Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Camp Milton Historic Preserve - Jacksonville, Florida

Once destined to become a sludge field for the booming city of Jacksonville, Florida's Camp Milton Historic Preserve now stands as a beautiful example of the value of local historic preservation.

Instead of being used to dispose of waste, the site now attracts visitors with interests in history, wildlife, bird watching, nature and more. It serves as a vital link on a popular local "rails to trails" project and provides paved trails and boardwalks at are popular for afternoon walks with residents from throughout the vicinity.

One of these boardwalks leads to what remains of a remarkable system of siege fortifications designed by famed Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard in March of 1864. The Confederate army of General Joseph Finegan had just handed a major defeat to a Union invasion force at the Battle of Olustee, the largest Civil War engagement in Florida. As the Federal troops fell back rapidly to Jacksonville, the Confederate army moved slowly in pursuit.

General Beauregard arrived on the scene from Charleston to find that the Federal army had Jacksonville had been given time to reorganize and take up positions in fortifications around the city. Disappointed that the opportunity for an even greater victory had slipped away, he established siege lines along McGirt's Creek west of the city to block any further attempts by the Federals to advance into the interior of Florida.

The lines he designed ran for three miles along the west side of the creek and were among the most remarkable field fortifications built during the Civil War. Some of them were so well finished that they looked almost like masonry.

Time and modern development destroyed all but a few hundred yards of this magnificent line, but what remains today can be seen along an interpretive boardwalk at Camp Milton. Other interpretive panels explain the significance of the massive Confederate camp and the fighting around Jacksonville in 1864. There is also a preserved 19th century Florida house, reconstruction of a Civil War era bridge over McGirt's Greek and much more.

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