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Civil War's 150th stirs a trove of memories

This photograph provided by the Library of Virginia William Henry Taylor, left, and Stephen Stewart, members of the 11th Virginia Infantry. The photograph is among the 25,000 mementoes the Library of Virginia has scanned as archivists travel the state seeking documents, letters and diaries dating to the Civil War. Virginia is among a number of states attempting to collect Civil War documents that are in the possession of families, tucked away in trunks and attics. (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Library of Virginia)

By STEVE SZKOTAK, Associated Press 

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A diary with a lifesaving bullet hole from Gettysburg. An intricate valentine crafted by a Confederate soldier for the wife he would never see again. A slave's desperate escape to freedom.

From New England to the South, state archivists are using the sesquicentennial of the Civil War to collect a trove of wartime letters, diaries, documents and mementoes that have gathered dust in attics and basements.

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Researching Your Civil War Ancestry

Use online resources to learn if your family had roots on the Union or Confederate side

by: Kathleen Brandt | from: AARP | April 11, 2011

Discovering Civil War Ancestors

If your family was living in the United States in the 1860s, chances are good that you're related to someone who served in the Civil War.

Perhaps your great- or great-great-grandfather was among the 2.1 million men mustered in the Union Army or the 800,000 to 900,000 men who were on the Confederate side. Or maybe a great-aunt served as a scout, nurse or spy. She may even have been among the several hundred females who, disguised as men, actually fought on the ground.

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September 1861: Settling in for a Long War

During this month, the civil war expands to Kentucky and West Virginia, and President Lincoln rejects an attempt at emancipation

  • By David Zax
  • Smithsonian magazine, September 2011

Defence of LexingtonUnion generals lost a week long siege of Lexington, Missouri, shown here, but took control of Ship Island, off Mississippi's coast.

Northern Illinois University Libraries

Five months into the Civil War—on September 9—Richmond, Virginia’s Daily Dispatch editorialized that the time for debate had passed. “Words are now of no avail: blood is more potent than rhetoric, more profound than logic.” Six days earlier, Confederate forces had invaded Kentucky, drawing that state into the war on the Union side and firming up the border between North and South.

But who to trust in the border states? “We have had no success lately, and never can have success, while the enemy know all our plans and dispositions,” wrote Confederate war clerk John Beauchamp Jones on September 24 from Richmond. “Their spies and emissaries here are so many torch-bearers for them.” In Washington, President Lincoln confronted disloyalty even to his north; between the 12th and 17th, he ordered troops in Maryland to arrest 30 secessionists, including members of the state legislature.

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Histories of Illinois Civil War Regiments and Units

Civilwar_tombstone The histories of Illinois Civil War regiments and units are included in the first eight volumes of the nine volume publication, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Illinois (1900-1902). (The ninth volume lists units of the Black Hawk, Mexican and Spanish-American Wars as well as the War of 1812.) The histories, some written shortly after the war's end, are the work of numerous authors throughout the intervening years. The 1886 version of the Adjutant General's Report included regimental histories compiled by that office which had not previously been published. 

The final 1900-1902 republication of the report incorporated revisions and corrections to the histories. In recognition of the service of Illinois' six regiments during the Mexican War, the assignment of regimental numbers for infantry began with seven.

Regimental Histories from Illinois Civil War Veterans Database

How Soldier Names Progressed from Original Historical Documents to a Posting on the Internet

Card I. Muster Rolls (1861-1864)

These were the routine official records kept by the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. They are today stored in the National Archives, but are too fragile to be readily available to the public.

II. Compiled Military Service Records

The approximately 140 million cards include 5.4 million General Index Cards, each containing a soldier's name. It is important to understand that the first phase of the CWSS, known as the Names Index phase, is limited to less than ten pieces of information on each of the 5.4 million General Index Cards. The most important pieces of information are the name of the individual, rank in and out, and the name of the organizational unit (such as regiment and sometimes the company).

III. Microfilm Copies of General Index Cards

The National Archives produced microfilm records of the General Index Cards for public use at the Archives in Washington and in regional offices; copies were also made by the Genealogical Society in Utah.

IV. Paper Copies of Microfilm Records (c. 1992)

Paper copies of the microfilm ("blowback" records) were made by NPS and GSU for use by volunteers entering data for the CWSS.

V. Data Entry into UDE (Universal Data Entry) Software by FGS and UDC volunteers (1993-99)

As of the year 2000, volunteers in over 36 states had completed initial data entry for all of the 6.3 million soldier names. All of this work was done on home computers using the Mormon Church's universal data entry (UDE) software, from paper copies of the microfilm records.

VI. Editing by GSU, FGS, and The Utah Army Corps

The data from the FGS and UDC volunteers around the country was received by the GSU and was edited for accuracy, consistency, etc. Also, Unit Codes were derived from the original data. The Utah Army Corps provided invaluable support during this final editing process.

VII. Converting Data into the CWSS

NPS staff converted the data into an Oracle database for use in the CWSS on the Internet. Data was made available on the CWSS as it was completed by the GSU and FGS.

From the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System


The fundamental source for all the names entered into this phase of the CWSS is the General Index Cards of the Compiled Military Service Records, which were derived from muster rolls of the Union and Confederate Armies. The Union Army muster roles were already in the possession of the War Department when General Ainsworth's staff began their work.

The Confederate Army muster rolls were sent to Washington for this purpose with the permission and assistance of the Governors of the eleven states formerly in the Confederate States of America (CSA). The War Department clerks transposed the information by hand to an estimated 140 million, 3x8-inch cards.

These cards, known collectively as the "Compiled Military Service Records," are located in the National Archives, as are the original muster roles from which the data were taken. The muster rolls are extremely fragile and rarely used; individuals seeking information on Civil War soldiers from the Archives either use the cards or microfilm copies of some of the cards.

 From the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System

Where do Civil War records come from?

Mullenix muster card march 1826MOMUMENTAL RECORDING PROCESS (1861-2000)

During the American Civil War, every few weeks to every few months depending on the unit, usually at the company level, soldiers' names were recorded on muster rolls. Beginning in the 1880s General Ainsworth's staff in the Department of the Army indexed these records originally to determine who was eligible for a pension. His staff wrote a card for every time a soldier's name appeared on a muster roll. When Ainsworth's staff finished the Compiled Military Service records, each soldier's file usually had many cards representing each time the soldier's name appeared on a muster roll.

One type of card, the General Index Card listed the soldier's name, the soldier's rank at the time of enlistment from the first card and the date the soldier left the service with the soldier's final rank from the last card. These General Index cards form the basis for the Soldier names in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System.

When Ainsworth's staff completed the project, there were 6.3 million General Index Cards for the soldiers - both Union and Confederate - who had served during the American Civil War. Historians have determined that approximately 3.5 million soldiers actually fought in the War. A soldier serving in more than one regiment, serving under two names, or spelling variations resulted in the fact that there are 6.3 million General Index Cards for 3.5 million soldiers. Data from all 6.3 million cards is in the CWSS.

 From the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System