A couple of years ago I had the good fortune, through The In-Depth Genealogist, to get my book Ancestors In A Nation Divided published. The book contains a lot of information for anyone researching their Civil War ancestor. Whether your veteran fought for the North or the South, there are a multitude of research sources given to learn more about your Civil War ancestor and his service.
During the months following the book’s publishing I presented a “Researching Your Civil War Ancestor” program to a number of genealogy societies, libraries and historical groups. Teaching these groups about the large amount of information available on our Civil War ancestors from data bases to courthouse records was fun. Many were surprised at just how much info is out there with just a little research.
Many times I had the opportunity to refer to my book during the presentation. I’d give a brief description about the contents, to those attending. I credited my first visit to Gettysburg as a life changing event. Specifically I talked about standing on Seminary Ridge and actually feeling the devotion of both sides to their “cause”. The “cause” that was so big these men would leave their homes and loved ones to fight. Looking out over the sweeping field below, knowing it was the final resting place for many, I could feel the emotion that brought those soldiers there to the fields of Gettysburg.
After most programs the speaker is usually available for questions or conversation with the members. I’ve heard a lot of great stories from folks after a presentation. So many love to share their Civil War ancestor’s story. One of those conversations was with Sally. She was a gray-haired fireball, animated and a lot of fun. I enjoyed her participation during the program. Sally was a former history teacher and very knowledgeable about the Civil War.
That one conversation will forever be etched in my mind. When Sally and I talked she said she understood how I felt that day years ago in Gettysburg. Her father was a Civil War buff and when she was a child he took the family on many vacations to different battlefields. On every visit her dad would gaze out across the battlefield and say to her, "Sally can you see the soldiers?"
At the time she was too young and didn't understand what he was saying. But she looked me in the eye that day and said, "I see them today and I know you do too."
Her comment nearly brought tears to my eyes. I nodded yes. I do see the soldiers. I see them when I go to Gettysburg, Chickamauga or follow my great-great grandfather's footsteps across Virginia, just like his regiment did, as they pursued Lee the final week of the war.
I see the smoky haze from continual artillery fire. I can feel the soldiers, their fear, their bravery, their loyalty to their flag and the determination to fight for it.
“I see the soldiers.”
I had never used those specific words, but something clicked with me during Sally's comment. I realized that I do see the soldiers. Knowing that I see them on the battlefield, feel their heart’s effort in the sacred ground beneath my feet, helped solidify my goal of remembering Civil War soldiers and telling their story. I want to make sure they are not lost to the pages of history.
As family historians we need to remember our Civil War ancestors. We need to research them, write about their lives and experiences, and never forget that we stand on their life stories today. I'm continually researching my direct ancestor, reading about battles he fought in, absorbing the events of that era, trying to understand mid-nineteenth century life. Like you, I’ve found a multitude of great uncles, cousins and in-laws who also served. We need to document their service as well. Especially those young soldiers who never had the opportunity to have a family and don’t have descendants to tell their story. Let’s recommit to honoring those Civil War veterans we have in our family tree through research and remembering.
I see the soldiers, do you?