Confederate re-enactors bring Southern realism to Civil War events

As President Abraham and Mary Lincoln (portrayed by Steve and Sharon Wood) enter the Confederate camp set up for Drums on the Penobscot on Sunday. Aug. 12, they are greeted by 1st Sgt. David Leissner (left) and Capt. William Stoops (right) of Co. G, 15th Alabama Infantry. (Brian F. Swartz Photos)

Only Texas Avenue and a bit of grass separated the Confederate and Union camps during Drums on the Penobscot, held August 10-12 in Bangor. However, unlike their counterparts from the Civil War, these Johnny Rebs and Billy Yanks were not shooting at each other.

In fact the re-enactors often appear at the events during the course of a Maine summer.

The anchor unit for the Confederates at Drums on the Penobscot was Co. G, 15th Alabama Infantry, commanded by Capt. William Stoops of Harpswell. Joined by Capt. Tom Fisher of Rumford and seven members of Co. B, 35th Virginia Cavalry, the 15th Alabama re-enactors camped next to the parking lot just above the UMA-Bangor Fitness Center.

A private in Co. G, 15th Alabama, Brendan McGuire of Farmington tends a cooking fire on August 12 at Drums on the Penobscot.

Setting up their tents, the Confederates established a camp closely resembling those set up by the Army of Southern Virginia in the early 1860s. Visitors saw what soldiers lived like in the field and often posted questions to the Southern re-enactors.

Unlike their counterparts during the Civil War, the Confederates attending Drums on the Penobscot ate well. Breakfast can feature “bacon and eggs, sometimes sausage, biscuits, fresh fruit,” said 2nd Sgt. Tom Boyd of Co. G, 15th Alabamat, interviewed on Sunday morning.

As for lunch, the menu was “variable,” he said. “Yesterday we cooked chicken breasts and grilled ears of corn.”

Often under half, if not quarter rations caused by Southern transportation bottlenecks, Confederates of yore would have salivated over that lunch, for sure.

2nd Sgt. Tom Boyd, Co. G, 15th Alabama Infantry

Boyd, who lives in the Portland area, said that he “was always interested in the military,” especially 19th-century history and the Napoleonic wars in particular. In North America “the next closest thing was the Civil War,” he commented.

Boyd started re-enacting in 1995 with the 5th Maine Infantry Regiment. Some members formed a combined unit representing the 17th Maine Infantry and the 4th Alabama Infantry. The latter unit “worked very closely with the 15th Alabama,” he recalled.

Re-enactor units come and go for various reasons. After the 4th Alabama disbanded, Boyd took a few years off from re-enacting before joining Co. G.

With his beard and thin build, Tom Bassford of Industry looks every bit the Southern soldier he portrays with the 15th Alabama. He indicated that Co. G has been around since the 1980s.

Color Corp. Tom Bassford, Co. G, 15th Alabama

Bassford was always “interested in the history” of the Civil War, and like some re-enactors he has ancestors who fought in that conflict. “My most famous ones are Confederate,” he said, explaining that he is related to Robert E. Blood “by blood” and to John S. Mosby “by marriage.”

On Bassford’s Union side, an ancestor was a lieutenant colonel of the 5th New York Cavalry.

Bassford indicated that he also likes camping and shooting black powder.

Farmington resident Brendan McGuire, a private with the 15th Alabama, got his interest in re-enacting through “a former captain of ours, Mike Pratt, who is a friend of mine.” McGuire’s first year as a re-enactor was 2010; now employed much of the year on a Connecticut vegetable farm, he has not been able to participate in re-enactments as often this year.

Re-enactors have different reasons why they portray one side versus the other. Sgt. David Leissner of Carmel and the 15th Alabama explained, “I decided to become a Confederate when at my first re-enactment, the federal unit that I was going to join decided to go antiquing instead of taking part in the battle of Cedar Mountain because of the rain.

“At that very moment, I ran into a Confederate captain who lived right around the corner from me, and he invited me to join them instead!” Leissner said.

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.