to continue.’
Rees did not provide any additional reasoning for the decision to deny the land’s use to the reenactors, but the Boy Scouts organization has made a commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement and said in June that ‘There is no place for racism – not in Scouting and not in our communities. Racism will not be tolerated.’
The Brooksville Raid (undated image) has been seen as a family-friendly event and a tourism booster, as hundreds of people flock to the reenactment each year
The Brooksville Raid (undated image) celebrated its 40th anniversary in January 2020
In addition to the reenactment of the skirmish, visitors can buy historic wares and food
Fans of the Brooksville Raid reenactment said they were disappointed that the 2021 event was being canceled, but understood the need for coronavirus safety precautions, and said that they hoped it would return in 2022.
Some reenactment fans, however, questioned whether the event was actually being canceled due to the racial unrest throughout the country since George Floyd’s death in the middle of May.
‘Let’s be honest, this is not about corona,’ one Facebook user wrote.
‘Is this also due to fear of it being a racist event? I am truly saddened at the cancel culture that’s now encroached to our county!!’ another Facebook user wrote.
‘The virus is just an excuse, to stop them, tell the truth, it’s all about the racism tensions,’ a Facebook user wrote.
‘This is all political. While you’re at it the mural in Brooksville should be taken down too. Bunch of weak people here,’ wrote another Facebook user.
The Brooksville Raid organizers responded to the last poster, stating that they did not cancel the event, reiterating that the Boy Scout council opted not to renew the contract and that ‘We were currently planning for 2021 when this happened.’
Although raid reenactment fans said that racial unrest and threats of violence against reenactments have been a problem in the last few years, they do believe that the event’s stated ‘profitability’ claim is the actual reason behind the 2021 cancellation.
In the past, the raid had been viewed as a tourism booster, as well as a reasonably-priced family-oriented event – admission was $10 per adult and $5 for under 12s and free for children under 5. More than a thousand visitors traveling from across the state to attend it.
In addition to the actual skirmish reenactment, the event featured vendors selling historic items, as well as giving attendees – including school groups and plenty of Boy Scouts – the opportunity to learn about the Civil War, the Union and Confederacy camps, medical practices at the time and more.
‘The Raid has not made a lot of money for the last two or three years,’ 30-year attendee Joan Casey told the Tampa Bay Times, however, citing bad weather as having played a part in keeping away crowds.
The Brooksville Raid organizers said that coronvirus and profitability concerns were among the reasons for the land use being denied
Fans of the reenactment have said that participation has been waning over the last few years
In the past, up to 1,500 attendees were said to have traveled to the Brooksville Raid reenactment, but that number has been cut in half over recent years
Another Brooksville Raid reenactment supporter, Kathy Vidal, who first got involved with the event 39 years ago, told the newspaper that attendance has been significantly decreasing in recent years.
She said that there used to be as many as 1,500 reenactment attendees, but that the number has been cut in half during the latest few reenactments.
‘Young people today don’t know much about history. With this, they had the opportunity to talk to the reenactors face to face and find out what this life was really about,’ she said.
Although she laments the loss of events such as the Brooksville Raid, she said, ‘everything has its time.’
Waning interest in reenactment as a hobby has also taken its toll on attendance, according to organizers.
‘The reenactment participants would take their children out to every single event,’ raid organizer Jan Knowles said. ‘And by the time they were adults, they didn’t want anything to do with it.’
Reenactments in general appear to be more popular with the Baby Boomer generation than with later ones, as the reenactment movement was said to have first become popular in the 1960s.
‘The problem with the baby boomers is that we grew older, and we’ve got 60-year-old, pot-bellied men running around playing war,’ Western Kentucky University history professor Glenn W. LaFantasie told the Tampa Bay Times.
He said it was ‘an anachronism’ to see elderly reenactors on the battlefield when actual Civil War soldiers likely would have been in their 30s.
At a time when statues of Confederate generals are being toppled by protesters or removed by local governments and the Confederate flag is being banned from display across the country, Civil War reenactments are also coming under fire.
High school history teacher and author of Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, Kevin M. Levin, said that reenactments are ‘mythologizing the facts’ as they often veer away from the true realities of the Civil War, which includes issues of race and slavery, turning it to more entertainment than historical lesson.
It’s unclear if there are plans to revive the Brooksville Raid in the future, if another suitable location can be found to host it.
In early June, a peaceful Black Lives Matter rally was held in Brooksville. Among the demands was the removal of a marble statue of a Confederate solider and a ‘hanging tree’ that was allegedly used for lynchings, both standing in front of the courthouse, according to ABC Action News.
Brooksville itself is named after hardline slavery supporter U.S. Rep. Preston Brooks of South Carolina, a Democrat.
In 1856 while on the floor of the Senate, Brooks nearly beat to death abolitionist Republican Sen. Charles Sumner with a cane, following Sumner’s antislavery speech in which he supposedly verbally attacked Brooks’ second cousin.
Admiration for Brooks’ action is said to have been behind the Florida city naming itself after him following the incident.