Mapping Our Civil War Ancestor

Civil War research, genealogy, Regular army

U S Cavalry equipment (Photo Credit: the swedishsxc1.com)

Many of my monthly columns for Tracing Blue and Gray have been serious research articles. We’ve looked at several databases in search of previously unknown information about our Civil War ancestors. Checking anything from disability records to reimbursement of property and personal possessions the databases have had the potential for lots of previously unknown info.

This month I thought we’d do something a little different. Grab your markers and let’s go on a map quest. Maps are a hot commodity in genealogy research and with good reason. Studying a map gives us insight into our ancestors daily lives. Maps reveal everything from wide open plains, and nearby water transportation to the inconvenience of traveling around a mountain range. The hardships or ease of life can be seen in a map, especially one from the era our ancestors lived.

All of this holds true for our Civil War ancestors as well. Documenting your veteran’s military service with a map is a great way to really understand where he started, where he went and maybe just how hard he struggled to stay alive.

I’ll use my Civil War ancestor for this project. The information I’ll use in mapping him comes from the many sources we’ve discussed in previous articles. The most important is having the dates your Civil War veteran served and the regiment he served with. I’m sure you have that info via family or pension records, Soldiers and Sailors Data base, Ancestry or Family Search. Next we’ll need to read the history of the regiment he served with. Just Google the regiment’s name. I’m sure you’ll come up with several options. Combining this information will give you a good idea as to where your ancestor was during his service as the war raged on.

My g-g-grandfather, George Washington Lowery, was a private with the 81st Pennsylvania Infantry. He was assigned to Co. A and after brief training joined the rest of the regiment in Petersburg, Virginia.

My g-g-grandfather served a total of eleven months pretty much at the end of the war and all of that time was in Virginia. So I’m lucky I only need one state map and that’s Virginia. Many may need several state maps or a regional map. Now which map you choose to use is a personal preference. I decided to go with one that reflects the 1860s so I downloaded a copyright free map from the Library of Congress (LOC) at http://www.loc.gov/ Fold3 also has these LOC maps you can view for free.

If your preference is to use a more current map you can contact the Department of Transportation (DOT) for the state(s) maps that you need. On the DOT site you’ll find free maps or maps at a minimal cost. Another source might be free images you print out from the web. Just Google images from the state you need to find an abundance of maps. Make sure of course you are aware of any copyright infringement if you go this route. You can always use the old atlas tucked away in the basement too.

I do have a paper map I have plotted out with markers but for illustration I’m going digital here. This way I’ll have a copy of this map for my digital files. Now let’s get to work!

So far my research shows my g-g-grandfather was like most men of that time. I haven’t found that he traveled more than one county in any direction from his home up until his enlistment. So Petersburg, Virginia, where he joins his regiment is 220 miles south. Now that wouldn’t be considered very far from his Pennsylvania home today but it was quite a distance from Franklin County in 1864. More than a couple days journey. (That’s the first interesting tidbit I notice.)

Now the regimental history of the 81st Pennsylvania shows they were entrenched in Petersburg during the siege which lasted from June 9, 1864 to March 25, 1865. I’ve researched to know the 81st Pennsylvania is part of the Second Corps and they are positioned southeast of the city. That’s where George’s journey begins. He’s there about five months.

Once the siege of Petersburg is successful by Union troops the city falls. General Lee and his army head west for supplies and to eventually meet up with General Joseph Johnston and the Army of Tennessee. So now the 81st Pennsylvania tucked into the Second Corps are on the move west.

Mapping Our Civil War Ancestor

The next location on my map is Sutherland Station. There’s a full on battle here April 2, 1865 between the fleeing Confederate army and the Union forces giving chase. Through my regimental reading I know the 81st plays a big part in the fighting here. Sutherland Station gets a notation at the bottom of the map!

Mapping Our Civil War Ancestor

Both armies continue west. On April 3rd a small skirmish takes place at the Namozine Church just a few miles up the road. Not a lot of fighting and the men haven’t been marching for too long.

Mapping Our Civil War Ancestor

The next stop for the Second Corps is Jetersville. General Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia had traveled somewhat north looking for supplies so the Second Corps busted into Jetersville to intercept him. Once the 81st along with the Second Corps arrive the men are immediately put to work digging trenches and putting up breastworks. Lee gets word from his scouts that the Union army is waiting for them in Jetersville so the Confederates head west.

The road Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia take out of Jetersville takes them right past Amelia Springs. They move under the cover of night April 5th. As the last of the Confederates push on Union pickets see the Rebel movement and alert the closest unit available. That’s the Second Corps and my g-g-grandfather as they pursue Lee’s troops.

Mapping Our Civil War Ancestor

The next afternoon on April 6th in Deatonsville the rear unit of the Confederate army slows down long to engage the Second Corps in some skirmishes. The idea is to allow General Lee and the troops a chance to gain ground and time. After a short amount of fighting the Confederate rear guard takes off following Lee. The Union troops follow close behind. Fighting continues even with both armies moving. A small skirmish takes place at Sandy Creek but doesn’t last long and all units continue on the move.

Mapping Our Civil War Ancestor

Late in the day on April 6th major fighting breaks out at Sailor’s Creek. This is the first place on my map that isn’t a small town or village. It’s where two creeks come together to form a branch of the Appomattox River. The battle here is brutal. The Army of Northern Virginia take the brunt of it. It’s an enormous blow to the Confederates. Many men are dead and many more are taken prisoner.

Mapping Our Civil War Ancestor

High Bridge is the next place to mark on my map. Again not a small town or city but a bridge that crosses the Appomattox River. A bridge the Confederates tried to burn down and the Federal troops prevented it from happening. With the bridge still crossable the Second Corps is still pursing Lee.

Mapping Our Civil War Ancestor

The Battle of Cumberland Church which is right outside Farmville is the last mark on my map. Again not a city but it’s here on April 7th the Second Corps came up against the Army of Northern Virginia. This is actually the last battle of the Civil War. This is where my g-g-grandfather was wounded in battle. Thankfully he survived his wounds. This place is where my g-g-grandfather’s Civil War fighting ends!

My Civil War ancestor’s unit wasn’t on the move like so many were during the war but he still saw plenty of action in a very short amount of time. I’ve learned a great deal about his service with this project.

His months in Petersburg were horrendous, spent in a filthy, dirty, rodent infested trench. When his unit was on the move they marched more than 72 miles. He helped dig trenches and breastwork during that time, participated in at least four small skirmishes and fought in three all out battles, all in five days! Along with that these men were acting on little sleep, little food and must have been exhausted from all the fighting. Talk about the times that try men’s souls!

Putting this information down on a map with dates, distances and events helps me to see clearly that my g-g-grandfather was a hero. Take the time to map out your Civil War ancestor’s journey during the war. You’ll learn so much! I’ll bet you have a better appreciation of his service and you’ll find he was a hero too.

Remember the idea is to shake the dust off your Civil War ancestor, using all the information you find to add up to a person who happened to be a part of one of the most important events in this country’s history!

Good luck in your continued search!

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2 thoughts on “Mapping Our Civil War Ancestor

  1. Cindy, this is such an impressive demonstration of really understanding how the war proceeded, day by day and encounter by encounter. You are so energetic and persistent to be able to follow the troops this way, and your color-coding makes it so clear to read. I’m actually “getting” military history, with your help.

    Was your Civil War ancestor at the “Battle of the Crater” in Petersburg (that’s just a phrase I’ve heard, where the Union undermined the Confederates)? That probably happened at an earlier time than you are tracking.

    Thanks for “mapping it out” so clearly!

    • Mariann – Thanks for reading my post and commenting! I appreciate your kind words. No my ancestor wasn’t at the Battle of the Crater but in the vicinity at the time. I really enjoyed the “mapping” and learned a lot in the process. We’ve come so far – family research is so much more than names and dates isn’t it? Thanks again.

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