Looking to honor the Memorial Day holiday this weekend while still treating yourself to a good time? Look no further.
While Florida has almost five centuries of recorded history, the Sunshine State is still fairly new to the United States. More of its history was under the Spanish flag than the stars and stripes. Nonetheless, there are a number of sites across the state that entertain and instruct -- as well as honor our fallen soldiers and sailors.
The Florida National Cemetery is in Bushnell. Extending across more than 500 acres, the cemetery honors the more than 97,000 veterans buried there. Veterans of the Indian Wars, the Civil War, both World Wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War are buried at this site, which also features a carillon.
Among the honored veterans interred there are two recipients of the Medal of Honor and Largos Col. Leonard T. Schroeder. Schroeder, who passed away in 2009, was the first American to land at Normandy during the D-Day operation on June 6, 1944. Schroeder, who was wounded at Utah Beach, earned the Purple Heart, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star during his three decades of service to this country.
Located in historic Fernandina Beach, Fort Clinch sits at the exact northeast corner of the state on Amelia Island. This brick fort was built before the Civil War and was in use during the Spanish-American War. The park, run by the Florida State Parks service, also has excellent beaches and nature trails.
Some 15 miles east of Lake City, in the middle of the Osceola National Forest and right off of I-10, is the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park, commemorating the largest Civil War battle in Florida. The battle of Olustee was fought in February 1864, when Union forces advancing from Jacksonville to take Lake City were defeated by a force of Confederates. Almost 40 percent of the Union troops were casualties, compared to 20 percent of the Confederates. Three regiments of newly emancipated African-Americans, including the 54th Massachusetts regiment celebrated in the movie "Glory," took part in the battle.
The second-largest Civil War battle in Florida was at Natural Bridge in the last weeks of the war, when Northern forces tried to capture Tallahassee. A motley group of old men and boys repelled the attack in March 1865. The battlefield, which is also a state park, is south of Tallahassee and east of Woodvillle.
Located off I-75 just south of Bushnell, the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park commemorates one of the pivotal events of the Second Seminole War. On Dec. 28, 1835, Seminole forces led by Micanopy ambushed a contingent of American soldiers led by Major Francis Dade. Only two of the 110 American troops returned to their base at Fort Brooke in what is current-day Tampa.
The Dade Battlefield is not the only state park to commemorate events from the Second Seminole War. The state also maintains the sites of Fort Cooper in Inverness and Fort Foster in Thonotosassa.
The southernmost state park in Florida is Fort Zachary Taylor, named after the military hero who was the 12th president, south of Key West. The fort was completed in 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War. Due to its location, the fort was used during the Spanish-American War in 1898 when Florida was the launching point for the American campaigns in Cuba. The park also offers excellent beaches and fishing -- no wonder this is where Harry Truman set up his Winter White House.
All across Florida you can find monuments to our history and the brave men and women who defended our country, from Fort Pickens in Pensacola, where the Civil War almost began, to St. Augustines Castillo de San Marcos, a fort older than the United States that was used by American forces and renamed Fort Marion.
On May 25, 1866, more than two years after the Battle of Olustee, Lt. Federick B. Grossman of the 7th U.S. Infantry inspected the battleground and had Company B of that regiment inter the fallen soldiers in a wooden monument. Grossman and his men engraved words on all sides of the monument. On the south side, they etched, "To the memory of the officers and soldiers of the United States army who fell in the Battle of Olustee, Feb. 20, 1864. On the west side, "Our Country." On the north side, "May the living profit by the example of the dead." On the east side was written "Unity and peace."