Where Do I Find My Civil War Ancestor’s Photo?

Vintage camera on tripod

Photo Credit: nfocus at freeimages.com

A photo of your Civil War ancestor is a prized possession for any genealogist or family historian. If it’s a picture of your veteran in uniform it’s a double bonus! Unfortunately I don’t fall into this category. I don’t have a single photo of my Civil War great great grandfather in uniform or even later in life. I’m bummed about this but all is not lost. There are many online repositories bursting with Civil War pics. Possibly with one I’m looking for. So let’s take a look at a few.


One of the first and best places to look is the United States Army Military History Institute. Known as the MOLLUS-Massachusetts collection of Civil War photographic prints (Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States-Massachusetts chapter) this collection was gathered by former Union officers in the 1880s. With more than 23,000 images of the Civil War you can spend days browsing this collection.

Search first for your ancestor by surname. They claim 80% of the photos in their collection are identified but there’s the chance you won’t find your guy. Next you might type in the regiment your ancestor served with. I put in the 81st Pennsylvania and 20 photos came up. None of my ancestor, but I was pleasantly surprised I got that many hits. Lots of the identified photos are of prominent generals like Grant, Lee and Sherman but there were scads of less recognized officers as well.


Slave Quarters

Slaves Quarters Photo Credit: Gladstone Collection of African American Photographs Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print                                No known restrictions on publication.


Next I tried searching particular battles my ancestor fought as well as plugging in infantry or cavalry. There were tons of these pics to give me a better idea of what a soldier’s life was like from camp to the uniform he wore.


Another excellent resource is the Library of Congress. They have about 7,000 glass plate negatives made by Matthew Brady’s studio photographers. Brady set out to document the war with his staff of photographers and achieved much more than that. He exposed the brutality and carnage of this conflict in a way never before seen by the every day citizen.


I struck out on both surname and regiment but when I put in Virginia I got a list of all the views available and looked at numerous prints of Petersburg where my grandfather was entrenched for months. I also found photos of High Bridge where a small skirmish took place before my ancestor was shot. It was meaningful for me to see these places as he would have seen them. Continue reading

The Battle of Gettysburg, the 20th Maine and George Washington?

Little Round Top Gettysburg National Battlefield

Little Round Top viewed from Devils Den – Gettysburg National Battlefield

What hasn’t been said about the infamous battle that took place in the tiny southern Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg? The Army of the Potomac clashed with the Army of Northern Virginia in a savage three day battle that resulted in horrendous loss of life. Both sides suffered substantially with more than 51,000 casualties, nearly one third of all those who fought.

Millions of words have been written about specific events of those three days. The heroic stand of Buford and his cavalry the first day. The bloody assaults at the Wheatfield where possession of the land changed hands multiple times that afternoon. The decimation of Pickett’s Charge but none may be as memorable as the fight waged by Union Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain and the men of the 20th Maine at the battle for Little Round Top.

We all know the story. It was the second day of battle at Gettysburg. The Union troops grip on the high ground of Cemetery Ridge was slipping. To shore up the Union’s defensive position troops were dispersed to the hills just south of town. General George Sickles was to move his II Corps to a hill known as Little Round Top. His reinforcements would bolster a weak Union line and was ordered by the Union commander himself, General George Meade. Yet Sickles in one of the greatest blunders known to military minds took it upon himself to defy orders. He moved his troops about a mile away into a heated battle at the Peach Orchard. Sickles left the Union left flank completely open to devastation. If Confederate troops could exploit this breach the Union line would fall like dominoes losing the high ground, maybe even the entire battle to the rebels.

The vulnerability of the Union line left by Sickles at Little Round Top was soon discovered. Col. Chamberlain and his men were immediately dispensed to bolster the inadequate defenses there. It was while these troops were heading toward Little Round Top that an unimaginable event occurred.

The men had come to a fork in the road. Being unfamiliar with the territory the 20th Maine wasn’t sure which route to take. It was at this point a huge white stallion appeared out of nowhere. The horse and rider had an ethereal air about them. Some of the men later called it an eerie glow. The rider erect in the saddle wore a tri-cornered hat and old fashioned clothes. Those soldiers who got a glimpse of his face swore it was the very man who fought for and fathered this country decades before, George Washington. Although dead for 60+ years the men had seen paintings and etchings of Washington and were sure this was who was directing their path to Little Round Top. If the appearance of George Washington wasn’t enough some men said Washington raised his sword and led the troops to the appropriate position on Little Round Top. Continue reading

Free Civil War Books – Get Your Free Civil War Books Here!

Genealogists and family historians love books. We’re always on the look out for the newest How To’s on research, or new sources on our German and Irish ancestry or histories on the locations where our ancestor‘s lived. You name it, if a book hints at helping us with genealogy research we want it. The only problem is that most of us don’t have a blind trust or bottomless pockets to fill up our book shelves with all the reading material we’d love to study. Many of us have to settle for requesting these books as birthday or Christmas gifts. Yet I’ve compiled quite a collection of Civil War books to keep me occupied for sometime and all for free.


How did I accumulate a vast stockpile without breaking the bank? It’s simple – ebooks. Most of us know there are a lot of free ebooks available but haven’t taken the time to peruse what’s out there. Maybe you thought the only freebies available were short pamphlet size periodicals or romantic fiction. Not so! A search on any of the easily recognizable programs will reveal some valuable reading material for your research or a particular area of study. Typing in “Free Civil War books” in an app’s search bar will have you downloading faster than you can say “my great great grandfather fought in the Civil War.” So let’s take a look at what’s out there.


First thing is a short investigation of Kindle, Nook, iBooks, etc. to help you select the best app for the operating system you use. Remember if you’re new to e-readers and apps,you don’t have to own the device the app is associated with. I have the Kindle reading app and Google Play on my iPad. I don’t need a Kindle Fire to use the Kindle app or an Android operating system to use Google Play. My preferred e-reader app is Kindle. I have it installed on all my devices from laptop, tablet to phone. (Actually I don’t read on my phone. The print is too small for me but if it works for you I envy your good eye sight!) Like I said earlier investigate the apps and choose the best one for you and your device. Once you’ve got an app you’re ready to search. So let’s find some great reading that costs you nothing.


IpadSearching for free ebooks on Kindle is as easy as going to Amazon’s website or just clicking on the Search bar with the little magnifying glass in your app. I typed in Free Civil War books and got a list of three pages with more than 42 titles. Just be aware the last few books listed were not free. Those listed ranged from Reminiscences of a Rebel by Wayland Fuller Dunaway, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg Campaigns of the Civil War – VI by Abner Doubleday to The Story of a Common Soldier of Army Life in the Civil War, 1861-1865 by Leander Stillwell. In particular I want to read about the army life of the common soldier so I downloaded that one. Who am I kidding? In fact I downloaded a number of them! I’m all about understanding daily life in the 1860s from civilian to military life. So I was thrilled to see these titles. Lots of good reading here with Kindle and it’s all free! Continue reading

The South’s Greatest Soldier?

John Hunt Morgan

Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan

John Hunt Morgan, a daring Confederate cavalry general, was seen as the epitome of southern chivalry and bravery by its citizens and supporters. Those in the north thought otherwise. They saw a dare devil, ruffian and marauder who was a constant threat to the Union army and the men in the western theater.
Whichever definition you choose there’s no doubt he was daring and adventurous and today a legend.

The Young Mr. Morgan

Morgan was born in Alabama but due to his father’s financial losses moved at the age of six with his parents and siblings to Kentucky. John grew up among his mother’s relatives and came to love Kentucky and regarded it as his homeland as much as they did.

As a young man John Hunt Morgan attended Transylvania College for a short time but was expelled for dueling with a fraternity brother. He went on to enlist with the 1st Kentucky Cavalry during the Mexican American War. There Morgan made a name for himself at the Battle of Buena Vista. This combat experience solidified his path for the rest of his life.

Morgan in the Civil War

Back home John established himself as a hemp manufacturer but his love of military led him to establish a militia known as the Lexington Rifles. He equipped this group out of his own pocket. There was no doubt once war was declared in 1861 Morgan would throw his support behind the confederacy along with his militia. The Lexington Rifles joined the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry and John Hunt Morgan was the regiment’s colonel.

The 2nd Kentucky Cavalry soon saw action at the Battle of Shiloh. Morgan was assigned to Joseph Wheeler’s division in Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. His gutsy behavior during battle soon spread throughout the south. Many saw a solid confederate future through the gritty military actions of John Hunt Morgan. Continue reading

Civil War Saturday – video style

I’ve written several times about my Civil War ancestor James R. Van Meter. There are posts about him here and here.

James battled disease off and on throughout the three years he served and died 150 years ago February 18, 1864. I waded through snow, wind and cold last week to place a wreath on James headstone to commemorate this significant anniversary.

If you’d take a moment to watch this short video and remember James I would really appreciate it! Thanks!