Sunday, April 13, 2014

Bringing history to the youth of Windham and the community - By Michelle Libby

The Civil War is not just another war and Gettysburg is not just another battle. Boys and Men from Maine fought and died in that war and in that battle, some of whom are buried in the Arlington Cemetery across the street from Manchester School on Route 302. 
This year Windham and Gorham have gotten together to learn about the Civil War and the role that Maine played, including the Gun Powder Mills of Windham and Gorham that made 25 percent of the gun powder for Union troops. Fifth grade teacher Sabrina Nickerson, along with Lauren Parker at Windham Public Library and Linda Griffin from Gorham worked to get money from a grant called Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War. Through this grant the two communities are working to preserve history on the Maine Memory Network and to entice others to get interested in Maine’s role during the Civil War. The grant will end in May.

Nickerson’s class decided to work on a project called Cents for Civil War Soldiers as their Community Day project. Community Day is a chance for Manchester School students to show what they have done throughout the school year to help the community. Sometimes the class might collect food for an animal shelter or raise money for a project. This year Nickerson’s class is raising money to buy grave markers for the soldiers who were in the Grand Army of the Republic. To date the class has raised almost $400 to purchase the GAR markers, which cost between $20 and $30 each. They are made in a Maine foundry for the Maine soldiers. There are approximately 15 graves that need the markers.  

“We always honor our vets at the Manchester School,” said Nickerson. 

Raising money by collecting change room to room is only part of their Civil War experience. Through the grant the class was given copies of “The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg.” This historical fiction book depicts the live of Homer, who leaves on an epic journey to find his brother who was sold into the army. The author Rodman Philbrick is from Maine. 

“The story brings some of the history to life through the eyes of a young boy,” said Nickerson. “It opened up their eyes about things they might take for granted in their everyday life,” she added. The books were then passed onto other fifth grade classes. 

The class also learned about Civil War slang. “Elephant” meant the battle, “big bugs” meant important people, “fresh fish” were new recruits, “bumblebees” were bullets and “Billy Yank” was a Union soldier. 
Carol Manchester, who wrote the story about the Civil War and family letters that were found, visited the classroom. The students read the soldier’s words out loud in class. Manchester also brought in Civil War period clothes to show the class. Each class room was given a hat with money from the grant. 

On Saturday, April 12 at 1 p.m. MPBN will be airing a show about the 16th Maine at Gettysburg and then talking with the audience. The public is encouraged to attend to hear about the less known about regiment from Maine. This group knew they were going to be caught so instead of giving up their Union flag, they ripped it into small pieces and everyone took a section. Some of those sections are said to be family heirlooms handed down generation to generation. 

Rent-a-Center is donating a large screen TV and setting it up at the Veteran’s Center for the showing. Nickerson is hoping to have some of Philbrick’s books to sell, a display about the Gambo Powder Mills and Cents for Soldiers donation cans available. 

Nickerson is hoping to have enough money to give a grant to the Veteran’s Center. “All our veterans really need our support,” she said.  

The students in Nickerson’s class have learned about the Civil War and why it was fought. “They’ve seen a little bit of the cost. It’s become a passion,” said Nickerson, who admits to being an avid history buff as well as having a degree in history. “Whatever else I do, I will fit (history) in somewhere,” she concluded.
For more on the Gambo Powder Mills or Local & Legendary: Maine in the Civil War, visit and

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