Personal look at Civil War soldiers

Friday, September 22nd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

There have been three civil wars in American history. The first pitted the Puritans against the Roundheads in the 1640s. There was some fighting along the Chesapeake Bay, but most of the warfare was back in England. During the war, half of the graduates of Harvard College returned to England to fight for their cause. Our second civil war was more popularly known as the Revolutionary War. Our third civil war was the tragic 19th-century bloodbath of 1861-65.

Religion and geography were probably the most influential factors affecting your 19th-century American ancestors' position during the Civil War. In that era, all of my forebears of military age fought. Each was severely wounded. They were the fortunate ones. On the Union side, some 360,000 soldiers were lost to wounds and disease. In the South, the figure was 250,000. When you look at these men as individuals and not as statistics, you have a much more sympathetic view of our third civil war. The figure for the Confederate casualties needs to be put into context. If the North had lost the same percentage of its population to wounds and disease as the South had, Union losses would have been more than 1 million.

In his book. The Cousins' Wars, Kevin Phillips noted that, "Militarily and regionally, the Confederates rendered the heaviest sacrifice in lives ... ever made by Americans." I doubt that most Americans today have as much appreciation of that fact as is deserved.

The late Dr. William M. Pritchett of Dallas made a lifetime study of the Civil War in his native Brunswick County in Virginia. He wrote articles for his hometown newspaper, and in the course of seven years penned sketches of more than 1,100 soldiers. With the publication of these articles came additional data, so that his manuscript eventually ran 2,300 pages. His focus on the impact of the war on the inhabitants of one Virginia county allowed him to become thoroughly acquainted with the participants and the resources for biographical and historical research. In 1850, Brunswick County had a white population of about 4,900. Dr. Pritchett identified more than 3,150 of them in his study.

By immersing himself in the records, Dr. Pritchett was able to identify Brunswick County soldiers even when they were assigned to units raised elsewhere. One of his most interesting observations involves the 19th-century practice in the South of people switching their first and middle names. He noted that his own great-grandfather was known as Luther N. Manly before and during the war. Afterward, however, he consistently went by Napoleon L. Manly.

Since family historians are always working back in time, they may have difficulty in locating an ancestor's military service record because they are unaware of this pattern in the change of names. Dr. Pritchett observed that many former Confederates may have done so to avoid being discriminated against by the federal government. He was right. Vengeance rather than forgiveness was far too prevalent.

Three out of every 10 soldiers from the county perished in the war. For those who survived the war, life expectancy was 67 years. The youngest was only 11 when the war began. The last veteran from the county "to strike the tent" was James Rawlings Percival in 1937.

The biographies of the soldiers are in alphabetical order. Each sketch includes the veteran's military record, parentage, spouse(s), children, sons and daughters-in-law, siblings, church affiliation, place of burial, occupation and political service. There also are references to records consulted, including census, pension and military service. A complete every-name index concludes the 730-page tome.

Civil War Soldiers from Brunswick County, Virginia is a model for a biographical and genealogical study and presents a wealth of data for others to use. It is highly recommended. Copies may be ordered for $70, plus $3 shipping, from John W. Pritchett, Box 9086, Dallas, TX 75209-9086.

Lloyd Bockstruck is supervisor of the genealogy section of the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library. Address questions to: Family Tree, Today section, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265.