SIDNEY — Joe Bellas, the 2005-06 Gilder Lehrman American History Teacher of the Year for Ohio and convener of the Stillwater Civil War Roundtable, will speak at Sidney’s Civil War Living History Weekend, Sept. 15-16.
Bellas teaches history classes at Tipp City High School, where he has taught since 1995.
Bellas was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, just a few blocks away from the state capitol building and close to the scene of the 1957 Little Rock Central segregation “incident.” His father was an officer in the U.S. Air Force, and the family moved to the Philippines when he was 9. Eventually his father was transferred to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where his father’s military career ended when he retired.
Bellas attended the University of Arkansas and obtained his bachelor’s degree in history, graduating magna cum laude, with minors in both journalism and geography. Bellas then attended the Ohio State University to pursue advanced studies in military history.
While at the university, he taught several American history survey courses, with his own coursework’s concentrating on the American Civil War. He received a Master of Arts in 1991, with concentrations in military history, American history, and Latin American history. Bellas’s thesis was “The Forgotten Loyalists: Unionism in Northwest Arkansas during the American Civil War.”
Bellas and his wife then returned to Arkansas so that she could obtain her degree. Bellas obtained a position at the Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies as the historical liaison for the Civil War Battlefields Project, mapping Civil War battlefields using state-of-the-art mapping equipment.
The information was then provided to the National Park Service and utilized to determine which battlefields were still realistic candidates for protection (purchasing land that wasn’t developed). When the funding for the program ran out, Bellas began his career as a high school teacher.
On Saturday of the Civil War Living History Weekend, Bellas will talk about the ghosts of the Civil War. He will recount stories of some of the restless spirits for whom the Civil War has not yet ended.
“The Civil War lasted four years and claimed the lives of more than 600,000 Americans,” Bellas said. “There are eyewitnesses who claim to have seen ghosts at Gettysburg, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, as well as some of the former Confederate prison camps — several here in Ohio.”
On Sunday, Bellas will talk about Ohio’s Confederate prison camps. One of the prisons, Camp Chase, was in Columbus. Established in May 1861 and closed in 1865, the camp’s original capacity was 4,000 men, but at times more than 7,000 prisoners were held there. The capacity was eventually increased to 7,000, but by the end of the war up to 10,000 men were crammed into the facility. While it is unclear exactly how many prisoners died at Camp Chase, there are 2,260 graves in the cemetery.
Johnson’s Island, in Lake Erie, was initially the Union prison designated to hold Confederate officers. As the war continued, that changed, and eventually even lowly privates were held there along with officers. The prison had one of the lowest mortality rates of all Civil War prisons. Of the more than 15,000 men who passed through the prison (it was designed to hold 2,500), only about 200 died.
“The two topics complement each other,” Bellas noted. “I have more than a few ghost stories from the prison camps, both north and south.”
Bellas moderates the Stillwater Civil War Roundtable, was the Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year for Ohio in 2000, and has received the Miami County Excellence in Education Award in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2015, and 2017.
An Eagle Scout, Bellas remains active in scouting, enjoys hiking, traveling, and is himself a Civil War reenactor (Company B, 1st Tennessee Confederate Infantry.) In his spare time, he also coaches the Model United Nations and the Academic Quiz Team at Tipp City High School.
“I am delighted that Joe has expressed his willingness to talk about two topics of high interest,” Planning Committee Chairman Mike Barhorst said. “Visitors will find that he is a remarkable teacher who has a tremendous grasp of his material.”
Sidney’s Civil War Living History Weekend will be in Tawawa Park, Sept. 15, and 16. The event is free and open to the public.