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Seminole War Commemoration Parade and Ceremony

St. Augustine, 14, 15 August, 2015

For the past seven years, the West Point Society of North Florida has honored the soldiers and officers who were killed or died of disease during the Second Seminole War, and whose remains are buried under the three pyramids in St. Augustine's National Cemetery. This year the Society teamed up with The Seminole Wars Foundation, The Dade Battlefield Society, and The St. Augustine 450th Military Commemoration Committee to organize a special event in conjunction with St. Augustine's 450th anniversary. The overarching goals were to increase public awareness of the Second Seminole War and its impact on the early development of Florida and the United States, and to highlight the vital role West Point graduates played in it.

Center piece of the commemoration was a re-enactment of the 1842 parade and ceremony in St. Augustine that marked the termination of the war and honored those who sacrificed in it. The war had begun when Seminole Indians ambushed and destroyed a column of 108 regular army troops commanded by Major F. L. Dade. Five of the seven officers killed were West Point graduates, including its 1st commandant, Captain G. W. Gardiner. In August, 1842, after almost seven years of fighting, the then commanding officer in Florida, Colonel W. J. Worth, "announced" the cessation of hostilities and ordered the remains of these men, and hundreds of others who had been buried throughout Florida, escorted through the streets of St. Augustine where they were reinterred under three pyramids in the gardens of St. Francis Barracks in a poignantly impressive funeral procession and ceremony.

This year, on Saturday, August 15th -- exactly  173 years to the day and hour later -- 80 re-enactors recreated that stirring parade. At exactly 10:00, Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth "Betsy" Evans,  adjutant for the event, welcomed over 200 hundred re-enactors, guests and spectators on behalf of the Florida National Guard. At 10:30 the parade, including mounted officers and a caisson with funeral pall drawn by "elegant mules," emerged from the St. Francis Barracks, passed by the reviewing stand, and entered the National Cemetery.

The public followed the parade into the National Cemetery where the keynote speaker, LTC ret., Sherman L. Fleek, the West Point Command Historian, stressed the military academy's vital role in turning out graduates throughout its history who went immediately from classroom to combat -- a mission that began with the Second Seminole War and continues in today's environment of diffuse and far flung conflicts. COL. Eric Schacht, U.S. Army Liaison to the Florida national Guard, then laid the commemorative wreath. COL. ret. Howard McGillin lead the assembly in the Cadet Prayer followed by musket and cannon salute. Echo taps closed the ceremony.

While the parade and ceremony were the centerpiece of the commemoration, they were preceded by a very special program in the St. Francis Barracks Officers Club Friday evening, 14 August.  There, Dr. Michelle Sivilich presented the results of her dissertation on how well a West Point education prepared graduates for the war to an over flow crowd of 100. Of special importance, attendees could view the very sponge staff used to service the cannon that accompanied Major Dade's column. That staff is on loan from the West Point Museum to the Florida National Guard's Museum especially for this occasion. This is the first time it has left West Point since Lt. Duncan, West Point class of 1834, sent it there, having recovered it from the battlefield about six weeks after the Dade ambush, and the organizers are especially grateful to the museum.

The commemoration event closed with a lunch for an assemblage of about 170 re-enactors, historians, members of the organizing institutions, and guests in near-by Trinity Hall. Steven Rink, President of Seminole Wars Foundation, presented the re-enactors with the coin specially struck for this year's event. It features the likeness (from Jackson Walker's painting "Do Your Best") of  Captain Gardiner encouraging his troops shortly before he was killed. Richard Tombrink, past president of the foundation, served as master of ceremonies for the following program featuring a talk by John Missall who debuted the "Florida Wars Heritage Trail." The publication was produced by the Seminole Wars Foundation as the latest in a series of "trail guides" sponsored by the State of Florida. Also, during the program, LTC ret. Greg Moore, '74, whose inspiration and passion for history ignited and sustained this effort over the years, was recognized as Honorary Parade Marshal.

The event was well covered in the media. The St. Augustine "Record" featured it in its editorial and event magazine on 14 August, and gave it front page coverage in its 16 August edition. The Jacksonville "Times Union" noted it in its 17 August edition and the local TV channel showed a spot in its Saturday evening programming. Photo galleries by Ted Pappas are at http://www.tedpappas.com/wp2015/index.htm. Interesting black and white shots by Stacey Sather, photographer for the St. John County's Visitor and Convention Bureau can be accessed at  http://adbrvl.co/1Ev3VqC. The parade and ceremony program with additional historical background, information about our organizing partners, and identification of all the many  participants can be accessed at the Pappas site, above.

For the organizers, Colonel Joseph E.  Naftzinger,  USA, ret

 

 

     
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