Morgan Hill Event Center in Hermon was the setting for the second Civil War Symposium on Saturday, May 10. Presented by Maine Humanities Council and Maine Historical Society as part of the three year NEH funded Local and Legendary grant, the event drew 60 Civil War aficionados, community members, and scholars to learn about and discuss the war’s aftermath in Maine.
The morning began with actors Michael Pullen and Rhiannon Ludder performing Coming Home: A Civil War Veteran Returns, a short play written and produced by Maine Humanities Council theater consultant David Greenham.
This thought provoking performance about a young veteran who returns home to Sebec and the girl who waited at home for him could as easily take place in 2014 as in 1865. How does a soldier return to a “normal” life upon coming home, and how does the loved one who remained at home understand the experience of war? During the audience discussion following the play both young actors revealed that they could relate to one dilemma raised in the play–to stay in Maine or move elsewhere for better opportunities.
The ever popular Tom Desjardin, Maine Civil War historian and Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Governor, expanded on this topic as he discussed the alarming trend of out-migration and the ensuing economic impact post-Civil War.
The impact of the war was felt in every community in Maine. Maine sent the highest number of men to fight in the war in proportion to its population of any northern state. One of the fascinating themes of the morning was discovering the parallels between 1864 and 2014.
Chandra Manning, Associate Professor of History, Georgetown University, explored the question, “What did the Civil War Change?” Some of the changes that Chandra discussed focused on issues related to more complex reasons why the war was fought.
For example, Lincoln’s belief that by allowing the south to secede the U.S. would be admitting that self government as envisioned by the Founding Fathers was not a viable form of government. Another example she discussed is how a secondary outcome of abolishing slavery was the U.S. stepping up and becoming an enforcer of a more global ban on the slave trade.
Both Chandra and Candace Kanes, Maine Memory Network Curator and Historian, talked about race relations, depictions of slavery, and attitudes towards newly freed slaves. They spoke about Mainers who made significant contributions to the war effort and reminded us that Maine was the first state to ratify the 13th amendment in February 1865. Candace’s presentation focused on her experience researching and curating Maine Historical Society’s 2013-2014 museum exhibition, This Rebellion: Maine and the Civil War.
Attendees had the opportunity to view displays and the Maine Memory Network online exhibits created by the 2013 Local & Legendary community teams. The new 2014-2015 community teams–Bethel, Jay-Livermore Falls-Livermore, Pittsfield, Rumford, and Scarborough–were in attendance and had opportunities to ask questions of those who participated in year one.
People left with a new understanding of the legacy of the Civil War in Maine and how our understanding of the past is shaped. As one participant said of speaker Chandra Manning’s talk: “She makes an excellent point that instead of simplifying, we should look at the complexities of history.”