Taking inspiration from the Civil War reenactments that the Fifth Maine Regiment Museum has hosted for many years, the Museum piloted its first Civil War History Camp this week. Following a month of rain, camp organizers - Sue Hanley and I - welcomed the partly sunny skies. The Museum's historic garden spilled down the rocks that slope to the shore and provided a scenic backdrop, not only for Sue's lovely hoop dress (below), but for the seaside campfire where six- to twelve-year olds baked ramrod bread and boiled crushed acorns to produce homemade ink (further below).
Although this camp primarily targeted children who were visiting friends and relatives on the island, the Museum's Civil War curricular activities this coming year will focus on third, fourth, and fifth graders at the Peaks Island Elementary School. This is an ideal year for us to pilot our expanded curricular offerings since the following year - 2011 - is the sesquicentennial commemoration (that's 150th year for those of you who can't get a mouth around that one) of the start of the Civil War.
Given the many possible approaches to teaching the Civil War, the Fifth Maine draws its inspiration, in part, from the composition of its collections. Blessed with original letters written in the hand of Amy Morris Bradley (below left), the Museum is positioned well to address the history of medicine in the Civil War, particularly the role of women in administering to the wounded, organizing medical care, and raising the funds on the Home Front.
The Fifth Maine's Civil War collection also curates a poignant collection of letters from Fifth Maine soldier John Stevens. Our approach with the History Camp, however, was not to focus upon the battlefield experience as much as the vital role women and children played at the Home Front in supporting the war effort. To stress this, we engaged the campers in rolling bandages (above right), "picking lint" (an unfortunate good intention that contributed to wound infection), and in writing letters "back" to those written by either Amy Bradley or John Stevens.
Holding the precious letters in my hands as I worked with the children (above), I thought of the veterans who, in 1881, built the Queen Ann cottage in which the Museum resides. How would they view our work? It's likely that they'd understand how gathering around the fire and toiling at tasks in common kindled friendships, an aspect of the human experience that transcends time.
Photographs and video by Annika Erikson