Civil War actors prepare for Battle of Olustee

Union Quartermaster Jeff Grzelak says for every soldier fighting the war there are six behind them making sure they are fed, equipped and ready.

This weekend from Feb. 18 to 20, Grzelak will travel up from Orlando to participate in the Battle of Olustee reenactment along with thousands of other actors from around the country.

According to a letter from the Olustee Battle Reenactment Committee to unit commanders taking part in the battle, the 45th reenactment commemorates the 157th Anniversary of the Battle of Olustee or Ocean Pond and the main event is held on Sunday at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park within the Osceola National Forest.

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“Tom Jessee has been appointed the Confederate Commanding General and James Permane has been appointed the Union Commanding General. They will share responsibilities as the overall commander,” the letter states. 

“We expect at least 1,200 combatants, we are also anticipating in excess of 50 mounted troops, 2 wagons, and over 160 ground charges.”

A battle reenactment will be fought on Saturday, Feb. 19 at 1:30 p.m., and then the Battle of Olustee or Ocean Pond reenactment is at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Feb 20.

Troops and actors start setting up on Thursday with Friday being a day that many area schools visit the park to learn about the battle and Civil War life from the actors.

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park map

According to Florida State Parks, on Feb. 20, 1864, “More than 10,000 cavalry, infantry and artillery troops fought a five-hour battle in a pine forest near Olustee. Three U.S. Colored Troops took part in the battle, including the now famous 54th Massachusetts. The battle ended with 2,807 casualties and the retreat of Union troops to Jacksonville until the war’s end just 14 months later.

“In 1912, when many living Civil War veterans still attended reunions, the battlefield became the state’s first historic site.”

Scenes from Civil War films such as the 1989 movie “Glory,” have been filmed at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park during the reenactments.

Grzelak is one of a handful of actors who has attended every reenactment.

His job this year as quartermaster is in the logistics office, he said. “It’s about food and ammunition, ” he said about making sure the troops are supported. 

On the menu is raw coffee they have to roast, potatoes, carrots, maybe some fresh meat, salted pork, and brown sugar and molasses. 

“There were no refrigerators,” he said.

The three-day event includes artillery inspections, medical demonstrations, a period music concert and a service for the “People of Color” in the Civil War.

On Saturday there is a Ladies Tea event at 3 p.m. that features a presentation about abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Grzelak said he hopes people who attend the event take away that we should all learn from history and accept that it happened.

Admission for the event is $12 for adults, $6 for children, and free for pre-school age and younger.

Parking at the Dowling Center, 1.5 miles east of the battlefield on U.S. 90 is advised and there is a bus shuttle service available.

This story has been updated.

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