Larry French has spent his entire life in Florida hiking its scrub, uplands, and coastal habitats and canoeing the St. Johns River. From his days as an educator at conservation education camps to years as a park ranger and teaching in the classroom, his knowledge and passion for Florida’s flora and fauna have emerged through his editorial writings and living history portrayals and presentations. One of them is the role of a Florida soldier in The War Between the States where his character mirrors an individual likely to have been from an actual local Florida unit. Larry does this portrayal during Florida Civil War reenactments and elsewhere and in quest presentations at the DeBary Mansion Historic Site Lemonade Lecture series. A second portrayal is done as a post-war southern entrepreneur in the readers theater production of producer Lani Friend’s, A Grand Tour Upriver: The Untold Story of Commodore Rose and Captain Jacob Brock, Steamboat King of the St. Johns River at DeBary’s Gateway Center for the Arts. A third role Larry has played of Florida history is that of U-boat Captain Reinhard Hardegen, in the Lani Friend production of Torpedoes, Saboteurs and the Mosquito Fleet, the Hooligan Navy.
He writes, in addition to the living history he does. Larry’s writing has appeared in the editorial columns of Central Florida’s Orlando Sentinel, Volusia Sentinel, Daytona Beach News Journal, and Deltona-Deland Beacon. He has written articles for Focus On The Family Clubhouse children’s magazine and Inspiration magazine. His adventure novel, Time Will Tell: The Awakening blends his love of history and science taking readers through post-Civil War events and early Florida history.
Make contact and find out more about Larry’s book at his website:
The headlands and tributaries of the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor are stuffed with historical treasures just waiting rediscovery. Over time, the overall appearance of the landscape has changed as forests have matured, been removed, or begun anew. Despite these changes, the accomplishments of people have left telltale marks upon the land. Each of them bears a story to be told. One such story is the vital role this area played in the American Civil War.
In 1861, Florida was still a virtual wilderness. The bulk of the pioneer population of about 140,000 people lived in north central and panhandle Florida. Scant numbers of people were scattered about further south concentrated along the coast and in major bay areas. For the most part, Florida was grossly under-populated with an expansive coastline virtually indefensible by the small numbers of troops the Confederacy had to engage. This prompted the early decision to abandon most coastal fortifications and cities. Florida’s troops were then deployed to other states where strategic battles were taking place. This left the state with less than a couple thousand troops composed of militia and home guard units for defense.
During the war, these troops were tasked with protecting the supplies of resources Florida contributed. Florida was a major producer of cattle and soon became a vital source of food for the Confederacy. Raised in the vast flatwoods south of Ft. Gatlin (present day Orlando), and southern Florida, cattle were herded northward to locations, such as Ft. Brooke (Tampa) and other depots for transport out of the state.
Another vital supply line ran from the eastern coast along lengthy Mosquito Lagoon and up the St. Johns River. Blockade runners would slip through the Federal blockade into Mosquito Lagoon to bring in shipments of arms, medicines, and other scarce goods from European suppliers. Boats would transport the goods inland where ox or horse carts took them to Lake Monroe and Enterprise where they would then be transferred by steamships up the St. Johns River to Jacksonville and other junctions out of the state.
Both supply lines became targets of Federal raiding parties that tried to capture and disrupt them. On the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor, along the St. Johns River this effort resulted in several skirmishes. Birney’s Raid at Spring Garden Plantation (now De Leon Springs State Park) destroyed the water wheel powered gristmill, gins, and plantation. The reconstructed water wheel today turns as a reminder of the former plantation. In March 1864, a Federal raiding party from the gunboat USS Columbine was repulsed at Enterprise on Lake Monroe when they came ashore to destroy a sugar mill outside of town. A plaque outside All Saints Episcopal Church commemorates the event. Two months later, at Horse Landing on the St. Johns River, Confederate Cavalry under the command of Captain John Jackson Dickison successfully ambushed and captured USS Columbine.
These are just a few of the many events that took place during this time in history along the River of Lakes Heritage Corridor. Evidence of countless others remains to be found and told.