My 11-year-old son is somewhat obsessed with Civil War history in general and Joshua Chamberlain in particular.

We visited the Chamberlain museum recently and he went in a Civil War uniform. For Christmas, he presented me with a framed drawing of the Chamberlain statue in Bowdoin. I explained to him how the war sort of started at Bowdoin College when “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was written, and ended there when Joshua Chamberlain finally succumbed to his wounds, becoming the last battle casualty of the war decades after it ended.

Zac McDorr is the founder of the Bath Maine History Center on Facebook.You can reach him at [email protected]

When he’s a little older I will have to break the news to him that the college was not just a bastion of the righteous Union. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, was presented with an honorary Bowdoin degree in 1858, just a couple years before the war started, and the Board of Trustees refused to rescind it later, despite public pressure.

Then there was alumnus Franklin Pierce, one of the least popular U.S. presidents, who enforced the Fugitive Slave Act and riled up the two sides of the slavery debate with his Kansas-Nebraska Act. These two worked together, with Davis serving as secretary of war under Pierce. They stayed friends afterward, and Pierce visited Davis when the latter was imprisoned at Fort Munroe after the war.

Perhaps it was his friendship with Pierce that led Davis to spend the summer of 1858 in Maine. According to the book “Come Hell or High Water” by Miriam Stover Thomas, Davis, his wife and two children took a ship from Baltimore to Portland on the Fourth of July. Davis gave a speech on the steps of Portland City Hall, where he seemed concerned about future conflict – not between the North and South, but between the United States and Britain: “I come to your city for health and repose. Your gracious hospitality to me and my wife is greatly appreciated. I pledge my infant son in defense of your hearthstones if the storm should ever burst in your city.” Apparently this referred to war with Britain.

Davis was sought out later to give a speech at the Portland Democratic Convention. He spoke at the graduation of the Portland School for Girls. He sailed the waters of Casco Bay and took a two-week camping trip to Humpback Mountain Station. And as I mentioned before, he was presented with an honorary degree from Bowdoin during the visit.

In Brunswick, he participated in the graduation parade and attended the graduation ball with his wife. And he gave more speeches to some of the various groups on campus.

While Davis still holds the degree from Bowdoin, the current political atmosphere has led the school to quietly disassociate themselves from the old president of the Confederacy. In 2015, the college decided to stop presenting the Jefferson Davis academic award, which had been established in 1972 with an endowed gift from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. As college President Clayton Rose said at the time, “It is inappropriate for Bowdoin College to bestow an annual award that continues to honor a man whose mission was to preserve and institutionalize slavery.”

In 2017, a bronze plaque honoring Davis and several Confederate school alumni was removed from the ground floor lobby of Pickard Theater and placed in the special collections area of the library. In its place is a new panel describing the old plaque, explaining its history and giving directions to its new location.

Comments are not available on this story.