Discovering Your Civil War Past

Many of us who have worked in the field of public history, particularly that of 19th-century American history and the American Civil War when presenting a program on a battlefield or a lecture hall often receive the comment before or after of “I had an ancestor in the Civil War,” from attendees.  Having those familial connections most certainly makes those bonds to our past even stronger.  As historians we are always ready to learn and hear of another unique experience through your ancestor’s eyes.  However, when we begin to ask those probing questions that will garnish vital information on their war experience the next responses we normally hear are, “I’m not sure,” or, “I don’t know.”

Have you ever wanted to know more about your Civil War ancestor’s wartime experience? Maybe you have hit a dead-end in researching your family’s history.  Have you ever wondered how historians and interpreters discover so much amazing information about individual soldiers?  Well here is your chance to learn how to research individual soldier’s stories!

Over the next several weeks I will be guiding you through the various angles and steps in researching this generation of Americans using my own personal trials of discovering my ancestor’s stories.  I will be introducing you to many resources that you may be familiar with and even more that have gone wholly unused.

To get started in our weekly interactive blog series, you will need your ancestor’s or soldier’s name, and even better, what side or state they fought with.  If you are unsure of this beginning information necessary to get started, try the NPS Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database. It’s a free online tool, and, although not comprehensive or mistake-proof, will help you to get started.

Once you have completed your research, post their name, state, or even unit in the comments below.  If you have more information on them post that as well.

My Civil War ancestral tree is quite small, with just two soldiers from my family that served.  One of those men, from New York, only lasted for several weeks as he joined with a foot disability and when the marching started he simply could not keep up.  He was discharged by September 1861.  Through our interactive blog series I will be guiding you using my research on my other Civil War ancestor.  His name was Uriah Roe and he enlisted in the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, the “Roundheads,” in the winter of 1864.

If you have any stumbling blocks along the way, feel free to post below in the comments!

Dan Welch

11 Responses to Discovering Your Civil War Past

  1. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity. I already have quite a bit of information on the soldiers I am researching but will hopefully be able to unearth more this way. When I get home later tonight I’ll add their names and information.

  2. Dan – I know that my great grandfather Cyrus Loose served as a private in the 202nd Pennsylvania under his uncles Colonel Charles Albright and that they guarded the Manassas Gap railroad out of Fairfax Station starting I believe in Seprember 1864. I would love to have any further information on either relative or the unit.

  3. Peter Kohler: Union. 17th Regiment Veterans Reserve Corps. More info on the unit would be great

  4. Here goes:
    1) Capt. Jesse Sharpe Barnes, 4th NC Infantry, Co. F. KIA Seven Pines May 31, 1862, body returned home to Saratoga, Wilson Co., NC for burial in family cemetery. Spent time in Chimborazo May 1862 with typhoid fever. I already have quite a bit on him but would love to find more.
    2) William Sharpe Barnes (younger brother), 4th NC Infantry, Co. F, survived the war. Promoted to ordnance sergeant (’62), then adjutant (’63), last aide de camp (’64/65) to Bryan Grimes. Got married in Feb. ’64 in South Carolina. Wounded twice (3rd Winchester and Petersburg / Fort Stedman), after 3rd Winchester likely recuperated at home in Wilson Co., after Petersburg was sent to hospital in Richmond where he was taken POW, released (likely after taking oath of allegiance) in mid-May of 1865.
    3) Thomas Alston Martin, 13th NC Infantry Co. E, promoted from private all the way to Major. Wounded as captain of Co. E on July 01 in Gettysburg (gunshot wound to the hip), evacuated to Va., later on assignment in NC, rejoined regiment in the second half of 1864, promoted to Major, field & staff, supposedly surrendered at Appomattox.

    For all these men the medical records would be of great interest, for Martin anything that sheds light on the time he spent on assignment.

    Much more murky but of great interest:
    4) Joshua Barnes, younger brother to 1 & 2, seems to have joined army in 1864 at 17 years of age, possibly conscripted.
    5) John Barnes, older brother of the other three, 7th Tennessee Cavalry (Taylor’s), Co. A, died in camp in Kentucky, December 15, 1861.
    6) Benjamin Blount Barnes – great question mark whether he served, oldest Barnes brother, in Wilson, NC in 1861 but in Shelby Co., TN, after the war. Certainly of an age to serve (27/28 at outbreak of the war) and with some interest in establishing a country that protected slavery.

  5. Pvt. John C. Pitchford
    Madison (Mississippi) Light Artillery
    Poague’s Battalion
    3rd Corps
    Army of Northern Virginia
    More information on this unit would be much appreciated.

  6. Thank you, Dan, for the offer to assist us in researching our CW ancestors using the knowledge you have gained in your professional experience. I will be reading every post. I will not list all my soldiers here-there are 14 soldiers from whom I am directly descended-who served the Union. I can use all the help you care to offer!

  7. Hi Dan,
    My ancestor William Moses fought for the Union in the 16th Independent Battery , New York Light Artillery. I have been searching for information on the internet and in books, but would like to get more. I would be glad to share what I have found.
    Best regards,

  8. Two great-great grandfathers: Charles Hoerning, 52nd NY Vol. Inf. Captured on the march to Gettysburg and sent to Belle Isle, later exchanged and saw service in the Veteran Reserve Corps; and Daniel Denton, 127th NY Vol. Inf., a Long Island fisherman who served throughout the war and was mustered out in Charleston, SC.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!