The Life of a Soldier

Created: Wednesday, 13 April 2011 Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email

The Life of a Soldier

recruitposterWith the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War I've been thinking about many in my family tree that served during the Civil War.  Many served and returned home to grateful family members.  Others went off to war and never returned home.  My 3rd great uncle was one of those who never returned home.

Stewart Henry Menteer, the oldest of eight children of my 3rd great grandfather.  He was just 18 when he was mustered into the 148th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.  He had already faced a significant challenge in life when his mother died when he was 8 or 9.  Now he's fresh from the farm serving in the Union Army.  Instead of worrying about the wild animals that might harm one of his younger siblings or animals on the farm he's worried about getting wounded, killed or captured by the Confederate Army.

Since I began researching this family line and learning about him, I've wondered what he was like.  Did he have a girl back home that was waiting on him so that they could marry when the war was over?  What were his plans, was he going to be a farmer, was he going to follow in his father's footsteps and become a plasterer?  As someone who served in the military for 20 years I know what it's like to be away from home and family for extended periods of time.  The 20 years I spent in the military can't even begin to compare with the horrible conditions that Stewart faced.  When he faced being homesickness he couldn't post a Facebook message or video chat with his parents.  He only had letters occasionally from his father and siblings.  They'd keep him updated on what was happening on the farm.  Stewart would write about what was happening with his Regiment maybe about some of the guys that he had mustered in with from back home.

His regiment participated in 28 engagements with the Confederate Army before that fateful day of August 25, 1864 at Ream's Station outside of Petersburg Virginia.  They were there to destroy the confederate use of the Weldon Railroad which was being used to move troops and supplies North.  It was during this battle that I learned that Stewart was captured by the Confederate Army.  He was transported to the Confederate Prison Stockade in Florence South Carolina.

Wikipedia records this about the Stockade:  "The Florence Stockade covered 23.5 acres of land with a trench dug out around the outside to prevent prisoners from tunneling out. After about a month of operation, there were about 12,000 prisoners and a death rate of 20 to 30 per day. Supplies were scarce for both the prisoners and the guards. Men were sleeping almost naked and with no blankets. In mid-October, the United States Sanitary Commission delivered supplies. Of the total number of prisoners that passed through the Florence Stockade, 2,802 Union soldiers died there and most were buried in unmarked trenches in what would become the Florence National Cemetery after the war."

According to the military records Stewart died 13 January 1865 there at the Stockade.  Like the others that died there, he's buried in an unmarked grave in a trench.  He's family never dreamed that when he went off to war 2 and a half years earlier that they would never see him again.  They received a notice from the War Department that he had been captured and then a notice that he had died and was buried in South Carolina.

When we think about the Civil War and the reasons why it was fought and all the great battles and generals we often forget about the real human cost to that war.  My 3rd great uncle reminds of that cost.  If you have a relative who was between ages 18 (maybe even younger) to 40 (maybe even a little older) during the years of the Civil War you'll want to explore the possibility that they served in the war.

If your ancestor was from Pennsylvania begin your research at Alice Gayley's "Pennsylvania in the Civil War" website located at http://www.pa-roots.com/pacw/   Alice has transcribed all the rosters from the books by Samuel Bates, History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-65.

PA-Roots also hosts two regimental websites located at http://www.pa-roots.com/index.php/military-resources

The National Park Service has on on-line database, the Soldiers and Sailors System where you can perform a search for your Civil War ancestor.  There are currently over 6.3 million records in the database.  The website is http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/

Using Google is a great tool for researching your Civil War ancestor.  There are over 290 million web pages with the phrase "Civil War" in them.

If you have a subscription to Ancestry.com or WorldVitalRecords.com you can also research your ancestor there.

Enjoy

Nathan