Civil War's Camp Milton Comes Alive Again as a Historic Preserve; Re-Enactors Portraying Life Back Then Were on Site for the Grand Opening Saturday

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Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA

A couple of hundred Northeast Florida residents took a step off of Halsema Road North on Saturday and walked back into the era of the Civil War -- at least for a few minutes.

Florida's role in the Civil War isn't widely known. But both Confederate and Union soldiers once occupied Camp Milton on Jacksonville's Westside.

Now the camp is a new historic preserve and part of the Civil War Discovery Trail, which spotlights more than 600 sites of battlefields, graves and homes of people written about in history books. A $2 million to $3 million fundraising campaign by Preservation North Florida, a nonprofit organization, has just begun to build a Florida Civil War Center at Jacksonville. It would house artifacts now scattered throughout the country and would be the first of its kind in the state.

During its Saturday grand opening to the public, Camp Milton was a place where re-enactors became teachers, showing visitors how quilts were sewed, how soldiers fired weapons and how people from the 1860s lived.

Camp Milton is most noted for the fact that it was invaded and abandoned by Union forces four times. On the third invasion, African-American troops were sent to invade Florida.

Many of the soldiers were from North Florida's plantations and towns, according to history displays throughout the site.

It was also the Confederate headquarters for the Military District of Florida, according to city officials. Florida was a big supplier of salt, cattle and other goods to Confederate soldiers.

Had it not been for some dedicated, and persistent, local residents and city employees over the past three decades, the Civil War site would have been covered in sludge.

A former landowner in the late 1990s ran a septic tank business and had already received permits to begin dumping sludge, said Susan Grandin, of The Trust for Public Land, a land conservation organization.

People like Fred Singletary, a history buff from Marietta, and Shorty Robbins, a former city parks planner, fought to have the camp preserved. …