The Year Was 1864

The year was 1864. The American Civil War was in its third year, and the fighting was intense. As the newly appointed General Grant advanced on Richmond, Virginia, some of the bloodiest battles of the war were fought at: The Wilderness (17,666 dead), Spotsylvania (10,920 dead), Drewry’s Bluff (4,160 dead), Cold Harbor (12,000 dead), and Petersburg (16,569 dead). These five battles alone cost 61,315 lives.

In the South, General William Tecumseh Sherman led a force of 110,000 from Chattanooga, Tennessee, into Georgia to begin the Atlanta Campaign, which would last until the city was surrendered on 2 September 1864.

After ordering the evacuation of Atlanta, he burned most of the city and from there Sherman began his infamous “March to the Sea” as he set his sites on Savannah. Cutting a wide path through Georgia, his troops took food and other supplies, and left a devastating trail of burned plantations and crops. On 22 December 1864, he reached Savannah, where he would remain until January 1865 when he continued his “scorched earth” campaign north into the Carolinas.

In the Midwest the year opened with severe cold and snow. The high temperature for January 1st in Chicago, Illinois, was sixteen degrees below zero and Minneapolis, Minnesota, was even colder with a high of twenty-five below. 

In England, the Dale Dyke Dam burst, causing the Great Sheffield Flood (or the “Great Inundation” as it is also known). The failure of the dam sent tons of water through central Sheffield washing away bridges, destroying 800 houses, and killing 270 people.

The American Civil War was having a devastating impact on the textile mills of Lancashire, England. Union blockades of Confederate ports halted the exportation of cotton that was needed in the Lancashire mills, resulting in a “cotton famine.”

Prussia and Denmark were involved in the Second Schleswig War, fighting for control of the duchy of Schleswig. This matter wouldn’t be entirely settled until after World War I.

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Photo Corner

Vivion Davis Contributed by Raydonna “Donna” Adams
This is my cousin twice-removed, Vivion Davis in his bomber jacket. He served in World War II.

Click on an image to enlarge it.

Elmer N. Magnuson WWIContributed by Carol Benson, Minneapolis, Minnesota
This is a picture of my father Elmer N. Magnuson serving in the army in WWI about 1917. He was born in 1894 and died in 1975.

Memorial Day Resources to Honor the Veterans in Your Family Tree

Just wanted to take a minute to wish all of you a safe and happy Memorial Day! I plan to observe the weekend here at home, and hope to find some time to research some of the military heroes in our family tree. Don’t forget, Ancestry is offering free access to military databases through May 31st. (Click here for more information on that promotion.)  If you want to learn more about what military databases are available at Ancestry and how to get the most from them, you can now download a free PDF file of Military Records at, by Esther Yu Sumner. Click here to download the e-book now.

Also, I wanted to give a special thanks to everyone who shared their WWII era memories on last week’s The Year Was 1943 post here on the blog. What a fascinating trip through time! If you missed some or all of the comments, click here to read them. There are some amazing stories there and some of them may give you ideas for interview questions for family members who also lived through that era. I know I came up with a few I want to discuss with my Dad.

Have a great holiday!


Ancestry Insider Article on Incomplete Databases

As I was browsing the blogs this week, I found an article on the Ancestry Insider blog in response to a question regarding Ancestry’s posting of databases that aren’t complete. The Insider does a good job of explaining the reasons that this happens and it also brought up a couple things to keep in mind.

First, always be sure to check back periodically on databases that you have previously searched, but in which you have been unsuccessful in locating an ancestor. There may have been updates.  While I do try to include major updates in the newsletter, I can’t always fit all of them. You can also keep tabs on recent updates by checking the Recently Added Databases page.  I do include a link to that in every issue of the Ancestry Weekly Journal and here on the blog each week, just below the new databases.

Secondly, don’t forget to read the database descriptions that can be found just below the main search box on the database page, and click through when necessary to capture all the pertinent information. You may find the reason why you haven’t been able to locate that ancestor was there in the description all along.


Hidden Truths: The Chicago Cemetery and Lincoln Park

View of Chicago from Lincoln ParkThe other day I caught the tail end of a news report about the old Chicago Cemetery located in and around what is now Chicago’s Lincoln Park. After living in that area for seven years back in the eighties and early nineties, I was familiar with the fact that Lincoln Park was once a cemetery and that many bodies ended up being left behind once the cemetery closed. I jotted down a note to look for more information on the news story that I had missed and this morning I did just that.

In doing so I found the website that was the subject of the story, and for anyone who has roots in Chicago, it’s well worth a visit. I could only spend about twenty minutes browsing it this morning but listened to a couple fascinating audio clips and plan to go back and revisit the site soon. This project by Pamela Bannos can be found at: 

Click here to read the Chicago Tribune article about the site and the new markers. (Accessing the article may require free registration.)

Free Public Access to U.S. Military Collection on

Jim Hastings of NARA, Ancestry CEO, Tim Sullivan, and Dr. Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United StatesAncestry released a formal press release today regarding the partnership with NARA, which we reported last week here on the blog. (The photograph is from the signing of that agreement. Pictured are Jim Hastings of NARA, Ancestry CEO, Tim Sullivan, and Dr. Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States.)

The press release also says that,

To commemorate the agreement on the eve of Memorial Day, is making its entire U.S. Military Collection — the largest online collection of American military records — available for free to the public. From May 20 through May 31, people can log on to to view more than 100 million names and 700 titles and databases of military records, the majority of which come from NARA, from all 50 U.S. states.

Click through to read the entire press release. Continue reading

Civil War Reflections, by Maureen Taylor

This Republic of Suffering.bmpEvery so often I read a book that changes the way I think about something. Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War is one of those books.

Two of my great-great grandfathers fought in the Civil War. One served for a brief six months, returning home ill with dysentery while the other enlisted in several regiments until a ball went through his right hand causing a permanent disability. My family was one of the lucky ones. On the first page of the preface, Gilpin tallies up the numbers for us. Two percent of the population died between 1861 and 1865; in today’s terms that would amount to 6 million dead. Confederate soldiers were three times as likely to die as those in the Union forces. Soldiers and civilians died in conflicts that raged across farm lands and in our urban areas; the line between battlefield and home blurring. If a soldier was lucky enough to survive a battle, it didn’t mean disease or infection wouldn’t kill him later.

Death and dying weren’t simple matters in mid-nineteenth-century America. In pre-Civil War America when a person died they were usually surrounded by loved ones who cared for them in their last moments. During the War soldiers wrote home on the eve of battle not knowing if they’d be killed far from their family. It was important for grieving relatives to know the details of the soldier’s death and hear his last words so comrades stepped in and reported the details. Continue reading