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Mustering Up the Courage to Delve into Military Rosters

Military rosters are long, long lists of who served in which regiment during a given war. They can be exhausting to browse. Here is how to come out a winner when researching military rosters.

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Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: JudyRosella Edwards
Word Count: 1081 (approx.)
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The thing I have come to appreciate most about military rosters is they represent "the people." Many of the biographies written feature successful people, often only those who can afford to pay for their biography to be published.

Military rosters, on the other hand, include people from every walk of life. Many military personnel served in response to the military draft. Others volunteered. Either way, the military leveled the field when it came to whose name made it in the history books.

Finding relevance among the rosters was the next challenge for me. Personally, I have never been very interested in war. Then, one day, while transcribing Civil War rosters for Macon County, Illinois, for the Genealogy Trails project, I began to see patterns emerging. I realized that soldiers who volunteered to serve were expressing a political view. It is unlikely that someone would put their life on the line unless they believed they were fighting for the best resolution to the slavery issue. But not always.

Congress passed the Habeas Corpus Act of 1863, on March 3 of that year. To make a long story inappropriately short, a trial by jury was no longer guaranteed. The Act also made it highly risky for anyone to challenge the Civil War, as the Copperheads were doing. In a nutshell, the Act declared that only Congress could suspend Habeas Corpus, and not the President, although President Lincoln had already done so in some states.

The rosters became a tad more interesting at this point. I came across two privates from Company A of the Forty-First Illinois Infantry who were each discharged by writ of habeas corpus. John Hays served only a single day before he was discharged on August 6, 1861. A year later, it took exactly two months for J. Goodpasture to be discharged from the same company on the same grounds.

I don't know anything about Hays or Goodpasture, but they stand out in history to me because they were calling on their legal rights in response to a national issue.

It has been said that, "War is hell." It apparently was for chaplains and surgeons, just as much as for the soldiers. Perhaps, more so since their role was to comfort and console those who were fighting, bleeding, and dying.

Life was not simple nor safe for military chaplains. While many served their entire term, others did not. Some died, some resigned, and some simply disappeared.

On July 9, 1864, Elias D. Wilkins resigned as chaplain for Company A of the Twenty-first Illinois Infantry, after two years, eight months, and 27 days. He only had three months left to serve.

Phillip D. Hammond resigned as chaplain for the Thirty-fifth Illinois Infantry on May 12, 1862, after serving ten months and nine days. Arthur Bradshaw resigned after three months and seven days. After just three months and six days, Chaplain Rice E. Harris reportedly left at Florence, Alabama, and was not heard from again. John Glaze entered the military as Chaplain for the Sixty-third Illinois Infantry and his commission was canceled, with no further upfront remarks. Richard Holding declined a commission as chaplain for the One Hundred and Fifteenth Illinois Infantry after reporting for duty on January 1, 1863.

A surgeon's life was not easy, either. After serving one year, nine months, and eight days, Second Assistant Surgeon for the One Hundred and Fifteenth Illinois Infantry, James A. Jones, was murdered by guerrillas at Tunnel Hill, Georgia.

Several Macon County surgeons resigned. At least one served apparently no time. Others served from a matter of days to as much as nearly two years before resigning.

FIRST ASSISTANT SURGEON Forty-first Illinois Infantry

Name

Years

Months

Days

George W. Short

0

0

0

SURGEONS – Seventh Illinois Cavalry, Company I

Name

Years

Months

Days

C. D. Rankin (see Clark D. Rankin)

0

2

4

SURGEONS – Sixty-third Illinois Infantry

Name

Years

Months

Days

William M. Gray

0

3

17

SURGEONS – One Hundred and Fifteenth Illinois Infantry

Name

Years

Months

Days

Enoch W. Moore

0

6

13

FIRST ASSISTANT SURGEON – Sixty-third Illinois Infantry

Name

Years

Months

Days

Lyman Hall

0

8

21

FIRST ASSISTANT SURGEONS – One Hundred and Fifteenth Illinois Infantry

Name

Years

Months

Days

N. G. Blalock (see Nelson G. Blalock)

0

10

14

SURGEONS – Thirty-fifth Illinois Infantry

Name

Years

Months

Days

W. J. Chenoweth (see William J. Chenoweth)

1

2

19

SURGEONS – Twenty-first Illinois Infantry, Company "A"

Name

Years

Months

Days

Eden M. Seeley

1

9

0

FIRST ASSISTANT SURGEONS - Eighth Illinois Infantry, Three Years, Company "A"

Name

Years

Months

Days

John M. Phipps

1

9

22


Other surgeons, such as Alexander A. Lodge, served as Second Assistant and then First Assistant Surgeon, stepping into the gap until he mustered out as full surgeon. Throughout the fray, soldiers of various ranks were "drummed out," promoted, discharged, wounded, held prisoner, or killed.

Take the time to browse through rosters with a different perspective. Look beyond the names and dates and take a closer look at the soldier's lives and their interactions. Hopefully you'll find the rosters as intriguing as I do now.

To learn more about the Civil War rosters, visit the National Park Service's Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System Name Search. Here you will find a searchable database telling you how to locate more detailed information about Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. You can also find a transcription of Macon County, Illinois, military rosters online at Genealogy Trails at http://www.genealogytrails.com/ill/macon/military.html.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2008.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

*Effective May 2010, GenWeekly articles that are more than five years old no longer require a subscription for full access.

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