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Volume 4, Number 8 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 May 9, 2012
Author's Notes Since we have discussed researching both the Union and confederate soldiers, this article will discuss other areas that might have information about your ancestor. Hopefully you find some ideas for finding that missing piece of the puzzle for your relatives involved in the Civil War.
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James L. Douthat
Other Areas for Civil War Research
Now that you have searched the military service records and the pension files for your ancestor during the Civil War, you may still need information. Now is the perfect time to find some other areas for research.
There has been a lot written about the Civil War over the years. Somewhere in all of these records, there is a record of your ancestor. The first thing that we have to do is to review everything that we know at this point about them. Don’t overlook the most oblivious detail such as locations of their birth, where they were living at the time of the war and even some of their friends, if you know them. Many times people joined units with their friends or relatives and this might be a clue.
I mentioned a week or so ago of a group of men from Hamilton County, Tennessee that walked some thirteen nights to join a troop in Kentucky. They were joining a specific unit of Union Troops and did not want to be caught up in the local units - either Confederate or Union. Why? That is an interesting question. It seems that their school teacher in the local school was in a particular unit in the Union Army and he persuaded a number of young men to join him there. Even church groups joined together. As I said, any little detail can be a clue.
Every unit on both sides of the war has produced volumes of history on their unit. Most of this was written after the war was over and they wanted to tell the story from their point of view. This is a different kind of history with a very slanted view point, but one that tells your ancestor's story better than any other. You may read all of the general histories of the war and never learn anything about your ancestor. The local units really tell the story of your ancestor best.
Several years ago a publishing company in Virginia was in the process of publishing a series of their Confederate units, but I don’t think the entire set of books was produced. I helped supply some of the personal records for one or two of them from letters we had on our ancestors who were serving in the various units. This series was one of grand attempts to get “all” of the information on each unit. In the process, there were some volumes published on the various battles that took place in Virginia. The H. E. Howard, Co. of Lynchburg published this series. I lost track of the entire set after about two dozen volumes of it. These would be gold mines of information if you happen to be able to tie into one or more of them.
The next steps are letters and diaries to search through for references to your ancestor. There may not be these items directly for your ancestor, but references might be made to them as a friend, worker or associate of the person involved. Having read hundreds of diaries and letters from the period, it is amazing how much one person might talk about another in a very off handed way. Little known facts just jump off the pages and get you started in another direction.
Now is the time for a little “fishin’” in your local library. If you live near a National Battlefield, then you may have lots of information available. Most of them have historians and a research library that may be open by appointment. You can do a little “trollin’” as I call it where you go from one book after another and check out the index. You never know what you will find, if you take the time to just look.
Don’t forget the local newspapers for the area. Your local library should be able to give you some guidance as to when a “reunion” was held for the local units. Those years of 10, 25, 50 years after the event seem to be the most reasonable time to look for a great long article to have been written about the local units. Many times all of the soldiers are listed at a time. Sometimes those that are still alive contribute to the information for the newspaper. After many years the memory may not always be as clear as it should be, but it may be all that is available.
The local historical and genealogical societies in the area are also a great source of information with regard to the people from that area who served in the Civil War. They might have the rosters and records of the various patriotic societies that developed as a result of the war. The G.A.R. is one for the Union forces and then there were various Camps of the different southern groups, usually named for some leader. The Secretary of the Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp of the Sons of the Confederacy in Chattanooga was an artist and in his ledgers of minutes and records, he drew full page pictures in memory of each soldier when they died. This memorial gave a great deal of detail about the man and his service. It is certainly worth the time, if you find something like this for your unit.
Make sure that you search all of the families’ records to see if there is any information that has been overlooked in the past. Many who have those records may not understand the importance of them nor how valuable they will be to the family story. You can take the stories passed down from one generation to another, but don’t rely too heavily on them for the truth. And please remember that many a private when discharged dies as a Captain or Major. He may be elevated in one of the many organizations that came along after the war, but maybe not.
Civil War Records
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