A living Civil War history lesson

The Matheson Museum will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Gainesville with a symposium that examines the challenges and triumphs of Alachua County residents after the Civil War.

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Published: Saturday, August 9, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 8, 2014 at 3:35 p.m.

The Matheson Museum is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Gainesville with events next week.


If you go

Annual Civil War Symposium
What: Speakers Paul Ortiz on Mathew Lewey, one of the first licensed African-American lawyers in Florida; Matt Gallman on African-American soldiers who settled in Florida; and Patricia Hilliard-Nunn on the history of Alachua County's African-American families from the Civil War to the 1960s
When: 6-8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Matheson Museum, 513 E. University Ave.
Admission: $5 suggested donation, refreshments served.
Info: 378-2280 or www.mathesonmuseum.org
Civil War Battle of Gainesville Re-enactment
What: The Matheson Museum commemorates the 150th anniversary of the 1864 Battle of Gainesville
When: 10 a.m. Aug. 16. Re-enactors also will erect Union and Confederate camps Friday, with visitors invited to observe and experience the daily rituals of the men who fought in the war
Where: Sweetwater Park behind the museum, 513 E. University Ave.
Admission: Free

The museum, which preserves the history of Alachua County, will explore the African-American experience in Gainesville after the Civil War through events like the sesquicentennial exhibit, Civil War Symposium, and re-enactment of the Civil War Battle of Gainesville.

The sesquicentennial exhibit celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War Battle of Gainesville, and uses it as a starting point to look at the changes and evolution of Civil Rights in Alachua County, said Stephanie Pastore, Matheson Museum technician.

In a one-story wooden building, formerly enslaved African-Americans were taught the basics of reading and writing, geography and arithmetic, Pastore said.

The Union Academy was the first Freedmen’s Bureau school built in Gainesville after the Civil War.

“It traces those changes from the African-Americans who were fighting in the battle of Gainesville on the Union side to the integration of both Gainesville High School and Lincoln High School,” she added.

The first Battle of Gainesville took place on Feb. 15, 1864, and resulted in Union soldiers freeing 36 enslaved people at the current-day intersection of Main Street and University Avenue.

In the Second Battle of Gainesville, Confederate Captain J.J. Dickison and his 175-person troop defeated approximately 300 Union soldiers.

More than 100 African-American soldiers fought in the Union army for Florida.

“Florida, at that time, was a frontier … there were institutions in the white community that wanted to create industries that were mainly built on a labor supply,” Pastore said. “And there was the African-American community who wanted Florida to be a New Jerusalem ... a place of education and African-American owned communities.”

The Pleasant Street Historic District and Porter’s Quarters were two major African-American communities that will be discussed at the Civil War Symposium.

The Civil War Symposium will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Matheson Museum. The symposium’s panelists are University of Florida scholars Paul Ortiz, executive director of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program; Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, adjunct associate professor in the African-American Studies program; and Matthew Gallman, professor of history.

Ortiz said his presentation will focus on Matthew Lewey, a veteran of the 55th Massachusetts infantry and one of the first licensed African-American lawyers in Gainesville.

“The Battle of Gainesville is important to us because it demonstrates huge social issues that remain present in today’s society,” said Ortiz, an emeritus member at the Matheson Museum. “The Civil War hasn’t really ended in states like Florida. A lot of the same conflicts are still in play now. The relationships between men and women, African-Americans and white folk, and the relationship between the North and South, are all issues that are still being debated,” he said.

Hilliard-Nunn said she will emphasize the period of reconstruction, and trace the progress of two African-American families from that time to the 1960s.

“I was surprised by the wealth of information on black families not in textbooks,” said Hilliard-Nunn, who is a former president of the Matheson Museum. “If you look at a map of the layout of Alachua County, where the plantations were located, you’ll still find black communities in those places. … After slavery, they didn’t twiddle their thumbs — they built churches and schools.”

Pastore said re-enactors will perform the rites and rituals of people who were fighting during the Civil War on Friday in Sweet Water Park, which is where the original Battle of Gainesville took place. On Aug. 16, a Battle of Gainesville re-enactment will be held in the same location at 10 a.m.

“The (re-enactment) will feature over 100 civil war soldiers. It will feature horses and cannons. And it really brings history to life to demographics, and children and young people who often only hear about history through textbooks or movies,” Pastore said. “It will feature horses and cannons, and it will bring history to life. ... It adds that extra dimension to history.”

John McLean, a sixth-generation Floridian in charge of the Civil War re-enactment, said more than 500 people attended the re-enactment last year.

“Gainesville was attacked by 348 union soldiers who burned our railroad depot and all the military stores here. ... They were burning and stealing stuff from people’s plantations,” said McLean, who has led the Civil War Battle of Gainesville re-enactment for the past four years. “There were 1800 blacks living in Alachua County. … They actually outnumbered the whites.”

Gallman said between 1860 and 1870, the black population in Alachua County increased much faster than the white population. In 1860 and 1870, Alachua County’s black population was 4,465 and 12,393, respectively. The white population had a slight increase from 3,767 to 4,935 during this time span.

“I’m going to talk about the importance of the Civil War and its legacy for African-Americans in Alachua County and Florida,” said Gallman, who narrated a play-by-play at a Battle of Gainesville re-enactment several years ago.

“I’m going to weave together several different kinds of examples of African-Americans who come from different backgrounds and end up in Florida.”

One prominent African American figure who will be discussed is Josiah T. Walls, a formerly enslaved person from Virginia who served in the U.S. Color Troupe and became a U.S. Congressman.

Ortiz added that he will discuss the role African-Americans played in keeping a pro-U.S. version of the Civil War, and what it meant in terms of emancipation and freedom.

“We often talk about events like Memorial Day, but we don’t often think about how important that event is commemorating the service of black veterans, especially in a place that was so heavily confederate,” Ortiz said.

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