Perfect summer weather and a good turnout of re-enactors and visitors made the July 28-30 Drums on the Penobscot: A Civil War Experience a success, according to an informal and widespread poll of both groups.
Organized by the Bangor Historical Society, Drums on the Penobscot got under way on Friday, July 28 as historian Ryan Hews led 26 people on the Soldiers at Rest walking tour of Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor.
Saturday’s gorgeous dawn found re-enactors already stirring in both camps. Confederates set up on the site of the former Dow Air Force Base chapel (demolished just a few years ago), and Yankees set up diagonally across University Drive on the high ground overlooking Maine Avenue.
Fueling their campfires with donated firewood — described by one Confederate as “the best we’ve seen in a long time” — the re-enactors cooked their breakfasts and prepared for the scheduled 9 a.m. camp openings. Among the visitors arriving early were Steve and Monika Page and their children from Brewer.
The camps remained open until 5 p.m. In the Union camp, Joshua and Fanny Chamberlain (Ted and Faye Chamberlain of Michigan) greeted visitors, and the soldiers of Co. B, 20th Maine Infantry, and Co. D, 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters welcomed visitors.
According to Co. B 1st Sgt. Tim Brochu, visitors expressed great interest in the solders and camps and asked many questions. Bangor Historical Society officials later estimated that several hundred people attended Drums on the Penobscot, and just about every visitor checked out the camps.
Representing the Maine Camp Hospital Association, Carolyn Connor set up a hospital tent and talked about wartime nursing and displayed medical supplies that would have been used during the war. Nearby, Rev. Blaikie Hines, a Midcoast minister, represented the U.S. Christian Commission. He was assisted by Bob and Wendy Benedict, who left their Massachusetts home early Saturday morning to drive to Bangor.
Confederate re-enactors from as far away as the Bay State gathered for roll call, and visitors had many questions about camp life, equipment, and re-enacting. Accurately portraying a Confederate infantryman right down to the bedroll tied around his body, George Davis of Otter Creek posed for photos before the company roll was called.
Steve Ramsey of Wesley and his handsome white horse, Lighthorse Henry Lee, portrayed a trooper and his mount from the 1st Vermont Cavalry; they also portray the 5th Georgia Cavalry on occasion.
Confederate re-enactors from three infantry regiments — the 15th Alabama (a Gettysburg nemesis of the 20th Maine), the 12th Georgia, and the 35th Virginia — joined their Union counterparts and Joshua Chamberlain for a morning parade on Texas Avenue.
With flags unfurled and Ramsey riding Lighthorse Henry Lee in the rear, the marchers approached a small crowd gathered outside Eastport Hall, where four speakers would present programs that day. The only sounds heard as the marchers drew near were the thump of boots and hob-nailed shoes on the asphalt and a flag occasionally snapping in the northwest breeze.
For a moment, the years fell away as the re-enactors seemingly emerged from the mists of time.
Saturday’s activities included a firing demonstration, Tim Brochu firing his mountain howitzer (a piece of military hardware popular with visitors), and a loud and lively skirmish on the lawn beside Eastport Hall. Visitors young and old traipsed through the camps and in and out of tents, asked lots of questions, and (particularly the younger set) spent time with Lighthorse Henry Lee at his berth in the Union camp.
Six speakers presented programs at Eastport Hall during the weekend, and Saturday night people gathered at the Isaac Farrar Mansion on Union Street to watch the uniformed Ted Chamberlain reprise the 20th Maine’s role at Little Round Top. Perhaps the evening’s high point occurred when Ted briefly held the very sword that Joshua L. Chamberlain carried at Gettysburg.
On Sunday morning, Rev. Hines conducted a wartime worship service, and re-enactors repeated some events that had taken place on Saturday, including an artillery demonstration and another skirmish. The camps officially closed at 2 p.m.
To view a good news clip about Drums on the Penobscot, log onto http://www.wabi.tv/content/news/Drums-on-the-Penobscot-Teaching-Maine-History-in-the-Civil-War–437542703.html
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.