Friday, March 27, 2009

Hardy & Hardy: ""A Heinous Sin": The 1864 Brooksville - Bayport Raid"

["A Heinous Sin": The 1864 Brooksville - Bayport Raid by Michael C. and Robert M. Hardy (Author, 2009). Softcover, 2 maps, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total: 47/58 ISBN: 978-0-557-03620-2 $12.50]

In July 1864, a small U.S. raiding force landed in Hernando County, Florida. Composed of detachments from the 2nd USCT and unionist 2nd Florida Cavalry, the Federal force struck inland from the mouth of the Anclote River, heading toward the town of Brooksville. They skirmished much of the way with men from the Confederate First Battalion, Special Cavalry (the "Cow Cavalry"). However, with Brooksville within easy grasp, the controversial decision was made to break off the raid and move west to Bayport Inlet and the navy's waiting ships.

In many ways, the Brooksville-Bayport Raid was a microcosm of much of Florida's Civil War experience. The state boasted important natural resources and was an important source of beef for the Confederate army. The lengthy coastline was also weakly defended, opening up the state to opportunistic raids by the U.S. army and navy, with hearty cooperation from significant numbers of white Unionists, many of whom enlisted in units like the aforementioned 2nd Florida. Along the Gulf coast, close operational cooperation with black units also increased in frequency during the war's second half. Within Florida was a civil war of its own, and the 1864 raiders cheerfully burned houses and looted private property all along their route. In fact, the intimidation of local pro-Confederate residents seems to have been a goal of the raid.

At less than 50 pages of main text, Michael and Robert Hardy's "A Heinous Sin" is a quick read -- a manuscript that's rather between a long article and a short book. Acknowledging the scarcity of primary source material, the authors nevertheless were able to piece together a reasonably detailed summary of the raid, as well as provide sufficient background information about the men and units involved. How the incursion fit within the larger picture of Gulf coast amphibious operations is outlined, too.

That said, some degree of geographical confusion on the part of the reader is unavoidable, as not enough source material exists that would allow for an accurate tracing of the raid route or pinpointing of important skirmish locations. The pair of archival maps included in the study alleviate this problem to some degree. The smaller scale Bayport drawing is helpful, but the larger area map does not show the location of Brooksville nor several other prominent geographical reference points mentioned in the text.

Taken as a work of local history and documented account of an obscure military operation, "A Heinous Sin": The 1864 Brooksville - Bayport Raid is an appealing short study. It contributes to and fits well within the growing body of literature examining Florida's coastal 'inner war'.

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