Nearly 150 years after the Battle of Olustee, there’s a new Civil War conflict between supporters and detractors of a proposed Union soldier memorial at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park, the site of Florida’s biggest Civil War battle.
Republican state Rep. Dennis Baxley is opposed to erecting the monument, and is currently working on a bill aimed at transferring power in the decision making process to alter historical sites from park managers into the hands of elected officials. Those in opposition to the monument deem the location to be inappropriate, given its proximity to Confederate memorials.
“I use the comparison that, ‘I want you to honor your grandmother too, but don’t put her marker on our family lot.’ I don’t think there’s ever been any attempt not to acknowledge people, it’s just the appropriateness of approaching the monument site as it was designed and planned,” Baxley said.
The Union monument has been considered at the request of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, seeking equal representation in the remembrance of the conflict in the state park in February 1864 that resulted in 2,800 casualties, over 1,800 of which came on the Union side. The park pays tribute to the Confederacy with three separate stations, but no monument is dedicated to the memory of Union.
Charles “Buck” Custer, Commander of Camp 4 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, has been a leading voice in the push for erecting the memorial, which will be modest and refrain from infringing on the space sacred to Confederate monuments.
“All we’re looking for is recognition of the units,” Custer said. “That’s the kind of monument that, when a person from one of the northern states comes down here and knows that he had an ancestor that fought at that battle, he would be able to see that there is recognition.”
Although Custer sides with the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, his family tree features ancestors that fought on each side of the battlefield. He is also a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“I honor the ancestors because he put his life on the line for what he believed was right. Each of those ancestors did that, and I’m not going to say who was right or who was wrong,” Custer said.
Opponents claim a Union monument would invade space that has honored those who fought for the Confederacy for several years, but as Custer believes, there are two sides to every battle.
“It’s hallowed to them, but it’s also hallowed to people on the other side,” Custer said. (The Union) lost twice as many people. So, to them, it’s a significant thing too.”
Baxley is not opposed to a Union monument altogether, simply one that would alter the landscape and image of the state park in what he has called “revisionist history” in the past. Alternatives exist on nearby plots of land that could serve the same purpose of honoring those who gave themselves to battle fighting for the north.
“I’m sorry that this had to be controversial,” Baxley said. “I think it’s important for people to speak plainly if they’re offended or feeling upset about something. There’s certainly ways to meet the need of both populations.”
No timetable has been set for a decision to be made regarding the monument’s future.