Have You Found Your Civil War Soldier?
If you haven’t already tracked down your ancestor who served in the Civil War (1861-1865) go directly to the Soldiers and Sailors System, which is part of the National Park Service. Once there, enter the name. Optionally, you can also search via side (Union-Confederate), by state, by battle unit name, or by battle unit function (i.e. artillery). [Make sure you chose a side, otherwise the search may return zero results]
If the system finds your ancestors (which it should), the name will be displayed as below.
If the name of the regiment is in blue (hyperlinked) click on it and you’ll get a regimental history. If you do not receive a history, go to Google and search using a search such as: 18 missouri infantry civil war history or 18 missouri regimental history. In this instance, there was a regimental history. Note that several battles are hyperlinked (the text is blue). Now you can start digging deeper.
Step 1: Make a List of Battles
If your soldier served during the entire history of the regimen you can begin pulling out of the history the most significant battles. If they only served during a specific time period, choose the battles that took place during their period of service.
I ended up with a list like this:
- Rivers’ Bridge
- Washington DC
Step 2: Map the Journey
Once you have a list, go to Google Maps and using the left column for directions, begin entering the names of the most prominent battles. The goal is to map their journey. Google maps only allows 10 places, so I left out the early ones (St. Louis) as well as a few lesser-known places. This is what the left side of my Google Maps looked like as I added destination after destination.
This is the map Google produced. Remember, I left out the early journey from Missouri, so this map only represents a portion of my ancestor’s military service. After taking place in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C. at the close of the war, the regiment was disbanded in Louisville.
Step 3: Locate which Division and Brigade your ancestor’s regiment served under
During the Battle of Shiloh, the 18th Missouri was part of the 6th Division (Prentiss), 2nd Brigade (Miller).
How do I know this? I searched Google for “Battle Of Shiloh Union Order Of Battle”. This gave me a list showing that the 18th Missouri at Shiloh was part of the 6th Division under Brig. Gen. B. M. Prentiss and the 2nd Brigade under Col. Madison Miller.
It’s fairly easy to find the Order of Battle for almost any major conflict during the Civil War. Google it (or Wikipedia it)
Step 4: Locate a Battle Map
Because Shiloh was such a major battle and very early in the War, it was easy to find several battlefield maps. The one I liked best (because of the level of detail) was found at the Library of Congress.
(Click the map to view at full size)
If you view the map full size you’ll see that Prentiss’ Division (Letter N) is just south of the road. By reading more about Shiloh and Prentiss’ on a Google-discovered regimental history, I found that the 18th Missouri was in what was called the Hornet’s Nest by the Sunken Road. The photo below is a period photo from an online book found at the Shiloh NPS website.
The book went on to say that “He [Grant] visited Prentiss in the Hornets’ Nest and directed him to hold his position there at all hazards.” It was during this time that my gg-grandfather was wounded.What must it have been like for a Civil War soldier to be in a place with so many bullets flying that it was called the Hornet’s Nest?
I know it’s hard to work with maps with this level of detail, especially when they’re digitized and you have to keep zooming in and out, but seeing a period map really tells the tale of where your Civil War soldier’s regiment was located.
Step 5: Fly to the Battlefield
Because Shiloh was one of the most significant battles during the War, I knew I could find the Hornet’s Nest and Sunken Road by flying via Google Earth to the battlefield. I know you can do the same.
What Have You Learned About Your Civil War Soldier?
If you take these 5 steps to learn more about your Civil War soldier’s journey, what did you learn? For me, I have to say I was surprised at the distance the regiment traveled over the course of the war. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to follow the same journey yourself? (I think so!). I also learned just how many battles my ancestor fought in, and the large number of men in a single regiment.
I found the battle map fascinating as it gave me a sense of the (probable) chaos surrounding this battle. So many men, spread out over such a large piece of real estate. And all shooting at one another. I can’t even begin to imagine the din and smoke of this large of an engagement.
Lastly, I liked using Google Earth to fly to the battlefield. Having a bird’s eye view really gave me a sense of the scope of what my ancestor must have been up against.
If you’ve tracked your Civil War soldier’s journey, please leave a comment and tell me more 🙂