Soldier for a Day
Civil War Re-enactors Gather in Claremont for Living History Weekend
Re-enactors from the 5th Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers ready themselves at Monadnock Park for a military march to the Civil War Monument in Broad Street Park in Claremont on Saturday. (Valley News - LIbby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Re-enactors from the 5th Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers fire their muskets in Monadnock Park in Claremont. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Re-enactors from the 5th Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers listen to Mike Mantini of Dunbarton, N.H., who acts as a company commander, direct them in how to properly march at Monadnock Park in Claremont on Saturday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Steve Wood, of Claremont, dressed as President Abraham Lincoln, waits to read the Gettysburg Address during a wreath-laying ceremony at Broad Street Park in Claremont. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Claremont — The men in blue frocks leaned away from the cannon, covered their ears and waited for the blast.
A second or so later, the sergeant shouted fire. A boom reverberated across the field, and a cloud of smoke rose through Monadnock Park.
As the haze cleared, the sergeant praised his company, The Vermont Civil War Hemlocks. “Nice job, men. That was a good blast.”
The soldiers began cleaning the barrel again while 40 onlookers clutched their cameras, dazed. “I almost fell over,” one said.
As part of Civil War Living History Weekend, re-enactors from across the Upper Valley gathered Saturday to set up an encampment and demonstrate the average life of a union soldier to residents and enthusiasts. The event coincides with a number of 150th battle anniversaries, such as Gettysburg, and is part of the Claremont Historical Society’s program series that commemorates the Civil War.
Campgrounds and medical tents sprawled across the grass. And in the front of the field, Saul Goode, the army’s sutler, set up shop.
“Come into the shade,” Goode called from the his counter. Behind him, bottles of gin rested on a shelf and books and boxes were crammed into cubbies. Red socks hung from the rafter, as did rusted pots and cooking supplies.
“How do you do?” Goode asked visitors. “I’m a captain of commerce, a titan of trade. Those things Uncle Sam cannot provide, I offer at a modest price.”
Goode’s real name is John Peterson, and his real profession is teaching history to students at Rutland High School.
He said he first got involved in Civil War re-enactments during the bicentennial celebration of the ‘70s. “There was a surge of national interest in history,” he said.
During re-enactments, he wears a striped suit and a straw hat and plays the role of a sutler, a supplier who would follow the army and sell food near the encampment. On Saturday, he brought the enthusiasm of a thespian to his character.
When people walked into his tent, Goode motioned with a smile to the trays of gingersnaps and pie, jars of sweaty pickles and bed of fresh oysters that were laid out in front of him.
“I have a nose for profit,” Goode told Aidan Proctor, a teenager who traveled from Newbury, Mass., with his dad to see the encampment. “Soldiers may say they don’t like my prices, but I tell them they can take their money elsewhere!”
Goode began to explain how credit worked on a soldier’s camp, turning around mid-sentence to grab a blue captain’s hat from the shelf.
“Now, I’m going to pretend for a minute that I’m a captain,” he said as he changed hats. “You’d come up to the captain and say, ‘Captain, I’d like some credit.’ ”
But, Goode said, the captain is strict. He’s not going to let a soldier buy cigarettes or beer or pictures of French dancing girls.
“So you’d say, ‘Captain, I miss my mother so. I’d like to write a letter to her back home,” Goode said. “And what do you think the captain would say?’ ”
Yes, Aidan Proctor said.
“Right you are,” Goode replied.
He grabbed his fountain pen, dipped it into a reddish ink well with a stain near the cork and began writing a note.
“Pvt. Proctor, that’s good for $1 at my tent,” Goode said. “Now, private, I’m going to give you some advice. The ‘feds’ are going to be shooting at you.
“So keep your head low,” he continued, waggling his finger, “Stay alive. I want you to come back and spend more money.”
Across the field, 12-year-old Harrison Mercier took a video of the 5th Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers lining up and shooting blank rounds.
Mercier said he’s from Oakland, Calif. He’s visiting his grandfather, who lives in Claremont, and wanted to see what the event had to offer.
“It’s pretty cool,” Mercier said. “I just saw a cannon go off, too.”
The 5th regiment formed two lines, five men in the front, four in the back.
Mike Mantini, the regiment’s 1st Lt., calmly gave the orders, with a sword dangling at his side. “Company, ready.”
Mantini’s eyes were firm. Drums rattled behind him. The men straightened up and turned to their right. “Aim,” Mantini said.
They raised their muskets. The men in the back steadied their sights, their musket noses hovering near the ears of the front-line soldiers.
“Fire,” Mantini ordered.
White powder shot out from the barrels. The muskets recoiled. A white ball of smoke formed on the treeline before fading away.
Later in the afternoon, Mantini’s regiment would march out to the green near town hall and honor Claremont’s unions.
Although the Civil War is 150 years removed from contemporary history, Mantini said it’s one of the most fascinating struggles in American history.
The war melded old Napoleonic-like war tactics and maneuvers, like entrenchment, that would be further developed in World War I, Mantini said, and participating in demonstrations and re-enactments allows him to feel closer to that era of time.
“When you read something in a book, it’s not the same as putting on a pack, or a wool uniform. You can appreciate a lot more of the effort,” he said. “It’s a different understanding of history.”
Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.