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Historical Society program brings Civil War to life

Dressed in Civil War regalia, Kier Barbour, Evelyn Auger and Earl Leighton brought to light the life and times of 1862 last week to a packed room at Sanbornton’s historic Lane Tavern for their presentation, “Civil War Letters Home.” Leighton, Auger and Barbour brought along guns and other memorabilia they have collected or reproduced through the years as part of their discussions on the Civil War. (Donna Rhodes) (click for larger version)
September 14, 2011
SANBORNTON — Those who attended the "Civil War Letters Home" program at Lane Tavern in Sanbornton last Thursday evening were taken on a journey back in time as they listened to the hardships endured by New Hampshire's 12th Regiment through letters between former Sanbornton residents Moses Bartlett Gilman and his anxious mother, Sophia.

Evelyn Auger, dressed in period clothing, portrayed resident Sophia Gilman as she read the letters from Moses, played by Auger's real life grandson, Kier Barbour.

Barbour, in turn, wore a Civil War uniform similar to what a member of New Hampshire's volunteer regiments may have worn, from the hat right down to the Brogans, which were shoes designed to fit either foot.

Auger said she had no real letters between Moses and Sophia, but used actual facts she found in writings from a number of Sanbornton's families whose men served in the Civil War. She compiled that information into a series of letters to express the experiences and true-life sentiments of the time.

"People always ask why I picked Moses to tell this story. I didn't pick him, though; I feel that he picked me. He didn't have any children to pass his stories along to, only nieces and nephews, so I decided I'd honor him through this presentation," Auger said.

The Gilman family had three sons who served during the war — Moses, Freeman and John. Their father, a veteran of the French and Indian War, passed away in 1854, and did not see his sons become soldiers. Sophia was left at home with the other four children, awaiting word from the battlegrounds.

The first letter from Moses was dated Dec. 28, 1862. In it, he told of the struggle to march five to 15 miles a day, carrying enough on his back "to discourage a mule." Rations were scarce and many were ill with jaundice, measles and other ailments.

"We had stewed beans and hard tack for Thanksgiving," Moses wrote.

"When we reached Fredericksburg we slept in a frozen cornfield…in the morning my hair was frozen to the ground."

He said he heard reports that two fine young men from Sanbornton were lost in battle, and that life was a "living misery" based around orders of march or don't march each day.

Setting the letter aside, 'Sophia' told the audience, "It breaks a mother's heart to know a son is suffering so."

'Moses' then read a letter he received from home, in which he heard news of his brothers, sisters and their families, along with word that an uncle in Pennsylvania had joined the war. Sophia wrote that perhaps he would see his uncle soon on a battlefront. As a sympathetic note, she added, "Your brother Albert wishes he could make you a good pair of boots for all the marching you are doing."

The next letter home told the horrors of war. Moses reported listening to the Rebel yells and the groans of the wounded. He told of the labor of dropping rails along the way for the cannons to cross. He also wrote of fellow soldier Ben Sanborn having a premonition of being killed, which later came true.

"Many others were wounded, but have God to thank for being alive," Moses said. "I have survived this battle so keep up your prayers for me."

From Gettysburg, Gilman wrote that they met up against "the Rebs" who were both before them and to their flank. Orders came to change fronts to the rear as fighting continued from both sides.

"We were both scattered and shattered," he said.

More than 2,000 men were killed or wounded in the battle, and Gilman's letter was written from his hospital bed, where he was recovering from wounds on his back and wrist. Once recovered, he hoped to be placed in the Invalid Corps, comprised of men who supported the war effort through office duty.

"I won't complain," 'Sophie' told the audience. "I was a lucky one. My sons came home."

Other interesting facts on the brave soldiers of the Civil War were relayed, including how boys felt so compelled to serve, they often signed up before they were old enough.

"They would take a piece of paper, write the number 18 on it, then stick it in their shoe. When they were asked if they were over 18, they said 'yes,'" Barbour said.

Joining Auger and Barbour was Earl Leighton, also dressed in Civil War uniform. He presented a collection of guns used in that time period, along with mementoes of the war he has collected over the years.

Leighton said a good soldier could fire four shots a minute from his Springfield muzzleloader, a typical weapon of the day. Many of the Rebels' guns, mostly surplus from Germany and England, were heavier and slower to fire. This, he said, was a hindrance to the Southern soldiers, and made a difference in the war.

"The northern guns were too accurate in comparison," Leighton said.

On display after the presentation were items typically found in a soldier's haber sack. They included half of a tent (a fellow soldier carried the other half), spare clothing, hard tack, a tin cup, ink, pens and tobacco pouches. They would carry a "Lucifer," a tin box for matches, and a "Housewife," which was a sewing kit to mend their clothing.

Next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and reenactments will be held all across the northern and southern states, including one scheduled for Sanbornton. Men and women will dress and live as those of the 1860's, and the public is invited to visit and get a first hand look at the history which shaped the nation.

Varney Smith
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