“Florida in the Civil War” – an Exhibition at the History Center, Orlando.

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Florida Guide > Florida History

“Florida in the Civil War” – an Exhibition at the History Center, Orlando.

I enjoy history, and so the History Center in Orlando is a place I like to visit whenever I have time. Florida actually has quite a history as, not only does it have a long history of Native American Indians, but Florida also played an important role in the Civil War.

Florida actually joined the Confederate States of America 150 years ago, and of the 140, 000 people who lived in Florida in 1861, around 44 percent of them were slaves. It is quite incredible to think of so many slaves living in Florida, but many of them escaped from the plantations in the Carolinas, and found refuge in this Spanish held state.

It was Florida that fed the troops involved in the Civil War. Not only were cattle from Florida used to provide beef for the Confederate forces, but salt from Florida was used to preserve it. A fascinating exhibition at the History Center shows how a Florida cowman called Jacob Summerlin agreed to transport 600 cattle each week to North Florida to feed the troops during the war. Unfortunately, despite providing nearly 25, 000 cattle, the poor man never got paid!

Salt from the Goose Creek Wetlands, south of Tallahassee was also an important resource, and up to 200 bushels could be produced by one plant each day. Salt was vital for preserving meat, and Florida was an important producer. Without salt the beef would simply rot.

Some of the most interesting items in the exhibition are the personal letters which were sent between Winston and Octavia Stephens. Sadly, Winston Stephens was killed during the Civil War, but his family have lent some interesting artefacts such as a photo album, a Confederate belt buckle and some swords, as well as some family silver. There is even a musket ball which was discovered in the place where Winston was killed.

Interestingly, a baby doll called Nina, with a papier mache head, is soon to join the exhibition, after undergoing forensic tests in Virginia. She was used by the Confederates to smuggle medicines and supplies past the Union blockade.

The Maple Leaf, a Union ship that sank in the St John’s River near Jacksonville provides some more interesting artefacts. When it was located around 12 miles from Jacksonville in 1984 around 3. 000 artefacts were brought up from the ship, and these include Confederate uniforms, weapons, a battle flag bearing the stars and bars, plus other personal belongings. Some of these items have been loaned to the History Center, and these include a toothbrush, coins, a plate and a pitcher.

This exhibition will continue until June 12th, 2011, and it is included in the regular admission price of $9, with children aged 5-12 being $7. Admission between March 19th and May 29th is $12 per adult, and $7 per child.

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