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.
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.
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.