The Civil War Comes to Pittsfield

Brandon Howe Carman Kirkpatrick

Brandon Howe and Carman Kirkpatrick. Credit: Mark Schumpert

Pittsfield kicked off their Local & Legendary: Pittsfield in the Civil War program with back to back programs on March 12.

A substantial number of community members and Maine Central Institute students turned out for a book discussion at the Pittsfield Public Library and an evening talk at the First Universalist Church of Pittsfield; both programs highlighted local history.

Brandon Howe and Carman Kirkpatrick of Pittsfield, Civil War re-enactors from Company B of the 20th Maine, attended in uniform adding an air of authenticity to these well organized events.

In the afternoon, former Bangor Daily News correspondent and Maine Army National Guard Officer Robert L. Haskell led a discussion of his book Yankee Warrior: The Story of a Civil War Hero from Maine. Haskell started out by saying that upon reading his book (25 years after it was published) to prepare for this discussion he was pleased to discover that he still likes his book despite wanting to make some changes.

Haskell Talk

Robert Haskell speaks to a crowd of several dozen at the Pittsfield Public Library.

The book is a novel based on real events in the life of Captain Walter G. Morrill of Company B, 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment who received the Medal of Honor for his leadership at Rappahannock Station, VA on November 7, 1863. Morrill lived in Pittsfield until his death in 1935. Prior to taking questions Haskell commented that due to modern technology “people know more about Walter Morrill today than I did when I wrote the book.”

Librarian Holly Williams, wanted to know how Haskell “knew about his personality?” Haskell explained that he extrapolated  from what he knew of Morrill as a soldier who rose through the ranks from Sergeant to Captain and said that interestingly, there is more information about Captain Morrill as promoter of harness racing than as a soldier. Participants had much to share and discuss about Morrill as a soldier, family man and a harness racing promoter.

Tom Desjardin

Tom Desjardin speaks at the First Universalist Church. Credit: Mark Schumpert

Historian and author Dr. Tom Desjardin, a Pittsfield resident, Acting Commissioner of Education for the State of Maine, and consultant to the Local & Legendary project, was the speaker at the March Mid-Maine Community Forum. The First Universalist Church of Pittsfield hosted an enthusiastic crowd for his presentation “Mainers and the Civil War.”

Dr. Desjardin’s presentation touched on why men from Maine fought in the Civil War, life in 1860s Maine, the economy, and the impact of the war on Maine. His presentation was peppered with information on prominent Mainers, including Pittsfield’s own Captain Walter Morrill. Participants were intrigued to hear of three occasions when the Civil War came to Maine: the Battle of Peltoma Point, the Battle of Portland Harbor, and the attempted robbery of the Calais Bank in 1864.

After the presentation audience members enjoyed refreshments along with the opportunity to talk with Dr. Desjardin and each other about the Civil War and local history.

For upcoming events follow Pittsfield’s Local & Legendary Facebook page!

Thanks to Janet Lyons, Consulting Project Coordinator for Maine Humanities Council, for writing this post.

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One Book, One Community–a Weekend in Scarborough

The first weekend in March was sunny, with a taste of spring; at the Scarborough Public Library it was also all things Civil War. An author talk, three book discussions, and several fascinating speakers drew community members of all ages to the day and a half of “One Book, One Community” events.

J FlahiveJean Flahive, author of Billy Boy: The Sunday Soldier of the 17th Maine kicked the event off with a talk about how her husband introduced her to the story of Billy Laird of Berwick and how through research she crafted her historical novel to tell his story.

She explained that the “Sunday soldier” in the book title referenced Civil War slang used to describe an unsuitable soldier. Audience members asked many questions about Civil War research and creating a story based on local lore.

Adam Tuchinsky BB DiscussionParticipants than had the opportunity to attend the first of two book discussion of Billy Boy with Adam Tuchinsky, Associate Professor of History and  Associate Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the University of Southern Maine. Ms Flahive joined participants in discussing the story and the lure of history.

Like many book discussions on Civil War era books, participants spoke about fictional characters and historical figures with the passion one normally reserves for discussing close friends and family. As one participant in the morning discussion said, “Billy Boy draws people into the experience of history.” In the afternoon Ms Flahive reviewed the history of the book which led to a discussion of society in the 1860s and today.

University of Southern Maine Associate Professor of History and Department Chair Libby Bischof facilitated a lively discussion of Picture the Dead with middle school students as their parents observed. Teacher Jessica Kelly chose the book because it demonstrated the role that primary sources play in writing a fiction book and it showed how events impacted life on the battlefield and on the homefront.

Libby studentsLibby guided the students through a wide ranging discussion of characters, photography then and now, life and sentiment in the Victorian era, spiritualism, and the twin connection.

When asked what they remembered from the book student answers ranged from, “I liked the pictures in the scrapbook, they were clues to what will happen” to “It was 35% history, 45% ghost story and the rest was mystery.” A girl commented that her favorite character was Quinn even though he was evil, dark, and weird. This led to a discussion of how the photographs in the book functioned as a character.

Mark Matteau What They CarriedMatteau artifactsThroughout the day library participants could view “What They Carried” a collection of impeccable reproductions of items that Civil War soldiers carried in their packs, including government issued supplies, weapons, and personal items. Mark Matteau, a Civil War re-enactor and historian, provided participants a hands-on look at, and explanation of, the items in his collection.

Karen Sherry Winslow Homer 2Saturday finished with a fascinating slide presentation by Karen Sherry, Curator of American Art and Director of Collections, Portland Museum of Art. Karen discussed how Winslow Homer’s iconic images in Harper’s Weekly helped to shape perceptions of the Civil War.

Several dozen hardy souls returned on Sunday afternoon for presentations on “The 2nd Maine Cavalry: Horse Soldiers of the Civil War” and “Soldier’s Heart: The Hidden Wounds of the Civil War.”

Civil War historian and preservationist Steve Bunker told stories of the interesting assortment of Maine horse soldiers and their distinguished record during the war. Audience members had the opportunity to view his impressive collection of firearms and swords used in the Civil War.

Steve Bunker CW CavalryHalfway through the presentation, Steve gave the audience a little “wake up” call (not that we needed it…he was fascinating) when he actually fired one of the rifles. No bullet–just a cap! But the sound, flash, and residual smell of sulfur made it feel very real.

The term “Soldier’s Heart” was used to describe the psychological change found in returning Civil War veterans. Steve Bentley, author and advocate for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), showed a video on PTSD that he produced in the early 2000s. The images in the video–from Vietnam, and the two World Wars–brought home the horrors of what soldiers have faced during wartime.

Many things have changed since the Civil War but the emotional challenges veterans encounter when they return home to civilian life remain. Steve reminded us that Togus in Augusta, was the first “veteran’s home” to open in 1866 after President Lincoln signed an act creating the National Asylum (later changed to Home) for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in 1865.

Kudos to Celeste Shinay, Manager of Programming and Development at Scarborough Public Library, and her colleagues for creating a well organized, dynamic weekend of “Local & Legendary: Scarborough in the Civil War” events!

Thanks to Janet Lyons, Consulting Project Coordinator for Maine Humanities Council, for writing this post.

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Local & Legendary: Bethel and Ambrose Bierce

Starting in January, book lovers in Bethel braved the winter weather to meet monthly at the Bethel Library with facilitator Doug Rawlings to discuss Ambrose Bierce’s Civil War Stories, the town’s community read selection as part of the Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War program. Succeeding discussions took place in February and March and focused not only on the Civil War, but all succeeding wars.

Bethel participants

The March discussion in Bethel of Ambrose Bierce’s “Civil War Stories.”

A woman who came to the first discussion having only read “What I Saw of Shiloh” was inspired to continue reading as a result of the discussion. She returned for the March discussion and said that, “While I did not like ‘Shiloh,’ the second story grabbed me for the sense of story.” Bierce’s realistic style of writing, using sound and smell to immerse the reader in the story, hooked several people who had not previously read the author.

Bierce enlisted in the Union Army’s 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment in 1861 at the age of 19. He was a topographical engineer, and fought at Shiloh and numerous other battles before being discharged in 1865.

Bethel Potholder Quilt

At the March discussion, a Civil War-era “potholder” quilt made by a library trustee hung on display.

Bierce’s stories are timeless. As one participant said, it could be because Bierce reminds us that war is hell.

Other participants were struck by how well Bierce showed families separated by the war– who respected each other and yet fought and killed each other.

One participant who does not typically enjoy Civil War literature liked the book because “Bierce is an antidote to all the troop movement stories.”

For the final discussion in March, the library unveiled a replica Civil War potholder quilt made by Cathy Newell, a library trustee. Tom Davis of the Bethel Library Association, and his wife, Ann, provided home baked Civil War era snacks for the entire series.

Thanks to Janet Lyons, Consulting Project Coordinator for Maine Humanities Council, for writing this post.

Posted in Grants, Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War, Maine Community Heritage Project, Maine Humanities Council, Maine Memory Network | Tagged | Leave a comment

Local & Legendary Activities Ramp Up in Scarborough

Sunday afternoon, January 24, was the kick-off for Scarborough’s Civil War-era Sunday film series. Bowdoin College Professor Patrick Rael presented “The Civil War in Film” to an appreciative audience of about 25 at the Scarborough Public Library.

Rael showed clips from and discussed how these films shape our view of history: Gone With the Wind, Birth of a Nation, Gettysburg, Glory, Sommersby, and Django Unchained. He talked about how the early films focused on the lost cause mythology, honor, and how the war changed civilization as it was in the South, and how more recent films focused on combat and male endeavors moved life on the homefront to the side.

PRael_20150125

After watching a clip from Gone With the Wind one gentleman remarked, “The South was not just Rhett and brandy, but human beings forced to work 18 hour days. This movie is just about the aristocracy.”

This led to a discussion on how inaccurately slaves were portrayed in films, a concept expanded during the discussion of Glory. In Glory, the African American soldiers are portrayed as former slaves when in reality most were educated freemen. Birth of a Nation caused one man to ask whether movie-goers at the time of its release took the film for humor. Rael explained how D. W. Griffith’s intent was to portray (create?) history.

For two hours participants were immersed in thinking about films from a new perspective and many said that they would be back in February for screenings of Gone With the Wind, Glory, and Lincoln.

The next day, thanks to the wonders of technology and the persistence of Louise Capizzo, Scarborough Youth Services Librarian, 20 sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students in the Gifted and Talented Education program at Scarborough Middle School had the opportunity to Skype with author Adele Griffin.

SkypeAdeleAuthor Questions_201501Griffin and co-author Lisa Brown wrote and illustrated “Picture the Dead” which the students read as part of their Civil War studies. Students came prepared with no fewer than 47 questions about the plot, primary sources, and the author’s purpose to ask Ms Griffin.

Griffin talked about the research that went into the book. For example, a fact-checking mission with Brookline Historical Society led the authors to alter a part of the plot where they intended to have a character drown in a particular, real-life, pond. The historical society informed them such a tragedy would be difficult in what was really little more than a bog.

When asked by Griffin what they had learned in their studies of Scarborough in the Civil War, the students commented on what the soldiers carried and how meaningful it was to handle artifacts.

One girl said that hardtack actually felt and sounded like a rock when tapped on a table. Another student was intrigued by the number of pleasure items (tobacco, playing cards, coffee, mini-bibles) the soldiers carried in their heavy bags.

Griffin cheerfully answered all the questions and concluded her interview by singing “The Old Tobacco Box,” a Civil War song that her grandfather taught her.

Stay tuned for much more activity in Scarborough with their One Book, One Community events on March 7 & 8. Follow the library’s Facebook page for all the details!

Many thanks to Janet Lyons, Maine Humanities Council’s Consulting Project Coordinator, for writing this post.

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Midway Through Local & Legendary, Cohort 2

“Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.” – Booker T. Washington

On the surface, January is a quiet month for our Local & Legendary teams, but the reality is that they are hard at work organizing events and working on their Maine Memory Network exhibits. The dedicated volunteers in Bethel, Jay/Livermore Falls, Pittsfield, the Rumford area, and Scarborough are fine examples of Mr. Washington’s quote; they work hard to bring well organized interesting programming to their communities. To quote a Bethel team member, “the project is on track because the committee has a lot of enthusiasm. They take responsibility and do what needs to be done.”

The first week in January, representatives of all teams met with Meghan Vigeant of LegacyPreserves.com to reflect on their progress to date. The Pittsfield team nicely summarized lessons that all teams mentioned.

  1. Learn how other organizations work
  2. Value clear communications
  3. Manage expectations
  4. Evaluate skill sets among team members.

All teams commented on the students involved in the project and their enthusiasm, such as this comment: “Student days are my favorite days. It is great to see students and people get excited about Norlands.”

Rumford teacher shares a Civil War artifact with two of his students working on the Local & Legendary project.

Rumford area teacher Craig Milledge shares a Civil War artifact with two of his Local & Legendary students.

On the Rumford area team, a teacher has been happily surprised by the impact this project has made on his students. He feels that it can often be difficult for teachers to think outside the box and take on new projects. His experience with the Local & Legendary project has really altered his thinking. He has even noticed his students have better attendance on the days his class concentrates on local Civil War history. In Scarborough middle school students were excited to touch and handle Civil War artifacts and the librarian was impressed by how the students absorb what is presented to them. “They have an incredible way of making connections to their world that adults don’t make. They can connect the Civil War to today; it fascinates me. They get it and take it and go beyond.”

On January 7, Bethel had its first community book discussion of Civil War Stories by Ambrose Bierce. A small, but enthusiastic group of readers braved the wind and sub-zero weather to meet with facilitator Doug Rawlings at the Bethel Library. The discussion explored questions such as, “How much is real and how much is made up in the stories?” One woman came despite electing not to finish the book because it was too dark and gory; a man commented on how Bierce keeps you off balance and how that can lead you to not trust the writer. Another participant commented that Bierce was a very dark and egotistical person which led to a conversation about Bierce versus Stephen Crane and how much the author’s personality should influence us when deciding to read his books. The question  left hanging, to be considered at the next discussion was, “Is Bierce being true to the war experience?” Books are available at the Bethel Public Library and readers are encouraged to join the next discussion on February 4.

Thanks to Janet Lyons, Consulting Project Coordinator for Maine Humanties Council, for writing this post.

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Last Local & Legendary Events of 2014

As the year wound down, three Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War teams hosted major events related to their projects.

IMG_9782On November 19 at the Rumford Public Library, about 60 Mountain Valley Middle School students gathered for the first culminating celebration (and pizza lunch!) of the district’s 2014-2015 Quest program.

As part of this semester-long program, which offers an alternative curriculum every Wednesday, students read the Gary Paulsen novel A Soldier’s Heart and created projects based on Civil War battles.

IMG_9810At the celebration, students broke into discussion groups with local community veterans of the Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars, who had also read the Paulsen book. It was an extremely moving experience to hear the conversations. The students were well prepared with a variety of questions, including some tough ones for the veterans: Were you scared? Did you get bombed? Did you ever have to kill someone? For their part, the veterans–including the county sheriff and local members of the police force–took each question seriously and answered them honestly. It was a memorable afternoon for all involved. The program will take place two more times at the end of the next two trimesters.

To track the Rumford team’s Local & Legendary activities, “like” their Facebook page.

SHSArtifactsOn November 20, Gifted and Talented teacher Jessica Kelly’s 20 students from Scarborough Middle School took a field trip to Scarborough Historical Society as the next step in their involvement in Local & Legendary.

Four members of the historical society facilitated the 90-minute visit. In addition to learning about how the society members have been researching Scarborough’s role in the war, students broke into groups to view and talk about photographs, letters, and objects in the society’s Civil War collection.

StudentsArtifactsStudentsTintypesThey also were able to handle reproduction artifacts loaned by a local re-enactor. The Civil War soldier’s infantry kit fascinated the students, particularly items like the overly large toothbrush, which led one student to announce, “No wonder their teeth weren’t very good!”

Finally, they learned about and viewed a number of tintypes as a segue to receiving copies of their community read book, Picture the Dead, by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown. The book makes heavy use of faux Civil War-era primary sources–including photographs, letters, and newspaper clippings–in a scrapbook format. Jessica asked the students to keep track as they read of how the primary sources are used to tell the story, as well as the Civil War’s impact on the homefront.

Tom-Desjardins-1024x768On December 4, the Bethel team held the public kick-off for their project with the annual Howe Lecture, named after retired Bethel Historical Society director Stan Howe. About 200 community members and students attended the event.

Delivering the talk at Gould Academy was one of Maine’s foremost Civil War experts, and consultant to the Local & Legendary program, Tom Desjardins. Tom focused on Maine’s contribution to the war effort and the effects of the war on Maine. Gould history students who attended the talk were overheard later enthusiastically retelling some of the stories Tom shared.

Bookmark frontTo round out the event, Civil War era music played during and after the talk, and library trustee Tom Davis and his wife, Ann, shared a variety of Civil War desserts and foods they had made including johnnycake, apple cider cake, and even authentic hardtack.

Attendees also took home a bookmark announcing the 2015 community read activities, which will take place January-May. For a full list of those events, check out the team’s team’s Facebook page.

The two remaining teams in the 2014-2015 cohort, Jay/Livermore and Pittsfield, are busy planning their events to take place after the first of the year. Stay tuned for more details as the calendar turns to 2015!

 

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Local & Legendary Communities Choose Their Books

If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten. - Rudyard Kipling

One component of the Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War grant is that communities come together to discuss books that are relevant to the Civil War. The intent is to get people talking about big ideas and making connections.

4books

Books for these discussions are chosen for their ability to raise questions and lead to discussion about motivation, transformation, and legacy. Why did Mainers care about and fight in the Civil War? What did the Civil War change at home and in the wider world? Why does the Civil War still matter today? What would I have done?

So often our conversations about the Civil War revolve around battles and slavery but don’t challenge us to think about how our lives were changed by events 150 years ago, and why states’ rights and race are still divisive issues today.

In order to delve deeper into the Civil War and create lively discussions, our teams reviewed books to find titles that will reach a wide variety of readers in their communities.

All five teams have chosen books to discuss primarily throughout February and March; some have even started to get them into the hands of local readers through libraries and schools.

Most of the book discussions will be facilitated by a local scholar, and discussion dates and locations will be published locally and on the Maine Humanities Council website. If you are looking for an interesting Civil War read consider one of these titles, and join in on a discussion near you!

  • Readers in the Western Foothills region will travel to 1861 Wiscasset, Maine, as they read and discuss the young adult book Uncertain Glory by Maine author Lea Waite. If you are a mystery lover in the Rumford area consider also joining “The Mystery Readers Group” at the Rumford Public Library to read and discuss Faded Coat of Blue by Ralph Peters.
  • Students at Gould Academy and residents of Bethel will be going back in time as they read and discuss short stories written by Ambrose Bierce, the only major author to have been a front-line soldier in the Civil War. His Civil War Stories is intriguing and full of the unexpected.
  • In March, community members in Scarborough will come together for a weekend of all things Civil War and will discuss two young adult books. Picture the Dead by Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown, a historical fiction and mystery book, will be read by middle school students and adults. Billy Boy: The Sunday Soldier of the Seventeenth Maine by local author Jean Flahive follows a young man from Berwick, Maine, to the battlefield and back home again. This book is inspired by an actual event and a real Maine person, Billy Laird.
Norlands discussion

The first discussion held by the Jay/Livermore team, held at Washburn-Norlands Living History Center.

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