Walk in the Footsteps of Your Civil War Ancestor

If you know that your Civil War ancestor participated in a specific battle, visit that site to learn all you can about his experience there. Just standing on the ground where he endured fire from the enemy lets you picture what he went through.

Most battlefields provide information on plaques that you can walk or drive to. Often there is a visitor’s center with a documentary film and exhibits to further inform the visitor. Check for a webpage for information on what can be seen there and for the hours.

Recently, I traveled to Mississippi to the location of the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. There was much to learn about the location, the conditions and the placement of the troops.

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Information display at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads. (photo by Virginia Allain)

I looked at the rolling hills with clumps of trees and could imagine the panic in the Union troops trapped by the flooded river, unable to cross to safety. The bridge, blocked by a turned-over wagon doomed hundreds to capture and imprisonment.

In the case of my ancestor, Abraham Bates Tower of the 93rd Indiana Infantry, this battle was a major turning point in his life. He went to Andersonville Prison with the other captured soldiers and emerged six months later as a wreck of a man. Starvation and illness there almost killed him, and according to his medical records he suffered for years trying to recover from that.

Andersonville is well worth a visit if your Union ancestor was a prisoner there or if a Confederate soldier, he might possibly have been a guard there.

from Pat Ruble's website:   http://geocities.com/fcruble/towerpictures.html

Abraham Bates Tower – A researcher in our family, Pat Ruble, provided this photo of him shortly after the war.

Many of the sites are under the care of the National Parks (list of Civil War related parks) but some are maintained on the state or local level. Just search the name of a battle online to see what museum or park is preserved for it. Then you can start working that into your vacation plans for this summer.

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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