Thursday, July 10, 2014

Researching your Civil War Veteran Ancestors

Working off of last week's post about researching your Revolutionary War veteran ancestors we thought the logical next step would be to highlight how the Godfrey can help you research your Civil War veteran ancestors!  More than 2.8 million men and an estimated few hundred women served on both sides of the Civil War.  To this day the Civil War remains the most deadly war fought by American soldiers.  A study performed in 1889 by William F. Fox and Thomas Leonard Livermore approximated that 620,000 soldiers died over the five years of fighting but more recent estimates place the number dead as high as 850,000.   To compare, an estimated 680,778 American soldiers have died in all other wars combined, including the present war on terror.

So, let us say you have researched your Civil War veteran ancestor extensively.  You know dates of service, vital information, even a few notes on specific events that happened to while they served.  Of course the next thing you will look for is which battles they served in.  The National Archives themselves warns you to be careful when pursuing this information!  Presuming that someone fought in a battle because their dates of service indicate the person was with a specific company at a specific time is not recommended.  Muster rolls are only accurate for the day they were taken, and even then the possibility exists that someone on combat duty could have been relegated to other tasks that day.  The only way to come close to conclusively proving your ancestor fought in a specific battle, in most cases, is to see their name mentioned in records or histories as having done so. 

This is where the Godfrey comes in.  The library houses over 500 histories and biographies relating to the Civil War, 104 of which are available in the Scholar+ Digital Library.  These include biographies and autobiographies of famous generals from both sides of the conflict.  But more important for those researching battles and individual soldiers is the extensive collection of regimental histories from Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.  Everything about the regiments, from the members to location they were stationed to the battles they participated in, can be found in these histories. They are well worth a look for anyone researching their Civil War veteran ancestors!

For those of you looking for general information on the Civil War rather than histories of specific regiments and people, the Godfrey has that too!  From histories of the war as a whole to accounts focusing on either the Confederate or Union armies, we've got a little bit of everything!  Our collection even contains a history of prominent female participants in the war, Frank Moore's Women of War.  So if you're researching your ancestors of just the Civil War in general be sure not to overlook the Godfrey's collection!

Official military records for Civil War veterans can be found at the National Archives in Washington DC and regional archives around the United States.  These include Compiled Service Records, Pension Requests, and, in some cases, records of events- compiled histories of companies or units put together using information from the muster rolls.  Records of events can differ drastically in the level of detail and amount of information included.  More information on these records and how to obtain them can be found on the National Archives' website.  

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