Civil War exhibit opens at Bethel Historical Society
The Bethel Historical Society this week opened an exhibit titled “In the Field & On the Homefront: Bethel During the Civil War.” The exhibit is the society’s contribution to the “Maine Civil War Trail” project, a statewide effort commemorating the 150th anniversary of The War Between the States. The project showcases Civil War-related displays at 23 sites, from Bangor to Kennebunk and from Kingfield to Bethel, Bridgton and Livermore.
Among the artifacts on view at Bethel are a long, double-bladed metal saw with a wooden handle and a mangled bullet. Randy Bennett, the society’s executive director, said the dreaded surgeons’ bone saw has one fine blade for cutting flesh and a rougher saw-toothed blade for cutting bone. The bullet, he said, was taken from the hip of Daniel Martin Stearns of Bethel 20 years after he was wounded in 1862 at Antietam. Other artifacts include Civil War handcuffs, documents, photographs and the dress uniform of Clark S. Edwards from Bethel, who reached the rank of Brigadier General during the war.
Bennett said the society has a free 20-page, full-color guide to the Maine Civil War Trail. “The Trail represents a worthwhile series of exhibits for anyone interested in the Civil War or the years leading up to the conflict and after,” Bennett said. “Using rarely seen artifacts and images from our collection, this exhibit explores the effects — profound and poignant — of the Civil War on Bethel.” While the war years led to the loss of many of Bethel’s loyal sons,” he said, “they also witnessed the town’s development as an important inland Maine center of commerce, industry and tourism.” Husbands, fathers and sons enlisted in the army and navy, sometimes on opposing sides, while women kept the home fires burning while supporting the troops as nurses, U.S. Sanitary Commission workers and spies. Children worked on farms and in mills producing weapons, gunpowder and blankets.
Some 70,000 Maine men and an uncounted number of women served on the battlefields, the published guide states. Thousands more labored at home to provide for the troops what the federal government could not. The exhibits along the Maine Civil War Trail will tell their stories. Participating Civil War Trail institutions will showcase the state’s participation in and response to the war in collaborative fashion.
Stan Howe, the society’s executive director emeritus and the author of an article on Bethel during the Civil War, said the town played a big role in the Civil War. “Bethel was in the thick of it, we really were,” he said. He said Brig. Gen. Edwards was a prominent leader of the 5th Maine Regiment, one of the state’s best regiments. Its Company I was the only company organized in Bethel during the war, according to William B. Lapham in his 1891 book, “History of the Town of Bethel.” Howe, who retired in January, said that 41 men from Bethel served in the 5th Maine. In his “Life on the Home Front: Bethel during the Civil War” article, first published in the society’s history journal, “The Bethel Courier,” in 1983, Howe stated that 28 Bethel men were killed or died of wounds received during the Civil War.
For more details about the Maine Civil War Trail, visit www.mainecivilwartrail.org. For information about the Bethel Historical Society, call 824-2908 or visit www.bethelhistorical.org.