SALEM — The 150th anniversary of the Civil War has spurred interest in learning more about the bloody, four-year conflict that divided a nation.
But for William Bailey, the interest has always been there — but it wasn’t until recently that he decided to learn more about “The War Between the States.”
He even joined the Civil War Book Group at Kelley Library.
That’s because the 72-year-old year Salem man has a personal interest in the war. Five of his ancestors were Civil War veterans and are buried beneath aging headstones at Cemetery on the Hill in Windham.
Four of the five were brothers; the other was their sister’s husband.
Bailey and his sister, Peg Snodgrass, 79, of Salem have decided to help others learn more about the war by donating to the library an old Eagle-Tribune article about Salem’s Civil War veterans.
Yesterday, they gathered at the library with club members and library director Alison Baker for a special presentation. The framed article and photo will hang on a wall of the library — near its historic Civil War collection of books and memorabilia.
“We try to preserve as much Salem history as we can,” Baker said.
The article does not include a date, but is believed to be from the 1960s. The photo that ran with the article was taken in the early 1900s. Snodgrass inherited the newspaper clipping from her great-aunt, Mary Bailey, and eventually gave it to her brother.
After the presentation, the group braved pouring rain to visit the soldiers’ graves. Bailey, dressed in a replica blue Union coat and hat, showed his ancestors’ headstones — proud of their sacrifice and hoping what they fought for will not be forgotten.
“It’s a big part of history and, unfortunately, it’s getting left behind,” he said.
Not far from the cemetery is the home where Samuel Bailey raised his 11 children, including the four soldiers. Two of the soldiers were among the more than 600,000 who died in the war between 1861 and 1865.
Charles Bailey was 24 when he starved to death in a Confederate prison camp in January 1864. Henry Bailey, 20, fought in 23 major battles, but died in the Battle of the Wilderness in May 1864.
A third brother, George Bailey, survived the battlefield bloodshed but contracted a disease during the war and died of complications four years after the Civil War ended. He was 33.
Only Albert Bailey would go on to live a long life, William Bailey said. He didn’t know much about brother-in-law Samuel Rogers, who married Maryann Bailey.
William Bailey’s interest in his family connection to the war has inspired Joan Fardella, who helped organize the book club in September. Since then, the group has read and discussed eight books about the war and that time period.
The latest book they read was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, a classic novel that depicted slavery in the mid-19th century.
“It is important for younger generations to know about this,” Fardella said. “I feel it’s important in our history. It is something Americans need to learn and understand. ... Some of the implications from then continue today.”
Baker and Fardella thanked the Bailey siblings for their donation.
“This is a wonderful family, the Bailey family,” Fardella said. “They are so proud of this — as they should be. Their family gave four sons.”