Wednesday, October 7, 2015

September Program Review - John Finch and "The Civil War"

CVGS member John Finch was the CVGS program speaker on Wednesday, 30 September at the Bonita-Sunnyside Library with 36 in attendance (including 5 guests) - his topic was "Our Civil War -- the Sesquicentennial."

John noted that the Civil War ended in April 1865, 150 years ago, but the last surrender occurred in early November 1865.  During his presentation, John showed slides of books and movies that addressed Civil War topics, such as the PBS Ken Burns' "The Civil War" series, "Gone With the Wind," "Killer Angels, "Red Badge of Courage," and many more.

He started the presentation with the basic geopolitical background - in the 1860 time, the U.S. had 31.5 million people and the states and territories were either free or slave.  The border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware did not join the Confederacy although they were slave states.

During the War, which was fought almost entirely in the Confederate states, the Union strategy was to gradually separate areas of the Confederacy - by taking control of the Mississippi River, by Sherman's march through Georgia from Tennessee, etc.  Eventually, the Confederate Army was defeated, and the war ended at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.  During the war, the Confederate army went up the Rio Grande to New Mexico, but lost when their supply train was captured.  There was even a skirmish in San Diego County - the Affair at Minter's Ranch, and  some of the Confederates in San Diego County went to Texas.

3.26 million men served on both sides, with over 524,000 deaths (364,000 Union, 160,000 Confederate).  45% of the deaths were from battle action, 4% died from wounds, and 50% died from disease.

(photo courtesy of Diane Godinez)

This was the first "modern" war --  some firsts included:

*  first machine guns and repeating rifles
*  first use of railroad trains
*  first effective care of the wounded
*  first organized signal service
*  first use of ironclads and submarines
*  first draft, and first deployment of black troops
*  first combat photography
* first Medal of Honor - to William Pittenger, who is buried in Fallbrook.

John offered methods to find out more about your Civil War ancestors.  He has three - Charles Finch, Henry J. Lowe and Calvin Bentley.  Your pedigree chart may identify men born between 1820 and 1845 who may have served.  The 1890 U.S. Veterans Census is available for some states, and identifies veterans of all wars.  The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors website, run by the National Park Service ( provides resources to identify those who served on both sides, and researchers can find the battles fought by each regiment and persons who were in a specific company.

Service and pension records of Union soldiers are available at the National Archives, and many are online at Ancestry, Fold3, and other sites.  The records for Confederate soldiers are at State Archives, and some are online.  Civil War information may be found in a Homestead record; after the War, soldiers were eligible for 160 acres of free land.  Newspaper articles and obituaries may document a solder's service and family.

During the Civil war, women kept the home fires burning, not knowing whether their soldier would come home alive or not.  They also worked cooking, sewing, nursing and making bullets in many areas.  If a solder's bone was shattered, an arm or leg would be amputated if the soldier did not die of the wound.  Morphine was used for pain control.  Drug addiction, alcoholism and suicide were common after the War, as was "Soldier's Heart" - what we now call shell shock or PTSD.

John's handout listed free and subscription Civil War Websites.

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