Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Was he there when his unit fought in the US Civil War?

Via DearMYRTLE's Facebook Page, Danine Cozzens says "Wow. It just hit me that I have all these Civil War and Rev War ancestors and have never cross-checked their units and which battles they were in. Yet another way in which history comes alive when you really do genealogy!"

+Cousin Russ  replied "In my genealogy database, I have the full battle listings for two of my Civil War ancestors. DearMYRTLE and I, with our spouses, went to Gettysburg to visit where both of our ancestors fought. (Yes, against each other.) In fact, they were in the same battle. The good news, one was at the top of the hill, the other at the bottom. The Monocacy battlefield was fought on a 7th Cousin's front yard (OK, cornfield.)"

This got Ol' Myrt to thinking...
Researchers should indeed create a timeline of a Union Civil War ancestor's unit and battles where the unit served, BUT ALSO compare this with:

  • a timeline of your ancestor's dates for enlistment and mustering out of service.
  • service records
  • carded medical records, in textual format at the National Archives in Washington, DC. 
  • the unit's morning report, typically in textual format at the state level, describing:
    • who reported for duty
    • who was sick
    • who was on arrest or confinement
    • who was on detached service
    • who was absent with leave
    • who was absent without leave
The goal? To see if your soldier reported for duty on the day of battle. 

NOTE: Ol' Myrt here obviously has no experience with research in Confederate records.

See DearMYRTLE's "Military: Carded Medical Records and Original Hospital Registers" describing with photos and text, my experiences when ordering these original files and books at NARA1. I found this most enlightening as my ancestor William H. Phillips, of the 19th Indiana, was sometimes away for medical treatment of syphilis. This same soldier served valiantly on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, receiving an injury to his left thigh at the railroad cut. As cousin Russ stated, our ancestors were both at Culp's Hill. My ancestor's 19th Indiana was on the northern-most edge of the elongated hill formation nursing their wounds, having lost their commander. My ancestor had lost 80% of his company due to death or injury, and so was not truly fit for battle with Cousin Russ' Maryland Confederate unit on the south side of the hill. My ancestor was subsequently sent to Douglas Hospital in Washington, DC.

Why was there such a wide variety of hospital register books? 

There were a variety of hospitals each creating it's own record mentioning your ancestor. Union Civil War soldiers can thank Dr. Jonathan Letterman for inventing a triage system(1) for treating wounded soldiers in local dressing stations, somewhat distant field hospitals and larger, more permanent general hospitals. This happened "after it took over a week to remove the wounded from the battlefield at Second Manassas, Letterman was given free range by General George McClellan to do whatever was needed to revamp the poor medical services that the men received in the field." (2) 

The Library of Congress has digitized this image titled "Ambulance Drill at Headquarters Army of the Potomac, near Brandy Station, Va., March 1864." (3)

IMAGE: (cropped) Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This sort of ambulance would have brought wounded soldiers to the nearest railway line for transport to a more permanent general hospital for long-term recovery. 

IMAGE: Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
 LC-DIG-stereo-1s02812 (digital file from original stereograph, front) Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA (http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print : accessed 29 Mar 2017.)
Mr. Myrt and I have viewed these in person at the state level for his ancestor serving in the 31st Iowa Infantry during the US Civil War. 

Fold3.com has this digital copy of "Morning Reports of Captain J. W. Price, Company A, Army of the United States," Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regimental Records, Vol 7 and 8, p 49. (https://www.fold3.com/image/296946261 : accessed 29 March 2016.)  

IMAGE: Courtesy of Fold3.com

Although the table above is a statistical summary, subsequent pages include valuable information for unit historians and genealogists. From the page titled  "Remarks for the month of August, 1864"(4) we discover on line 5:

"Final Settlements forwarded [illegible]   
George M. Pell Died of Disease at the regimental Hospital Norm's Island, SC"

IMAGE: Courtesy of Fold3.com.

It's no longer sufficient to merely search an ancestor's US Civil War Pension File or his Widow's Pension File to see what the soldier, his comrades and his commanding officer may have stated about your ancestor's service. Where medical records and morning reports have survived, we may gain additional insight into our ancestor's war experience.

(1) "The Letterman Plan", National Museum of Civil War Medicine. (http://www.civilwarmed.org/letterman-award/the-letterman-plan/ : accessed 29 Mar 2016.)

(2) "Jonathan Letterman", Civil War Trust. (http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jonathan-letterman.html : accessed 29 Mar 2016.)

(3) Ambulance drill at Headquarters Army of Potomac, near Brandy Station, Va., March, 1864. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C  (http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g07974 : accessed 29 March 2016.)

(4) Company A Morning Report, Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regimental Records, Vol 7 and 8, p 53. (https://www.fold3.com/image/296946261 : accessed 29 March 2016.) 

Happy family tree climbing!
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