April 22, 2018
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‘Bullets & Bandages’ exhibit in Bangor shows human cost of Civil War

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Wesley Martin, an Aroostook County native, weighed 44 pounds when he was released from Andersonville, the largest military prison in the Confederacy, at the end of the Civil War.

He was one of more than 45,000 Union soldiers who was confined at the Georgia prison. About 13,000 of them did not survive the harsh conditions at the prison.

Martin had to have his leg amputated below the knee after his release. He walked with use of a wooden prosthesis until his death in Bangor at the age of 84.

“His wound was infected with maggots,” Jenna Hodges, the museum educator at the Bangor History and History Center, said Saturday. “That may have saved his life because it kept the gangrene from progressing.”

Martin was not alone: One of every 13 Civil War veterans was an amputee.

His “peg leg” and the straps Martin used to keep it in place are on display at the Bangor museum, located at the corner of Union and High streets. The exhibit, “Bullets & Bandages: The Passion and Price of the Civil War,” is part of a statewide effort to tell the stories of the 70,000 Maine men and uncounted number of women who served on the battlefields as the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

The Bangor museum is one of 23 that are part of the Maine Civil War Trail. Each museum has chosen a theme. Many are focusing on the role hometown men and women played in the conflict.

According to Executive Director Jennifer Pictou, the purpose of the exhibit in Bangor is to “show what men met on the battlefields, what the medical establishment was like then, and, for those that survived both the battlefield and the medical establishment, what the long-term effects that they had to deal with were.”

The exhibit features the weapons and bullets used by soldiers; and the medicines, many of which now are considered to be poisons, and surgical equipment, including an amputation kit, used by physicians.

“Civil War soldiers were equipped with weapons far more deadly than any that had been known before,” according to a Bangor museum brochure. “The introduction of rifling made guns more accurate and increased the effective range at which they could be used. Revolutionary War muskets had a range of 80 to 100 yards. Civil War rifles had a range of 100 to 400 yards, and were much more accurate because rifling kept the bullets flying straight.”

The most commonly prescribed painkiller was whiskey, which often was stolen by soldiers from doctor’s medical kits, Hodges said. Opium, quinine, turpentine, arsenic and mercury also were used as medicines.

The exhibit is illuminated in detail by a quote displayed prominently at the museum from an anonymous soldier: “It might also be said that the dead were happy. It was the wounded, the town mutilated who suffered the most.”

Sponsored by Bangor Savings Bank, the exhibit runs Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. until Oct. 12. Historian John Blaisdell will talk about the impact the Civil War had on Maine soldiers at 1 p.m. June 8. For information, visit bangormuseum.org or call 942-1900. For information about the Maine Civil War Trail, visit www.mainecivilwartrail.org.

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