A Florida Reading List for Memorial Day

Everything in the Sunshine State from Seminoles to Stillwell
By: Kevin Derby | Posted: May 29, 2010 12:29 AM
With almost 500 years of recorded history, Florida history buffs have a number of excellent books to read this Memorial Day to honor the soldiers and sailors who fought, and in some cases died, for the country.

There are also some excellent books on the Florida campaigns during the Revolutionary War, when the British and the Americans battled for control of East Florida.

Florida remained with the British during the American Revolution despite numerous attempts by the Americans to capture St. Augustine during the early stages of the war. Martha Conrad Searcy offers an excellent look at the various border skirmishes in "The Georgia-Florida Contest in the American Revolution, 1776-1778."

The late U.S. Rep. Charles E. Bennett, a long time congressman from Florida, and Don Lennon from East Carolina University wrote "A Quest for Glory: Major General Robert Howe and the American Revolution." The book focuses on Robert Howe, a general and politician from North Carolina,  who was active in three failed attempts to wrest Florida from the British. Unlike many of the Founding Fathers, Howe is recognizably human. Bennett and Lennon capture Howe’s wit, intelligence, womanizing, gambling, reckless spending and his sharp sense of humor in this excellent biography.

There are also some solid studies of the Second Seminole War, the most costly Indian war the United States ever waged. While the first edition released in 1967 is not particularly subtle about drawing parallels between the Second Seminole War to the American experience in Vietnam, John K. Mahon’s revised edition of "History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842" offers an excellent overview of the various stages of this dramatic war and the many shifts it took.

Frank Laumer focused on one of the most dramatic incidents of the Second Seminole War, when a force of Seminoles almost annihilated a party of 110 American troops under Major Francis Dade. Laumer’s "Dade’s Last Command" is a fascinating narrative of the events that led up to the battle with interesting details on the daily life of American soldiers of that era.

There is an increasing number of books on the Civil War in Florida. William H. Nulty, a retired army officer and high school teacher, wrote "Confederate Florida: The Road to Olustee," which provides an overview of the Civil War in this state and focuses on the largest battle to take place in Florida. Daniel Schafer from the University of North Florida looked at the four Union occupations of Jacksonville as well as the various naval campaigns on the St. Johns River in "Thunder on the River: The Civil War in Northeast Florida."

Much more needs to be done with biographies of prominent Confederate Floridians. Joseph Parks' "General E. Kirby Smith, C.S.A." is still the best book on the highest-ranking Confederate general to come from Florida. The Parks biography is too uncritical, but it offers insight on Kirby Smith’s rise to prominence. Kirby Smith, who is memorialized as one of Florida’s two representatives in Statutory Hall in the U.S. Capitol, commanded Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi region.

While there are not that many books on Florida’s important role in the Spanish-American war or in World War I, there is a large number of books on Florida and World War II. Stephen Craft looks at the important role the Sunshine State had in flight training in "Embry-Riddle at War: Aviation Training during World War II." Robert Billinger’s "Hitler's Soldiers in the Sunshine State: German POWs in Florida" offers a glimpse at the state’s role in housing prisoners.

Palatka’s Joseph Stillwell was one of the more important American generals in World War II, leading forces in the China-Burma-India theater. Guns of August author Barbara Tuchman wrote an excellent account of Stillwell and his troubled relationship with Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek as they led efforts against the Japanese in the Pulitzer Prize winning "Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45."

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