Illinois Civil War Veterans
by Terry Hogan
Thanks to the Internet, genealogy is becoming easier all the time. This is particularly true if you are one who likes to "put the meat on the bones". By this, I mean to provide more than the simple birth, marriage, death, spouse, children sort of genealogy.
The Civil War spared very few families. If you track your family history back to the period, you will likely find one or more family members who fought in the war. It may be relatively easy for you to find the unit in which they served, as units were generally formed in a county. So if you know the county of residence, start looking for information on the units that were formed there. A good place to start this search is in the county histories that were printed following the war. For example at least one of the Knox County histories devotes considerable space to a listing of the Civil War units formed and all who joined, including their rank. Another way to search is an internet searchable data base of Civil War veterans that the State of Illinois has established. Thus you can enter the ancestors name and search. If it doesnt turn his name, try all plausible variations- full name; full name with middle initial; first and middle initials only; spelling variations; and nick names (try middle name first and shortened versions of names). Also try the Civil War unit rosters by county. There is a searchable Internet site, listed below.
Once you find the unit, you can also get the Adjutants unit history off the Internet. This will tell you where the unit served and when. By comparing this with the ancestors tour of duty, it will be a good indicator of where he may have served.
You can also expand the background by searching the Internet for key battles that the ancestor fought in. Often this will provide maps, other units involved, casualties, and some "color" about the battle. Search with the names and dates of the battles. Also search nearby towns for local histories, particularly if the town was involved in the battle. There may be local written histories, monuments, and the like. Of course, some of the history may be from the Confederate perspective, depending on where the battle occurred.
I also just came across an Internet site that has unit flags and an abbreviated unit history. Units were very proud of their flags, and went to great length to prevent them from being captured during battle. The Internet address is provided at the end of this article.
As far as I know, you cannot (at least yet) download your ancestors military record from the National Archives in Washington, D.C., but you can order them for a fee if you provide the folks with the essential information. You can contact the National Archives to request copies of the forms to complete and mail in, or you can go on line and contact the National Archives (http://www.archives.gov/research_room/orderonline.html). When you do so, make sure you ask for information not only on his military records, but also on pensions. Pension applications often are a gold mine of information- spouse, children, dates, locations, and more.
Another Internet searchable site is the Illinois Soldiers and Sailors Home, located in Quincy. Again, you need to be persistent and search using all types of name variations of your ancestor. It wasnt all that uncommon for elderly veterans to use this place for treatment of health problems, and the like. The Internet address is provided below.
In the old technology world, there are also books that may be useful for finding either direct information on your ancestor, or at least on his unit. One that I found particularly useful is Illinois in the Civil War (1991), published by the University of Illinois Press.
On using the Internet, you have to be a little skeptical and a little cynical. Look at the source of the information. If it is from first hand sources, e.g. unit history, it is probably pretty good. If it is a published family history from another genealogist, it might be good. It might not. How well is it documented? Is there enough documentation that you can double check the facts?
It is impossible for me to list all the Civil War sites or even all the best Civil War sites. The latter is an opinion and would be influenced by what unit or person you are researching. However, with an obvious bias towards Illinois units, I have enclosed some good sites that may be worth your time to check out and use as a "spring board" to find other sites. As always, I will likely miss some really good and relevant sites. For this I apologize to both the reader, and to the hardworking volunteers who developed and maintain those sites I missed. I visited all the listed Internet sites in January 2005 to ensure that the addresses were current. Hopefully, they are still good when you try to use them.
I have one final suggestion. I recommend that you put together a comprehensive list of veterans who you want to research so that you can research all when you visit a particular site. As you do that, list all the plausible spellings and versions of names for the veterans who you want to "search" with the available Internet site search engine. This will save time and frustration.
http://www.civil-war.com/searchpages/infsearch.asp (Illinois Unit Flags and Unit histories)
http://www.sos.state.il.us/departments/archives/datcivil.html (Data base of Illinois Civil War veterans)
http://www.sos.state.il.us/departments/archives/datcivil.html#reghistory (Illinois Civil War Unit Histories)
http://www.civil-war.com/links.htm (A listing of links to other Illinois Unit histories and information)
http://www.sos.state.il.us/departments/archives/quincyhome.html (Searchable data base for Illinois Soldiers and Sailors home- Quincy, Illinois)
http://www.rootsweb.com/~ilcivilw/burials.html (Illinois Civil War Veterans cemetery listings by Unit)
http://www.rootsweb.com/~ilcivilw/countros.htm (Civil War Unit Rosters by County)
http://www.rootsweb.com/~ilcivilw/cwlinks.html (Illinois Civil War page with other Civil War links)
http://www.archives.gov/research_room/genealogy/military/civil_war_records.html (National Archives site)
Chapman, Chas. 1878. History of Knox County, Illinois. Blakely, Brown, Marsh, Printers. (Contains units and lists local soldiers)
Hickens, Victor. 1991. Illinois in the Civil War. University of Illinois Press.