150 Years Ago Today: Fort Sumter

Bombardment of Fort Sumter (1861) by Currier & Ives (1837–1885)
Bom­bard­ment of Fort Sumter (1861) by Cur­ri­er & Ives (1837–1885)

150 years ago today, 12 April 1861, the Civ­il War start­ed in earnest with a Con­fed­er­ate attack on the Fed­er­al posi­tion at Fort Sumter, in advance of sup­ply ships arriv­ing with food to resup­ply the fort.

For Amer­i­can geneal­o­gists and his­to­ri­ans of the Unit­ed States, the Civ­il War is the cen­tral event, even more calami­tous than the Rev­o­lu­tion, and affect­ing the lives of a wider per­cent­age of what had become, since the Rev­o­lu­tion, a more pop­u­lous coun­try. (In the 1790 cen­sus, the pop­u­la­tion was record­ed to be 3,929,214. In the 1860 cen­sus, the pop­u­la­tion was 31,443,321, or eight times larg­er.)

Some­where between 618,000 and 700,000 sol­diers died in the con­flict, mak­ing it more dead­ly than all the oth­er wars the US par­tic­i­pat­ed in from the Rev­o­lu­tion to the Viet­nam War, com­bined. And, of course, the war, fought main­ly (despite revi­sion­ist protests to the con­trary) to main­tain a way of life found­ed on enslav­ing a race of peo­ple, end­ed by grant­i­ng free­dom, first to blacks in states which had seced­ed, and then to all blacks in all states and ter­ri­to­ries of the US.

This trans­for­ma­tive time is full of records for geneal­o­gists. There are mil­i­tary and pen­sion records, which are some of the best known mil­i­tary records from this peri­od. But there are also the final pay­ment vouch­ers, reports of camps, forts, and pris­ons, numer­ous man­u­scripts, the papers of the South­ern Claims Com­mis­sion, which “was an orga­ni­za­tion of the exec­u­tive branch of the Unit­ed States gov­ern­ment from 1871–1873 under Pres­i­dent Grant. Its pur­pose was to allow Union sym­pa­thiz­ers who had lived in the South­ern states dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civ­il War, 1861–1865, to apply for reim­burse­ments for prop­er­ty loss­es due to U.S. Army con­fis­ca­tions dur­ing the war” (Wikipedia. “South­ern Claims Com­mis­sion,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Claims_Commission Accessed : 13 April 2011).

If you have not start­ed look­ing for your Civ­il War ances­tor, you could do much worse than start with the Civ­il War Sol­diers and Sailors Sys­tem: http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/. This site includes a search­able data­base of over 6.3 mil­lion names of com­bat­tants from the North and the South, rep­re­sent­ing 44 states and ter­ri­to­ries. There are also many sailors, though this part of the project is not com­plete. The site pro­vides lim­it­ed infor­ma­tion, but usu­al­ly includes enough infor­ma­tion to find out more about your sol­dier. For exam­ple, my 3rd great grand­fa­ther, Thomas D. Via, has this entry:

Thomas D. Via (First_Last)
Reg­i­ment Name 7 Vir­ginia Infantry
Side Con­fed­er­ate
Com­pa­ny
I
Soldier’s Rank_In
Pri­vate
Soldier’s Rank_Out
Pri­vate
Alter­nate Name
Notes
Film Num­ber M382 roll 57

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And also, this:

Thomas D. Via (First_Last)
Reg­i­ment Name 7 Vir­ginia Infantry
Side Con­fed­er­ate
Com­pa­ny
I
Soldier’s Rank_In
Pri­vate
Soldier’s Rank_Out
Pri­vate
Alter­nate Name
Notes
Film Num­ber M382 roll 57

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(He served in the Con­fed­er­ate army, was cap­tured, and joined the Union army, most like­ly as a way out of the prison camp he was in at Point Look­out, Mary­land. For more infor­ma­tion see, Sur­name Sat­ur­day: Via.

As the sesqui­cen­ten­ni­al con­tin­ues, I will pro­vide oth­er sites and tips for Civ­il War research.