A moment in time with Mr. Lincoln

Combat artist sketches President Abraham Lincoln (second from left) riding beside Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker (third from left) while inspecting Union troops in Virginia in early May 1863. Waud’s depiction of the 16th president leaves much to be desired. (Library of Comgress)

At least two participants in the Bangor Historical Society-hosted Drums on the Penobscot traveled a bit in time on Sunday, August 12, courtesy of Abraham Lincoln.

Portrayed by Steve and Sharon Wood of Claremont, N.H., the president and his wife, Mary, visited the Union and Confederate camps that morning. The Lincolns strolled arm in arm to the Union camp, where 1st Lt. Paul Dudley and 1st Sgt. Tim Brochu of Co. B, 20th Maine Infantry and a line of well turned-out Union re-enactors awaited a review by the Chief Executive.

Portrayed by Stephen Wood (lower left) of Claremont, N.H. President Abraham Lincoln approaches Union re-enactors awaiting his arrival at Bangor on Sunday, August 12. To Lincoln’s right is 1st Lt. Paul Dudley of Co. B, 20th Maine Infantry. (Brian F. Swartz Photos)

Such a presidential review was not unusual. On Thursday, April 9, 1863, the Lincolns reviewed XI and XII Corps of the Army of the Potomac outside Falmouth, Va. While en route to that event, Abe and Mary rode past the 3rd Brigade of Sam Hayman, “detailed to do escort duty to His Excellency,” said Pvt. John Haley of the 17th Maine Infantry Regiment.

The soldiers “formed in two lines facing each other” on the road, “and our distinguished guests passed between,” he said.

Today, more than 155 years later, David Sulin stood at the far right of the Union line in Bangor. A Rockport resident and retired merchant-marine skipper whom I’d swear was re-enacting before the Civil War began, Sulin portrayed a green-clad soldier from Co. D, 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters. This particular company was raised in Maine.

Dudley met the Lincolns outside the camp and escorted them to the Co. B “street,” formed with tents on either side. Mary Lincoln stepped aside, and as the president approached, someone called, “Present arms!”

Soldiers snapped to attention as Dudley and Lincoln walked to a point almost opposite Sulin. Then, drawing on an August 1864 speech the original Abe made to the 148th Ohio Infantry Regiment, the modern Abe spoke to the “soldiers of the republic,” as he called them.

Portraying President Abraham Lincoln, Stephen Wood speaks to Union re-enactors assembled in Bangor on Sunday, August 12, 2018. Watching are Dr. Scott Chase (left), who portrays a Union surgeon, and 1st Lt. Paul Dudley of Co. B, 20th Maine Infantry. The original Abraham Lincoln enjoyed visiting the Army of the Potomac and the men he called the “soldiers of the republic.” (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Like Haley did in 1863, Sulin studied the president. Abe was “one of the plainest of men,” Mary Lincoln “quite the opposite” as for women, John Haley said in ’63, and the president had “a kindly expression that made us forget his plainness.”

His shoulders rounded “and a hat stuck on the back of his head,” Lincoln thrust his long legs so far beneath his horse that “nothing short of tying a knot in them would prevent them from dragging on the ground,” Haley thought. “Mr. Lincoln on horseback is not a model of beauty such as an artist would select.”

With his striking resemblance to America’s 16th president, Stephen Wood has portrayed Lincoln since 1995. He and Sharon belong to the Association of Lincoln Presenters. Veteran re-enactors like Sulin have seen different Lincoln presenters at battle re-enactments over the years.

“I can tell you for a fact that this Abraham Lincoln was a much more authentic ‘Lincoln’ than the guy that did the portrayal at the recent 155th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg,” Sulin told Maine at War. “This ‘Lincoln’ had a great Midwest twang, and his delivery of the speech to us was very realistic.”

Watched by Dudley and Dr. Scott Cross, DO (a general practitioner who portrays a Union surgeon), Stephen Wood delivered his speech in excellent Lincolnian style. When finished, he stepped away as Dudley led the Union boys in three “huzzahs” for the president.

By this point, Sulin had already time-traveled to circa 1863. He explained that as Lincoln, Stephen Wood “made for a very enjoyable ‘19th century’ moment for us in the camp.

“As re-enactors we always hope, but often never get, one of those moments, so today was very special for us,” Sulin said. “Our eyes and ears were focused on him, and we were swept back in time” to a moment when President Abraham Lincoln addressed other Union troops fighting in another century.

After stacking their arms, Union re-enactors await inspection by Abraham Lincoln presenter Stephen Wood (far right). He exchanged pleasantries (below, right) with the re-enactors, who represented at least three different units. (Brian F. Swartz Photos)

Wood soon returned to inspect the Union re-enactors, who had stacked their arms. I watched Wood through my Nikon’s view finder as Wood walked along the line in Bangor. Chatting with individual re-enactors, he exchanged comments and smiles.

Asked about his green uniform, Sulin explained his sharpshooter status. In Co. D, “ninety-nine of us left the State of Maine” in autumn 1861, and “we are now down to just 27.

“But we are all tougher than boiled owls and will see this thing through,” Sulin said.

“Boiled owls! Now that is really tough,” President Lincoln chuckled.

Finished with the inspection, he stepped toward the head of the company street. “Three cheers and a tiger for the president!” someone shouted.

After President Abraham Lincoln (portrayed by Stephen Wood) finished inspecting them in Bangor on August 12, Union re-enactors doffed their caps and gave three cheers and “a tiger” for Mr. Lincoln. David Sulin (second from left) wears the green uniform of a United States Sharpshooter. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

As the president watched and smiled, Union soldiers doffed their kepis and yelled, “Huzzah!” Three times they did so, and then they growled, loud and gutturally.

For a moment I was back there in time, with Abe Lincoln in a similar Union camp in Stafford County, Virginia. “Three cheers and a tiger”: How often have I come across that phrase while researching Mainers involved in the war! Now, for this brief moment circa 1862 or 1863, I heard Union boys deliver this special salute to their commander in chief.

As for speaking with Stephen Wood, “I hope I gave him one of those ‘19th-century moments,’ too,” Sulin said. “That is what re-enacting is all about: giving the other folks your best impression in hopes of making a special moment for them.

“Mr. Lincoln had given me my moment with his speech, and I wanted to return the favor,” Sulin said.

And the Union re-enactors and Stephen Wood had given me “my moment,” too.
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, the re-enactors who turned out for Drums on the Penobscot.

 

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.