An estimated one million men served at one point or another in the Confederate military during the Civil War. About 15,000 of them came from Florida, a very significant portion of the sparse, agrarian population.
By 1914, fifty years after the war, only about 2,000 actual veterans were still alive and active in the largest interstate veterans group, the United Confederate Veterans Organization. Still, an estimated 48 thousand people decended on Jacksonville in May of that year to observe the anniversary and meet the remaining veterans.
The cover of the official program, from the Library of Florida History collection, says a lot about the mood of the era. While at first glance it might seem to be celebrating a capture of Jacksonville during the war by Confederates, it apparently considers the arrival of the elderly veterans and their thousands of supporters fifty years later as progress.
Photos from the time make it clear which side was the star of the show. The body language on the man in the lower left corner tells more of the story.
The tone of the copy of the history lesson (p. 6) shows revisionist history is not a modern invention. But, as you can see from the activities list on page 7, this was a Confederate Reunion and all convention planners know to play to their audience.
Florida was the third state to secede from the Union, and the second from the last to rejoin. It was an important source of fish, agricultural products and beef for the Southern war effort, but for the most part Union forces controlled the coastal and the ports throughout the war. There were several minor engagements and the one larger battle, at Olusee in 1864, where a Union advance was thwarted. While that was the last time the north initiated combat in Florida that is not the same as evacuating the state.
Interestingly, the war did help Florida grow in later years. Many veterans, from the north and south, who served here found themselves attracted to the state in the 1870’s and 80’, both because of the climate and because of the agricultural opportunities.
As with veterans all over the country, they formed local veterans groups, and as soon as the late 1860’s a national group, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) formed to support northern veterans.
It wasn’t until 1889 that the idea of a national group for Confederates surfaced, in Louisiana, and it was that group, the United Confederate’s Veterans, the UCV , that was holding their 24th Annual Reunion in Jacksonville.
It is useful to recall the total population of Jacksonville at the time was about 60 thousand people. Nearly 50 thousand visitors was a stretch. But Jacksonville was largely a part of the Old South, and the veterans and supporters were very welcome.
We can see just how they took over the city. Silent film footage survives, the earliest footage of a reunion, and has been digitized by the State Archives:
A final note; one of the producers of the film was Norman Studios of Jacksonville, a company perhaps best known for what were called “Race Films” featuring all black casts. Their story is featured in a recent episode of Florida Frontiers TV: