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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