PEAKS ISLAND — Although Maine was far from the Civil War’s devastating battlegrounds of Gettysburg, Fredericksburg and Antietum, the state played a vital part for the Union.

Maine sent about 70,000 men—more per capita than any other state in the Union—plus an uncounted number of women who served as nurses, relief workers, spies and soldiers. The 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment lost more men in a single charge during the Siege of Petersburg than any Union regiment in the war.

As the nation’s leader in shipbuilding and forestry products and home to rapidly expanding mills that produced textiles and footwear, the state was a key supplier for the North. Maine also provided influential politicians on the national scene, including Lincoln’s first vice-president, Hannibal Hamlin and U.S. Senator William Pitt Fessenden.

The Maine Civil War Trail was recently established to tell the story of the state’s participation in and response to the war. This first-ever collaboration brings together museums and historical societies to explore and interpret events from the state and local perspectives.

A few years ago, Kim MacIsaac—who recently retired from her position as director/curator of the Fifth Maine Regiment Museum on Peaks Island and is now an independent museum professional and the trail’s project manager—discussed the idea of developing a Civil War trail with a group with a particular interest in Maine’s Civil War past.  (The Fifth Maine museum is itself an artifact of the Civil War, having served as a sanctuary for veterans and their families.)


The timing was perfect: The nation’s sesquicentennial (150th) commemoration of the war (1861-1865) is coming up in 2011-2015.

In 2010, 23 institutions responded positively to a notice announcing the project.

“Charlie Burden, who developed the Maine Folk Art Trail in 2008 and I visited those museums to view their Civil War holdings and discuss the project,” MacIsaac said. “Each of the participating museums agreed to create a Civil War-themed exhibit to be installed in 2013. Topics focus on Maine people and how they responded to the war at home and on the battlefield.  Many other institutions that are not on the trail have been offering other types of Civil War-themed activities such as lectures and reenactments.”

MacIsaac procured funding for the website (, brochures and marketing from the Maine Community Foundation, Davis Family Foundation, Morton Kelly Charitable Trust and donations from private individuals and Civil War reenactment groups.

Many of the exhibits geared to the sesquicentennial are permanent, as are the Civil War memorials along the trail.

The trail leads from Kennebunk along the coast to Castine, then inland to Bangor, Augusta, Livermore and the western mountains.

Exhibits include all types of artifacts—diaries, letters and photographs; uniforms and weapons; a drum carried at Gettysburg, a quilt made from Union and Confederate uniforms; adjutant general’s reports and atlases of battlegrounds; homefront news clippings expressing local opinion about the war.

The Bangor Museum describes medicinal practice during the mid-19th century, with a special section devoted to amputation in the field. Folk art inspired by the war comes in many forms—paintings, objects and the tools of everyday life.

Although attendance figures haven’t been formally tallied yet, institutions have reported anecdotally seeing an uptick in attendance.

The goal, she said, is to bring the Civil War from the past into the present. “Understanding the Civil War gives us insight into the yearning for freedom, the responsibilities that come along with citizenship, and the need for equality,” MacIsaac said.