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Celebrating 40 years
Olustee Battle Festival gets under way

Above Photo: During the Open House, Mayor Stephen Witt, Commanding General for the Blue-Grey Army, thanked attendees for coming. Front L-R: Volunteers dressed in hand-sewn period attire are Hannah Johns, 14, Zoey Nettles, 14, Emy Chasteen, 13, with Betsy the chicken and Emily-Jane Curtis, 15. Emily-Jane has played the viola for four years. Standing on Porch L-R: Blue-Grey Army Executive Director Faye Bowling Warren, Harry Joiner, poster designer Jennifer Chasteen and Mayor Stephen Witt. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

By Tami Stevenson

The Blue-Grey Army, Inc. held an Open House to commemorate their 40th Anniversary last week at the Columbia County Historical Museum in Lake City. The well attended reception sets things in motion for the upcoming Battle of Olustee Festival and Olustee Battle Reenactment, held February 16-18, 2018. The event attracts around 25,000 people from all over the Southeast. It was the largest Civil War battle fought in Florida.

Many local dignitaries and judges attended the Open House along with local volunteers and reenactors dressed in authentic period clothing. Museum tours and many photo opportunities were available. Sonny’s BBQ catered the event as musicians played period music on guitar and mandolin on the back porch of the museum while attendees enjoyed visiting and making plans in the accommodating weather.

Fay Bowling Warren is the Executive Director of the Blue Grey Army and took some time last week to talk with the Suwannee Valley Times about how this all began. Warren is the last remaining original member and recalled how it all started forty years ago.

L-R: General Faye Bowling-Warren, Executive Director of the Blue-Grey Army, Inc. with Adjutant Major General Ann Brown.  -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

During the late 1970’s, Warren worked for the city manager. The mall had just opened and businesses were moving out of the downtown area and going to the mall. The Olustee Battle Reenactment was only in its second year at the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park just 15 miles away and many local families had relatives that fought in the war. It was a major event. A group of business people, including the city manager, Warren and the late esteemed educator and mentor Dr. Alfonso Levy, whose namesake is the Performing Arts Center at Florida Gateway College, along with the help of John Caldwell, publisher of the Lake City Reporter at the time, according to Warren, got together to form the non-profit organization, Blue-Grey Army, Inc. in 1978. Their mission was to increase the knowledge of members and the public about the historical events of the Battle of Olustee and help revitalize the downtown area.

“Really (it is) our heritage because many local people had family members that fought in it. Also to create interest for an event in downtown Lake City to encourage the economic development in downtown, (and to) encourage restoration and pride in the community,” said Warren. She explained the festival is really not about the war, it’s really about the people. For people to study and know their history. The civil war attire is all hand-sewn right down to their skivvies, the more authentic, the better. Many of the sutlers that camp at the state park for the reenactment create and sell authentic period clothing for a living, including the boots, belts and buckles. They travel around to festivals and reenactments all over the country.

Warren worked for the City of Lake City for 42 years and was the Assistant City Manager when she retired in April of 2002. She volunteered as the adjutant for the Blue-Grey Army for many years before becoming the Executive Director.

“I’ve had an excellent career so why not give back to the community. It’s just a love of history and a love for the community. You become involved and want to continue serving in some way to make it better and nicer for the community and it has been my pleasure to do this,” Warren commented. “And I’m happy, so how can you say it any other way.”

On Friday at 9 a.m., to begin the event each year, the Blue-Grey Army, reenactors and the public are invited to join together in a memorial service to pay tribute to all that lost their lives in the Civil War at Oaklawn Cemetery on W. Franklin Street (off 41 N). Florida Gateway College President, Lawrence Barrett will speak. It is the burial site of hundreds of unmarked Confederate graves.

From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday and Saturday, visitors to the 2018 Olustee Festival will enjoy live music, dancing and the many arts, crafts and food booths set along Marion Avenue in downtown Lake City. The museum, will hold performances on Friday and Saturday by Ft. White High School Thespians.

Opening Ceremonies will take place at noon with elected officials, Miss Olustee and guests to welcome visitors to the festival.

The Lake Desoto Skirmish and Battle of the Ironclads is a very popular reenactment. It will take place at 5 p.m. located behind the courthouse on the shore of Lake Desoto. Replicas of the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) and USS Monitor will engage in a demonstration of naval warfare. While a naval battle never took place there, the purpose is to highlight the Navy’s importance in the Civil War that is not well known, according to the festival website.

While the Ironclads battle it out, Confederate troops defend the town of Lake City in a small reenactment that commemorates the first engagement of the Battle of Olustee when advancing Union troops were on their march west from Jacksonville and intercepted a line of Confederate troops near Lake City.

Reenactor Cody Gray, Lt. Colonel Chief Quartermaster Blue-Grey Army, Inc. He has been reenacting since his early teens. He has relatives that served in the war but became interested while on a field trip through elementary school to the Olustee Battlefield.
   “And fell in love with it. Didn’t even know it existed until then. Didn’t know the hobby of living history even existed,” he said.
-SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

The parade that will include hundreds of reenactors, cavalry troops, historical floats, horse and buggies and more will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday morning. House Representative Elizabeth Porter will be parade marshall this year.

Shuttle services to the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park will be available at the Lake City Gateway Airport and the Dowling Lot across the street from Baker Correctional Facility.

Craig Wolford, left, and John Evans entertained the crowd with period music at the Open House. -SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson

Related Article: Read about A. J. Mosely - portrayed by Hunter Ketcham

Reenactor Bud Thayer heads up the Battle of the Ironclads and the skirmish on Lake Desoto on Friday. He also participates in the battle and will be in the parade.
-SVT Photo by Tami Stevenson