By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Of the roughly 3,740 Civil War soldiers and sailors who once called Methuen and Lawrence home, local history buff Joe Bella has located the gravesites of more than half of them.
It’s a personal research project that Bella started 21/2 years ago. Often the grave markers are hard to find because they’ve sunk into the earth and are covered by moss or grass.
“These guys have been forgotten,” said Bella, 67, a Vietnam War veteran and Methuen resident.
This weekend at Nevins Memorial Library, Bella and others will do their part to remember the life and times of these local heroes during a two-day Civil War encampment. The festivities kick off tomorrow at 9 a.m.
Bella is a member of the 6th Massachusetts Regiment, a small group of Civil War reenactors from Lawrence, Methuen and Dracut. For the last decade, the regiment and other similar groups have occupied Campagnone Common in Lawrence every third weekend in September. But this will be the group’s first encampment in Methuen.
“I think it’s going to be really fun,” said Library Director Krista McLeod. “It’s going to be different. It’s something we’ve never done before. You don’t need to be a history buff. It’s supposed to be a beautiful day and maybe you’ll learn something.”
All events at the library encampment are free and open to the public.
Visitors can expect fun activities like a pie-eating contest and hourly cannon demonstrations by the 6th Maine Artillery Regiment. Horses will be on site thanks to the 1st New Hampshire Cavalry Regiment.
McLeod said library staff wanted to do something special in 2013 to mark the150th anniversaries of both the Emancipation Proclamation and Battle of Gettysburg. The library’s Civil War programming started in February and was initially expected to wrap up with the encampment this weekend. But the ideas kept coming and now author events and movie screenings are scheduled for the fall. It will all end with a Civil War-themed Christmas event to close out the year.
A Lawrence native, Bella has been a member of the 6th Massachusetts Regiment for five years.
Bella said his favorite part of the encampments is talking with people and answering their questions, which often revolve around his costume — Bella’s getup for the weekend consists of a blue uniform, hat, boots and numerous accessories.
“If it wasn’t for history, I wouldn’t do it,” said Bella. “It would be work. This is fun work for me.”
Bella said some young people have been exposed to Civil War history through movies and television. But he urged them to visit the library this weekend and take in the sights and sounds of what he calls “living history.”
“Young people don’t see enough of this,” said Bella. “If you’re here to see and hear what we do, you’re experiencing history. Hopefully they retain that and grow an interest of their own.”
Civil War Encampment Where: Nevins Memorial Library, 305 Broadway, Methuen When: Saturday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Featuring: 6th Massachusetts Regiment, 6th Maine Artillery Regiment, 1st New Hampshire Cavalry Regiment, General and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, President Abraham Lincoln For more information, please call the library at 978-686-4080