Monday, December 28, 2009

Dade Battlefield

The quiet of the afternoon of December 28, 1835 among the scattered pines and palmettos of central Florida lulled Major Francis Dade and his 107 man detachment of the 4th US Infantry into a false sense of security as they marched along the Fort King Road. Suddenly, the silence erupted in a crash of flame and smoke as hundreds of Seminole warriors rose up and poured a devastating volley into Dade's men.

Major Dade, two of the remaining five officers, and perhaps half of the detachment went down in the first volley. Advance elements fell back on the main column to regroup and offer a coordinated defense. Artillerymen wheeled the columns single six pounder into action and managed to stem the tide of the Seminole advance temporarily.

As the Seminoles regrouped, the last remaining officer, a lieutenant, gathered the survivors within a small, three-sided breastwork of logs and exhorted his men to “do the best we can.” But the odds, already hopeless, were longer now that the ammunition for the six pounder was exhausted. The Seminoles closed in and quickly overwhelmed the small redoubt.

Only three men of Dade's command survived. They faced a grueling journey of perhaps 50 miles back to Fort Brooke, from which there fateful march began only days ago. The massacre of Dade's men inaugurated a seven year struggle known as the Second Seminole War. Sadly, the sacrifice of Dade's soldiers was almost forgotten in the wake of the epic defense of the Alamo, some three months later.

I happened to stumble on this battlefield on the 174th anniversary of the fight, taking the opportunity to see it while visiting my folks in central Florida. A small group of reenactors accompanied by a Junior ROTC color guard and several musicians from a local high school paid solemn tribute to the men of Dade's command. The Dade Battlefield Society, which helps fund the site (now a state park) and sponsors the annual reenactment, ensures that their sacrifice, forgotten for so many years, will live on in our collective memory.

N.B. Realizing this is a Civil War blog, I have included this site in hopes that many of you will find it of interest, and that you share my general interest in American military history. I may include other non-Civil War sites from time to time.

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