The piney woods of West Gloucester were rolling pasture then.
But the heat and the bugs and the trinkle of a nearby stream were surely the same, 150 years ago, when Civil War soldiers trained, camped, and left their mark at this "muster field" off what is now Concord Street.
From pre-Revolutionary days through the Civil War, Currier Pasture, named for the West Parish family that occupied the land for more than 200 years until 1995, was the prime spot for young men to learn to be soldiers.
"It was the perfect place for a militia training ground, with a level drilling field, ample supply of fresh water from a flowing stream and basically away from the populated areas," said researcher Richard Chane.
They could even practice cannon fire at targets upslope and collect the balls as they rolled back, said Chane.
As Cape Ann celebrates the 150th anniversary of the first Independence Day of the Civil War era, the contributions and sacrifices of local people come to life. Some 1,500 men, probably 90 percent of eligible adult males in Gloucester (population 11,000), joined the conflict.
As befits a seaport, there are three Civil War Medal of Honor recipients from Gloucester, all seamen. Truth be told, those premier medals were initiated and bestowed much more frequently in Civil War days than ever after. For instance, there are 1,522 recipients for the War Between the States and 124 for the War to End All Wars (World War I).
A retired teacher and department head at Gloucester High School, Chane, 70, a self-described Civil War buff, has lived for almost 40 years on that historic muster plot. Chane prizes a Civil War-era buckle he found on his land. Neighbors have found cannon balls and other artifacts, he said.
Trainees were "firing cannon in my front yard before the Revolution," said Chane.
But most treasured are the now faded, nearly illegible, carvings on two platters of rock in the neighboring woods behind Chane's house, which Civil War soldiers "tagged," to use the modern jargon. On the 6-by-8 flat slabs of ledge are barely discernible letters that Chane and other researchers identify as carefully chiseled messages now woefully damaged by acid rain.
One slab bears the inscription "DLI MVM Co. B 17th Reg. Capt Fuller 1861," with a carving of a rifle and a cannon. The reference is to the 162-man Danvers Light Infantry, Massachusetts Voluntary Militia, Company C, 17th Regiment, led by Capt. Nehemiah Fuller.
A few feet away is another, with initials of about 20 soldiers who, presumably, were training with the anonymous stonemason of Company C. The carvings are on private property where visitors are not welcome.
In the early 1800s, militia units were very popular, more so for their entertainment than military skill, as Chane documented. At community musters, they marched in formation to fife, drum and pipes, generating excitement like today's "Drumline" or "Throw It Down."
The Company C encampment in 1861 included only two men from Gloucester — Joseph Moore and Warren Burpee. Most were from northern Essex County (Danvers, Topsfied, Methuen, Lowell, etc).
"It was inadviseable to have basic training too close to the home of the new soldiers," Chane learned. "The tendency to go home for a meal or have a visit from, heaven forbid, a girlfriend, would have been unavoidable."
The most famous Civil War soldier of these parts was Gen. Benjamin Butler, a legislator and entrepreneur who launched the quarrying industry in Bay View — a name of his choice — after the war. Butler, whose descendants are still in the area, made the decision to treat black prisoners of war as "contraband," not slaves, thereby setting abolition in motion.
In 1869, Butler and his wartime pal, the dashing Col. Jonas French, founded the Cape Ann Granite Company and built mansions on the slope above Hodgkins Cove at the end of Quarry Street.
A few miles up Washington Street, the less fortunate William "Billy Yank" Lull, who died in the horrific Andersonville Confederate prison camp, is buried in Langsford Cemetery in Lanesville. Maj. Jonas Franklin Dyer, an army surgeon throughout the war, lies — almost anonymously — in Gloucester's Oak Grove Cemetery, as pointed out by researcher Bill Christopher of Rockport.
Company K from Gloucester was commanded at Antietam by a Captain Cook of Gloucester. At Gettysburg, a "Gloucester boy, J. H. Calef, a recent graduate from West Point, fired the first shot," according to writer Ralph P. Parsons, citing James Pringle's 1892 "History of Gloucester."
When the militia trainees were first mustering on Dick Chane's lawn in Colonial days, there were about 300 slaves in Gloucester, according to archives. Slaves were freed here by state mandate in 1783. One, known by 1796 as Robin "Freeman," owned a house and barn at the head of Little River, where Wellspring House is now. His descendants lived there until well into the 20th century.
Three Gloucestermen were awarded the nation's premier Medal of Honor for action in the Civil War.
Barnet Kenna commanded a gun crew on the wooden warship, USS Brooklyn, running interference for the flagship Hartford at the battle of Mobile, Ala., in 1864. Kenna warned fleet commander David Farragut about the mines, then called torpedoes.
Triggering the iconic response from Farragut: "Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead."
Kenna is buried in Cherry Hill Cemetery.
Also in 1864, John Bickford, another seaman, fought "with gallantry under fire" to help destroy the pirate-ship Alabama, which had been terrorizing the fledgling American merchant fleet off the coast of France. Bickford is buried in Mont Pleasant Cemetery
Under heavy fire, coxswain Oliver O'Brien helped storm the blockade runner, Beatrice, off South Carolina in 1864. His action resulted in "the capture of a quantity of supplies." His headstone is in Oak Hill Cemetery.
Correspondent Nancy Gaines is a contributing editor and the former editor in chief of Improper Bostonian magazine.