Stephen Pannier stood behind the cannon, watching as the white, thick smoke blew away.
Three others stood around the replica weapon, with one looking away. That man had just pulled the rope, which caused the powder in the cannon to ignite and blow.
Each man surrounding the two cannons on the Monocacy National Battlefield was dressed in military gear, blue or grey cotton jackets, matching hats and pants.
Each, including Pannier, looked as if they stepped out of 1864, specifically July 9, when the Union and Confederate armies met in Frederick to fight in what would be called the Battle of Monocacy. But even as the cannons blasted, cars drove down Md. 355.
And the visitors to the battlefield dressed in modern-day clothing, light colors, short-sleeve shirts and shorts, all in an attempt to keep cool on the sweltering hot day.
After the cannon demonstration, Pannier walked back to the camp set up for the volunteers. It was a hot day, Pannier said. The night before, they camped under a bad storm. Pannier, who lives in Urbana, and his fellow soldiers try to live as the soldiers did in 1864, he said, but Pannier does not treat what he does as reenactment but instead living history.
Pannier’s civil war interested started when he was a child in Massachusetts. A friend came back from a tour of Gettysburg, and Pannier was fascinated by all of the souvenirs his friend brought back.
“Whenever we played soldier, we did Civil War,” Pannier said.
Growing up in Massachusetts, one would expect him to be a Revolutionary War buff, he said, but he only has eyes for the Civil War. He does not know why.
He wanted to become a park ranger, but the job required him to learn about history outside of the Civil War. Instead, he works for the government and volunteers. He used to do reenactments, but now he chooses to do living history instead. He likes to teach the visitors about the life of a soldier.
And Pannier knows all sorts of information about what it was like to be a soldier in the Civil War, beyond just Monocacy. One of his favorite living history experiences was the 150th anniversary of the destruction of Harper’s Ferry. He studied the correspondence and diaries from soldiers there and was able to replicate a timeline that he and his group followed.
On Sunday, Pannier dressed in Union colors. He has one ancestor, through adoption, that was in the Civil War, he said, but his choice to play a Union soldier ties somewhat back to being from the northern part of the country.
When he first started, he joined a Confederate group, back when he was mostly doing reenactments. That’s where he learned to shoot cannons and rifles he now uses to demonstrate how Civil War soldiers were taught to fire weapons.
“Re-enactors are just people,” he said. “You’re going to run into good people, and you’re going to run into bad people.”
He tries to keep modern-day politics away from living history. Instead, he tries to approach it as a soldier might. No matter what side they were on, the soldiers thought they were fighting for family, home and God, he said.
“I’m here to talk about the the troops and men and what they did,” Pannier said. “I’m not getting into the modern stuff.”
Even after the war ended, the soldiers in the troops put the war behind them, Pannier said. There are pictures from reunions of soldiers on both sides shaking hands. It was the in-fighting between members of the command staff that led to some of the disgruntled claims of why the south lost.
That’s just one set of facts that Pannier shares. His love of the Civil War is obvious, and he can run visitors through complicated drills. Artillery and infantry drills come from reprints of Civil War manuals. Some adjustments were made due to state guidelines or National Park Service for safety reasons, he said. Many of the original tactics came from the French.
“Kind of surprising but true,” Pannier said.
Pannier spent many hours reading the reprints in order to learn.
“It’s kind of like if you want to be a good historian, you have to understand everything,” he said.
The 155th anniversary of the Battle of Monocacy commemoration weekend lasted Saturday and Sunday. By early Sunday afternoon, many of the volunteers out of state packed up their 1864 tents and headed out of the parks in their modern cars.
Pannier is local, so he finished out the rest of the day. There was another drill to demonstrate before he could head home.
“I do it for three reasons,” he said. “It’s the commemoration, education and preservation.”