Monday, September 19, 2011

Confederate History Remembered in Tampa

Tampa's rebel roots explored
The Tampa Tribune
September 18, 2011


There were the Finley brothers, Thomas and John, ages 18 and 16, respectively. Thomas died at the Civil War prison in Rock Island, Ill. John died, too. No one knows how or where.

And there was Hiram Archibald McLeod, who helped Judah B. Benjamin, then secretary of state for the Confederacy, escape after Richmond fell. McLeod had been wounded twice by then and had only one leg.

The Finleys and McLeod were among 86 Tampa Bay area men remembered Saturday afternoon at the William F. Poe Plaza in downtown Tampa as part of a historical re-enactment organized by the Tampa Bay Sesquicentennial Commission.

Re-enactors brought to life a ceremony that took place 150 years ago, at which area women wearing white dresses and blue sashes presented a flag to the 86 men before they went off to fight for the South.

The 86 later were joined by another 14 men, reaching the required 100 for a company, and were organized in Jacksonville into Company K of the Fourth Florida regiment. They were known as the Sunny South Guards.

In Poe Plaza, as a small brass band played, nearly a dozen young women stood in a line, each representing a southern state. Then the men marched in, with cap-and-ball rifles or muskets in their hands and cartridge box slings draped over their shoulders.

There were 24 stand-ins, not 86. "That was as many bodies as we could snatch," said John Mitchell, a drug counselor who served as one of the recruits.

As part of the re-enactment, the soldiers heard from their commander, Capt. John T. Lesley, who was played by Bryan Gilmore, a Mosaic phosphate plant employee. Robert E. Lee was on hand, too, played by Tom Jessee — even though Lee wasn't at the long-ago flag presentation.

"We of the South vow anew that we stand united in a glorious cause," Gilmore told the soldiers, "and we, its defenders, beseech of a divine Providence, guidance for a triumphal victory under this beautiful banner the hands of Tampa's finest have bestowed on us this day."

The actual flag presentation in 1861 occurred some distance from what's now Poe Plaza. But organizers couldn't arrange a re-enactment at that location because it is now a busy intersection in the shadow of the Selmon Crosstown Expressway.