Civil War basics

Have the recent Civil War commemorations made you curious about what your ancestors did during that war? If you’re like most of us, you don’t know where to start. Finding more can actually be very easy. All you need is a little information and some help from the internet.
To research well, you need to have some basic information. It’s best to know your ancestor’s full name. Searching for the last name Brown will turn up thousands of results, while a first name will reduce the list. You should know how old they were – to determine if they were likely to serve. If you happen to know where your ancestor lived, your search will be even easier. Civil War regiments were recruited locally. If you know in which state your ancestor lived, a little research should yield his regiment.
A good place to start is the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System database run by the National Park Service (http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/). Compiled from company muster-out rolls, the database provides the soldier’s name, his regiment and company, his rank at the start of war, and his rank at the end. The database is searchable by soldiers, sailors, and regiment. It also contains records for a few prisons and one cemetery. Click on soldiers, enter a name and state, and then click “submit query.” The results should yield information on your ancestor. Click on his name for his record. Clicking on the regiment’s name will bring up a regimental history.
If you’ve gained your ancestor’s regiment from Soldiers and Sailors, it’s worth turning to Google. Many reenacting groups post regimental histories, company rosters and more to their web pages. If your ancestor was from the Middletown area, try the website of the 14th Connecticut Volunteers: http://members.tripod.com/bliss_barn/history.html. Here, you can find out about all the small details of your ancestor’s military life. You may even decide to visit one of the reenactments.
Want to delve further into your ancestor’s military experience? You have a variety of options. Online, you can access your ancestor’s Compiled Military Service records. These will give you a basic outline of his life in the military, including if he got sick or deserted. Many of them are available on the website http://www.fold3.com. With a Connecticut State Library Card, you can access Fold3 for free. Instructions for getting a card are available on their website. You can also order his pension file from the National Archives. Veterans needed to prove that they had served in the military to receive a pension. These files contain anything your veteran needed to make his case. Information on placing the order is available online at http://www.nara.gov. Finally, check out the local archives. The Middlesex County Historical Society holds records of many local soldiers. These records should allow you a glimpse into his daily life.

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