Soldier’s Heart Discussions in Pittsfield

Jeff Sychterz, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Maine Augusta (Bangor campus), facilitated two energetic Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War discussions in Pittsfield this month.

Community members, high schoolers at Maine Central Institute, and Warsaw Middle School students read Soldier’s Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers by Gary Paulsen. A core group of participants attended both discussions which led to some lively exchanges.

Pittsfield 4.2.15Soldier’s Heart is a short (128 pages), but powerful young adult book that raises a multitude of questions. The first week Jeff started the discussion by saying that what struck him “was that he (Charley) went to war with no idea of why he went to war.” A woman shared that what struck her was “the horror of war, the realism in his thoughts, and that Charley was not mature enough to understand.”

A retired U.S. Marine jumped right into the heart of the matter when he said that Charley was “a case of PTSD waiting to happen!”  This led to a discussion on training, leadership, and family support systems from the Civil War to the present day and how all of these factor into the soldier’s experience.

High school students talked about how Charley “wanted to be accepted as a man like we want to be seen as adults” and that “he doesn’t know anything about war, like we talk about war but we know nothing about war.”

Pittsfield soldiersHeart (2)Veterans then shared why they enlisted: “I believed in the country. I saw it as a responsibility.” Participants discussed duty and responsibility, terms that we still associate with manhood; a woman suggested that duty is what kept Charley with his unit even when his mother wanted him to come home. A young Civil War re-enactor added that “you follow your brothers; you’d be a coward to run.”

The second discussion picked up where the first one left off with returning and new participants. The issues of why Charley fought and whether the war turn him into a man continued to create spirited discussion. In the book Charley said that the only thing the south understood was steel. Someone commented that similar comments are made today about our enemies.

Participants debated whether wars are fought for economic reasons, or for ideals like freedom? A teacher said that her students were more upset over the killing of horses than the killing of people. Another woman responded that it might be because the soldiers depersonalized the men that they were killing, but a horse doesn’t fit into this scenario so it is harder to be emotionless.

Pittsfield 4.15.15In both sessions Jeff asked, “Is there something that novels teach us that we can’t get from history?” Although participants did not directly answer his question the fact that people came back a second time to discuss the book and continued their conversations in the parking lot says something about the value of novels to extend our understanding. Through discussing Charley and his experiences participants were able to explore their thoughts about war and their response to it.

Join members of the “Local & Legendary: Pittsfield in the Civil War” team at the First Universalist Church on Sunday, May 3, at 2PM for their final celebration: “Reflections of the Civil War,” with the award-winning a cappella group Chameleon and a dramatic presentation by MCI students of the short play, A Civil War Veteran Returns, written by David Greenham. Refreshments will be offered following the formal presentation. The event is free and open to the public.

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Local & Legendary Book Discussions in Livermore

Over the course of four weeks students in the “Our Hands on History” class at Spruce Mountain High School have participated in five book discussions. They began with two community wide book discussions at the Washburn-Norlands Living History Center and finished by facilitating three discussions for seventh grade students in teacher Janet Ventrella’s class at Spruce Mountain Middle School. In all cases great conversation ensued.

LivermoreNorlands

The “Hands-on History” class at the Norlands.

Community members, local historians, retired teachers, the high school principal and the Superintendent of RSU 10 came together to discuss For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War by James McPherson with the students. McPherson’s book is a scholarly compilation and analysis of letters written by Civil War soldiers.

Bowdoin Professor Patrick Rael challenged participants to think about how historians work and how to evaluate a book written by an historian. Participants came up with three reasons why they found the authors work credible:

  1. He lets us draw our own conclusions,
  2. We don’t see him taking sides, and
  3. In the preface he goes to great lengths to explain his research methodology.

When asked why McPherson wrote his book, one veteran said, “I sense that he wants to get to the bottom line – what goes on in soldier’s minds.” A girl posited that based on letters in the book, at the beginning boys and men went for the adventure and to prove their manliness but after they’d “seen the elephant” their reasons changed. This led a boy to say that the book tries to demonstrate the difference between why you go to war and what sustains you once you are there.

The book raised many questions from participants. One man commented that although McPherson gives voice to many men, there were many men who were illiterate so we don’t have their stories: did these men have different reasons for fighting? Participants frequently referenced the book and their notes to support their thoughts on why men fought.

Two weeks later University of Southern Maine Associate Professor Libby Bischof led a group of students and their teachers in a discussion of This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust. Libby led participants through a thoughtful discussion of this “game changer of a book which allowed people to see how modern the Civil War was and how it changed practices and perceptions.”

Libby discussion

Libby Bischof’s discussion group.

Participants discussed not just the massive amount of death attributed to the war, but also how dying on this scale changed the rituals of death into a business. Prior to the Civil War 90% of people died a “good death” at home attended by their loved ones. One student brought up the horror of the mass burials of soldiers on the fields where they fell and how townspeople were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of dead. Other students discussed how nurses and fellow soldiers sent letters home to the next of kin of dead soldiers in an attempt to bring closure to their families and to make sense of the dying. Students engaged in a lively conversation about mourning practices and burial rituals from 1860 to the present.

After successfully participating in three book discussions as part of their studies, seven high school students switched things up and became the discussion facilitators. Prior to leading discussions of the Newbery Honor book, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, students read and discussed the book in class, talked about how to facilitate a book discussion, and developed questions to guide the conversation with three classes of seventh grade students.

7th gr discussion

The discussion group with the 7th graders.

Students talked about Homer and his predilection to lie, the influence of other characters on Homer, and what Homer’s motives were. They related all of this to the Civil War and their lives in the 2010s. One boy liked the book because it was “an accurate representation of what the Civil War was like.” A seventh grade girl said she liked the book because, “It made me think about the past and want to know more.”

Students discussed motivating factors of the war including: “Both sides wanted to protect their cultures.” They were reminded by one of the facilitators that “there’s definitely more than one reason why everyone was fighting.” Each class of students walked away from the discussion with something new to add to their understanding of the Civil War thanks to the extremely well prepared facilitators.

On Monday May 18, at 7:00PM, there will be an unveiling of the Maine Memory Network exhibit, “The Washburns of Livermore,” at Norlands, followed by a student-written and performed dramatization of the family’s story. All are welcome!

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Busy Local & Legendary Activity in Rumford

The old saying “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” did not apply to this year weather-wise, nor did it apply to the Rumford Local & Legendary team. The beginning of the month was devoted to quiet, steadfast work that exploded into activity as the month went on.

In mid-March, the second group of Mountain Valley Middle School students, along with three veterans who work for the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, participated in discussions of Gary Paulsen’s Soldier’s Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers.

Culmination Day 2.1After some pizza and mingling, students, teachers, and veterans broke into small groups to discuss the book. Students wanted to know how Charley’s experience in the Civil War compared to that of the Veterans of more recent wars. The consensus was that living conditions haven’t changed much, but combat has; back then you were face-to-face with the enemy, now your enemy is more hidden from you.

CulminationDay2All three men touched on the subjects of PTSD, and how war can change you. As one veteran said, “When you see something, it’s like taking a picture, but it never leaves. I was angry but I found the focus I needed; it’s what allows you to get past PTSD.” A special thank you to Sheriff Wayne Gallant for encouraging his men to read and discuss the book while sharing their experiences with the students.

For more photos of the event, visit the RSU #10, Maine Memory Network Western Foothills project page.

On March 24, the Rumford Area Historical Society hosted a well attended book discussion of Uncertain Glory by Maine author Lea Wait. Facilitator Elizabeth Cooke led historical society members, including veterans from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, in a wide-ranging discussion.

Uncertain GloryConversation centered on how the community responded when war broke out. In the book Mr. Bascomb, a free black man, is turned away when he tries to enlist. A team member reminded us that a Federal law dating from 1792 barred Negroes from bearing arms for the U.S. army (although they had served in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812).

Veterans talked about being drafted, enlisting, the decision process of declaring as a conscientious objector, and why they fought. They talked about a sense of obligation, personal heritage and love of country–all reasons discussed in the book as well.

The book is set in Wiscasset as war is breaking out so there was much to discuss about life on the homefront, including shopkeepers stocking up on supplies, the Spiritualism movement, and State’s Rights. When the official discussion was over small groups of individuals continued the conversation over snacks. See more photos of the event.

Two nights later, on March 26, facilitator and Vietnam veteran Doug Rawlings joined the “Fourth Thursday Poetry Program” members and guests at the Rumford Public Library for a discussion of four Civil War era poems: “All Quiet Along the Potomac,” by Ethel Lynn Beers; “Little Giffen,” by Francis Orrery Ticknor; “The Hesitating Veteran,” by Ambrose Bierce; and “Driving Home the Cows,” by Kate Putnam Osgood.

Poetry DiscussionDoug and library director Luke Sorensen picked the poems for their diversity of setting and representation of the war. Doug read each poem aloud before beginning the discussion because poetry is meant to be heard.

The group discussed rhythm, rhyme, and whether a poem “worked” for them along with the time period and war. One group member disputed a review of “All Quiet Along the Potomac” as a sentimental poem. “The language is dated,” she said, “but we can get beyond it. It could be about any war, which is what makes it a good–maybe great–poem.” One hour to discuss four rich and substantive poems was a tight fit for this thoughtful and engaging group, but they did it. See more photos.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 10.51.26 AMFinally, the Rumford team closed out the month on a high note as their Maine Memory Network exhibit went live. Check out Rumford’s Notable Citizens in the Civil War!

Thanks to Janet Lyons, Consulting Project Coordinator for Maine Humanities Council, for writing this post, and Nick Waugh for his photographs.

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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.

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

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.

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: 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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