Civil War POWS: Prisoners Within Their Own Country or Another?

Confederate prisoners captured in the Shenandoah Valley being guarded in a Union camp, May 1862. Select Audiovisual Records National Archives and Records Administration Washington, DC 20408

Confederate prisoners captured in the Shenandoah Valley being guarded in a Union camp, May 1862. Select Audiovisual Records National Archives and Records Administration
Washington, DC 20408

The subject of prisons ranks high as one of the most controversial topics of the Civil War. It’s probably second only to the reason the war was fought. It’s hotly contested as to whether the treatment of Civil War prisoners was deliberately cruel or resulted from a lack of resources. Whatever your view researching the valiant men who populated those prisons should not be overlooked in our genealogy research.

There were more than 150 prisons used during the Civil War across both north and south. Some of those weren’t operated to capacity until later in the war. Large prisons of the day barely accommodated 100 men which did suffice early on. In the initial stages of the war both sides participated in an exchange program. Captured prisoners were either held a short time in a local prison and paroled or sent home and were not to rejoin their troops until an exchange of men was made with the other side. Generally this system worked although there were some prisoners of war who immediately rejoined their regiment upon release not abiding by the rules. It was even noted some prisoners were exchanged immediately after a battle, private for private and officer for officer, relieving both armies of the burden of dealing with prisoners of war.

Andersonville Prison, Ga., August 17, 1864. South east view of stockade. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA <http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print> No known restrictions on publication.

Andersonville Prison, Ga., August 17, 1864. South east view of stockade. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA <http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print> No known restrictions on publication.

This system didn’t last long though and fell apart. The Confederate government refused to exchange black prisoners. Any black prisoner of war was considered and treated as a slave by the Confederacy whether he had been a free man prior to the war or not. With this criteria in place the United States government made their own significant decision which secured the demise of the prisoner exchange system. I’ve seen it attributed to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in 1862 and General Ulysses S. Grant in 1864 but whoever made the final decision the result was devastating to future prisoners of war. No longer would the United States participate in any type of prisoner exchange program. Period. It was felt the paroling of Confederate soldiers was only prolonging the war by allowing them to rejoin their regiments and eventually fight Union troops again. Limiting the manpower in southern armies, it was felt, would bring an end to the war. Continue reading

What was the Life of a Company Musician or Bugler like in the Civil War?

Bugle Call

Photo Credit: Freeimages.com by coloniera2

As hard as it may be for us to grasp today, music was an essential part of life during the Civil War. Bands were very popular in the mid 1860′s, so much so that in the early years of the war Union infantry and cavalry regiments had their own brass bands. While officers were busy recruiting soldiers as they raised their new units, they were also recruiting musicians. A quality band helped boost a regiment’s enlistment numbers.

By August of 1861 it was a requirement from the War Department in General Order 49, that each company have two musicians and all company musicians would come together to form a regimental band. The instruments in a band could include trumpets, coronets, flugels or keyed bugles, saxhorns, trombones and tubas.

These bands provided music in camp which boosted morale, helped ease homesickness and provided entertainment. When troops were camped for long periods of time in one place bands played concerts for the soldiers. Band members would try to show off their musical skills at these times with difficult pieces.

There were several instances when Union and Confederate troops camped so close together the bands “played against each other” throughout an evening before battle. Often the bands played during actual fighting. While performing at the back of the line it’s said that their music helped “rally the troops”. Continue reading

Were Native Americans drawn in to fight in the Civil War?

First Battle of Bull Run by Kurz and Allison Photo: Library of Congress

First Battle of Bull Run by Kurz and Allison
Photo: Library of Congress

In any discussion about the Civil War our minds immediately think Union or Confederate, or North and South. With a little more thought we may identify specific groups and their presence in the war. There’s the influence of large numbers of German immigrants, the Irish Brigade or the African American 54th Massachusetts. It was not uncommon for ethnic groups to band together and take up the fight. It’s interesting to note the larger share of most ethnic groups fought for the North. Except for one – Native Americans.

Through the first half of the 1800s Native Americans withstood years of cultural dismantling. As the population of the United States grew and moved westward many tribes located east of the Mississippi were moved to the west of the great river. There were some Native American tribes that did remain in the east adapting to an extent to the politics, economy and community of their white neighbors. In doing so they were able to maintain an amicable coexistence. Yet large numbers of Native Americans were forced to move west.

Indian Delegation at the White House

Indian Delegation in the White House Conservatory During the Civil War
Photo: Mathew Brady March 27, 1863 Library of Congress

For the most part the Five Civilized Tribes, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, and Creek were the Native Americans moved west to the Indian Territory. Roughly that’s Oklahoma today, with each tribe having their own land and individual government in their section of the territory. All of this was overseen by an Agency which represented the U.S. government. Even though uprooted and forced to move these Native Americans created a new life for themselves. The Cherokee, Seminole and Creek settled in and were involved with farming and raising cattle. The Chickasaw and Choctaw grew cotton. All had overcome the anguish of their forced move and were beginning to prosper. With agriculture now as a basis for their livelihood about 14,000 African Americans were enslaved by Native Americans living in the Indian Territory. By mid 19th century slavery, crops and trade bound Native Americans to the southern culture. Continue reading

Another Look Inside My Soon-To-Be-Released Book: Ancestors In A Divided Nation

Ancestors In A Divided Nation - An In-Depth Guide To Civil War ResearchFriends here’s another peek at what you’ll find in my soon to be released book “Ancestors In A Divided Nation – An In-Depth Guide To Civil War Research”. It’s packed with research help for anyone from beginner to accomplished historian researching their Civil War ancestor.

Publishing later this month I want to give you a little peek as to the great research tips you’ll be able find in the book. I hope you’ll keep tabs here on my site for the exact publishing date. In the meantime this an early look:

 

Chapter Eight

Researching “Old Soldiers Homes”

Another lesser known resource when researching military ancestors is the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers or commonly referred to as the “Old Soldiers Home”.

The homes were established for Civil War veterans who had been injured during the war and found they or their families could no longer care for them. The homes were established across the country and veterans were able to voluntarily check themselves in and out. Your veteran may have lived close enough in proximity to have stayed at a home for awhile.

These homes were located in Togus Springs, Maine as the Eastern Branch, Dayton, Ohio, Central Branch, and Wood, Wisconsin was the Northwestern Branch. Other Branches included Hampton, Virginia, Southern Branch, the Western Branch was in Leavenworth, Kansas, the Pacific Branch was at Sawtelle, California, the Marion Branch in Indiana, the Danville Branch was in Illinois, the Mountain Branch was at Johnson City, Tennessee, the Battle Mountain Sanitarium was at Hot Springs, South Dakota the Bath Branch was in New York, the Roseburg Branch in Oregon, the St. Petersburg Home in Florida, the Biloxi Home in Mississippi, and the Tuskegee Home in Alabama.

Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Sandusky Ohio

Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Sandusky Ohio

Records were kept on each veteran who checked in and those registers are now kept at the National Archives in Record Group 15, in the Records of the Veterans Administration. The National Archives has a very informative page on the history of the Homes for Disabled Soldiers at http://1.usa.gov/L3BtR2, but they do not have the records online. They are available for research on FamilySearch https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1916230 and Ancestry http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1200

When searching either website you’ll be able to view a copy of the actual record. I have found most records to be well-filled out with valuable information. Some of the items contained in an individuals’ record includes name, rank, company, regiment, discharge, date admitted to home, birthplace, age, religion, residence, marital status, name and address of nearest relative, pension info, date and cause of death and place of burial (if applicable). The bottom of each veteran’s page has a space for general comments as well. I also found height, hair color, eye color and complexion included on one record.

If your Civil War veteran fought for the Confederacy he may have stayed at a state-run Soldiers Home. In that event, contact the state archives in the state where the home was located. A list of state-run homes can be found on the National Archives website as well at http://1.usa.gov/JZgsam

Using this resource adds another dimension to your military ancestor. His injury and need for health care makes him real, an actual person and helps us tell his life story more completely.

 

You’ll find this research tip and so much more in “Ancestors In A Divided Nation – An In-Depth Guide To Civil War Research”.  I hope you’ll check back here often for the exact publishing date.  Thanks!

Searching the Hidden Censuses for Your Civil War Ancestor

George & Mary Ellen Williams Marshall Farm

George & Mary Ellen Williams Marshall with son William Lloyd. Photo in possession of author

You know that wonderful feeling when you find a piece of info on your ancestor you didn’t have before? It’s exhilarating, it makes you smile, you may even do a “happy dance”! That feeling could be just around the corner when you start searching in “hidden” resources.

State censuses are those hidden resources. They’re not necessarily used a lot by genealogists and family historians in their research. State censuses take a low priority to the decennial United States Federal Census but they shouldn’t be overlooked as an additional source of information regarding your Civil War ancestor. They may hold the clue to your next “happy dance”.

Researching a state census may fill in the blanks with information not always asked for on a federal census. In fact state censuses many times asked questions not found on their federal counterpart. Add to that the loss of the 1890 Federal census, a state census may provide answers or new clues for the researcher.

State censuses were usually taken on the “5th” year, 1865, 1885, 1895, etc. but each state or territory chose their enumeration years. Many were erratic to say the least. There are state censuses recorded in Colorado for 1866 or in Indiana for 1889. The earliest state census was taken in 1782 in Delaware and the latest was 1945 in Florida and South Dakota.

Vintage fountain pen

Photo Credit: Stock.xchng by hisks

Looking specifically at your Civil War ancestor a state census taken during the 1860′s may pinpoint family location, names of family members and neighbors, occupation, etc. Sometimes the soldier is included in a state census even though he is away fighting in the war. After the Civil War, state censuses can help in locating where your veteran lived as well as his service listing the regiment he fought with and other information pertinent to his war service. Continue reading