I’ll bet you're doing some pretty serious research on your Civil War ancestor. You've got to know about your veteran’s military life. What did he do during the war? Was he injured? Was he a hero? How did the war affect his family? What was life like back then?
So to add a little spice to your research here's a Meet Your Civil War Soldier list. Just a few things you might take the time to do to help you better understand your Civil War ancestor. Not only will you develop a deeper appreciation of your veteran it can be a lot of fun too!
Research the uniform your ancestor wore. You can start here at History Net which has short descriptions of both Union and Confederate garb or go to Memorial Hall Museum online Here you’ll find more detail about what the Union soldier wore. Finally check out Adolphus Confederate Uniforms. This site has a detailed explanation of Confederate soldier’s attire. Also try Googling images for an idea of what your soldier wore. Take note of the layers of clothing these men lived in and marched in. Also look at the number and weight of items a regimental soldier carried on a daily basis. It’s really amazing.
- Try eating like your soldier ate. Make their old stand-by - Hardtack for your Union ancestor and Johnnie cakes for your Confederate veteran. I’ve included recipes at the end of this article.
- Spend some time looking at Civil War photographs, especially popular colorized versions. Get a feel for these were real men who were a long distance from family, hungry and afraid of what tomorrow might bring. Yet they continued on with their duties. The Library of Congress has an extensive collection of Civil War era photos. Really looking into the eyes of those soldiers does open our mind to their experiences.
- Find a book (check your library, or Google) written specifically about a battle your ancestor fought in. Become familiar with the movements of his regiment. Then:
- Walk where he walked. Tour the battlefield(s) where your ancestor fought. Take a moment to imagine the sites and sounds he experienced there. The fear, the blood, the destruction. Imagine the confusion and chaos in the midst of a battle. If you can't do it physically do it virtually through Google maps or Google Earth.
- Choose a Civil War era song and read the lyrics. Can you hear your ancestor humming it as he marched or set up camp? If he was a Confederate soldier it may have been Goober Peas, Bonnie Blue Flag or Dixie. If he was a Union man maybe it was Battle Hymn of the Republic, When Johnny Comes Marching Home or We Are Coming Father Abraham.
- Watch a Civil War movie. Even though movies aren't always historically accurate and are produced mainly for entertainment (box office receipts), there are scenes, costumes, firearms and battles portrayed that will help you identify with your Civil War ancestor. Try Glory, Gettysburg, Gone With the Wind, Cold Mountain, Red Badge of Courage or Lincoln.
- Read a newspaper or two from the locale your ancestor was from that was published during the Civil War. Even though it was a week later, I was really surprised at how much coverage the battle at Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing) got in my own hometown newspaper. I should have known since a lot of men from the area fought there. It's also neat to see the ads and events of the time. A great place to start your newspaper search is here. The Ancestor Hunt
- Calculate the number of ancestors in your family, both direct and collateral, that fought in the Civil War. Did your relatives fight for both sides? You'll be surprised at how the war affected your ancestors with many members leaving home and joining the fight. Doing a little research on these extended family soldiers may produce some interesting and sought after information as well.
- Take a photo of yourself by your ancestor's headstone or if that's not possible take a photo of yourself at the nearest Civil War monument paying special attention to the inscription and who the memorial honors, remembering their sacrifice at that moment.
Finally write a short narrative about your Civil War ancestor’s military experience. You've “walked” in his steps, “tasted” his food,“experienced” the sights and sounds of war. Whether you post it on your blog or slip it in his file, by documenting his story with your new awareness, you honor him and his service and that's what the list is all about.
Let me know how you did working through the list or any suggestions you might have. Either way have fun with the Meet Your Civil War Soldier list!
Now for those recipes I promised. Hardtack - the staple of the Union soldier was easy to make. It only took three ingredients.
- 2 cups of flour
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon of Crisco or vegetable fat (they used lard or bacon grease in the 1860s)
- 6 pinches of salt
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Mix the ingredients together into a stiff dough, knead several times, and spread the dough out flat to a thickness of 1/4 inch on a non-greased cookie sheet.
Using a pizza cutter or a knife, cut dough into 3-inch cracker squares. With the flat end of a bamboo skewer, punch four rows of holes, four holes per row, into each cracker.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, turn crackers over on the sheet and return to the oven and bake another 30 minutes. Cool completely.((Nordin, Kendra. "Civil War recipes: Hardtack crackers and Confederate Johnny cake."The Christian Science Monitor.” The Christian Science Monitor, 12 Apr. 2011. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.))
- 2 cups of cornmeal
- 2/3 cup of milk
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix ingredients into a stiff batter and form 8 biscuit-sized "dodgers." Bake on a lightly greased sheet for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Or, spoon the batter into hot cooking oil in a frying pan over a low flame. Remove the corn dodgers and let cool on a paper towel, spread with a little butter or molasses.1
Enjoy! Until next time!
Website & links referenced in the article:
Memorial Hall Museum
Adolphus Confederate Uniforms
Library of Congress
The Ancestor Hunt
Nordin, Kendra. "Civil War recipes: Hardtack crackers and Confederate Johnny cake."The Christian Science Monitor.” The Christian Science Monitor, 12 Apr. 2011. Web. 24 Jan. 2017. ↩