The boom of cannons, the sharp report of rifle fire and the sulfury smell of gunpowder was in the air as men, women and children wearing the uniforms and fashions of the Civil War era brought history to life during a three-day event that drew about 2,000 spectators to Fort Knox.
The Battle of Fort Knox on Saturday featured more than 200 Civil War buffs who portrayed troops from the Union and Confederate forces, their wives and children and residents of a town called Unity, a civilian encampment based on the real town of Winchester, Va., a strategic area that changed hands numerous times during the real Civil War fought from 1861 to 1865.
The re-enactors arrived mainly on Friday, and the public events took place Saturday and Sunday. Leon Seymour, executive director of the Friends of Fort Knox, said the encampment event held in conjunction with the Bucksport Bay Festival drew 1,525 visitors Saturday and roughly 500 on Sunday, though the official tally was not in by late Sunday afternoon.
The period activities -— which included military training exercises, naval and land-based battles, the execution of a Union deserter and a couple of weddings -— aimed to evoke the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of 1864, the year before the Civil War ended, said the mysterious “Miss Rose,” a key organizer who declined to reveal her modern identity.
“I go by ‘Miss Rose’ and that’s the only thing I go by because the focus shouldn’t be on me, it should be on my re-enactors,” she said Saturday.
The Civil War encampment event was sponsored by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, supported by the Friends of Fort Knox and Friends of Maine State Parks and co-hosted by the 20th Maine Company B and the 15th Alabama Company G.
“This is the largest [American Civil War re-enactment], we believe, that we’ve ever had in the state of Maine and the first of, hopefully, many to come,” Miss Rose said.
The Maine and Alabama re-enactment groups “co-hosted this to be able to bring both sides [of the Civil War] to the state of Maine and show people that it isn’t necessarily quite the way that some folks believe it was, and to show how it actually was. We’re all living historians and teachers,” Miss Rose said.
“We wanted to bring the Civil War here to Maine for the Maine folks to see because we were so far removed that we don’t have anything actually here that pertains to the Civil War other than a number of forts and things. But this one never actually saw action. It never was garrisoned [and] it never had troops in it,” she said.
“For all intents and purposes, this is the first time that you’ve had troops garrisoned here inside the fort,” she said. “The Union [troops] are on cots inside the quarters as they would have been and so therefore 1864 exists here inside the fort. And outside we have the artillery, who would have been in canvas as they would in 1864. This is how we lived, and we’re all doing this in character,” she said.
Participants came from throughout New England as well as New York, Florida, Michigan and the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Miss Rose noted that the re-enactors included a 10-year-old home-schooled boy from Alberta who donned a uniform and fell in with a medical team, Miss Rose said.
Among them were Julie Barton of Ludlow, Mass., and her boyfriend, Walter Slachetka of Springfield, Mass., who portrayed residents of the fictional community of Unity.
“It’s our first visit here,” Barton said.
“This is really, really nice,” she said of the historic 1840s granite complex.
Meanwhile, Sue Leighton of Orrington, a volunteer at the fort, was inside the kitchen, showing a group of Girl Scouts from Milo how the fort’s old brick oven works. Earlier this summer, the oven was fired up for the first time in more than a century. Over the weekend, it was used to cook beans, bread and meat, staples then and now.
Among those who stopped by the fort on Saturday were Garry and Jean Kaebitzsch of North Redding, Mass. Garry Kaebitzsch, a flute repairman and author, said he and his wife came to Prospect to take in the views from the Penobscot Narrows Observatory and, while up there, watched the “execution” of Company B’s Cpl. Timothy Brochu of Brewer, a four-time Civil War deserter.
In one of the weekend’s most dramatic moments, Brochu was marched into the fort under military escort. The traitor was forced to march behind his own casket.
“I’d rather have seen a public hanging and have them save the buckshot,” Kaebitzsch quipped.
After checking out the activities, the couple enjoyed a quiet moment at one of the wooden picnic tables outside the fort.
For information about Fort Knox and the Friends of Fort Knox, go to www.fortknox.maineguide.com