Researchers Building Database of African American Civil War Soldiers, Detailing Their Lives Both Before and After the War

As more Black history records come online, finding a Civil War ancestor becomes more accessible for those with African American heritage. This post is from Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter.

Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter

A team of researchers has launched a project that is working to put online records of the United States Colored Troops—regiments of African American soldiers that included large numbers of men who had been slaves at the start of the Civil War.

In 1862, the Union Army officially created the United States Colored Troops (USCT)—regiments of African American soldiers that included large numbers of men who had been slaves at the start of the Civil War. However, details of these estimated 200,000 men who fought in the conflict are not easily accessible. While the army kept records of their backgrounds and where they fought as well as their fates and fortunes, they are housed, in paper format, in the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.

The African American Civil War Museum in Washington now plans to produce an electronic archive chronicling the lives of these soldiers, both before and after…

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The American Civil War 365 Days

My Review of the Book

Over 150 years ago the United States erupted in a civil war. There is much to learn about that time and this is just the book for anyone fascinated by Civil War history and all the details that go with that time period. If you are searching for a Civil War ancestor, you need to learn about all aspects of the war so you can put their life in perspective of the events of that time.
American Civil War 365 Days
This weighty book would make a good doorstop, that is if you could tear yourself away from it long enough to use it in that way. What I’m saying is, there is a lot of history packed into this book. Great for dipping into and browsing, but it has an index for returning to information that you found earlier.

The American Civil War 365 Days is a book that Civil War buffs and those with a casual interest will enjoy soaking up historical facts. It was great for that, but when I checked the index for a specific topic, it sometimes wasn’t there. You can only cram so much into one book, even one as large as this one is. It would not be my #1 source for reference on the Civil War.

Battle of Chancellorsville Mouse Pad

Battle of Chancellorsville Mouse Pad by libertybell

Reviews by Others

What other reviewers have to say about the book:

    • “I added this to my classroom civil war collection as soon as I saw finished reading it. Recommended. ” (review by Evan McMillan)

    • “Excellent information and photos.” (review by G.J. Durst)

    • “The division of the book into topics helped me analyze different general aspects of conflict and concern at the time, and the phenomenal selection of photos, maps, drawings, cartoons humanized the time period and the war itself and made it very real. I borrowed the book from the library, couldn’t put it down, rushed right out and bought it.” (review by nsx12 on Amazon)

Take a look at a video of the author talking about the book. You can buy the book, The American Civil War 365 Days, new or used in hardback on Amazon. Just click on the book below to see more reviews or to buy a copy.

Reading Handwriting from the Civil War

January 23rd is National Handwriting Day each year, so let’s talk about Civil War handwriting. Men who served the Union or the Confederacy were of varied educational backgrounds. Some could read and write well, but others were illiterate. The latter came from rural areas that lacked schools or where keeping the family farm going left no time for schooling.

In Daily Life in Civil War America, the statistics given were about 90% of men in the north could read and 70% in the south.

In searching for your Civil War ancestor, of course you’ll check the 1860 and 1870 census records. In 1860, one of the questions asked if the person was 20 years of age but cannot read or write. In 1870, the census separated that into 2 categories: cannot read, cannot write.

Below is a sample of Abraham Lincoln’s handwriting. Obviously he could write well with his training as a lawyer. For my Civil War ancestor, Abraham Bates Tower of Leavenworth, Indiana, I have no idea of what schooling he received, but the census lists him as able to read and write.

President Abraham Lincoln's Letter to Mrs. Bixby Post Card
President Abraham Lincoln’s Letter to Mrs. Bixby Post Card by famousdocuments

In our family papers is a Abraham Tower’s pocket diary that he appears to have purchased at mustering out time. The first few pages of the small book lists the men of Company G, 93rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry. In later years, he filled the rest of the diary with family births, marriages and deaths, similar to what one sees in family Bibles.

Spencerian was the style of penmanship popular in the 1850s and 60s. Reading the handwriting of this era can be tricky with faded ink, water damage, archaic words and unfamiliar abbreviations. Here are some tips for reading Civil War letters and diaries.

There are quite a few diaries from this period available for reading online. Getting yourself familiar with the handwriting of that time is easier when you have the original and a transcription side-by-side. Here are links to Confederate, Union and also women’s diaries from the war.

Mouse Pad with Civil War Cap and Canteen

I’ve been asked about the graphic used on this blog. It’s a photo I took when I visited Andersonville Prison in Georgia.

If you like it, I’ve made it available on a mouse pad that can be ordered from Zazzle. It would make a great Christmas gift or birthday present for any Civil War buff that you know or get it for yourself.

Here it is:

Put the Power of Facebook to Work for You

There’s an amazing range of interest groups on Facebook. Some have thousands of members. I’ve found ones that specialize in the Civil War and these groups put you in daily contact with some very knowledgeable history buffs, authors, re-enactors and genealogists.

To find these groups, search on Facebook by keywords. The ones I’ve found helpful are:

  • Civil War
  • The American Civil War
  • Civil War Faces
  • The Civil War Buff
  • Descendants of Andersonville Prisoners

There are groups for certain regions, certain battles, for Civil War recipes and many more topics. For groups listed as “closed,” you have to get an invitation from someone in the group to join.

You can join a group and then search the back postings using the little magnifying glass. Search by the last name of your ancestor or a battle or a regiment. At first, I like to get acclimated in a group by liking and commenting on a few interesting things. Then you can put a question or share some information you have once they are used to seeing your face on the site.

Be polite and show appreciation when others help you.

Here's an example of a Civil War interest group on Facebook.

Here’s an example of a Civil War interest group on Facebook.

Travel Back in Time

When planning your summer vacation, take a trip back in time. Visit places where your Civil War ancestor lived or where he participated in a battle.

Not all information is available online and certainly there’s no substitute for actually being there yourself. For instance, I’d read a number of diaries and accounts of Andersonville, but actually walking through that recreated gate for that prison brought it home to me what his experience was. Although I saw open ground with a small creek running across it, my imagination peopled that space with the thousands of desperate and hungry prisoners.

The previous year, we used part of our vacation to tour Vicksburg. My ancestor’s company participated in the siege and tearing up railroad tracks near there. Seeing the exhibits and walking the land where it all took place really helps you understand what happened.

More recently, we traveled to the area in Southern Indiana where Abraham Bates Tower grew up. Again, seeing the terrain, the small towns and the massive Ohio River gave me insight into his life.

Visiting the county historical society and the public library turned up valuable information that isn’t online. I scanned Abraham and Nancy’s marriage license, photographed all the graves in a Tower family graveyard and gathered background information of life in that area for 1830 – 1860.

Tell me about your travel plans. Best of luck finding out more about your Civil War ancestor.

Photo by Virginia Allain - Guard post at Andersonville Prison in Georgia

Photo by Virginia Allain – Guard post at Andersonville Prison in Georgia

Another Angle to Search

I subscribe to the Genealogy Tip of the Day and yesterday’s was a great one for anyone searching for their Civil War ancestor. The valuable tip advised searching for the commanding officer’s name.

The thinking is that any newspaper articles or web pages may profile or include this person and yield details relating to the company that your ancestor was in. Usually the commanding officer was someone of importance in the community.

I’d already tried this avenue of research for my great-great grandfather. It did turn up some helpful information for me. The regimental history gave me the name of Jerome Spilman who was the captain.

By searching his name, I found quite a few tidbits to add to my background information on Company G and its movements. This helps me understand my ancestor’s experience during the war.

I wrote about my findings on this page: Officers of Company G, 97th Indiana Infantry.

Civil War Soldier 1863 Greeting Card
Civil War Soldier 1863 Greeting Card by ClassicOldPhotos