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

Why Research Your Civil War Ancestor?

Cannon at Battle of Five Forks Virginia

Cannon at Battle of Five Forks Virginia
Photo Credit: Cindy Freed

As genealogists and family historians it’s a rush when we add another generation to our family tree. We’re elated when we identify one more set of grandparents. We love discovering who our ancestors were and what they did.

As we do we strengthen our own identity and individuality. When we come to know who we are and where we came from we gain a sense of belonging and security. It’s true that most people in one way or another have a yearning to know their roots, the where and whys of our life. It’s the genealogists and family historians that act on that desire.

In doing family research there are so many documents, newspapers and books to read. There are databases to search, cemeteries to comb and courthouses to visit. There is so much to learn to put our ancestors and their lives in proper perspective it can make our head spin. It’s a hard decision to take just one long ago relative and spend hours, days, even months researching their life and especially the short span of four years or less but I’m suggesting you do just that.

With the myriad number of ancestors that make up your family tree and their call to you to find their message, their story, it’s a tough decision to narrow in on only one ancestor but I’m challenging you to do just that. I’m suggesting you take one fore bearer, one patriarch and concentrate on what may be his life’s biggest struggle, his greatest feats or worst fears realized.

I recommend you research your Civil War ancestor.

The Wheatfield - Gettysburg National Battlefield Park

The Wheatfield – Gettysburg National Battlefield Park
Photo Credit: Cindy Freed

Why you might ask? What more do I need to know than that my ancestor fought or worse yet that he didn’t come home from the fighting? In fact you may already have a family story or two handed down about your Civil War ancestor. So what other info do you need?

The Civil War was an epic moment in our country’s history. More than 3 million men from both the north and south fought. That was nearly 7% of the population. In comparison to today’s population it would be like 45 million Americans going off to war. Such a huge number is bound to touch every single person in this country and that’s exactly what the Civil War did. The fighting, the loss of life and property, the need for food and clothing, guns and ammunition, it all affected everyone’s daily life.

The combined death toll for both sides during the war is recorded at about 620,000 although many historians feel that number may be on the low side, yet comparing that number to today’s population the death toll would be around 6 million! Again you can see the impact this war had to have on each and every person’s life during that era.

But let’s narrow our look at the Civil War a bit. Let’s take the individual soldier, your Civil War ancestor and his war experience. Was he a northerner called to service because of his love for his country and the instilled need to preserve the Union? Was he a Confederate soldier fighting for the love of his country and its rights and freedom? Was he an African American, freedman or slave, fighting for the system with little acknowledgement?

These are the things you’ll want to know about your ancestor as well as the actual experiences he endured. Whether a member of the Colored Troops, Confederate or Union army, your ancestor made history. Your ancestor made our country what it is today. Finding his facts as well as researching his battles, camp conditions, food he ate and so on will put you alongside your ancestor in his Civil War journey. You’ll learn his experiences of fear, fatigue and injury and in knowing what he lived through you’ll be able to appreciate his service all the more. The Civil War changed this country’s path, it shaped our nation into what we know today and your ancestor had a hand in that.

As the years pass we move further and further away from this monumental time in our country’s history. As family historians and genealogists we need to research and preserve these stories of the men (and women) whose courageous and historic actions have blazed the path for us today.

Wilder Tower Chickamauga National Battlefield Park

Wilder Tower Chickamauga National Battlefield Park
Photo Credit: Cindy Freed

You may be thinking I’ll get to that some day. I’ve got a couple great great grandfathers that fought in the Civil War and I do want to research their military service. In fact that’s currently on my To-Do list and that’s a good thing but I suggest you might act on that desire sooner rather than later. Right now is the best time to research your Civil War ancestor. We in this country are in the midst of commemorating the 150th anniversary of the war and there is a plethora of events, displays and ceremonies that won’t be available to us when we get around to Civil War research in the future. Continue reading