Marty Clear

Union Army marching back to Manatee

BRADENTON -- All across the country, for the past four years, groups devoted to re-creating the history of the Civil War have been marking sesquicentennials.

They've re-enacted key battles and such historic moments as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

The last of those sesquicentennial events is right here in Bradenton this Friday and Saturday.

"From what I've been able to determine from my research, this is the last sesquicentennial event anywhere in the country," said Mike Bloski, a member of the Fourth Brigade of Florida. He and about 20 other re-enactors will mark the 150th anni

versary of the Union Army occupation of the now-defunct town of Manatee at the Manatee Village Historical Park.

Bloski, a firefighter, was at the park a week before dressed in his Union corporal uniform while talking to visitors about the event. It's an authentic reproduction down to the wool fabric he'll have to wear in the late May heat of Florida.

"Friday at noon we'll start occupying the town," he said. He and the other re-enactors -- they prefer "Civil War living historians" -- will make camp for the night near the park. They'll spend the afternoon and the night living as union soldiers did here in 1865.

On Saturday, they'll stage military drills on the grounds and legal proceedings in the courthouse. Preachers will conduct services. The womenfolk will cook and have a tea party.

This is the last sesquicentennial event in the country, Bloski said, because it took the Union soldiers a long time to make it this far south. The war was over before they got to the town of Manatee, but they still had essential work to do.

For one thing, they had to contact every person -- actually every man -- in the South and get them to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. They had spent four years as citizens of the Confederacy, so they essentially had to be made U.S. citizens again.

On Saturday, visitors will be able to take that oath just as their ancestors did 150 years ago.

The other reason Union soldiers came here was to catch Judah P. Benjamin, the Confederacy's secretary of state. He fled here after the war and made his escape to the Caribbean from what is now Sarasota. A living historian portraying Benjamin is likely to furtively slip through the park Saturday with Union soldiers hot on his trail, Bloski said.

It's not just all about demonstrating history, though. Bloski said it's designed to be an enjoyable and memorable day of activities for young and old. Civilians and soldiers will lead children's games from the period and play songs that were popular in the era. "It's just going be a lot of fun," Bloski said. "It's going to be a fun day."

Details: March 22-23, Manatee Village Historical Park, 1404 Manatee Ave. E., Bradenton. Hours: Noon-7 p.m. Friday, 7 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Tickets; Free. Information: 941-741-4076 or

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.commartinclear.