METHUEN — For Dan Gagnon, a longtime member of the Methuen Historical Commission, celebrating the 4th of July goes hand in hand with remember those that have fought for the United States.
For that reason, Gagnon decided to organize a project at the Nevins Memorial Library to commemorate soldiers from Methuen that fought in the Civil War. Panels that feature historic photos, wartime maps and first person accounts of the war will be on display there throughout the summer, providing a unique view of the Civil War through the eyes of Methuen.
“Methuen was in every major theater of the war,” Gagnon said. “I think in most towns around here you would find that there’s a similar story, but I don’t think people think of it that way. I know I didn’t.”
As it became clear to Gagnon just how much of an undertaking the project would be, he decided to focus on the company of soldiers with the greatest number of men from Methuen. Company B, 14th Massachusetts Infantry, had 17 Methuen names on the roster. As it turned out, Gagnon said, some of those men turned out to be merely boys. Jeremiah P. Bradley, part of the unit’s band, was only 14 when he enlisted.
“That’s a kid. Today, he’s still in middle school, just getting into high school, and seeing the worst that people could see,” Gagnon said.
As he wove narratives together with images and background information, Gagnon said a snapshot of the time began to emerge. Though statues and war memorials stand all over the country to remind people of battles fought a long time ago, Gagnon said he wanted people who see the exhibit to be able to associate human faces with battles they may have read about in text books.
“These people have experienced things I never did, and I never want to. I’m not a veteran, but I have such respect for what they did, and they did it at such a young age. It’s kind of my way of honoring the veterans and their contributions,” he said.
The exhibit, which was funded by the library with contributions from the city, will be on display throughout the summer. After that, it will remain in the area, although its permanent home has not yet been decided. The city’s public schools, city hall and Merrimack College are all possibilities, and Gagnon said he would be glad to see it travel to all three in the coming years.
“These stories I’m telling are stories of ordinary people, and their stories get lost. I wanted to make sure that their stories are remembered and carried on,” he said.