For the Bray family in Brunswick, American Civil War reenactment is more than just a historical hobby — it’s a family affair. Over the past weekend, the Brays hosted the first encampment training of 2021 at their home for the 3rd Maine reenactment unit, the largest in Maine.
During training, soldiers marched alongside the beat of a drum and adhered to the cutting voice of the unit’s captain, while rehearsing drills and firing muskets, thunderously sending sulfur smelling clouds of smoke through the encampment.
The reenactment group also includes bystanders dressed as civilians from the era, mingling around in clothing now rarely seen outside of black-and-white photographs.
Amidst his layout of switchblades and surgical tools, the units surgeon prepared himself a breakfast over a small, wood-fired stove that was blackened from many years of use.
In an attempt to be as true to a Civil War experience as possible, most of these camp participants only use 1860s technology and lifestyle practices for the weekend.
“It ended up being the single best relationship builder I could have had with my father,” said 3rd Maine Volunteer Infantry Company A Capt. Matthew Bray. “We get to spend at least three or four full weekends together every year guaranteed, no matter what else is going on in our lives.”
Brunswick resident Richard Bray, who is Matthew’s father and the unit’s cook, said that Matthew first joined the Civil War reenactment group at age 14, sparking the family’s interest in the hobby. Now, 22 years later, Matthew’s son, Riley Bray, 10, has also joined in.
In total, the group has around 45 members, over 30 of which were present at this weekend’s training.
“The event that we had this past weekend was called ‘Camp of Instruction’,” said Richard Bray. “We do it annually at the beginning of the campaign season.”
The training session is primarily focused on working with both seasoned members and new recruits, where the unit practices musket safety, historically accurate drill procedures, pitching tents, camp etiquette and at times even the chance to practice some skirmishing.
According to Richard Bray, the group typically meets once a month and will engage in events between May and October.
Events can include anything from parades and grave dedications to multi-day, large scale reenactments in the south that recreate significant Civil War battles, such as the Battle of Peach Orchard in Gettysburg.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those events were canceled last year and are still being worked out for this season, according to Richard Bray, who noted that the largest public events can draw crowds 100,000 people in a weekend.
Of note for this season, according to Richard Bray, is an event planned in Livermore Falls in October where smaller battle scenarios will be played out with other reenactment groups.
Matthew Bray said that while some reenactment groups “are extremely rigid in their policies and protocols,” the 3rd Maine Company is not one of them.
“We want to be as historically accurate as possible while also being as inclusive as possible to bring folks in,” said Matthew Bray. “The more people that participate in understanding our history, the better chance we have to teach it — which is really the ultimate goal of our organization.”
According to the group’s website, the historical 3rd Maine Company that the group portrays first fought against Confederate soldiers on July 21, 1861.
Between 1861 and 1864, the company participated in 25 major civil war battles, including Gettysburg. By June of 1864, when the company left service, a total of 1600 men had served in the unit.
Visit thirdmaine.org for more information.