Keeping journals and diaries besides the countless letters written by the soldiers, both Confederate and Union sides during the American Civil War, has been an excellent resource for researchers which can cover information about a soldier’s life, including the battles and camp life. If you have located such a journal written by a relative, you are fortunate. Many were written, but not all survived over the generations.
If you do not have any letters or journals from the 1860s written by the families or the soldiers there may be some other methods to locate information about the regiments and companies that ancestor served in. Determine if an ancestor did serve by using the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System done by the NPS (National Parks Service) which is online. It covers the Confederate and Union sides. Don’t always presume that a relative fought on one side or the other. Many families were divided in their support and brothers could even be on opposite sides. You may need to have a couple selections, especially with those men with the same names. Once you have determined which side, then the regiment and company the relative served in. Once known you can learn more about the locations and battles that specific company participated in.
Next using the Civil War Archive Regiment Index, select the state the relative served with, then the name of the regiment. Clicking on that regiment name will give you the organization of the regiment, the place, date and commanders. It is important because most soldiers joined their hometown regiment. So if you know your ancestor was from Charlestown, Kent County, MD, the regiment of the 2nd Regiment Eastern Shore would be the one most likely the soldier would join since it started in Charlestown. The same method is used in locating the Confederate regiments, yet the site does not have all those Confederate regiments completed yet.
Another source for a list of state regiments is the Civil War Roster site. Once you are firm in the knowledge of a regiment and the state you can also Google in (use a search engine) the name of the regiment and the state. Many state archives have quite a bit of information on the regiments representing their state, plus there can be Internet site devoted just to a certain regiment. With the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, there are even more such sites available.
An example would be 76th Pennsylvania Volunteers, who were also known as the ’Keystone Zouaves’, out of York County, PA. There are several recent books such as “Civil War Voices From York County” which has a collection of the newspaper articles, journals, diaries and letters collected from families of York Co. soldiers. Even if your ancestors were not featured in such books, you can gain knowledge about the soldier’s life by reading of their comrades’ stories and diary entries. More than likely they are the same or similar experiences shared by your ancestor. Be open to locating and reading those letters and diaries from other soldiers with a company’s regiment. It is possible an ancestor’s name could be mentioned as well.
Photo: Union soldiers of the 6th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia in 1863 with Albert L. Burgess on the far right. (source: Library of Congress)