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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.

 
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