Last week, April 12th marked the 153rd anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War. The war split the nation for four years and has long been remembered as the bloodiest conflict in American history.
As part of the 100in100, findmypast is providing access to a number of vital Civil War records for both the Union and Confederacy.
The American Civil War brought millions of Americans into the armies of the Union forces of the federal government and the Confederate armies of the secessionist Southern states.
findmypast’s index of soldiers and sailors contains records for more than six million individuals, providing key information like their rank and regiment.
Even new arrivals in the United States, like Henry Morton Stanley, were conscripted to fight, sometimes for both sides.
findmypast’s records provide evidence that Stanley was enlisted in both the Union and Confederate armies. He fought first with the 6th Arkansas Infantry, then after he was captured he switched sides and joined the 23rd Illinois Infantry.
Stanley was just one of many “Galvanized Yankees” who switched sides during the war.
Prisoners of the Civil War
findmypast’s collection of nearly 50,000 Civil War Prisoners records includes information from the most notorious prison of the Civil War called Andersonville.
This Confederate prison was infamous for its poor treatment of soldiers, where thousands of people died.
Prisoner records also indicate soldiers were often involved in prisoner swaps or survived until the end of the war.
Civil War Prisoners records sometimes includes surprising details about soldiers, like John T. Alexander, a survivor of Andersonville prison who was exchanged and later survived the 1865 explosion of the steamship, Sultana.
Political figures were also imprisoned during the Civil War, as the federal government clamped down on criticism and suspended the right to habeas corpus, or the right to a trial before imprisonment, in support of the war effort.
One such example is George W. Alexander (no relation to John T.). findmypast Civil War Prisoners includes his record of internment at Fort McHenry which mentions he escaped in September 1861.
A full account of his escape can be read in findmypast’s collection of newspapers, in particular an article from September 1861 in the New Albany Weekly Ledger, in Indiana.
Medals of Honor
However through the bloodshed and chaos of battle, thousands of soldiers acted heroically and received medals for their valor.
findmypast Civil War records include transcripts of citations for the Medal of Honor, the highest accolade given by the United States government.
This was awarded to thousands of Union soldiers for actions during the Civil War, including William Harvey Carney, the first African-American recipient of the award. As with many recipients, he did not receive the award until roughly 30 years later, but the record clearly indicates he carried the flag “under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.”