- Florida's Civil War: Terrible Sacrifices by Tracy J. Revels
Ask any Civil War buff about the conflict in Virginia, and he or she will share a great deal of information about the military campaigns and even some of the key domestic struggles in the state. Ask about the war in Florida, and you will likely receive a blank stare, although an especially sharp enthusiast might mention Fort Pickens or the battle of Olustee. Given how historians have thoroughly analyzed the Civil War, it is surprising how little attention the Sunshine State has received.
Tracy J. Revels strives to remedy this situation in her study of Florida's wartime experience. Beginning with the secession crisis and ending with postwar military occupation, Florida's Civil War: Terrible Sacrifices explores how various segments of the state's population—including soldiers, Unionists, African Americans, and women—struggled to survive through four years of conflict.
The initial chapters of Revels's study analyze Florida's response to the election of Abraham Lincoln and military events in the state through the end of 1862. By then, most of the significant coastal cities were under Union control, but Middle Florida remained unscathed and under Confederate control. A series of topical chapters follow on the battle of Olustee, slavery, Florida's contributions to the Confederacy—which included soldiers, salt, and cattle—and the experiences of Union- and Confederate-sympathizing women as well as refugees. The study concludes with an assessment of events between late 1864 and the beginning of Reconstruction.
Two broad themes emerge from the author's analysis. The first is Florida's complicated relationship with the Confederacy. Revels implies that the Confederate government took the state for granted, eagerly accepting Florida's contributions of soldiers, salt, and beef while ignoring the state's pleas for men and supplies to defend it from Union raids. The second theme, Florida's status as a frontier state, informs much of Revels's analysis. She notes that a large swath of unsettled area in the state's interior and a preponderance of swamps and woodlands made partisan warfare easy and effective. Limited transportation routes hampered Union invasion plans and diminished Florida's attractiveness as a depot for Confederate blockade-runners. While Florida did not witness the sustained military campaigns of other Confederate states, Revels asserts that Floridians suffered immensely from dwindling food supplies, harsh taxation, and conscription measures. These conditions contributed [End Page 163] to the growth of Unionism, which, to a lesser extent, had been present in Florida at the war's outbreak.
Revels's use of sources limits the effectiveness of her analysis. She makes a curious choice, given her focus on the social aspects of wartime Florida, to limit her use of archival sources. Her decision, which she acknowledges in the book's preface, limits the effectiveness of her approach to the topic. While this could be excused in a work of synthesis, her treatment of secondary sources falls short as well. Her analysis cites numerous sources on Florida history but fails to engage more modern studies that would place Florida's experience in a broader context. For instance, Revels's analysis of why Floridians enlisted in the Confederate army does not address recent scholarship such as Aaron Sheehan-Dean's work on soldiers' motivations. Revels's chapter on slavery—the most effective chapter in her study—discusses self-emancipation but makes few references to current literature on the subject.
Florida's Civil War provides a serviceable introduction to the social factors that shaped the state's experience, but a more frequent use of archival sources and rigorous engagement with recent historiography would have enriched its analysis.