Shaped by the Civil War in Windham
WINDHAM - Perhaps the best accounts of history are the stories told in the words of those who lived them.
To learn more about their nation's history, a group of eight Salem residents began meeting regularly at the Kelley Library this past fall to pore over biographies, novels and historical accounts of the U.S. Civil War.
Reading historical novels like Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain," Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels," and Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin," as well as a biography on Abraham Lincoln and actual historical documents made for some thought-provoking discussions.
"I'd been around the world, but I'd never spent all that much time seeing things here in America," club member Patrick Shine said. "But about 10 years I began taking my grandkids to see different historical sites. It got me thinking."
Strangers soon became close friends as stories of the war touched a poignant note among members of the library's Civil War book group.
"Growing up, I never really made a connection about what happened in our country during the Civil War," club member Joan Cardella said. "But as I grew older, I realized that you can't understand American history if you don't understand what happened that brought us to that war."
No one knows that better than fellow club member Bill Bailey, whose own family tree is deeply rooted in the Civil War.
Bailey's passion for all things Civil War was inspired by stories about four of his ancestors, the sons of Samuel Bailey Sr. of Salem. George, Charles, Orin and Samuel Jr. are buried in the family's plot at Windham's Cemetery on the Hill.
"The Baileys' story is a very powerful one," Cardella said. "Bill has researched some of the letters they'd sent home and through those, we get an idea of what wartime was really like. This is a family that made an enormous sacrifice."
This week, the book club members departed from their usual protocol to make one very special field trip to the Baileys' cemetery plot.
George Bailey, born in 1835, served in the 6th Massachusetts Regiment, 1st Massachusetts Cavalry Company D, and 1st Battalion. Three years after enlisting, George was captured in the Battle of Aldee when his horse was killed. He was imprisoned for over a month after his capture.
Despite that ordeal, he re-enlisted and served until the close of the war, being discharged in 1865. Ill from his years spent in service, George Bailey is said to have never fully recovered and died at a Maine soldier's home in 1869.
Charles Bailey, born in 1839, served in the 7th Regular New Hampshire Volunteers, and was also taken prisoner during an unsuccessful attack on Fort Wagner, S.C. After being imprisoned for several months, Bailey died of starvation in Richmond, Va., in 1864, just two months shy of his 25th birthday.
A carpenter by trade, Orin Bailey was born in 1841, and served in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry Company I, 3rd Battalion. After the war ended, Orin Bailey returned to Windham, where he lived the remainder of his life, until his death in 1896 at the age of 55.
Born in 1844, Windham native Samuel H. Bailey enlisted in the 20th Massachusetts Infantry Company I at the age of 17 and served with the Army of the Potomac.
After fighting in 23 battles unharmed, Samuel Bailey perished during the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. He was barely 20 years old.
As the raindrops fell on the tombstones Thursday afternoon, Bill Bailey lifted his hand to his forehead to salute his fallen ancestors.
"There's just to much we still need to learn," he said. "Really, you'll never learn the entire story over a lifetime."