Whether you’ve been swept up in the recent 150th anniversary commemoration of Gettysburg or watched Kelly Clarkson’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? tracking down your Civil War ancestor and where he fought maybe something you’re interested in. If so here are some resources to get you started.
First check your family tree for men who were born between 1820 and 1843. That’s approximately the time frame of a Civil War soldier’s birth. Then check the 1860 census for the state in which he lived. My research hung up on that fact at first. I thought my ancestor fought with an Ohio regiment only to find the family was still living in Pennsylvania during the 1860’s and so he fought with the 81st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
Now armed with a name and place he was living check my top five suggestions to start your research.
Soldiers and Sailors Database
Provided by the National Park System this no cost resource has compiled 6.3 million names of soldiers and sailors, both Union and Confederate, their rank and the regiment they served. If you have the time to linger this site is filled with scads of information pertaining to the Civil War.
Regimental History – Now that you know the name of the regiment your ancestor served with research that regiment on your favorite search engine. You will find numerous resources from websites to blogs, to books that will detail the formation of the regiment, where they served, which battles they were involved in, their casualty numbers and where they mustered out. There were approximately 3,000 regiments, formed during the war, from both north and south. 2,000 of those regiments have a book written about their service. Some books you will find written by the soldiers after the war, many more by scholars who have studied a particular regiment. By learning your ancestor’s regiment’s history you’ll get the specifics of where and how he served.
A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
One of the little known and little used resources in the research of Civil War soldiers is The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Otherwise known as the OR for short it contains 128 volumes of actual reports and correspondence of those who fought in the Civil War. I know this resource sounds dull and boring at best but there’s few other places you’ll
find first hand accounts of what your Civil War ancestor went through!
There are a couple places online that have digitized this collection. Cornell University and The Ohio State University, are a couple sites where this work can be viewed online. You can also find the set in many libraries if you’d like to read from an actual book.
Confederate Military History
Along the same lines as the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, the Confederate Military History gives us a first hand account of the war from those fighting for the Confederacy.
The Confederate Military History, published in 1899 includes 12 volumes edited by Clement A. Evans who wrote two of the volumes himself.
These are my top five free online resources for researching your Civil War ancestor. Do you have one that should make it in the top five? Please, share it in the comments. I’m looking forward to your favorite free online resources for Civil War research!