The Civil War Comes to Pittsfield

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By Janet Lyons, Maine Humanities Council’s Consulting Project Coordinator for Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War

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

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

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!