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Volume 4, Number 7 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 April 11, 2012
Author's Notes This is a first article in a two part series on the Civil War. In this newsletter, we will focus on the Confederate Records and then on the Union Records in the next newsletter. Hopefully you find some ideas for finding that missing piece of the puzzle for your relatives involved in the Civil War.
If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me at email@example.com.
James L. Douthat
Civil War - Confederate Records
The Civil War was a terrible war in the history of the United States with more killed in those few years of fighting than in all of the wars since the American Revolution. This was one war that affected every household in the United States one way or another. There have been volumes and volumes written about the Civil War.
When we start searching for our Civil War ancestors, it is helpful if you know something about them, especially if you think they are Confederate. The reason for this is that most all of the Confederate records are state records and not national records. Each of the southern states maintains their own set of those records, including the pension records, if they exist. If you know the unit in which they served, then it is better as many of the records are kept strictly with the units.
There is one set of records held by the National Archives. These are the compiled service records with all records grouped into three series:
- Those filed by States [the largest series]
- Those for troops who served in non-state organizations
- Those for officers and enlisted personnel doing staff jobs
Within these records, there is an alphabetical name index as well as an index for each of the states. All of the foregoing have been microfilmed. What you find here is a jacket envelope showing the name of the soldier, the name of the state from which he served, the name of the company and regiment, and his rank. If you are lucky there are other pieces of information found in this jacket envelope such as dates of changes in the soldier’s rank, the date and place of his enlistment and discharge, his occupation, and his personal description. Sometimes if the soldier was captured, it might show the date and location of his death or release and parole.
When it comes to the pensions of the soldiers, this was granted by the various states and those records are usually found in the state archives. The most interesting of the records for any soldier is from diaries and private letters written from the homefront or the battlefield. Many historical societies have made efforts to collect these for their region and have huge files of materials on the soldiers from their area. These would be worth a letter of contact to see what they might have on hand. You might want to read some of the regimental histories or company histories to get insight into the daily life of the soldiers in their unit. A good company history will mention each of the soldiers by name, especially if there are a number in one family in that unit, which happened frequently.
One set of records often overlooked is “Amnesty and Pardon Records” which contains letters and notes from families pertaining to their members. These “Special Presidential Pardons” were for officers primarily as they would not have been granted a pardon in the general amnesty at the conclusion of the war. Only the President of the United States could offer them a pardon and restore their rights as a citizen. There are thirteen reasons listed as to why these persons were not pardoned, mainly being they took up arms against the Union, and/or they had land and money which was used against the Union. One such General’s letter requesting amnesty from Tennessee had a letter from his mother-in-law stating that he was led into joining by the neighbors and this was not his choice. President Andrew Johnson, a Tennessean, granted the pardon since the mother-in-law was Mrs. James K. Polk. Oftentimes it’s not who you know, but who knows you that counts.
The listings of all the southern states were compiled into National Congressional records and include each southern state as far away as New Mexico. The records are on microfilm per state but there is only one full listing of all of the states and this is found in the National records. Most of the southern states have not made hard copies of these requests for pardons. Thank goodness the records are alphabetical on the film.
Another set of records are the listing of those held prisoners in the various prison camps in the northern section of the country. These are found in a variety of places. The magazine “The Confederate Veteran” contains countless stories of those held prisoner during the war. Some are humorous and others are very serious. This is a set of records worth looking into for this kind of information.
One of the most difficult situations is when your ancestor was in both the Confederacy and the Union armies. This happened more frequently than many suspect. We have a photograph of my wife’s great great grandfather in uniform. Experts in the field have looked at it and not one can identify Union or Confederate. In the listing of men from the area in service, his name is listed on both sides of the conflict. Which side did he serve on? We will never know. His wife did not receive a pension so that keeps the mystery intact.
Next time, we will look in the other side of the War, the Union.
Civil War Records
McKenzie's Fighting Fifth:
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