The local home front in the Civil War
Eben Miller, History/Honors Program Coordinator at Southern Maine Community College, presented, “Nelson Dingley, Jr’s, Daily Evening Journal: A View of the Northern Civil War Home Front, 1861-1863,” at the Bethel Historical Society’s Hall Memorial Lecture last week.
With the use of slides taken from pages of the journal, Miller provided a glimpse of life in that time period.
Miller conducted research on the Northern home front during the civil war in the context of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. He wanted to learn how local people responded to the war and found that the Lewiston Daily Evening Journal offered a window into life on the home front.
Nelson Dingley, Jr., launched the journal during the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. He later became Governor of Maine.
Miller’s talk followed three themes.
. How the Journal actively sought to foster patriotism and wartime unity.
. How it showed the prevalence of emancipation as a theme of public debate.
. How it provided an intimate connection between the home front and war front.
Miller found that the journal cultivated patriotism and unity by promoting rallies, with the U.S. flag as the central rallying point. A patriotic poem, “Our Flag,” was one of many written and published in the Journal.
The paper reported that despite the war, the area showed economic vitality. There were many options for entertainment, including musical shows (at 15 cents a ticket), minstrel shows, skating, sleigh rides and more. This promoted a sense of “life going on normally” on the home front, which gave comfort and reassurance to soldiers on the war front.
“The journal provided a tangible connection between soldiers and people at home,” said Miller.
Soldiers asked for copies of the Journal to keep abreast of ordinary accounts of daily life. In return, the Journal asked soldiers for their letters and published them. Many citizens also shared their private letters. All this activity marshaled support for the soldiers. Upon learning of the soldiers’ needs, citizens organized fund raisers, including a Charity Ball. A number of women also helped by knitting socks and mittens and even made a patchwork comforter. The Journal kept tabs on all this activity.
“Emancipation became a key consideration from the onset,” said Miller. “People often thought about it and supported it.”
Evidence of this support took the form of a new piece of sheet music, “Emancipation Quick Step,” published and praised in the journal. When New Year’s Day 1863 marked the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, it became a “Day of Jubilee.”
Miller closed with a question and answer period among the many “history buffs” in the audience.
The program was part of the Bethel Historical Society’s 2013 lecture series, “Trails, Trials and Tourism, Capturing the Maine Experience,” supported in part by a grant from the Maine Humanities Council. The subject of this year’s lecture coincided with the Society’s participation in the Maine Civil War Trail.
(Note: Randall Bennett, Executive Director, BHS, said the Society considers newspapers a reliable resource. The Society has been microfilming certain papers, and also purchasing papers already microfilmed, since the 1970s. Most, though not all, of the newspapers were or are published in Maine. The Society started out with the Bethel Citizen and then added the Oxford Democrat, Norway Advertiser, Advertiser-Democrat, Oxford Observer, and other local papers.
Their most recent project is to build a collection of the Portland Transcript, which contains important information on the early Mormon movement in Maine, western Maine/White Mountain tourism, and the effects of the railroad constructed between Portland and Montreal (and through Bethel) between 1846 and 1853.
The Society is also interested in 19th and 20th century tourism and owns a complete run on microfilm of "Among the Clouds," which was first published and printed on the summit of Mount Washington in 1877. All this information is being placed in categories, readily available for reference.)