FAIRFIELD, Maine — Surrounded by Confederate soldiers with leveled bayonets, Union infantrymen Ben Custer and Ryan Middleton made a wise decision Saturday during a Civil War re-enactment held at Good Will Hinckley School in Fairfield: They surrendered.
Custer, from Palermo, and Middleton, from Oromocto, New Brunswick, were among more than 60 Civil War re-enactors who participated in “We Are Coming, Father Abraham,” a two-day event sponsored by the Maine Living History Association. Re-enactors traveled from as far away as Delaware and New York to portray civilians and soldiers.
Middleton and his father Troy, and several other Canadian re-enactors represented Co. I, 20th Maine Infantry Regiment. According to Troy Middleton, more than 3,000 Canadians joined Maine combat units during the Civil War; 128 Canadian soldiers served with the 20th Maine, he said.
Throughout the weekend, a Maine Public Broadcasting Network film crew worked with re-enactors to stage scenes for an MPBN documentary, “Maine at Gettysburg,” which will be aired next summer. The film will profile the 16th Maine Infantry Regiment, said Producer Dan Lambert, and the fields and woods around the Bates Museum at Good Will Hinckley School provided an excellent place to shoot footage.
Ben Custer and Ryan Middleton portrayed 16th Maine soldiers captured by Confederate troops at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863. The MPBN film crew shot the scene a few times while using a smoke machine to create a smoky battlefield atmosphere; when a menacing Confederate soldier shouted, “Ground your arms!,” Custer and Middleton knelt, placed their rifled muskets on the ground, and raised their hands.
Later in the afternoon, Confederate and Union troops staged a raucous battle that involved artillery fire, a sword-slashing and pistol-firing cavalry fight, and infantrymen blasting away at each other as soldiers pitched either “killed” or “wounded” into the field grass. The scripted battle saw Confederate troops force their Union counterparts to retreat.
The encampment took its name from a Civil War song made popular after President Abraham Lincoln called for the loyal states to send another 300,000 men to fight the Confederacy in summer 1862. According to Miss Christabell Rose, a civilian re-enactor with the Maine Living History Association, Maine raised five infantry regiments; late on Saturday afternoon, organizers restaged the swearing-in of all five regiments into Union service.
Civilian re-enactors created a civilian town named Harmony. Author Thomas William Tear of New Castle, Del. came as a merchant who sold hair jewelry, a popular fashion accessory in the mid-19th century.
“From 1840 to 1900, hair was more valuable per ounce than sterling silver” and was used in hair pieces and intricate jewelry, Tear said.
Calais author Katherine Smutz portrayed a stylish matron from the 1860s.
A Georgia native, she grew up hearing about the Civil War from her relatives. “I grew up with it,” she said. “Yankees had horns and tails: I thought my daddy was exaggerating” when he told her that popular Southern rumor.
Smutz has published two war-related e-books for HistoryinanHour.com: “Slavery in an Hour” and “The American Civil War in an Hour.” Each e-book is designed to be read in an hour, she explained, and her Civil War e-book has at different times been the top-selling ebook in the United States, Canada, and Greece.