Searching for civil war ancestorsmc


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  • N53.15.1781 Fort Fisher Armstrong gun from England, N73.9.6 Joseph E. Johnston, ConDev 7501A Bentonville, N99.7.82 Nash Co. Veterans, N94.8.31 The American Civil War Sesquicentennial marks the commemoration of the long and bloody fight that nearly tore this country apart. This commemoration has renewed interest in conducting research on the period. The North Carolina State Archives has always seen more Civil War researchers than those for other historical periods. The Archives has a myriad of collections that can aid in Civil War research and in the search for your Civil War-era ancestor. It is important to remember that even if you never find a soldier who fought in the Civil War, you have ancestors that lived during that time and were greatly affected by the war.
  • OP 71 When searching for Civil War records it is important to remember that during the early war period of 1861-1862, many states were raising and equipping their own regiments. The state therefore created many of these early records. From 1862 through the war, however, the Confederate States of America took control of the war effort, and as a result, created records. Most of these were captured and are maintained by the National Archives (NARA) in Washington, DC. Their website provides information regarding their holdings and how to access them ( The following will give a sense of the types of materials held in the State Archives.
  • N53.16.1413 Painting of Three Colonels 26 th Infantry Regiment N2004.1.13 25 th Regiment NCST All of us wish we could be descended from officers because, yes, there are more records that relate to officers than privates. The fact remains that most of us are descended from privates, so we have to do the best we can with the records that have survived.
  • There are several guides and finding aids in the Search Room of the North Carolina State Archives that will explain the materials available. The reference staff in the Search Room can also get you started in the right direction.
  • The Military Collection finding aid is a good place to start. It is a group of loose-leaf binders that detail materials related to all military conflicts in which the state and its people have participated. This finding aid is also available on our website at
  • The Civil War section is by far the largest section because our participation was so great for that war. It is historically claimed that North Carolina gave more troops to the Confederacy than any other state. The Civil War Collection, as it is often called, is an artificial collection since Archives personnel brought together papers from a number of public and private sources into one collection for ease of reference.
  • Stacks—Military Collection
  • Stacks—Military Collection
  • In 1966 a Guide to Civil War Records in the North Carolina State Archives was created as a project of the Confederate Centennial Commission. In spite of its wide scope it did not attempt to mention all of the records housed in the State Archives related to the Civil War. Its aim was to guide researchers to the most useful records. The guide did not describe any private collections containing such material.
  • The Guide to Private Manuscript Collections in the North Carolina State Archives details some of the hundreds of collections that include Civil War material. Several of the larger or more important ones will be discussed later.
  • The index to the Guide needs to be used creatively. First of all, the entries for the Civil War in the index cover over 5 pages. As you can see from the entry on the left for camp life there are some divisions that offer some specificity and at least one alternative term that you can check. You need to really think about alternative terms, however, and check as many as you can think of in the index. Keep in mind also that this guide was published in 1983 so it only covers collections received by that time. As we receive new collections, finding aids for each collection are added to the appropriate binder on the finding aid shelves once that collection has been arranged and described. The finding aids for more recent collections are also entered into MARS. Since those more newly received collections are not included in the index so it pays to explore the binders in the Search Room and the MARS entries.
  • The private collections binders contain finding aids for each collection and that finding aid will give a box-by-box breakdown of the collection and sometimes lists all of the folders in each box. Some private collections have 100+ boxes and you only need the ones that have material pertinent to your work. When filling out call slips you should indicate which boxes you want to see rather than request the entire collection.
  • Some of the larger private collections can contain a great deal of information about the Civil War. PC 34, the John Devereux Papers, for example, contains materials related to his job as quartermaster for the state of North Carolina, among a myriad of other family papers.
  • Private manuscripts have a wide variety of materials in them. Many include letters and diaries like these volumes kept by Catherine Devereux Edmondston. Many such important collections have been published. These journals were published as “Journal of a Secesh Lady”: The Diary of Catherine Ann Devereux Edmondston .
  • Another valuable resource that was an outgrowth of the Confederate Centennial Commission is the roster entitled North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865, A Roster , the initial volume of which was published in 1966. Published by the Historical Publications Section of the N. C. Office of Archives and History, this on-going multi-volume roster will list all known North Carolina soldiers that fought for both Union and Confederate armies.
  • In addition to giving a synopsis of each soldier’s service record, the volumes also provide brief regimental and company histories. For researchers interested in individual soldiers this roster is invaluable. North Carolina Troops uses service records housed at the National Archives as its basis. The North Carolina State Archives has purchased the microfilm of these service records for North Carolina soldiers, which can be used by researchers in the Search Room. In addition to service records, Historical Publications researchers consulted muster rolls, Adjutant General’s records, pension applications, private collections, period newspapers, and Roster of North Carolina Troops in the War Between the States ( Moore’s Roster ) to make the current roster very thorough. Currently, 18 volumes are available with additional volumes planned. Others will include Union soldiers from North Carolina and the series will end with a comprehensive index. North Carolina Troops is readily available at many libraries.
  • When researching an individual soldier, it is important to know his company and regiment, since the most detailed records on individual soldiers were kept at the company level. Regiments were responsible for maintaining specific records. These records include a descriptive book, a clothing book, an order book and a morning report. The majority of such records were destroyed in battle so there are tremendous gaps in them. Those that have survived often suffer great gaps as well, since few entries were made in the books except at the end of a military campaign or during a lull in an engagement. The two most complete rosters of NC troops that will provide researchers with a company and regiment for their soldier are the above-mentioned North Carolina Troops and The Roster of Confederate Soldiers 1861-1865 published by Broadfoot Publishing Company. Both published series are available in the Search Room of the State Archives as well as most large libraries. Armed with the company and regiment, one can then turn to the Confederate Military Service Records (MSR). These records are maintained, and have been microfilmed, by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) but many archives and large libraries also have copies of the microfilm. The records are also being made available online as part of an on-going project. The service record for both Confederate and Union troops give the whereabouts of the individual soldier at various points of his military career. The first in a series of cards is usually one that records his enlistment. The microfilm of the service records of North Carolina soldiers on both sides is available for use in Search Room of the State Archives.
  • For Civil War research, the finding aids for the private collections or the state agency records will probably be the most useful to you. There are some scattered Civil War related materials in the county records, however, so it is worth a look through the cards in the card catalog that reference your county of interest. The smaller card catalog seen here is the finding aid for the Supreme Court cases about which you will hear more later.
  • This is an unusual example of county material. It indicates a significant aspect of the Civil War and that was the devastating affects of the war on families.
  • Pension records are another series that can provide information about a soldier and his military service. The North Carolina State Archives maintains the pension applications of Confederate soldiers that fought for North Carolina. Most states that were part of the Confederacy have their pension applications as part of their collection. NARA maintains those for Union troops.
  • In North Carolina the first significant opportunity to file for a pension was 1885 when a soldier had to be disabled and own less than $500 worth of property in order to receive one. A widow could only receive one if she did not remarry. The requirements were loosened in 1901 and many more soldiers and widows could apply. These records provide known company and regimental designation, where the soldier was wounded, or when he died and where the soldier or widow was living at the time of the application.
  • There are sometimes letters or affidavits from commanding officers and fellow soldiers supporting the claim. This is the application of John Adam Sawyer of Pasquotank County. These records are part of the state auditor’s records group, which also includes a large amount of correspondence. Keep in mind that widows could live on many years once they started receiving a pension. She might appear on yearly lists of pensioners. After a certain time, the newspapers began writing stories, about and publishing lists of, surviving soldiers and widows.
  • Various regimental histories give the engagements of each regiment and often the whereabouts of each company within the regiment. North Carolina Troops includes these short histories. Another series of books entitled Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-1865, but most often called Clark’s Regiments , edited in the early 1900s by Walter Clark, gives more in-depth histories of the various regiments.
  • The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion is another invaluable resource, which includes official correspondence and reports made during the war. This resource is available online through Cornell University at The volumes of this series for both the Army and the Navy are available in the State Archives’ Search Room as well.
  • General Assembly records are invaluable to researchers since they chronicle the steps the state took towards secession, as well as the legislature’s role in guiding the state through the war. State Convention records are of critical importance as well and should be used in conjunction with Convention records in the Secretary of State records. Printed volumes of the laws passed by the state during the era and their companion volumes of Senate and House journals are available in the Search Room. UNC has scanned and mounted some of these laws on the web (
  • Confederate section of Historic Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh If the soldier died during the war, another source of information might be his fellow soldiers. During the Civil War men often enlisted in regiments with other local men and if the men left letters there could be mention of the soldier in them. Neighborhood men that were wounded or died were big news and would likely have been passed along to family and friends. Even if a soldier did not die he may have found his way into the letters of his comrades so it is well worth the effort to try to locate letters or diaries of local men and officers. The Archives, in conjunction with the Government and Heritage Library, has many Civil War letters and diaries scanned and available online from our website . Specifically, the digital collection as well as the Archives Civil War 150 blog, will include scanned and transcribed documents. These projects are ongoing ones.
  • Tombstones are great places to look for a Civil War ancestor. These are two of mine. On the left is Wright Stephen Batchelor, a great, great grandfather who I knew was a Confederate soldier because my grandmother told me. Note that there is nothing on the tombstone saying that he was a soldier. The one on the right is Owen Gurganus, a great, great grandfather, who I had no idea participated in the war. On the tombstone it says that he was in the home guard and without this stone, I would have never guessed it.
  • Even if you could not read these stones they still tell researchers that a soldier is buried here and the side for which he fought. The rounded stone on the left is for a Union soldier, in this case a US Colored troop, and the one on the right with the pointed top is a CSA soldier.
  • Two other Archives’ series that provide information related to individual soldiers are the state auditor’s records of the old soldier’s home and those dealing with the issuance of artificial limbs. Veterans wishing to live at the old soldier’s home submitted an application and these can include a great deal of information. Another series within the auditor’s record group deals with the issuance of artificial limbs to veterans who needed them. It was necessary for the soldier to submit a certificate of disability to receive an artificial limb.
  • N97.6.183 Cherokee Members Veterans of Thomas’ Legion, 1903 Even in the post-war period, the researcher can still find information about a soldier and his service. Veterans’ associations began forming quickly after the war and there are a few records related to their meetings still around. The NCSA has a few.
  • Tyrrell County Minutes Confederate Veterans Association 1889-1917, C. R. 096.920.1
  • Page from the roster C. R. 096.920.1
  • The Governor’s Office papers also contain a wealth of material from official military business to letters from destitute women pleading for help to letters and petitions of destitute freed people begging to be reenslaved in order to survive the harsh conditions on the homefront. For a brief description of the papers of each Civil War-era governor that contain significant material see the Guide to Civil War Records . North Carolina had four governors that served during the Civil War: John W. Ellis, [T_81_5_1] Henry Toole Clark [N_53_15_1561] and Zebulon Baird Vance [N.53.15.544]. Edward Stanly [N_96_4_12] was appointed Union military governor by President Abraham Lincoln and arrived in federally-occupied New Bern in 1862. He remained within the Union lines in North Carolina until January 1863 when he resigned. The North Carolina State Archives does not have any official records created by him during his brief time in the state.
  • Unfortunately, there is no index to governors’ papers so it is necessary to go through the papers one by one. You might want to start with the published volumes of governors’ papers, but keep in mind that those are just selections from the overall collection of papers. If you decide to go through the papers, it will be time consuming, especially Vance’s papers.
  • Records were created by the Supreme Court when cases involving the military draft or conscription and those related to soldier’s desertions were heard by this body. None of the published guides lists these records. The North Carolina General Assembly passed laws that provided troops to fight for the Confederacy, as well as in the militia and home guard. The Confederacy itself turned to conscription laws when it became obvious that the war could not be maintained by volunteers. These laws allowed certain classes of citizens to provide substitutes if they could not fight themselves and exempted a great many others from active service. As more and more men, who thought themselves exempt, were arrested for non-service, they turned to the courts to settle the issue for them. To find such records the researcher should creatively use the North Carolina Digest . Most cases can be found in the section entitled Army and Navy.
  • Within that section are further divisions such as “minors”, “compulsory service and drafts”, and “desertion” that indicate individual case names.
  • PC 1226 Rose O’Neal Greenhow Papers cipher Another valuable record group is that of the Private Collections. Information in the various collections covers everything from ambulances to zouaves. These collections include diaries, letters, drawings, and military papers such as maps, battle reports, fort descriptions and accounts of prison life. It absolutely cannot be overestimated how valuable these records are.
  • PC 53 P. G. T. Beauregard Papers The State Archives maintains collections of papers of many key military personnel. D. H. Hill, Jr. and Sr. (PC 94 & 93 respectively), William H. C. Whiting (PC 195), Braxton Bragg (PC 347), General Pierre G. T. Beauregard (PC 53), Zebulon B. Vance Papers (PC 15) and Major General William D. Pender (PC 834) are some of the collections that contain everything from telegrams to letters and reports. Several other large collections contain a great variety of materials. These include the above-mentioned Catherine Ann Edmondston Diaries (PC 1100), Little-Mordecai Papers (PC 1480), and the Thomas Merritt Pittman Collection (PC 123). The John Devereux Papers (PC 34) deserves special mention since he served as North Carolina’s State Quartermaster and many of the papers he created and maintained in that capacity are part of the collection. Several collections contain particularly significant documents. The Lucy Williams Polk papers (PC 75) include letters relating to her post-war attempts to get compensation for her house damaged by federal troops during the war. The Futch Papers (PC 507) include poignant letters from John Futch to his wife about his homesickness, how much he missed her and the death of his brother in his own arms at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania.
  • PC 1190 Isaac Avery Papers N67.1.1 Col. Isaac Avery The premier collection of this type, however, is the Isaac E. Avery Collection (PC 1190) that includes a bloodstained letter written by a dying young man to his father. This is considered one of the treasures of the Archives and has been featured in many books and television documentaries about the Civil War. The Henry H. Bowen Collection is a group of letters, part of the Civil War Collection (Box 89), and another North Carolina treasure. It is a group of letters written by a North Carolina sailor and one of the few such collections in the country. The Private Collections are an ever growing collection and we continue to receive Civil War material. The finding aids for most new material are being entered into MARS once the collections have been accessioned.
  • The NCSA has a large number of records related to the Civil War and the reference staff can help guide researchers to specific records that might answer their questions. Many other record groups, such as organization records, maps (now available online at, and newspapers on microfilm are available. The sheer volume of materials housed in the NCSA may seem overwhelming, but with patience and perseverance researchers can draw a surprisingly clear picture of this watershed event in our nation’s history.
  • Searching for civil war ancestorsmc

    1. 1. Searching for Civil War Ancestors at the North Carolina State Archives Debbi Blake North Carolina State Archives
    2. 2. North Carolina State Archives
    3. 4. NCSA N.53.16.1413 N.2004.1.13
    4. 10. Published Guides to Civil War Research in the North Carolina State Archives <ul><li>Guide to Civil War Records in the North Carolina State Archives </li></ul><ul><li>Military Collection Finding Aid: Civil War </li></ul><ul><li> Guide to Private Manuscripts in the North Carolina State Archives </li></ul>
    5. 40. Colonel Isaac Avery NCSA
    6. 41. National Archives National Archives North Carolina State Archives North Carolina maps Official Records of the War North Carolina laws Service Records