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Visitors experience the Civil War through Mainer's eyes at museum exhibit

May 29, 2013
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What was the Civil War like? In our daily lives, it is hard to imagine a war that happened on our own soil. With the help of the Bangor Museum and History Center, however, imagining is easier. 

Step off of Union Street into the museum, and you will be transported 150 years into the past. Walk through the hall of soldiers. Peer into a parlor Scarlett O'Hara could have decorated. You can even hobble around on a replica of a peg leg. It's all part of Bullets and Bandages: The Passions and Price of the Civil War. The exhibit, which was sponsored by Bangor Savings Bank, displays everything from rifles and swords to medical kits. The exhibit is on display through Oct. 12. 

Jennifer Pictou, the executive director for the museum, says the display is the best collection north of Boston. Despite the broadness of the collection, however, Pictou says they were missing something. 

'We did not have a full amputation kit,' Pictou said. The executive director says that the kit on display is being loaned to the museum by Deputy Richard Harburger. 

'We are so thankful to him, and we are so thankful to the community for their support,' said Pictou. 

The executive director says that amputations were common in the war. 'Doctors would just stand there and do one amputation after another.It's not that they couldn't have saved some of these limbs, It's just they didn't have the time,' she said.

Besides the amputation kit, there is another piece of the exhibit that Pictou finds especially interesting. On display in the museum is the peg leg of Wesley Martin. Martin's family donated the peg leg along with Martin's story. According the account, Martin entered the war when he was 16. He fought in the Battle of Spotsylvania and had to have his leg amputated twice, both times without anesthetic. The first, Pictou says, was at the ankle. The infection that followed necessitated the second amputation. 

'It's kind of the whole exhibit rolled into one piece. It shows perseverance,' Pictou said. 'Here's a man who went through two amputations without anesthetic and survived prison camp. It really embodies the spirit of a Mainer. You have to be tough to live in Maine.' Pictou says that Martin went on to live a productive life. According to the account, he died when he was 85.

The museum had a replica of Martin's leg made, so those visiting the museum can try to maneuver with it. 

Pictou says a large number of people from Maine were involved in the war.

'Maine may not have sent as many men as New York, but compared to our population, it was a large number,' she said. 'There was a fervor. The people of Maine really responded.'  

The museum is located on 159 Union Street and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Adult admission is $5, and children and seniors attend for $3. Through the Blue Stars Museums program, active members of the military attend for free. 

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