If you have male ancestors born between about 1820 and 1850 and who lived in the U.S., I encourage you to look into their military records! I have been able to find large packets of information on two Civil War ancestors through Fold3.com. These are images of forms filled out by hand–Civil War Muster Roll, Pension Files and other documents. Fold3.com is a membership site. I paid only $40 for a year’s membership, though I think I got in on some kind of special. In just finding documents for two ancestors (there are probably more!), I feel I got my money’s worth.
A month or two ago, I found information on Benjamin Franklin Igleheart, my great great grandfather, on my father’s side. As I read his Compiled Service Record, which consists of 15 pages of printed forms, filled in by hand, a story unfolded. I learned that he entered the war as a substitute. In other words, he was paid to serve for someone else (a man named Jacob Gish) who was drafted. He was only 18 and I guess had managed not get drafted himself. Thankfully, he survived that experience. I found the concept of a paid substitute an eye opener.
This weekend, I researched my great great great grandfather (on my mother’s side), Richard Anderson Jeffries. I was able to find his Compiled Service Record (29 pages!) and watched his story unfold as I read backward through time. I learned that on October 1, 1864, his rank was reduced from First Sergeant to Private. And on October 4, 1864, he was hospitalized in Atlanta, Georgia (with no indication why), where he appeared to reside until his discharge, due to the expiration of his term of service, on November 14, 1864. That’s mysterious. I’d love to find out why he was demoted. I also learned, that he went missing in action during the Battle of Shiloh on April 6, 1862 and was compensated upon his return for seven months as a prisoner of war. Wow. Now I want to learn more about that battle and about what conditions he might have endured as a prisoner.
To find this information, I needed to know the military unit my ancestors fought with. A good starting place to find that information is the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database from the National Park Service. Searching for Richard Jeffries turned up two possibilities in Missouri, where I knew my Richard lived at the time. There was one record for a Richard Jeffries in the Home Guard in Putnam County (his county) and another for serving in 18th Regiment, Missouri Infantry. I took that info to Fold3 and found his records. I was able to verify that the 18th Regiment, Missouri Infantry was him, since his death date was on the included pension form. (This was also the regiment listed in the genealogy compilation book I’d found online a couple of weeks ago, which gave me confidence.) I’m not certain if he’s also the Richard Jeffries in the Putnam County Home Guard. That will take a little more digging.
Both these ancestors fought on the Union side, so I only have experience with Union records. Your experience may be different if you’re researching ancestors who fought for the confederacy.
If you haven’t yet researched your Civil War ancestors, I think you’re in for a treat. I was amazed at how easily I found really exciting information that I was able to verify. Fold3 has been a goldmine for me, well worth the investment.