So your ancestor served in the Civil War? What do you know about the unit they served in? Can learning more about their unit tell you more about your ancestor? You betcha! Let’s take a closer look.
Watch This Episode, or Continue Reading Below
What are regiment histories?
Many military regiments that served in the Civil War had histories written about them in the years following the war. Often, a committee of men who served in the unit would pull the resources together to publish the book and commemorate their service.
Hundreds of these regiment histories are housed in libraries across the country, and more and more come online every day. A recent search on the Internet Archive at Archive.org gave 1,384 results for both Union and Confederate organizations!
Have you taken a look at a regiment history for your Civil War ancestor?
The subject of our search today is a man named Marsh B. Taylor, born about 1835 in Indiana. He served in the 10th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteer Infantry, advancing to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
A search for that regiment brought up a history for that unit published in 1912 by a committee of 10 men, one that served in each company of the regiment.
The beauty of a digitized book is that you can do a search within the book for the text you are looking for, in this case, a name: Marsh Taylor.
A search within this book for Marsh Taylor brings up only one entry. This is because the search is looking for the EXACT terms you enter. If we narrow our search term to just Taylor, many more entries appear in the results.
On Archive.org, hover over the blue search result at the bottom of the page for a preview of that result. When the entry seems like one you were looking for, click the blue icon and the page for that result will load. In this way, you can easily navigate to the precise location in the book where your ancestor may be mentioned.
What is in the book?
In this particular book, Marsh Taylor is listed over a dozen times. His experience in the war is detailed in several narrative stories. He also has a multi-page biography and a PHOTO included in this regiment history.
Not every regiment history is the same, but you can often find the same types of items in these books:
- Company Rosters: these list EVERY soldier that served in the regiment, and often include many details about their service
- PORTRAITS!! Yes, you might find a portrait of your Civil War soldier
- Lists of those killed and wounded in battle
- Officer correspondence & reports
- Battle stories
- & SO MUCH MORE!
A Little Caution
Keep in mind that most of these books were written with a great deal of care. The committees collected many original documents like rosters and other records detailing the unit. They also collected first-hand accounts from the men that served in the unit.
However, they were also writing the books in commemoration, so there may be flourishes and embellishments on occasion, just like the good old fishing story that where the catch grows over time.
What about the common soldier?
We have looked at an amazing amount of information you could find on a ranked serviceman in a regiment history. But what about a common everyday private?
Well, remember, there were many biographical accounts of men besides the officers in the back of the book. There were lists of the companies, the casualties of each battle, and accounts of each battle the unit participated in.
So, even if your ancestor is not mentioned numerous times throughout the book, you can still gain a lot of information about what his experience in the war may have been like by taking a closer look at what his entire unit endured.
You can also look for mentions of his commanding officer in the history and see if you can get very relevant details about his service.
Websites to look for regiment histories:
Where can you find a regiment history for your ancestor’s unit? Start with the following online sources:
- Perform a basic Google search for the number and name of the regiment that your ancestor served in, i.e. 10th Indiana Infantry
- Internet Archive at Archive.org
- Digital Public Library of America at https://dp.la/
- Library of Congress at https://www.loc.gov/
- National Archives: see A Checklist for Sources on Regimental History in the National Archives
If these online sources do not produce a regiment history for the unit you are looking for, search in the card catalog of the corresponding state library or archive.
What clues did you find about your ancestor in a regiment history?
Citation for this regiment history:
Shaw, James Birney. History of the Tenth Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry: Three Months and Three Years Organizations. Lafayette, Indiana: 1912. Accessed on 25 November 2015 at https://archive.org/stream/historyoftenthre00inshaw. Also accessed on 25 November 2015 at https://books.google.com/books?id=7K1xAAAAMAAJ&num=9.
Link to this exact record:
See you next time,