In the last post we laid out a basic plan for getting to one man in one or more Confederate (and/or Union) military units. Now comes the work to figure out what he likely experienced as the war progressed. A word of caution: this set of two blogs is only a tiny part of understanding the structure of either the Confederate or Union military forces and the records available for research. It is a subject that I find I learn something new about every time I sit down and study some part of it. This is very basic and if you really want to be knowledgeable about your ancestor’s likely experiences you will do some studying way beyond these two blogs.
Let me interject here an apology for sometimes being inaccurate in referring to the combined service records as just muster roll records. Muster roll records are certainly a large part of the combined service records, but there can be many other types of records that were summarized and transcribed into the set of cards for a man in a volunteer military unit. If you find your ancestor’s combined service record it can provide information on illnesses, wounds, battles he participated in, payroll information, activities after the war like action on requests to drop dishonorable discharges or desertion charges and many other pieces of information. If you want to see the war as your ancestor experienced it, this is the place to go after you find him in an index.
Early in the war, units were often formed with men from a large community or a county forming all or most of a company. The men joined (weren’t drafted, that started in April 1862) and the enlistment county would likely be the one he was living in, next to it or at least nearby. These companies (usually 100 men) would be aggregated into battalions or regiments that were composed of companies from one state. This changed as the war dragged on. For instance the 11th Florida Infantry actually drafted some men from southeastern Alabama counties. And when regiments and battalions that were decimated by losses (deaths, serious wounds, chronic illness, desertion, taken as prisoner) were combined with other units suffering the same fate, multiple state units were sometimes involved and then drafted men would be added. The 15th Confederate Cavalry that served in and around northwest Florida in the last years of the war was composed of both Florida and Alabama cavalry units that were too small to be classified as regiments. In other words, research the units and try to understand military jargon and organization so you don’t get lost. A battalion is not a regiment, even if it has the same numerical name. Also, be aware of the possibility that you will occasionally find the same man listed twice, once with his first unit and again with the unit he was transferred to. Or you may find his cards but when you look at the dates it appears he deserted before the cards start. That means he was in one of the units combined and deserted before the consolidation. I found this to be especially true with the 15th Confederate Cavalry and the 11th Florida Infantry. Do more research and try to find his earlier record.
Once you think you are ready, start going through the combined service cards for each man you are researching. Download them (see previous post for resources) if you can because you may miss something the first few times you look at them. Look to see if you have an age, a place where they were enlisted, and a place where they were born (remember that sometimes people respond to that question with their birth place and sometimes where they are living at the time or they may not have known the family moved when they were 3 months old). Look for a card for each quarter they were in the service and see if they were present, on special duty, sick, etc. If the cards just stop, the person likely deserted (though near the end of the war the Confederate records often just stopped because they weren’t kept or were lost) but you can’t be sure until you look at all of the possibilities around their service, like any pension applications or subsequent census records. One card can conflict with another, just record it all for now. It may become clearer which entry is the truth as you put together information.
Finally, after you think you have the right man, research the regimental history. An excellent initial online source is the National Park Services’ Battle Units database. Some regiments have some pretty good written histories. Some have ones written by descendants who sound like wonderful cheerleaders but you can’t be sure that all of the history is there, especially if it might be controversial or negative, and some will have nothing written about them. If that’s the case, consider doing what I did way back in the early 90s when I discovered my ancestor in the 1st Florida Cavalry Union Volunteers. Write a history of the regiment and fill in that gap.
Create a timeline from his muster in until his muster out. Research any engagements and battles it appears he was present for and try to find where his brigade or regiment was placed on the field of battle. Read the after action reports in the Official Records for his company, brigade and division/corp commanders to see if he is mentioned specifically and what his unit may have been engaged in during the battle. If he was wounded at some point or became sick, research Civil War medicine. How was that kind of wound or disease treated? If he was taken prisoner, where was he sent and what were the conditions like? There are a number of excellent books out on both Union and Confederate prisoner camps during the war. Finally, how and when was he released to go home and did he or his widow file for a pension. Pension records can be very informative. If he died in a prison camp, is there a cemetery and do they have records? When you finish with the research, put a narrative together and share with friends and family.
Some cautions. If your ancestor was present and not sick during the period of a battle and his company was engaged, you can start with the assumption he was present but you should make every effort to see if you can determine that clearly. Is he mentioned in the Official Records for some reason, did he receive a wound and his records indicate he was admitted to a hospital, does his muster roll cards mention his presence, was he taken prisoner during the battle, or does his pension record indicate any of these possibilities at the battle? If it remains an assumption after that, try to make it clear in any writing you do on the subject that it is assumption based on sketchy evidence and lay the evidence out. At some point you may find something that changes your assumptions and boy can it be hard to take something back once it is out in the wider world.
- Obtain the combined service records for your ancestor. Many are available on microfilm and at Fold3.com.
- Once you have a match, research the unit in detail. Find out what theater they served in, what battles were they in, who were the commanders of the company, regiment, brigade, division/corp and army. Go through the Official Records for the war looking for mentions of the regiment, your ancestor and after action reports from officers. Did any consolidations or transfers occur and when? Read a few books on the regiment, or battles they were in, and try to determine where your ancestor’s regiment was during the battle and what might they have experienced.
- After you know your ancestor’s Civil War history, look for a pension application. Confederate pensions are in the individual states, not where he served but where he was living when he applied (if in the South). Federal pension index cards are at Fold3.com, Ancestry has indexes for Union and some Confederate pensions and some states have pension records online (like Florida) and the application can be ordered from NARA if Union and the states if Confederate.
- Put a timeline together from muster in to muster out or discharge or release. Read books on battles, prison camps and medicine. Get inside your ancestor’s head and try to see what he saw. Include the positive and the negative. Our ancestors are not required to see things as we currently see them or to have acted as we believe we would today given the same circumstances. Don’t judge, just collect the facts and put it together. You may find you have a deeper sense of connection to them afterwards. Frankly, I can not imagine anything more traumatic than a civil war.
The last two post suggestions might be more effort than you were expecting but it will hopefully yield the best fit of record to ancestor and it will begin to put your ancestor into time and space during one of the most traumatic periods in American history.
Some Confederate Units from the Panhandle
1st Florida Infantry – CSA
- Organized in May 1861 for 12 months as the 1st Florida Infantry Battalion
- Veteran’s who remained after 12 months served in the 1st Florida Infantry Battalion until August when it was consolidated with the 3rd (Miller’s) Battalion and reorganized into the New 1st Florida Infantry Regiment. In December 1862 it was merged with the 3rd Florida Infantry Regiment.
- Northwest Florida counties contributing – Escambia, Franklin, and Jackson.
- Served in the Army of Mississippi and the Army of Tennessee (Western Theater)
2nd Florida Infantry – CSA (there is a 2nd Florida Infantry Battalion as well)
- Organized in April and July 1861 and mustered into Confederate service for 12 months in July 1861 with 1,185 officers and men.
- Northwest Florida counties contributing – Escambia and Jackson
- Served in Perry’s Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia (Eastern Theater)
- It surrendered on 9 April 1865 with 59 men and 7 officers.
4th Florida Infantry – CSA
- Organized in June 1861 with 983 officers and men.
- Northwest Florida counties contributing – Franklin, Jackson, Liberty and Washington
- Served first in Florida, then in the Army of Tennessee.
- It was consolidated with the 1st Florida Cavalry Regiment in December 1863.
- It surrendered 23 men in April 1865.
5th Florida Infantry – CSA
- Organized in the Spring of 1862 with over 1,000 men.
- Northwest Florida counties contributing – Liberty and Santa Rosa
- Served in Perry’s Brigade in the Army of Northern Virginia (eastern Theater)
- It surrendered 47 men and 6 officers at the end of the war.
6th Florida Infantry – CSA
- Organized in March 1862 with 511 men and 31 officers
- Northwest Florida counties contributing – Jackson and Washington (I know there were several men from Holmes Co that enlisted with the 6th)
- Served in the Army of Tennessee.
- No exact numbers at surrender but it was referred to as “a remnant”.
11th Florida Infantry – CSA
- Organized in June 1864 by consolidating part of the 2nd and 4th Florida Infantry Battalions (not the two units above, battalions were smaller than regiments)
- Northwest Florida counties contributing – Jackson
- Served in the Florida Brigade under General Finegan in the Army of Northern Virginia (Eastern Theater)
- It surrendered 19 men and 4 officers in April 1865
1st Florida Cavalry – Union
- Organized from December 1863 to May 1864 but took in new enlistees up until March 1865.
- Northwest Florida counties contributing – Walton, Santa Rosa, Holmes, Washington, Jackson, Escambia, Calhoun and Franklin
- Served in the northwest Florida panhandle and participated in engagements from Marianna to Mobile and north to Evergreen, AL.
There were numerous other battalions, cavalry units and artillery units primarily composed of Florida men. Look in all of them for your ancestors. Good hunting!
- See previous post for a number of books that are resources on researching Civil War ancestors.
- Confederate Military History (here or here)
- National Park Services Soldiers and Sailors databases (Soldiers, Sailors, Units)
- Wikipedia list of Florida Confederate units
- Portal to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War, by Lonnie R. Speer, Stackpole Books, 1997.
- Civil War Medicine: An Illustrated History, by Mark J. Schaadt, MD, Cedarwood Publishing, 1998.
- The 1st Florida Cavalry Union Volunteers in the Civil War; The Men and Regimental History and What That Tells Us About the Area During the War, by Sharon D. Marsh, 2016.