Michigan band to perform at Lincoln’s ‘funeral’

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

When the rail car bearing the president’s coffin pulls into Springfield, Illinois, the 5th Michigan Regiment Band will be there to salute the fallen leader.

The actual president — Abraham Lincoln — will not, of course, since he died and was buried in his hometown 150 years ago May 4. But in every other respect, organizers in the Lincoln Funeral Coalition hope to re-create the arrival in Springfield, the procession through town and subsequent burial with meticulous accuracy.

Meticulous accuracy is something the 5th Michigan Regiment Band specializes in. Members wear the requisite, scratchy wool uniforms, muster the appropriate color guard with flags, and are backed up by half a dozen stout-hearted women in period costumes so authentic they don’t allow makeup.

“The ladies — the ‘support personnel’ — wear period dress,” says 5th Regiment President Carol Smith. “We’re in seven layers of clothing, and we are very correct. No makeup, and I have to wear gloves to cover up my nail polish.”

The 5th Michigan, an authentic Civil War-era regimental band well-known in the re-enactor community, will be one of 10 musical groups present for the ceremonies May 1-3, which are expected to draw more than 150,000 for the climactic finish to the sesquicentennial commemorations of the Civil War.

The band plays only music written before 1865, most arranged by Smith’s late husband, Guy.

In Springfield, Smith says they’ll play the 1861 arrangement of the “Star-Spangled Banner” which, she notes, “is a little different from what we know. We always tell people, ‘Don’t try to sing it.’”

The other band in the three-day re-enactment will be Springfield’s own 33rd Illinois Regiment Band.

Dawn Henry, who’s in charge of music for the commemorations, says, “The 5th Michigan Regiment Band represented exactly what we were looking for — a group that authentically portrays the citizen-soldier band. Their sincere desire to help the coalition fulfill its vision,” she adds, “(and) sold me on choosing them.”

The band will perform at many high-visibility events — the arrival of the funeral train, at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, at Lincoln’s church and at Oak Ridge Cemetery, where the Great Emancipator was buried.

“It’s a great honor to have been asked,” says Smith, an enthusiastic 79-year-old who will be one of the multi-layered support personnel. “The Battle of Gettysburg re-enactment happens every year, but this is once in a lifetime.”

There are 18 musicians in the band playing one of two instruments, saxhorns or rope-tensioned drums. The former are intriguing-looking, long-valved bugles played over the shoulder so the horns face the troops marching behind.

“They’re like megaphones, going backwards,” says Smith.

The Springfield funeral recreation will be one of about 17 opportunities for the Michigan band to play this season, which runs from April to October.

“We do a lot of re-enactments, school programs, libraries, historical events and senior citizen centers,” Smith says. “The senior citizens love it.”

You can learn about the 5th Michigan, which has cut five professional CDs, and hear snippets of its performances, including “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” at the band’s website, Mi5th.org.

Curious about the Springfield commemorative events? Visit the Lincoln Funeral Coalition’s website at lincolnfuneraltrain.org.