USING WARTIME RECORDS TO RESEARCH
YOUR CONFEDERATE ANCESTOR
By Brian A. Brown
First, if you have not already read my essay on using post-war records to research your Confederate ancestor, go back and read it. If your ancestor (or his widow) received post-war benefits, such as a pension, you will find your research task is simplified if you start with his post-war benefits, then research the wartime records.
If you are using wartime records, a major challenge can be to identify which individual, out of several with the same or similar names, is your actual ancestor. You may identify a dozen “Josiah Campbells” in the service records of Confederate soldiers from a particular southern state, and identifying the right “Josiah Campbell” may be difficult. Records of Confederate soldiers are filed by military unit, so it may be necessary to check a number of these “compiled military service records” to find the right Josiah Campbell. When you do find the right file, many Confederate service records are devoid of personal data, making identification difficult. In many cases, the only identity clues will be his place of enlistment and his age. Keep in mind, also, that there was no rule that someone could only serve in one military unit – many men enlisted in a unit, were discharged, then reenlisted again. There may be no hint in his service records that the Josiah in the 13th Arkansas and the Josiah in the 21st Arkansas were the same person.
To begin research, go to the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, located at www.itd.nps.gove/cwss/soldiers.cfm
Type in the name of the soldier you wish to research, select “Confederate” for the side, and select the state. Hit the “search” button. If you search for Campbells from Arkansas, you get 202 hits. It you search for Josiah Campbell, you get zero hits. However, there are 28 soldiers listed with just “J” as a first initial, plus several Joels and Josephs who might be possible candidates. When using the Soldiers and Sailors System, always be careful to look for misspellings of your ancestor’s name (either first or last name), or the use of a first initial instead of a name. For Josiah Campbell, I look for the name Campbell by itself, finding 28 or so suspects but no clear match. I then search using several misspellings of the name Campbell (i.e. Cambell, Campbel, etc.). The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System will only give you a list of names and military units – there will not be a clue which of these individuals is the right one.
The next step is to actually look at the Confederate service records to try to identify the right Josiah. There are several sources from which you can obtain service records, ranging from free to pricey:
The state archives of each southern state tends to have service records on microfilm. Each state’s archives tends to only have service records for its own state (purchased on microfilm from the National Archives). Usually, these can be accessed for free if you can visit the state archives. Otherwise, it may be a bit pricey (or some state archives may refer you to a professional genealogist to do it for you, but that still may be expensive).
This is probably the best option. Currently, they charge $11.95 per month. With 28 Campbells to check, that could mean examining 28 separate service records. Fold3 has ALL Confederate compiled military service records on line, and one could subscribe for just one month, check all 28, then cancel your subscription (they have lots of other genealogical goodies, too). It takes a little practice to get the hang of using Fold3.com. On the opening screen, click on the words “Civil War”. A pop-up menu appears – one of the options will be “Confederate Military Service Records”. Click on that option. A list of states appears (along with several miscellaneous entries) for each state for which there are Confederate service records. You can use the search feature, but click on the button “browse” underneath the entry for Arkansas. You will see a grid – the column in the middle has the term “Civil War Soldiers- Confederate -AR” highlighted. The next column to the right has 253 entries -one for each military unit. Clicking on one of these entries brings up the next column – usually a list of first letters of surnames.
Confusing? Try an example. Click on “Civil War Soldiers-Confederate-Ar”. In the next column, scroll down until you see an entry for “15th (Northwest) Infantry C-F”. One of the Campbells that we are interested in was in the 15th Northwest Infantry, and this particular link will allow us to access all members of the 15th Northwest Arkansas Infantry, with surnames C, D, E, or F. Click on “C” in the next column. A column of 149 names appears, showing all soldiers in the unit with surnames beginning with “C”.. Scroll down until you see Campbell. There are 3 possible Campbells – “J.A.; “J.M.D.” and J .N.D.” Note that it is likely that J.M.D. Campbell and J.N.D. Campbell are the same person. Also, the number in parenthesis after some entries is the soldier’s age, for example, John W. Cannon was 15.
Let’s click on J.A. Campbell. The next screen appears with six images – these are the actual images from Cambpell’s service record – the same service record you would get from the National Archives (hint -don’t order the same thing twice!). Click on page 1. It shows the cover of the envelope in which his service records were stored – his name, his unit, his initial and final rank, and the number of cards contained in his service record. Click the arrow button on the right center of the screen – this takes you to the next page of this service records. It shows where and when “J.A.” enlisted and that, as of the June 30, 1862 muster, he was absent sick. He continues to be absent sick until early 1863, when his service record ends. There is no clue whether J.A. might be Josiah, except that J.A. enlisted at Ozark, Arkansas – did Josiah live near Ozark?
By going through all 28 service records in Fold3.com, you may be able to eliminate some of the suspects, and maybe narrow down or focus on just one or two. If you find him – congratulations!!
The LDS Family History Library.
The Family History Library in Salt Lake City has all microfilmed Confederate Civil War service records. These can be used for free if you are able to visit Salt Lake City, or can be rented from any local LDS (Mormon) Family History Center. Call any Mormon church to ask about the location of the nearest F.H.C., and its operating hours. The microfilm must be used in the Family History Center and, while not unduly expensive, film rental is currently $5 + per roll, which can add up quickly if you need to check multiple rolls of film.
The National Archives.
If you happen to visit the National Archives in Washington DC, they have the microfilmed Confederate service records, and these may be accessed for free on site. One can also order a copy of any Confederate service record from the National Archives – but don’t! It takes months and costs an arm and a leg (currently $25 per record requested). If you are absolutely insistent that you want to order a Confederate service record from the National Archives, go to http://www.archives.gov and request Form NATF-86.
At this time, Ancestry has a very limited number of Confederate service records on-line (a fraction of the number held by Fold3.com). They have a collection of information about Alabama Confederate soldiers (note the full service record – just a collection of random muster rolls – nevertheless, this is a fairly extensive collection). The most important wartime records available on Ancestry are “US Civil War Prisoner of War Records, 1861-1865″ and “Confederate Applications for Presidential Pardons, 1865-1867″. The first of these has basically all known records of Confederates held as prisoners of war, and the second contains applications by some 14,000 Confederate military officers, civil officials and wealthy individuals for pardons.
Ancestry, of course, costs money – maybe a friend subscribes and will look something up for you?
At the time of this writing, Familysearch has two free databases of interest. On the familysearch home page, scroll down to the area, in the lower left, titled “browse by location” and click on “USA, Canada and Mexico”. Then, on the left hand side of the screen, under “category” click on “military”. The two noteworthy free files are “Union Provost Marshall Files for Individual Civilians” and “Union Provost Marshall Files for Two or More Civilians”. The “provost marshall” was the military police of the Civil War era. These records record contacts between Union military police and southern civilians. Besides information about lots of southern civilians who crossed paths with the U.S. Army, there are lots of documents pertaining to Confederate soldiers.
IF all else fails. . . and you still cannot identify the “right” ancestor and his military unit, try this: Research your ancestor’s family. Identify his brothers, cousins, uncles and other male relatives, on both his mother’s and his father’s side of his family (this assumes that he would have had extended family living reasonably close to him in the 1860’s). Also, assuming he was married (or got married after the war), research his wife’s family for military-age male in-laws (again, I am assuming that his in-laws, or future in-laws, would have been living in the same vicinity at the time of the war). Then, try to identify a regiment where a concentration of soldiers served with his relatives’ names. Researchers are frequently astonished at how many soldiers in a Confederate military unit are related. Use the Civil War Soldiers System, described above, to quickly check the names on your list to determine in which regiment(s) they might have served. If you can identify a regiment where a concentration of confirmed or likely relatives served, there is a good chance the ancestor served in this unit, as well.
IF all else still fails.. go to the 1860 census and locate your ancestor (how to do so is a little beyond the scope of this essay, but there are lots of on-line sources to help out). Scan several pages before and after your ancestor’s name. Copy down the names of males between about age 14 and 40 – you can omit the really common names like Joe Jones, but be sure to copy all the Thaddeus Baxfelders that you find. Go back the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, located at www.itd.nps.gove/cwss/soldiers.cfm. Run the names of your ancestor’s neighbors through the Soldiers and Sailors System. Look for a pattern whereby a number of these names are concentrated in one regiment, or even in one company within that regiment. For example, being unable to find “Josiah Campbell”, you locate him in 1860, copy a list of neighbors and run that list through the Soldiers and Sailors System. You notice that a lot of names of his neighbors, including some people, like Baxfelder, who have unique names, served in Company G of the 9th Arkansas. Sure enough, one of the J. Campbell’s that is a suspect to be the Josiah Campbell that you are seeking served in Company G of the 9th Arkansas. Is it proof? No. You may never find proof under these circumstances. But you can build a strong circumstantial case for the identity of your ancestor as a soldier in the 9th…
Research the regiment, too…. If you have identified your ancestor serving in a specific unit, be sure to research that regiment to determine what your ancestor did during the war. A larger library will have one, or more, of the following: Units of the Confederate Army by Joseph Crute; Confederate Compendium by Stewart Sifakis, and the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Crute and Sifakis each published a book containing a thumbnail sketch of each Confederate military unit. Each book has some different information, so be sure to look at both if they are both available. The Official Records is a 100+ volume summary of wartime battle reports, official military correspondence, orders, etc. It is indexed (fortunately) but can take some serious digging to find the really good stuff.