It’s not every day that Maine artillerymen fire a salute to President Abraham Lincoln, but such was the order of the day as the Bangor Historical Society hosted Drums on the Penobscot: A Civil War Experience, held August 10-12 on the UMA-Bangor campus at Bangor International Airport.
The second annual Civil War weekend organized by the BHS, the event was a “huge success” according to Executive Director Melissa Gerety. A presidential visit, two noisy skirmishes, a Bangor Band concert, a deserter’s trial and execution, guest lectures, and a Civil War-era worship service were among the highlights.
The weekend opened with a Friday evening Civil War Walking Tour. Guide Ryan Hews introduced 35 people to the wartime personages buried at Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor. Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, a few generals, and assorted heroes were among those “met” by tour participants.
At UMA-Bangor, re-enactors from several units set up separate Union and Confederate camps that opened to visitors at 9 a.m., Saturday and Sunday. The anchor units were Co. B, 20th Maine Infantry, and Co. G, 15th Alabama Infantry. Re-enactors from Co. B, 35th Virginia Infantry; Co. D, 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters; and the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry also participated.
More re-enactors turned out this year than in the inaugural 2017 Drums on the Penobscot.
Visitors walking through the camps spoke with soldiers and learned about Civil War medicine from Dr. Scott Chase, DO, a general practitioner portraying a Union surgeon. Reverend Blaikie Hines represented the civilian-run United States Christian Commission, and cavalry re-enactor Scott Ramsey brought his horse, Light Horse Henry Lee, to participate in the camps and skirmishes.
Two guest speakers — Civil War author and historian Peter Dalton of Northport and Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation President Nicholas Picerno — spoke at Eastport Hall on Saturday morning.
With Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap announcing the program, the Bangor Band (under the direction of Dr. Philip Edelman) played rousing patriotic music (including adaptations of popular Civil War titles) in early afternoon. Afterwards, visitors watched about two dozen re-enactors wage a skirmish near Eastport Hall.
During the fight, a Union soldier abandoned his post and fled the battlefield. Convicted of desertion in the face of the enemy, he met his fate at the hands of a firing squad.
Twenty-four people attended the Civil War-period worship service conducted by Hines on Sunday morning. Seated on the ground or in camp chairs like soldiers would be in the field, worshipers sang two hymns and listened to scripture and a sermon presented by Hines, affiliated with the West Rockport Baptist Church.
Portrayed by Steve and Sharon Wood of Claremont, N.H., Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln toured the Union and Confederate camps on Sunday morning. Reviewing the Union troops, the president expressed his gratitude for their service; “you are soldiers of the Republic,” he told them.
When the review ended, the Union boys gave Lincoln three huzzahs and “a tiger,” a traditional way of honoring important visitors during the war.
Mary Lincoln visited the different organizations represented in the Union camps, and she and the president greeted visitors anxious to have their photos taken with the Lincolns.
Overseen by 1st Sgt. Tim Brochu of Brewer, privates Morgan Gunnell of Milford and Jim Trudell of Hermon fired Brochu’s 6-pound mountain howitzer on Sunday morning as Abe Lincoln watched with his hands over his ears. Many other visitors watched as the privates — joint members of the 6th Maine Battery and Co. B, 20th Maine Infantry — demonstrated loading the howitzer and then, with a yell of “fire in the hole” sounding across the Union camp, fired the cannon, named for the weight of the cannonball it would fire in real life.
Then the Lincolns visited the Confederate camp set up across Texas Avenue. “Who goes there?” challenged Color Corp. Tom Bassford of the 15th Alabama as the Lincolns approached. Their identities confirmed, the Lincolns entered the Southern camp with Bassford as their escort.
While Mrs. Lincoln sat with several Southern ladies, Abraham Lincoln chatted with Confederate soldiers.
Re-enactors staged another skirmish before the camps officially closed at 2 p.m., Sunday. During the day, military re-enactors expressed their great pleasure in the successful Drums on the Penobscot to different BHS organizers.
Disclaimer: Brian Swartz chairs the Bangor Historical Society committee planning the 2018 Drums on the Penobscot. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.