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July 3, 2011

'Mustering' for the Civil War, 150 years ago

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.

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