Civil War Saturday – One of the Civil War’s Fiercest and Most Loyal Veterans

Photo Credit: Original Glass Plate Negative from the J. Mack Moore Collection - Wisconsin Historical Society Archives

Photo Credit: Original Glass Plate Negative from the J. Mack Moore Collection – Wisconsin Historical Society Archives

The 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry stood tall during the Civil War. The unit was raised in Eau Claire and mustered in September 13, 1861 at Camp Randall in Madison. They fought in the Western Theater seeing some vicious fighting which included the Battle of Corinth, the Vicksburg Campaign and the Battle of Nashville. By 1864 when the regiment’s soldiers had completed their three year enlistment many soldiers opted to go home. Those that reenlisted reluctantly said their good-byes. Hard as it was to part with comrades they had fought alongside, it was even more difficult to say good-bye to the most favored member of the entire regiment. The one who proved courageous, stalwart and loyal throughout their enlistment. The one who constantly raised morale and persevered through all the trials thrown at them. With sadness at their farewell these Civil War veterans, the valiant men of the 8th Wisconsin said good-bye to their friend and mascot, a bald eagle named Old Abe.

There were many regiments that had mascots during the Civil War. In fact quite a few soldiers brought pets from home when they mustered in. There are stories of dogs, a bear, badgers and even a raccoon that accompanied men into camp. Yet none of those gained the fame and outright notoriety as Old Abe. The bald eagle that accompanied the 8th Wisconsin into battle had an unequaled reputation and was known far and wide.

Early in 1861 a Native American, Agemahgewezhig, also known as Sky Chief fell a tree during the sugar making season. He didn’t realize there were two baby eagles nested in it. Once the tree was down Sky Chief saw one had died but took the other small eagle with him and cared for it.

While still young, Sky Chief sold the baby eagle to a local farmer for a bushel of corn. Daniel McCann, who purchased the bird, brought it home to his children. There the eaglet grew used to human touch and care, responding to voice commands and companionship. Yet the day came that McCann felt he couldn’t afford to feed the bird and by early autumn tried to sell him to young military minded men on their way to Eau Claire to enlist. When that didn’t work McCann went to Eau Claire himself and eventually sold the bird to a gentleman that gave the eagle to a company of men raised in the area, Company C of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.

The unnamed eagle was sworn in with the rest of the recruits and was even given a small rosette that hung on a red, white and blue ribbon and was occasionally put around the bird’s neck. As Company C, under the command of Captain Perkins marched to Camp Randall in Madison for training, crowds gathered to cheer the boys and their eagle. News of a company with a bald eagle as a mascot spread quickly and drew a lot of attention. Offers were made to buy the eagle but the captain was firm. No amount of money could purchase the mascot from the men. Continue reading

Why We Should Care that First Lt. Alonzo Cushing Received the Medal of Honor 151 years after dying at Gettysburg

First Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing

First Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

After years of dogged persistence by a Wisconsin woman and being put on hold the last couple months due to a search for relatives, First Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing received the Medal of Honor on November 6, 2014 for his actions at Gettysburg July 3, 1863.

Cushing, and his men, were part of the artillery barrage that preceded and continued through the Confederate attack on the center of the Union line, the third and final day of the battle at Gettysburg. Positioned on Cemetery Ridge, Cushing commanded artillery fire against the assault we now know as Pickett’s Charge.

The battle was bloody and brutal. So many soldiers fell injured and dying. As Cushing commanded his battery he too was hit. First in the shoulder and then a second shot tore open his mid-section. With his own hands he pushed his protruding bowels back in his body and continued with his command. Told to remove to the rear Cushing refused and had his first sergeant yell out his orders. Determined to hold his part of the Union line, Cushing was killed by a third bullet that hit him in the head. He died there on the Gettysburg battlefield. He was only 22 years old.

Certainly Cushing was one of the many dead President Lincoln spoke of a few months later when he gave his now famous address at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg.

“ . . . that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Abraham Lincoln – Gettysburg Address – November 19, 1863

And finally this past week, 151 years later, First Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing received the Medal of Honor from President Barak Obama. I watched the White House ceremony on YouTube.

My first visit trip to Gettysburg was six years ago. I distinctly remember seeing the monument to Cushing on Cemetery Ridge. I had no idea who he was. It wasn’t until I did some research after that trip that I got the full impact of his actions. The grit and determination of a young man to persevere despite injury and pain. He stood among the smoke, the fear, the sounds of battle, holding his stomach so it wouldn’t spill onto the field and continued to lead. Cushing would not and did not let his commanding officers down, nor his men or his country.

Alonzo Cushing’s story struck a cord with me. I never forgot it. I was well aware of who he was and what he did when his name cropped up in the news this past summer. I’m thrilled his actions are being remembered, that people are learning who he was and what he did. That’s my quest here with Genealogy Circle. To promote the need for all of us to document our Civil War ancestor’s stories so they’re not lost to time.

Let’s do that. Tell and retell the journey of our ancestors, through blog posts, family histories, scrapbooks, and photo albums. Don’t let their stories slip through our fingers.

To Alonzo H. Cushing and all soldiers whose unknown acts of heroism and courage have gone unnoticed or slipped into the pages of history – Thank You. May you somehow know of my/our gratitude and that in some way all of you share in receiving this Medal of Honor. I’m certain First Lt. Cushing wouldn’t mind at all.

Civil War Tool Box – Part 2

Tool BoxWe’ve all heard the term “Genealogist’s toolbox” or “Genealogist’s toolkit” in online posts and at workshops. Genealogists and family historians have come to know a “toolbox” as the resources available to them for their research. Examples from a genealogist’s toolkit can range from links to websites and databases, to books and repositories. Some may even include software and apps but usually all the tools are found online.

Last week we discussed Websites for Civil War research and learning. This week let’s dig a little deeper in my Civil War toolbox and see what’s there!

More Websites for Learning

The Civil War Homepage There’s so much Civil War information here it’ll make your head spin. I especially like the Official Records battle reports in the upper right corner. There’s only a few listed but I like reading through the general’s reports without wading through entire volumes of the Official Records. You can also scan their photo section, maps, letters and diaries and on and on.

Civil War Archive Another good site to for researching the history of Union and Confederate Regiments, there are soldier’s letters and diaries and battle reports. Again knowing what activities are going on around your ancestor helps in understanding their Civil War service.

Civil War Soldier Search
Lots of information packed in this website. Tips on researching Compiled Military Service Records, Pension Records, 1890 Special Census, photographs and so on.

Resources When Searching For Pension Records

National Archives Records Administration (NARA) Obviously the place to go to when ordering a Union soldier’s pension record but there’s lots of helpful info and explanations.
Also when you’re on the NARA site take a look at their Prologue Magazine Many, many helpful articles there.
NARA State Archives list Individual state links for finding your Confederate soldier’s pension information.
Fold3 – Online Military Records $$ Constantly adding records. I found a Union soldier’s pension file, all 64 pages of it here. All pension files are not yet available on the site but they do claim 436+ million U.S. military records.
Council of State Archivists Another list of southern state information when searching for your Confederate Civil War ancestor’s pensions.

A Soldier’s Post War Life

Grand Army of the Republic
Library of Congress Complete list of GAR posts.

Sons of Union Veterans They are working to document the location of all GAR post’s records which include applications, minutes, etc.

Grand Army of the Republic Library and Museum

United Confederate Veterans

Sons of Confederate Veterans A list of the locations of the United Confederate Veterans records.


Ancestors In A Nation Divided

Ancestors In A Nation Divided by Cindy Freed (me!)

Available in paperback

Now let me do a small commercial here. My book will help you through the steps of researching your Civil War ancestor. Whether you’re starting from the beginning and only have a name – to an in-depth search of your veteran’s military and post-war life. This book will guide you step-by-step through the process. It’ll be a big help. I’m sure of it!

These next three sites have quite an array of digital Civil War titles free and available to read. I particularly like to research County Histories on these sites. Easy to read from home.

Google Books

World Cat

Internet Archive

Civil War Newspapers

Beside checking on the newspapers published in the locale your ancestor lived during the Civil War here’s a list of other era newspapers. This kind of reading certainly helps the researcher get a better grasp of Civil War life and thinking.

Virginia Tech American Civil War newspapers

Penn State – Pennsylvania Civil War era Newspaper Collection

Son of the South – Harper’s Weekly the newspaper during the Civil War Reading Harper’s Weekly will give you a great overview of the war as it was written at the time.

Civil War Newspapers is the name of this site.
Loads and loads of links for mostly southern titles.

There you have it. A peek into my Civil War toolbox. I have many more links I use but these are at the top of my list. As I said in the beginning I hope you find a site or two you have not searched before or this list is a reminder to least check back and have a second look at some you’ve previously explored.

As always thanks for reading and Good Luck in your research!

** Previously published in the September 2014 issue of “Going In-Depth” magazine**

Civil War Saturday – My Civil War Toolbox

Tool BoxWe’ve all heard the term “Genealogist’s toolbox” or “Genealogist’s toolkit” in online posts and at workshops. Genealogists and family historians have come to know a “toolbox” as the resources available to them for their research. Examples from a genealogist’s toolkit can range from links to websites and databases, to books and repositories. Some may even include software and apps but usually all the tools are found online.

I’ve seen toolbox collections that cover genealogy topics ranging from a Beginning Genealogists toolbox, to an Irish Genealogy Toolkit to a National Archives toolkit. In this article I thought I’d share with you my Civil War toolbox. It’s my list of go-to sites for Civil War soldier research as well pages for learning about the war itself. My hope is that you find a site or two you’ve never used before or you find one you haven’t checked in awhile and want to stop back again and research.

So let’s open my Civil War toolbox and see what’s inside!

Websites for Research

I thought I’d separate this first section of websites into two categories. The initial category below will help with links to track down your individual ancestor. These sites will assist you in locating your Civil War ancestor through rosters, obits, databases, etc.

Leslie Lawson has one of the most detailed genealogist’s toolboxes I’ve ever seen. Her site, Lawson Research Services lists genealogy links for all 50 states as well as a few other topics like DNA, vital or jails. Here you’ll find link upon link for your search. Each of the individual states are broken down into counties. Some counties are further broken down into probate, obit index, naturalization records and so on. She includes Civil War info for each state. Ohio for example has a link for Names of Union Soldiers with Civil War Service in Ohio Units and Ohio Civil War Rosters. Don’t overlook Leslie’s extensive information. Just click on the toolbox tab in the header menu on her site.

 Lawson Research Services with permission from Leslie Brinkley Lawson

Lawson Research Services – Used with permission.

Another great site is Lorine McGinnis Schulze’s Olive Tree Genealogy. I have a soft spot for Lorine’s site. It was the very first one I checked out when I started my Civil War research. There are a variety of links here from U.S. Civil War POW Records, to Confederate Disability Applications and Receipts to Robert E. Lee Camp Confederate Soldiers Home Applications for Admission. She lists many seldom used and seldom talked about record sets. Stop by and take a peek.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze's Olive Tree Genealogy  -  Used with permission

Lorine McGinnis Schulze’s Olive Tree Genealogy – Used with permission

Cyndi’s List For more than 18 years Cyndi has been compiling and updating online genealogy links for family research. There are 1,116 in the Civil War category alone. Her site is constantly evolving. So a researcher should check back often. New links are added continually. Cyndi’s List is a must in your toolbox.

National Park System Soldiers and Sailors Database This is a free database with the names of both Union and Confederate soldiers. I’ve heard a few complaints that the database is not as complete as it could or should be. This may be the case yet it is a good place to start your research and certainly shouldn’t be the only place you research. Nice informative section on regiments as well.

American Civil War Research Database On their website they claim they are “the largest, most in-depth and fully searchable database of American Civil War soldiers and events.” As of this writing I have not subscribed but plan to. Once I do I’ll write a review in a future blog post. I’m including this little-known site as a place for you to consider. It’s a subscription site but the price seems very reasonable.

Find-A-Grave I’ve found more clues for further research on this site because someone else very generously documented and uploaded the gravesite information from a cemetery. Of course it’s a hit or miss whether the final resting place of the person you’re searching for is on the site but I’ve had good luck finding soldier’s graves here. Which gave me additional clues for my research.

The next few links are of course the standard list of online genealogy resources we use daily but still worth the mention.

Family Search Free

Ancestry $$

Find My Past $$

Archives $$

Websites for Learning

This second website category is for general information about the Civil War. It’s so vital in understanding our veteran’s place during this time in history to know something of the era and the events going on at the time.

Civil War Trust Far and away my favorite site to learn about the Civil War. Want to know about a particular battle, prison or stats? You’ll find it all right here in an easy to read format. This is a free site. They do invite you to donate but you can read and research without paying. I especially like their series Civil War In 4. They’re four minute videos on a variety of subjects like medicine, women, armies, black soldiers and Confederate leaders. Good, solid information told in a concise manner.

Now since I have a pretty big “tool box” I’ll continue my list with next week’s Civil War Saturday. Hope to see you then! As always thanks for reading and Good Luck in your research!

** Previously published in the September 2014 issue of “Going In-Depth” magazine**

Civil War Saturday A Soldier’s Story

He Fought From the War’s Beginning to End with the 4th OVC

Charles and Amanda Briggs

Charles and Amanda Briggs

Charles Marion Briggs grew up on what could be considered the frontier of Allen County, Ohio. He was born July 25, 1842 while the county was still in its infancy. There were large tracts of heavily wooded land still untouched by settlers. Situated on the edge of the Great Black Swamp the population was still rather small. As a youngster Charles saw the occasional Indian roaming the area. Probably Shawnee, he’d show up at the family’s farm, frightening everyone at home and taking whatever food he could find. Nearby was the tiny village of Spencerville. Just a few miles west of their farm. It was the closest town for supplies, medical help and community. Living here required a certain amount of mettle and the Briggs family had it.

In his early years Charles learned to be strong and independent. His youth was spent with only his father and sister. His mother died when he was just four and younger brother Jacob passed before his first birthday. His hard work and self-sufficiency on the farm would serve Charles very well in the next chapter of his life.

As the summer of 1861 came around Charles turned 18 years old. News of southern secession traveled fast even to rural areas like Allen County. Love of country and patriotism were plentiful as President Lincoln issued a call for troops. Yet it was soon apparent, after the initial enlistment, this conflict would not be resolved in a few short months. More soldiers would be needed and recruiting began.

Allen County was a fertile area to find hard working, active, young men. It wasn’t difficult to raise a company of soldiers there. The Spencerville area produced a number of men ready, willing and able to fight for and defend the country they loved. Charles Briggs was one of them. He enlisted on October 18, 1861 for three years. He was a private in Company I, 4th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry.

Charles was well suited to be a cavalry man. He was short, lean and wiry. Very capable of riding a horse for great lengths of time without burdening the animal. Being raised on a farm, the rigors of cavalry life may not have surprised Charles very much. He was well aware of the daily care and maintenance a horse required. He’d spent his life working the land putting in many labor intensive days. So the drilling and training required of new recruits may not have phased Charles much either.

Yet the brutalities of war soon became a regular part of Charles daily life too. He encountered fear, death and bloodshed no one could be prepared for. He was involved in every battle the 4th OVC fought from Stone’s River to Chickamauga to Selma, adding to that the continual harassment of outlaw Confederate cavalryman, John Hunt Morgan.

Charles witnessed the death and injury of hundreds of his comrades. He saw the blood and heard the chilling screams as flesh was ripped open by shrapnel. Charles knew the hollow ache of watching your friends die of wounds or disease because there wasn’t enough doctors or medical supplies. He was fully christened to the atrocities of war. Continue reading