By Brian Swartz
Weekly Staff Editor
BANGOR — The cost of war becomes evident at 10 a.m., Saturday, May 4, as the Bangor Museum and History Center opens a new exhibit titled “Bullets and Bandages: The Passions and Price of the Civil War.” Located in the Thomas A. Hill House at 159 Union St., Bangor, the exhibit will be open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, until Oct. 12.
In the early months of the Civil War, patriotic fervor led men to enlist for an expectedly short conflict. Without realizing the toll that combat and disease would exact, friends and relatives cheered their heroes off to the battlefield, but many Maine men never returned.
Spread across four rooms inside the museum, “Bullets and Bandages” leads with visitors passing through a wealthy family’s parlor. In such rooms in Bangor and elsewhere in Maine, husbands, brothers, and sons announced their intentions to enlist in the regiments coalescing across the state. Women sobbed at such decisions, then sewed clothing and flags for their fledgling warriors.
By mid-war, the Confederacy and the United States both initiated national conscription to provide more men for their battle-thinned armies. At the “Bullets and Bandages” transition point between the home hearth and the military camp, an actual draft box made and used during the Civil War to draw names for conscripted men from Maine’s 4th District will be displayed.
War then shatters domestic tranquility as visitors emerge into the room devoted to battlefield medical care. During the Civil War, many more soldiers died from disease than from hostile fire. For those soldiers wounded on the battlefield, “medical care at the beginning of the war was in the Dark Ages,” said Curator Dana Lippitt.
Among the artifacts displayed in this room are a surgical kit on loan from Detective Richard Harburger of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department. Well maintained, the various instruments gleam in the light — and the accompanying information reveals how each instrument was used by surgeons treating battle wounds.
Nearby is a pannier containing the apothecary carried to war by Dr. Augustus C. Howe, a surgeon with the 2nd Maine Infantry Regiment. “We think he had this at Andersonville [Prison in Georgia] after the war,” Lippitt said.
A cupping set contains a scarifier and other devices used to draw blood and excess “humors” from ill soldiers. Believing they were benefitting their sick patients, doctors bled them, a practice that actually weakened and helped kill many men who might otherwise have survived their diseases or wounds.
“Bleed, blister, and purge was a waning theory of medicine,” Lippitt said while discussing the cupping set.
In the exhibit’s third room, visitors learn about the firearms, bullets, bayonets, and artillery shells that inflicted so much mayhem on Maine men. Displayed in lighted cases are 12 rifles, two carbines, and three revolvers.
“We know most of them were said to be used in the war,” Lippitt said. She briefly held an actual Confederate carbine, a British-made Enfield carried to war by Raleigh White Hobson of Co. C, 5th Virginia Cavalry. He etched his name and outfit on the heavy carbine’s stock; the weapon came north after a soldier from the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery found it after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House.
The exhibit’s fourth room returns visitors “home” with the Maine soldiers who survived the war. In this part of the exhibit, visitors will learn how maimed soldiers adapted to civilian life; the display includes a wooden artificial leg belonging to a Bangor soldier who came home and lived many years after his wounding.
Placed strategically throughout the exhibit are the photos of many soldiers — and their own words. “We are going to use a lot of quotes from soldiers’ letters,” Lippitt explained. “No better way exists to tell their stories than to listen to what they had to say.”
“Bullets and Bandages” follows the highly successful “Women in War” exhibit that the museum opened last May and closed this spring. Stressing the different roles that women played during the Civil War — especially in Bangor — the exhibit boosted museum visitation.
“We increased our attendance by over 299 percent with our exhibit last year over previous years,” said Jennifer Pictou, the museum’s executive director. “We were very pleased to have so many more visitors.”
Among them were more students; “school participation was up by 57 percent,” she said.
“We charge schools $3 per student. We create a customized program for them based on their curriculum at the time they visit us,” Pictou said.
“Bullets and Bandages” is sponsored by Bangor Savings Bank. For more information about the exhibit, log onto bangormuseum.org.