George Bicknell: The Man with the Magic Lantern

George Bicknell joined the Fifth Maine Regiment as a private, was promoted to company sergeant after just four months, later second lieutenant, then first lieutenant and regimental adjutant. He was a seasoned soldier, devoted to his comrades in arms, and a champion of the “Tough Old Fifth.”

Years after writing History of the Fifth Maine Regiment in 1871, Bicknell created a lecture entitled Down in Dixie: A Veteran’s Story of the Civil War. Notably, he used a “magic lantern” and glass slides to illustrate the scenes he described in his talk. The novelty of this new technology (an early type of slide projector) was a draw all by itself. But by the late nineteenth century, interest in the Civil War flourished. Aging, nostalgic veterans and a country struggling with post-war Reconstruction sought to memorialize the Civil War. Bicknell hit the lecture circuit.

Bicknell’s slides and notes are part of the Fifth Maine Museum collection and some of Bicknell’s original glass slides and the lecture program are on display at the Fifth Maine Museum.

“Company H Officers”

One of Bicknell’s stories was about the Fifth Maine’s picket duty in April 1863 at Rappahannock. Bicknell said, “The picket lines … were so near together, that conversation between the two could be easily carried on.”

“Picket Duty at Night”

Camp Scene. Bicknell Lantern Slide Collection.

Researchers from all over utilize the archives at the Fifth Maine Regiment Museum. Here’s an article based on our Bicknell collection.