Sunday, June 1, 2014

A glimpse back in time... By Michelle Libby

Over Memorial Day weekend the Windham Historical Society was home to approximately 26 Civil War reenactors from the Third Maine Regiment Volunteer Infantry. With canvas tents, blankets and uniforms appropriate for the early 1860s, the regiment set up camp and invited the public to come visit them and experience what it might have been like for a soldier fighting in the Civil War.

Reenactors remained in character while visitors asked questions about food, guns, living conditions and the types of things the surgeon would do. 

Dave Gowen, a local business man in Windham, has been a part of the Third Maine for 20 years. He served as captain for 10 years in the elected position and then last year when the previous captain stepped down, he was elected as the captain again. 

Three women made up the Sanitary Commission, a civilian group that went around to different companies to make sure they were following basic sanitary rules. Carolyn Lawson, from Auburn and an adjunct professor at Bates College gave a presentation on Saturday about what her role would be been as someone on the Sanitary Commission. They also became a central gathering group for donations from community members. They collected everything from shirts to underwear, towels, soap, sewing kits, newspapers and more. “Anything you would send to a soldier in Afghanistan now,” said Tracy Williams. “Soldiers away from home still want home.” 

Red flannel “drawers” were believed to help prevent diarrhea, so people donated those. 

The Sanitary Commission also helped to standardize sizes and produced patterns for local women. They showed a hospital gown that opened on both sides, instead of up the back like today's gowns. Also, if the gown got soiled on one side, it was easy to remove the side and put on a clean one. 

One soldier sitting around the fire was a woman dressed in the wool uniform. Melissa Milligan, 27, of Portland, played the part of a woman who enlisted at 16 along with her brother and father. There were instances where it was estimated that 400 women were in the Army, but history has proved it was more like 700, according to Milligan. Her character died in Gettysburg and her father died before that, but her brother survived. .

On most of the encampments Rick Bray is the company cook. The menus, he said, are determined by what is available. Beef is kept in barrels and salt pork is a staple. The company drinks mostly water and coffee, he said. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, strawberries, watermelon, grapes and coffee. Lunch on Saturday consisted of pulled pork and baked beans that had cooked over the wood fire all day. 

“Baked beans are a strong staple of the Army,” said Bray, who has been the cook for the Third Maine for 10 years. 

Twelve-year-old Tyi Williams and his brother 14-year-old Garrett Williams were inspired by their grandparents to be a part of the Third Maine. 

“You learn something, have new experiences and get to meet new people,” said Tyi. 

“I like the history and learning how they live,” said Garrett. One of the things they had to get used to was the camping. 

“It’s cold and it kept waking me up. The symphony of people kept me awake,” said Tyi. He acknowledged that having beans for lunch had made sleeping at night a bit more difficult. 

“Snoring, the same thing,” said Garrett. 

Having backstories makes the actors come alive to the people who visit the encampment. Tyi played the role of a 14-year-old and his brother played an 18-year-old. Questions are asked of each member of the regiment. Common questions, according to Gowen are “Did you really sleep here?” “Is that a real fire?” “Do you really eat here?” 

“All of the questions imply that it’s for show,” said Gowen. He assured the public that they do eat, sleep and work in the encampment. 

The Third Maine is made up of close to 50 volunteers from the southern Maine region. They do not all attend every event. They have an encampment usually once a month, along with a few day events. Last year the regiment went to Gettysburg to commemorate the 150th anniversary. 

The regiment is always looking for new recruits. For more about Maine in the Civil War, visit

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