Category Archives: Civil War Research

Civil War Resource: Grand Army of the Republic Records

What is the Grand Army of the Republic?

First, let’s look at a bit of history. After the Civil War ended, a group of Union veterans got together in Springfield, Illinois and organized the Grand Army of the Republic, or G.A.R. as it was known, in 1866. Over 7,000 chapters, called posts, quickly formed around the country. It was dissolved when 106 year old Albert Woolson, the last surviving member, died in 1956 in Minnesota. With the termination of the G.A.R., the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War was formed.

Although the G.A.R. membership was primarily male (with the exception of two female members), there were two women’s allied organizations, the Woman’s Relief Corps and the  Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The G.A.R. was politically active, but left one long lasting accomplishment – the establishment of Decoration Day, today observed as Memorial Day.

Its membership in 1890 was 490,000.

Where can G.A.R. records be found?

Well, that is why this is an underused resource for genealogists. The answer is pretty much here, there, everywhere and nowhere. Locating extant records will take some digging, but it’s not an impossible task.

First, determine whether you have an ancestor who served for the Union. If so, where did he live after the Civil War ended? The majority of records kept by the G.A.R. were at the local post level.

Next, determine whether there was a local post in your ancestor’s neighborhood.

Your first stop should be the excellent page at the Library of Congress.

If there is a local post, next visit the FamilySearch Research Wiki. Search for an entry for your state of interest plus Grand Army of the Republic.

I have no Civil War ancestors, but let’ say I have one who lived in Calais, Maine. I checked the Library of Congress list of posts in Maine and found the Joel A. Haycock Post in Calais.

A quick check of the wiki sent me to the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War page for the GAR Records Program.

From a PDF file on the website, I learned that it was the 34th post organized in Maine, mustered (formed) on 27 January 1881 and named for Major Joel Haycock, KIA at Fredericksburg, Virginia on 3 May 1863.

Just as an aside, my grandparents had two good friend, Colonel and Mrs. Haycock, who I met once or twice. Mrs. Haycock sent my cousin and myself each a small doll on year for Christmas in the early 1960s. Undoubtedly, the colonel was related in some way to Joel Haycock, as he and my grandparents all grew up in the area.

Now I am familiar with the local post, but what next?

There is a second tab on the SUVCW website title GAR Records catalog. It again lists all the known posts PLUS the location of any known records.

A quick look at the Joel Haycock post shows – nothing. No known records.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any, only that none have been located. If I had a Civil War ancestor, I would keep digging. At the local level, I would contact both the St. Croix Historical Society and the Calais Public Library, as I know from experience that residents have worked to save and document the history of Calais. I’d also check the Maine State Archives.

Another invaluable resource is the local newspaper, The Calais Advertiser, which has been in publication since the 1840s. Unfortunately, it isn’t yet available on the historical newspaper subscription websites and I have been waiting for years. It is on microfilm, but I live almost 3,000 miles from Calais Library, where it is housed. I imagine there are many mentions of the Joel Haycock Post from its 1881 formation and its activities afterwards.

If you are seeking out G.A.R. membership information for your ancestor, follow the same steps that I would:

1. Get an overview of the G.A.R. history at Library of Congress.
2. Visit the FamilySearch Wiki for more possible details.
3. Go to Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War website. View both tabs of the GAR Records Program for historical information and possible location of records.
4. Follow up with repositories noted in GAR Records Program OR
5. Check state archives and libraries.
6. Contact local historical and genealogical societies, local libraries, and universities.
7. Seek out historical newspapers for the area and browse for G.A.R. news.
8. Search HathiTrust (There is a digitized copy of the History of the George G. Meade Post in Philadelphia printed in 1889, for example), Internet Archive (Roster of the Ladies Auxiliary and state encampments found, plus many other entries) and WorldCat.

Remember that while local post records may no longer survive, there are many publications that might include historical details about members, including your ancestor.




Accessing Revolutionary and Civil War Claims Case Records

War claims case records have always interested me, but I have never found any ancestors who filed claims with the government for property lost during the American Revolution or the Civil War.

First of all, I have to admit that this particular kind of research, to me, is almost like finding a needle in a haystack. Not to say that it can’t be done, but it will take some effort.

Why? Well, many of these records are housed at the National Archives and may only be available on microfilm, which requires an on-site visit. Second, a possible ancestor/s need to be identified.

How would I approach this research task?

First, I would begin with a family known to have lived near the site of wartime activity, not just battles, but troop movements or other events that might have caused a family to have a loss of horses, crops, etc.

Next, I’d search out town and county histories, which usually provide lots of information about military actions, to determine the likelihood of claims for losses being generated. I’d also contact local historical and genealogical societies to inquire about such activity and would probably also call the local reference librarian at the public library.

Third, I would look for finding aids, whether at NARA or some other repository, to learn what might be indexed or, even better yet, available online.

Today’s post is only covering the American Revolution and the Civil War, but claims cases were created that cover most wars/conflicts throughout American history.

For Revolutionary War claims cases, there is the Index to the Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789 by John P. Butler. There are five volumes, published in 1978.

This set might be in a library close to you. Genealogy libraries of any size will probably have it, but university libraries might also have it on the shelves. I checked WorldCat and I only have to drive 10 miles down to the University of Arizona Library to access this book.

Remember, this is just the index, but if the name I am searching isn’t in it, I can cross this book off my “to do” list.

There is also the Revolutionary War Prize Cases: Records of the Court of Appeals in Cases of Capture, 1774-1787, by J.C. Bancroft Davis, published by NARA i 1949, but only available on microfilm.

In my case, I’d need to head to UCLA to view the film, which doesn’t seem to be in the Family History Library.

Claims cases from that time period are much more limited in scope than cases arising in the 19th century.

Let’s look at Civil War resources.

At the top of my list for a Southern family would be Gary B. Mills’ Southern Loyalists in the Civil War: The Southern Claims Commission: a Composite Directory of Case Files, Genealogical Publishing Company, 1994. This book is searchable on Ancestry.

Also by Mills is: Civil War Claims in the South: An Index of Civil War Damage Claims File​d Before the Southern Claims Commission, 1871–1880, published in 1980.

By J.B. Holloway, there is: Consolidated Index of Claims Reported by the Commissioner of Claims to the House of Representativ​es from 1871 to 1880.,published in 1892.

There is also one article i n the National Genealogical Society Quarterly, volume 75:141-152 from June 1987, written by Donna Rachal Mills, “Civil War Claims Commissions: The Mixed Commission of British and American Claims.”

These are the easiest paths to pursuing damage claims submitted during the Revolution and Civil War.

By the 1860s, there were more people and more claims filed with the government for damages and losses during the Civil War. The two indexes already mentioned are the two most easily accessed.

However, there are also a number of guides and finding aids to microfilmed records held at the National Archives.

Preliminary Inventory of the War Department Collection of Confederate Records: Record Group 109 by Elizabeth Bethel in 1957 and updated by Craig R. Scott in 1994 will help you navigate RG 109.

The Record Group Explorer for NARA shows about half of this collection is viewable online:

Maizie H. Johnson’s guide, Preliminary Inventory of the Textual Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, published in 1967, covers NARA Record Group 92. The Record Group Explorer shows only 6% of this record set has been digitized and placed online.

There are also some guides to Record Groups 56, 76, and 205, but between 0-1% of those records have been digitized.

Remember, too, that Bethel’s and Johnson’s publications are simply GUIDES to each collection, NOT an index.

For those brave hearts who welcome a challenge, there are some microformed record sets at NARA, such as Southern Claims Commission, Approved Claims, 1871-1880 for Alabama and a few other states (remember there is Gary Mill’s index), but microfilm/fiche means onsite research.

I highly recommend the St. Louis County Library excellent two-part online guide: Researching Southern Claims Commission Records: Resources and Step by Step Strategy for Finding a Claim. There is a wealth of information on the two links and well worth the time to check out the online resources.

The second website I can recommend is the FamilySearch wiki page: Southern Claims Commission, which is even more comprehensive that the SLCL website.

Locating claims case records is not a simple action. It takes some digging and might involve access to a local branch of NARA. However, these resources should get you started.




Peace Democrat in the Family & the Civil War

The Peace Democrats, a splinter group of the traditional Democratic Party,  were a Civil War era political party that existed mostly in the northern states.

Although “Peace Democrats” sounds like a positive force and they opposed the Civil War, wanting the South to rejoin the Union, Republicans gave them the name by which they are remembered – Copperheads! Yes, just like the poisonous snake.

Harper’s Weekly, 1863
Source: Library of Congress

Copperheads were mostly found in the area north of the Ohio River and that is exactly where my husband’s 3X great grandfather, Andrew Bandy, lived.

Andrew Bandy was clearly and publicly identified as a Copperhead.

The Ironton Register, on 17 November 1864, published a list of those Symmes Township residents who voted in the presidential election AND noted whether they voted Republican or Copperhead.

Voters supported Abraham Lincoln in a ratio of 2 to 1. Andrew Bandy’s family, both sons and relatives by marriage, were split along the same 2:1 ratio.

The Republican voters were Allen Cauley, A.J. Cauley, William Hobble, Allen Wiseman, John Cauley, George Wiseman and George Bandy – brother of Andrew.

Copperhead voters included Norris Yates, Samuel Littlejohn, Jackson Bandy (Andrew’s son) and Andrew Bandy himself.

Why were the Peace Democrats given the name of Copperheads? Apparently, it was felt that they encouraged young men to either avoid conscription into the army or to desert if already serving. It was also felt that they lowered the morale of the people. Therefore, they deserved to be named after a venomous snake.

Although this political party is described as being made up of a faction of northerners opposed to the Civil War, a closer look at census records seems to paint a different picture.

Andrew Bandy was a Virginian, born and bred. The Bandys had been in Virginia for almost a century by the time Andrew was born c1785. I have no idea about Andrew’s beliefs regarding slavery. He did not own any enslaved people in Virginia, but whether that was due to his beliefs or the economic reality of the dollar cost may not ever be known. It is possible that he joined the Copperheads simply to stand up for a solution to save his ancestral home.

The Peace Democrats, aka Copperheads, ended up being but a blip on the history screen. When the Civil War ended, support for the party dissipated and the Copperheads were no more.