August 29, 2013

Off Beat: Rebels stage robbery on the rails

Civil War re-enactors of the Gray persuasion will surprise Blue troops aboard the narrow gauge train in Portland.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Mike Pratt likes to point out that his career as a train robber has made him famous in far-reaching parts of the world.

click image to enlarge

Re-enactors of the Confederate 15th Alabama regiment will “raid” the train seeking money and supplies.

Courtesy photos

click image to enlarge

Courtesy photos The Maine Rebels based themselves on the fact that Confederates actually staged raids and robberies in the North during the Civil War.

"MAINE REBELS ATTACK"

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday (trains depart on the hour)

WHERE: Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum, 58 Fore St., Portland

HOW MUCH: $10; seniors $9; ages 3 to 12 $6

INFO: Mainenarrowgauge.org

 

 

"I bet my picture is hanging up on some refrigerators in South Korea," says Pratt, 44, of Farmington.

How does he figure this?

Well, Pratt has been pretending to rob trains as part of a group of Civil War re-enactors known as the 15th Alabama regiment for about 12 years. They've staged raids on tourist trains all over Maine, and other parts of the country as well.

They call themselves the Maine Rebels.

And sometimes their train-robbing theatrics just happen to take place on a day the train is loaded with tourists from South Korea, or Japan, or some other place. Dressed in his Confederate uniform, firing a period pistol, and hauling a money box off the train, Pratt makes a pretty good subject for a photo.

On Saturday folks enjoying a train ride for the Labor Day holiday weekend will get a chance to snap Pratt's photo again as he and his mates from the 15th Alabama launch a series of daring "raids" on the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad in Portland -- scheduled to take place hourly between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Passengers on the trains Saturday will get to see the Maine Rebels in all their glory, firing weapons, fighting with Union soldiers and boarding the train.

So it begs explaining here why a group based in Maine dresses up in Confederate gray to re-enact raids on Union trains.

Pratt says the group began maybe 16 years ago as a group of like-minded folks who staged faux robberies at a tourist railroad in central Maine.

It was fun, but they wanted to be a little bit more organized. So they decided to form a re-enactment group based on the fact that Confederate groups did raid trains or banks or ships in the North.

Part of the reason the 15th Alabama was picked was because it fought at Gettysburg, opposite Maine's most famous regiment, the 20th Maine.

So there's a little bit of history there, Pratt said.

And for those who think a Confederate raid in Maine is far-fetched, just look up the raid by Confederates on the Calais National Bank in 1864.

"There were a lot of Confederates in Canada, and they'd try to come over the border to get money or food or supplies," said Pratt.

So when the 15th Alabama lies in wait Saturday for the engines of the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad, that will be the back story. The Confederates stop the train, board it and try to grab the strong box of money. They may encounter some Union resistance outside the train on the shore of Portland Harbor, and there will be gunfire.

Blanks, but good and loud.

"The whole thing lasts about 10 minutes," said Pratt.

Maybe so, but it will give people something to think about. The fact that there were Confederate raiders in Maine or near Maine is something you don't hear a lot about.

"There's a lot of Maine connections to the Civil War people don't know that much about, like the raid on Calais," said Pratt.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

Twitter: RayRouthier

 

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