by Janet Lyons, Local & Legendary project consultant, Maine Humanities Council
On Wednesday, March 6, about two-dozen people gathered at the Walker Memorial Library in Westbrook for a screening and discussion of the 30-minute Maine Public Broadcasting Network (MPBN) documentary, Sixteenth Maine at Gettysburg.
This documentary, directed and produced by Dan Lambert, documents what happened on July, 1, 1863, when Union commanders realized they needed to retreat to Cemetery Ridge if they had any hope of winning. Gen. John C. Robinson ordered the 16th Maine to position itself as a rear guard to slow the Confederate advance. Of the 275 men from the Sixteenth Maine who fought the first day at Gettysburg, 11 were killed, 59 were wounded, and 164 were taken prisoner.
Lambert answered questions from the audience of Civil War enthusiasts. Lin Brown, from Friends of Evergreen, encouraged the audience to visit Evergreen Cemetery in Portland where some of these men are buried.
Nine students who attend the afterschool program at My Place Teen Center in Westbrook gathered at Walker Memorial Library on Wednesday, March 12, for pizza and a lively discussion of the book, The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg.
The discussion started with a girl loudly exclaiming, “I don’t like history and I did not like the book.” USM Professor Adam Tuchinsky took this in stride and told the teens that “history isn’t just learning about the past, it’s about how change happens and turning points.”
Students were asked to share a turning point in their lives which led to a short discussion about why the Civil War was a turning point in our history. Students then broke into teams to gauge their Civil War knowledge. Teens were engaged by questions such as: “How many Americans died during the Civil War? and “What were some important similarities and differences between the North and the South during the Civil War?”
Teens discussed which states left the Union and why they left. One boy wondered what it would be like to fight on the opposite side of the conflict from your family members. The discussion jumped from topic to topic as teens talked about Civil War weapons and medicine, the age of soldiers, and Jim Crow laws.
As the discussion was winding up the girl who did not like the book explained why she did not like it. She thought the book was predictable and she illustrated her point with several examples from the book. Her examples were solid, and showed that she had read the book and thought about it. If the point of a book discussion is to get people talking about a book and the ideas in it, then these teens surely accomplished that.