President Abraham Lincoln graciously posed for a photo.
Gen. George Gordon Meade discussed strategy with Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain talked about the strategy that saved Little Round Top.
Gen. George Brinton McClellan met with several staff members, probably to figure out why the Army of the Potomac didn’t whip Lee just down the road at Antietam.
If visitors to the Antietam 150th re-enactment held Sept. 14-16, 2012 at Sharpsburg, Md. got nothing else from the experience, they certainly had the opportunity to meet many members of the top Union brass, courtesy of the Federal Generals Corp.
Founded in 2007, the FGC relives history by its members portraying specific Union officers who served primarily in the Virginia theater. The Antietam 150th re-enactment brought some members to camp at the Legacy Manor Farm in Sharpsburg for the weekend, and Pat Horne and I from the Bangor Daily News met several top Union commanders.
As we wandered through the camps on Friday, Sept. 14, we initially noticed all the Confederate brass milling about their tents. Then we noticed the blue uniforms.
George Meade and Robert Lee sat beneath a tent overhang and talked quietly, assumedly about next year’s 150th re-enactment at Gettysburg. Joseph Schafer of Warminster, Penn. portrayed Meade, also a Pennsylvanian. Al Stone portrayed Lee.
At another tent, George B. McClellan chatted with staff members, but we could not overhear their conversation. Re-enactor Ken Hall had McClellan portrayed almost to a T, including the moustache.
Then we met Lt. Col. Joshua Chamberlain, a “Brewer boy” like me, and he talked about the two “burgs,” Frederick’s and Getty’s, where the 20th Maine Infantry cut its combat teeth and earned eternal glory.
“It was bad climbing” Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg, recalled Chamberlain, a.k.a. David Starliper from Summit Point, W. Va. “We could see the people going up and falling in front of us,” but “we did our duty. It was a very disturbing sight with the bodies, the equipment, laying around your friends.”
At Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, “Col. [Strong] Vincent was our new [brigade] colonel,” Chamberlain said. “Gen. [Gouverneur K.] Warren noticed” that Little “Round Top was not occupied except by a few single men. He needed somebody to defend that. Col. Vincent took the order and sent our brigade up there to defend it.”
Why did Chamberlain conduct a bayonet charge? Bending “the line back was just a tactical maneuver,” he explained. “We noticed the Confederates were pushing to our left, continuing to outflank us. We had to extend our line. We decided to refuse the line at a 90-degree angle so when they came around, they would run into what we had of our men.
“When we were out of ammunition … I couldn’t stand and fight. If I just stood there, we would be cut to pieces by them (Confederates) coming up,” Chamberlain said. “So we went from a defensive position to an offensive move and startled the Confederates.
“It worked, forcing them back down the hill. It forced them to our right, which pushed them in them in front of the Federal line,” he recalled.
And that hair-raising moment when the Alabama officer aimed his pistol at Chamberlain and pulled the trigger?
“Thought I was dead,” Chamberlain admitted. “Misfired, and then I had my saber. Of course, I had a few of those [close calls] during the war.”
Already well versified in Chamberlain lore, Starliper has played the role for more than a year with the Federal Generals Corps. Already a re-enactor, Starliper had not planned to become Chamberlain until “I was asked by the members …. since I had the moustache.
‘”Hey, you look similar to Col. Chamberlain,’” other people told him.
Besides learning minutiae about Chamberlain, Starliper invested in an officer’s uniform, which cost approximately $800. “The coat is the most expensive” item,” he said. “Then you’ve got to buy the shoulder boards.”
At 11:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 15, several Union generals gathered beneath a large tent to share their experiences with re-enactment visitors. The talk occurred after the slam-bang Battle of Dunker Church, which took place nearby.
Through Sunday afternoon, the Federal generals and lower-ranking officers entertained visitors at the generals’ camp near the Sutler Village. Chamberlain, McClellan, Meade, and other officers mingled easily with the public, talked about the war, and posed for photos.
Comparing notes afterwards, Pat and I agreed that we had not seen Ulysses Simpson Grant. That does not mean he wasn’t present; maybe he was briefly away down south in Dixie, trying to outflank Lee somewhere in central Virginia.
For more information about the Federal Generals Corps, log onto www.federalgeneralscorps.com.