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.
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.
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.
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.
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.