(Photo credit: Public Domain)
The Brooksville Raid is one of the most significant events in Hernando County history. While the county played a vital role in Confederate operations during the Civil War, the Brooksville Raid was the biggest battle in the county’s involvement during the war.
During the Civil War, Hernando County, primarily Bayport, was an important supply line for the Confederacy. The Union had cut off most land-based supply lines, but the coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico provided much-needed supplies to Confederate forces. The Union strategists realized that something had to be done to keep those supplies from reaching the enemy. Thus, the East Gulf Blockade Squadron was formed. This contingent of naval vessels patrolled Florida’s Gulf Coast, confiscating Confederate supply vessels.
The Confederacy built up fortifications around Bayport in order to protect their supply lines. During April of 1863, a battle between the Union blockade squadron and Confederate forces at Bayport commenced. The Union ships bombarded Bayport, forcing Confederate forces to burn some of their own supplies to keep them out of enemy hands. The Union ships quickly wore out their guns, disabling their own primary weapons from overuse. This forced a Union retreat.
The Union forces made their way north into Citrus County to regroup. Their progress was slow, due to the damage to their ships. As the East Gulf Blockade Squadron recovered from their defeat, they resumed patrols along Hernando County’s coastline. There were a series of skirmishes during this period, but neither side gained any real ground. It would take until October of 1863 for Union forces to begin seeing any real success.
Union blockades were beginning to make life truly difficult for Hernando County’s residents and soldiers alike. Supply lines from Tampa that supplied much-needed food to Hernando County were being ravaged. Union forces were stepping up blockade efforts with considerable success. Union forces still could not completely disable these supply lines, however, despite their success.
It was then that they decided to attack both ends of the supply line, Tampa and Brooksville. In May of 1864, reports circulated that Tampa and Brooksville had been sacked and destroyed and were now under Union control. It turned out that the reports about Tampa were exaggerated and the reports about Brooksville were completely false. The bogus reports did raise concern among people in Hernando County that a Union raid could be as disastrous as the reports claimed.
Starting July 8, 1864, their fears were on the verge of being realized. The Union march toward Brooksville had begun. Over the next couple of days, there were a few skirmishes while the Union troops made their march undeterred. Confederate forces realized that reinforcements would be necessary, so runners were sent to Tampa. Union troops burned plantations while meeting little resistance. Small pockets of Confederate troops stood their ground, but most of the Confederate troops had fallen back. Meanwhile, Union naval forces had landed at Bayport, forcing Confederate forces to circle back to Brooksville. Union troops took as many supplies as they could from Bayport. They did not maintain control of Bayport, however, deciding on July 13 to return to their base at Fort Meyers. Bayport was only officially under Union control for a few days. Brooksville never officially fell. It was deserted and Union troops just kept up their march to Bayport. Confederate reinforcements arriving from Tampa came too late to stop the raid. Being mobilized, however, they decided to follow the Union trail to their post at Fort Meyers.
As for activity in Hernando County, there would be another raid of Bayport by Union forces, but the town was already still in bad shape from the previous raid. Not long after, the waning days of the Civil War moved much of the remaining fighting away from Hernando County. As the war closed, several high-ranking Confederate officials tried to flee the county through Bayport, but few succeeded. Hernando County was among the later regions to officially surrender, requiring government intervention to secure said surrender.
Thus the county’s role in the war had officially ended. Rebuilding would take time. Fixing buildings was difficult enough, but repairing the lives devastated by the horrors of war would take much more. As we watch the annual reenactment of the battle, keep in mind the sacrifices of those that came before us. Our country was shaped by the fortitude of the soldiers from both sides. The division that once tore this country apart served to strengthen it as the efforts to rebuild steeled our nation’s resolve.