By Daniel Hubbard | April 17, 2011
(This is the second part of a three part series. You can find the first part at The Census Goes to War.)
I admit that I am fascinated by the Civil War. The scale was so far beyond anything America had known before. In the two days of the Battle of Shiloh, more Americans fell than had fallen in all the battles of America’s previous wars combined. When it occurred, Shiloh was an unprecedented horror. It became just the first of many.
The American Civil War was one of those conflicts in which a technology far outstripped the way men thought. The way men fought and the reality of their weapons appears to have been often at an almost total disconnect when we look back upon what happened. In the Hundred Years War the English longbow could slaughter French knights by the thousands. In WWI the machine gun should have made vast frontal assaults unthinkable. Unfortunately for millions of men, it didn’t.
The technological event that led to that horrible disconnect of the 1860s was the coming of age of the rifled barrel. Almost every soldier carried a rifled musket and could hit their mark at distances and frequencies that hadn’t been seen before. Rifled artillery was accurate at distances that artillerymen of earlier wars would never have believed. Yet many of the officers thoughts still dwelled in the age of Napoleon. The men were fighting on the verge of the twentieth century. Episodes like the Battle of Fredericksburg and Pickett’s Charge show the results.
Recording Hints of War
As fascinated as I am, I will let others write about the war itself. I want to think about the records. Obviously there is a wealth of military records. Muster rolls, communiques and enlistments. Men were captured and recorded as prisoners of war. Soldiers and sailors wrote letters and diaries. They carried tintypes in their pockets. They lie buried under headstones. My real question for today is what were some of the records that war produced at the fringes? Not every record about the soldiers and sailors was made by the military and not every war related record relates to combatants.
Counting the Soldiers
New York took a state census in 1865 and figuring out who had been in the military, who was in the military and who had died in the military were important questions. With an 1860 population of under 4 million, about one in ten served and over forty-six thousand died in uniform. Understanding what had happened to just that one state was a serious undertaking. Worked in among more standard census data are tables detailing men’s service and in many cases their deaths.
Crossing the Line
Spies, deserters, prisoners and suspicious civilians appear in records of the United States Provost Marshal. You can also find people asking permission to cross Union lines.
Come in out of the Draft
As highly mobilized as both sides were, not everyone who might have served actually put on a uniform. Farming, trade and manufacturing needed to continue. One place to find those men is in the draft rolls. Of my male ancestors who were the right age, I have two ancestors who volunteered, several who were Canadian and three who did not fight. One of those men who did not fight, I have found in the 1863 draft roll.
Besides the need for men, the war brought an unprece- dented need for money. Just as the need for men produced records, the need for money produced them. The first income tax in US history was introduced in 1862. I’ve found an ancestor and his construction partnership in those records. I would have never heard of his partner without them.
Remember that a war is more than men with guns. It is also millions of other efforts added together—some mundane, some sublime, some desperate. Some of them were recorded.
(The second part of this three part series. You can find the third part at Reconstructing the Post-War World.)Twitter It!