Book Review: Hidden History of Civil War Florida

One would be hard pressed to convey Florida’s connection to the Confederacy and American Civil War history more succinctly than author and historian Robert Redd did in his book, Hidden History of Civil War Florida. Published by HistoryPress in June 2022 the sentence reads.

“Often, people view the state of Florida with a side-eye toward both its contribution to the Confederate effort during the Civil War and the perceived lack of scholarship on this limited role” [pg. 9]

Simple facts, the 1860 census showed Florida “having a total population of 140,000. Of this number, approximately 79,000 were free citizens and 61,000 were enslaved.” In perspective, Arkansas, “next smallest in population, had more than three times” the people than Florida had in 1860.” Furthermore, “while Arkansas  supplied 74,000 Confederate troops, Florida sent 15,000” to serve the south [pg. 9]. This is just one example used by Redd to show why a paucity of population have led to a paucity of primary sources which has affected what can be mined to understand what the Civil War years in Florida resembled.

To chip away at that for those wishing to embark on understanding the role of this least populous state to secede from the Union, Redd has penned an eclectic guide to further exploration. The author, a native Floridian is a member of the Florida Historical Association and currently works in the cultural arts field which he uses his longtime interest in history to full-effect. Throughout the 117-pages of text, he sheds light on various aspects of the Civil War Florida and the larger war in general. What is invaluable to a novice looking to physically see the sites around the Sunshine state is the final chapter, titled Visiting the Civil War in Florida, which gives names, addresses, the website address, and a brief synopsis of the site.

The introduction chapter gives a brief yet complete overview of both the major personas and themes of Florida at the time of the Civil War and also the historiography of prior publications. Redd synthesizes these various histories in a concise manner, directing the reader down various avenues depending on particular interests of the individual.

One of the most enlightening and captures the uniqueness of Florida’s contribution to the Confederate war effort is the third chapter. Titled The Soldiers Must Be Fed Redd explores the cow cavalry and the necessity of transporting cattle from central Florida through the state to where it can be consumed by the soldiers donning butternut and gray in service to the south. Of course, a chapter on one of infamous sons of Florida, Lewis Powell and the Lincoln Assassination is in the book too.

Although the book provides an overview of Florida in connection with the Civil War the chapters do tell different aspects and unique stories. I enjoyed having brief chapters that the author selected to tell the highlights about Florida but if one is looking for a chronological straight through read, this will leave you with a different taste.

However, before one reaches that final chapter which provides a roadmap to explore the sites Redd weaves a very readable general overview. From the secession winter, with Florida announcing its secession on January 10, 1861, the third state to do so and then the next steps. Florida’s hidden history is uncovered. Let your exploration begin with this great history and guide!

Hidden History of Civil War Florida
Robert Redd
History Press, 2022, $21.99
Reviewed by Phill Greenwalt

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