FARMINGTON — Double history major Michelle Henaire was in her element Saturday as she participated in a Civil War encampment by re-enactors with the local 15th Alabama Co. G at the University of Maine at Farmington.
The UMF sophomore from Saco, who wore a Civil War-era hoop skirt, dress and blouse ensemble, watched raptly while company recruits did live-fire demonstrations of 1860s rifles nearby in Abbott Park.
"I just love the Civil War," Henaire said. "I've always loved it. I really like the dresses. I love the hoop skirts. I just love learning about the war and the life. It's so cool. Those guns freaked me out for a minute, but I got it now."
Tom Bassford of Salem, who portrays a corporal, said many people, and especially re-enactors, love the Civil War.
"What's not to like?" Bassford asked. "You've got camping, guns, black powder, killing federal soldiers. What's not to like?"
"It's a dream come true," said Union Army Pvt. Doug Tucker, a UMF custodian, with the 3rd Maine re-enactors.
The re-enactors camped for eight hours at UMF to commemorate the university's sesquicentennial and to help fellow Co. G private and UMF sophomore Nicholas Bucci, who started a Civil War Club there.
They also taught Civil War history while demonstrating the life of a soldier to a small crowd that started appearing during the booming, smoky, black-powder gunfire.
Henaire said she wants to join the club and maybe the 15th Alabama.
"I definitely want to go check it out, because they have women in it, too," she said.
Women who were married to Confederate officers often traveled with them on encampments, said 15th Alabama re-enactor Kylah Coffey of Lowell, Mass.
Her husband, David Laiche, a Louisiana native, was portraying the company's captain, who drilled the group's recruits in marching and firing demonstrations.
Sitting beside Coffey and disappearing under her cloak at times when frightened by the activity, was the couple's dog, an Italian greyhound named Deuce.
"He's not too bad with the musket fire, just everything else," she said. "It's frustrating at times."
Deuce was wearing a sweater to ward off the chilly rain that began falling at 11:30 a.m. Coffey said her husband found pictures of Italian greyhounds from the Civil War era, so Deuce fit right in with the re-enactors.
At encampments this year, Coffey said, the 15th Alabama is re-enacting 150th-anniversary happenings during the war in 1864. They were not commemorating the Battle of Gettysburg's 150th anniversary, which was last year, she said.
Bassford said the 15th Alabama is commemorating the battles of 1864, including the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia, which began on May 5.
"This year, the big battle is Wilderness, but I'm not going," Tucker said.
"Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, New Market, Monacacy — in that order — Cedar Creek," said Bassford while studiously cleaning his 1863 CS Richmond rifle.
So, naturally, during breaks in drilling and shooting, talk among the men shifted from guns to humor while they waited for venison stew that Pvt. Dave Leissner of Carmel was cooking over a smoky campfire in period pots.
"We were doing 'Load in Nine Times,'" Laiche said from beneath the company surgeon's canopy where most of the soldiers waited out the rain.
"There were nine different steps to loading and firing a musket, and so a regular soldier was supposed to have that basically memorized," he said.
"A good man could shoot three rounds in a minute," said Tucker, the only Union re-enactor at the camp. "I couldn't do it."
Bassford said he can shoot two rounds in a minute, but not three.
Bassford, Tucker and fellow re-enactor Pvt. Denny McKeering of Hartland rattled off seven of the nine steps, before memory failed them.
"We do it so much, we don't even think about it," Tucker said. "Isn't that awful. We do it so often but we can't even remember it."
"But that's because we're privates and not officers, because we don't have to know everything, and it's a wonderful thing," McKeering said as all three burst out laughing.
Earlier, after returning to the campfire from a firing demonstration, Leissner said in fake awe, "I had smoke rolling out of my nipple."
"I don't even know how to respond to that," said company surgeon Chris Nulle, laughing.
The “nipple” of a Civil War rifle was a small, threaded tube that connected to the chamber of the gun so that when the hammer struck the percussion cap placed over the nipple, it spat fire into the chamber, firing the round or bullet, Bassford said.
"Without the cap, you couldn't shoot," Tucker said.
Tucker picked on McKeering, calling him a Union spy, before Bassford defended McKeering, saying, "Federal soldiers are 'the other white meat.'"
Come Memorial Day, the 15th Alabama will participate in two parades: in New Gloucester at 9 a.m., and later in Gray. After that, they will go to Gray Village Cemetery to recognize and fire their guns in honor of a young Confederate soldier buried there, Bassford said.