The Pejepscot Historical Society as part of Chamberlain Days 2015 presents “Soldier, Come Home,’’ the award-winning play by Frank W. Wicks based on his great-grandparent’s Civil War letters, on Friday, August 7th, 7:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Church, Pleasant Street, Brunswick, Maine.
“Soldier, Come Home” brings to life the letters of Mary Luke Pringle, her husband, Philip W. Pringle, and family members. The letters provide a look back at some of the most significant battles of the Civil War as well as what life was like for those family members left behind.
In 1950, the long-forgotten letters, written from 1859 to 1865, were discovered in a shoe box in the attic of the Wicks family home in South Fork, Pennsylvania. Wicks, a resident of Harpswell, Maine, transformed the letters into a play, weaving the story of his family through the events and the times of the Civil War.
Mary Pringle wrote to her husband from Armagh, Pennsylvania, while Philip and other family
members corresponded from several major battle sites, including Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, the Siege of Petersburg, and Appomattox.
A Kenosha, Wisconsin critic said, “The true magic of Wicks’ play is in its simplicity, which comes alive through extraordinary letters sent between the battlefield and home. The letters become the play’s dialogue. Conflict, humor, urgency, and powerful emotions completely take over the moment the play begins.”
“Soldier” premiered in Brunswick, Maine in 2002 and has been performed throughout America by more than 20 theater companies. Celebrating its 100th performance on August 7, “Soldier, Come Home” is the winner of the 2012 Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Award for Excellence – “Best Significant Community Impact.”
The play is performed as reader’s theater by six actors playing eight different characters. In the Brunswick cast are Jessica Peck-Lindsay, Michael Thomas, Jack Mahoney, Michael Millett, Al Miller, and special guest Araby Wicks Leary, great-granddaughter of Mary and Philip Pringle, playing her great-great grandmother, Mama Luke.
Chamberlain Days is a bi-annual celebration of the life of Civil War General Joshua Chamberlain, a Brunswick, Maine resident, governor of the State of Maine and President of Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine.
All tickets for the production are $10.00. For ticket reservations and further information about Chamberlain Days 2015, call the Pejepscot Historical Society at 207-729-6606 or visit http:/pejepscothistorical.org/ Tickets will also be available at the door.
From a 19th century needle factory in lower Manhattan to a world-class Civil War museum in Wisconsin, Soldier, Come Home has played ‘em all!
In its ten year history, “Soldier” has played a restored vaudeville theater in the South, a Civil War recruiting center in the North, a country barn in Pennsylvania, and a historic church in Maine where Harriet Beecher Stowe got her inspiration for “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
The very first performance took place May 5, 2002 at Center Stage in Brunswick, Maine, a theater founded by Wicks to develop and produce new plays.
The play created a “buzz” which led to other performances in the area, including one at the Bowdoinham, Maine Town Hall, built in the early 1800’s and used as a meeting place for Civil War soldiers as they marched off to war.
It turned out that Brunswick, Maine was a hot bed of Civil War history. Distinguished son, Joshua Chamberlain – Governor of Maine and President of Bowdoin College – was the undisputed “man of the hour” at the Battle of Gettysburg, chronicled by Brunswick historian, John Pullen. Sharing the same church pew was neighbor,
Harriet Beecher Stowe. It is reported that Stowe was so inspired by a sermon that she ran home and penned the first chapter of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
Soldier, Come Home played there, at the Brunswick First Parish Church, as part of the week-long Chamberlain Days Festival, sponsored by the Pejepscot Historical Society.
Word spread. The cast took to the road, performing at the Ohio Theater in New York City, a reconverted needle factory known for its innovative theater productions. It is said that just before the first production there 30 years ago the cast and crew went down on hands and knees, armed with magnets, pulling decades of dropped pins and needles from the floorboard.
Next stop, Johnstown Pennsylvania for three performances at the 19th century Heritage Discovery Center, organized by cousin Frances Hesselbein. It was here that Wicks’ ancestors lived and wrote the letters that were the basis of Soldier, Come Home. Over 100 relatives flew in from all over the country (and one from England) for the performances and a Saturday night family reunion bash.
The play was chosen for the Penobscot Theatre’s New Play Festival, winning
out over 500 entries. Then, an online internet site, civilwarplay.com was set up to announce “Soldier” to cyberspace. Soon, many friendships were made as well as a more widespread interest.
The GreenMan Theatre in Elmhurst, Illinois mounted a week of performances and then took the play on the road. Other productions took place in Forest Grove, Oregon, the Gardiner, Maine Opera House, a barn theater in McConnellstown, Pennsylvania, and The Gem Theater, a restored vaudeville house in Etowah, Tennessee.
An exciting “first” took place September 22, 2012 in Kenosha, Wisconsin when The Brown-Ullstrop Performing Arts Foundation
sponsored a live Radio Theater Production of “Soldier.” The play was broadcast from Kenosha’s new Civil War Museum on WGTD-HD Public Radio Kenosha-Racine-Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, hosted by director Dr. Steven Brown. The production won the First Place award by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.
Soldier had its Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati premier on Friday, January 25, 2013, at the Campbell County Library in Newport, Kentucky, co-produced and performed by Newport’s Falcon Theatre Company, directed by Clint Ibele. Next, the play was revived by the Gem Players in Etowah, Tennessee and ran for two more weeks at the historic Gem Theater.
Recent performances of Soldier:
April 25 – Historic New Richmond, Ohio – Birthplace of U. S. Grant -performed by the Falcon Theater Company, 7:30 p.m. – as part of Ohio Civil War 150.
April 26 – May 5 – Six performances (dinner theater) by the Summit Theater Company, Bluefield, West Virginia (150th anniversary of West Virginia)
June 29 – Two performances at the Tullahoma, Tennessee Civic Center, 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. (150th anniversary commemoration of the Tullahoma Civil War Campaign)
June 29, 30, July 1 – Three performances in Covington, Kentucky, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Performances on the patio of the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar with music by the Rabbit Hash String Band.)
Upcoming performances of Soldier:
September 20, 21, 22, 27, 28, 29, 2013 – Thomas More College Theatre, Crestview Hills, Kentucky.
Answer: Civil War Historian, John J. Pullen
“For people who have not heard the story of the fight at Little Round Top on the Gettysburg battlefield – and today there aren’t many of these among readers of Civil War literature – it should be stated that it was here, late on July 2, 1863, that Joshua L. Chamberlain arose from the clouds of gunsmoke into the light of fame….Some say that Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine saved the day at Gettysburg and therefore saved the Union.”
And thus begins the John J. Pullen classic, The Twentieth Maine: A Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War, considered by Civil War historians to be one of the best regimental histories ever written.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Pullen’s 1957 book renewed interest in Union Army General Joshua Chamberlain. “The Twentieth Maine recounted Chamberlain’s heroism when he ordered the 20th Maine Regiment to fix bayonets and rout the Confederates during the Battle of Little Round Top – one of the most well-known actions at Gettysburg and in the American Civil War.”
On the final charge, knowing that his men were out of ammunition, that his numbers were being depleted, and further knowing that another charge could not be repulsed, Chamberlain ordered a maneuver that was considered unusual for the day: He ordered his left flank, which had been pulled back, to advance with bayonets. As soon as they were in line with the rest of the regiment, the remainder of the regiment charged, like a door swinging shut. This simultaneous frontal assault and flanking maneuver halted and captured a good portion of the 15th Alabama.
Praise for The Twentieth Maine poured in. The Boston Sunday Herald wrote, “this comes as near reliving the Civil War as anyone in the twentieth century is likely to get.”
Bruce Catton, Pulitzer Prize winner and Civil War historian said, “Mr. Pullen has gone to the letters, diaries, and memoirs of the participants with the thoroughness and care of a good historian, and he has had the literary skill to let the personality of the regiment come through.”
Then in 1999, John Pullen published the definitive Chamberlain biography, Joshua Chamberlain: a Hero’s Life and Legacy.
A reviewer wrote, “Renowned historian John J. Pullen, who first introduced Joshua Chamberlain to modern readers, is again approaching the subject of this complex man. This new biographical essay explores Chamberlain’s place in history–both man and myth. John Pullen, who drew back the shroud of a forgotten hero in his excellent book “The Twentieth Maine,” has come full circle in this engaging and enlightening biography.”
Born in Amity, Maine, Pullen graduated from Colby College in 1935. A field artillery captain during World War II, he worked as a reporter for the Kennebec Journal in Augusta after the war. He later worked in advertising in Philadelphia before resigning in 1965 to move to Brunswick, Maine (where I happened to live) and focus on his writing.
I remember John Pullen as a celebrated, active contributer to the Brunswick community. He was a member of the Joshua Chamberlain Civil War Round Table and spearheaded fund-raising efforts to design, create and erect a statue of Joshua Chamberlain next to the Bowdoin College campus.
The year before he died, John Pullen attended the premiere of Soldier, Come Home in Brunswick. He wrote kindly of the play, “Excellent and unusual. It lets the audience feel the Civil War both on the field and on the home front where women and families experience its dramatic effects.”
I was so pleased that such a distinguished Civil War historian had witnessed my efforts at a Civil War story. I had rubbed shoulders with the man who had awakened interest in a forgotten hero, introducing Joshua Chamberlain to modern readers – and, without a doubt, putting Joshua Chamberlain on the map.
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