People Share Their Ancestors’ Civil War Stories

Voting Rules
Vote up the ancestor tales that make the Civil War seem just a bit closer.

It's one thing to read about history in books, but it's something else to get stories and folklore from people whose ancestors were there.

Whether receiving stories and private papers from their forebears, or chasing down their own genealogy, these folks from Reddit shine an intimate light on the experiences of their great-great-great-grandparents (plus or minus a "great" or two) in the US Civil War.

  • 1
    341 VOTES

    He Served And Lived To Be 102 Years Old

    From Redditor u/flfamly:

    I was amazed to be able to touch some[one] born during the Civil War. My great-grandmother was 1 year old when her father died of disease while serving... She lived until I was 14 years old. When I hugged her, I felt I was embracing history. My great-granduncle served and lived to age 102. He died not long before I was born, but my mother, now age 98, remembers him well.

    When he was in his 80s he left a memoir of his experiences. He told the stories over time to a cousin. She took it all down in shorthand, and when finished typed it up and passed it around to the family. Each one interested copied the 10-page single-spaced typed document for themselves. My mother typed our copy in 1946. Because it was written from conversations, I have always felt as if I knew him, too.

    341 votes
  • 2
    401 VOTES

    He Shot Himself In The Foot To Get Out Of Serving As A Confederate

    From Redditor u/steauengeglase:

    Of all of my ancestors I've only found a single one who fought in the American Civil War. Everyone else was either too young, too old, or too rich to fight. He was from a town in the Appalachian Mountains.

    Anyway, he joined the Confederacy and fought... but he had a crisis of conscience. It was the usual "Why are the poor fighting for the rich?" argument.

    So he shot himself in the foot (really risky move for the time) and waited around for a while and cut himself in the mouth. By the time a doctor got to him they concluded that it was far too late to amputate. The poor boy was coughing up blood and dying of blood poisoning. He was sent home to perish. Poor soul.

    He went home, his foot healed up, and he joined the Union Army... [H]e became a preacher and died in the 1920s after giving his last sermon on his front porch.

    I met his great-granddaughter, who happened to be there for that last sermon when she was a little girl. By the '90s she was still alive, and at a family reunion she dropped all of these torn diaries down on a table detailing this stuff.

    401 votes
  • 3
    262 VOTES

    His Fellow Soldier Accidentally Stabbed Him

    From Redditor u/felinocumpleanos:

    My great-great-grandfather was in the 5th Mass and fought at Gettysburg. In the history of the battalion, there's a story that he and two other soldiers went under fire to retrieve a piece of artillery. He was shot in the arm; another soldier was killed. When another soldier came to assist him by cutting and wrapping a tourniquet around his arm, a shell exploded nearby, startling the guy with the knife. His hand slipped and he stabbed my grandfather in his already injured arm. The air was blue with swearing...

    They were successful in retrieving the artillery, and back behind the lines, [they] laughed about it all afterward...

    262 votes
  • 4
    478 VOTES

    He Was A Cherokee Confederate Who Warned His Wife Away From Conflict

    From Redditor u/AmericanHistoryXX:

    [H]ands down the best... ancestor story goes to a Cherokee friend of mine.

    His ancestors were Cherokee Confederates, and this one in particular was a well-known person, an officer, a longtime friend of [Cherokee leader] Stand Watie. They'd even served as defense [counsel] together in the first murder trial in Cherokee history.

    He knew that a battle was going to be fought on his property, so the night before... he swam across the local river, warned his wife to get out... then went to rejoin his unit. She left... [H]e died; the house was burned; she never made it back to rebuild everything.

    A few years ago, though, his cousin went to the site of that house with a metal detector. He found the spoons she had buried that night to prevent them from being stolen.

    478 votes
  • 5
    217 VOTES

    He Preferred A Kilt But Was Forced By The Union Army To Wear Pants

    From Redditor u/OldGreyHat:

    Almost all of my family came over later in the decades that followed... but one of my great-great-great-grandfathers was a Scottish immigrant who... enlisted with the 79th New York Volunteer Infantry (also known as the Cameron Highlanders because they were made up of almost completely Scottish immigrants and would wear kilts when marching in parades, though the Union Army forced them to wear pants in battle). They fought for the Union, obviously, and he lost his leg [at] Blue Springs, Tennessee.

    217 votes
  • 6
    198 VOTES

    He Operated A Cannon And Was Present At Appomattox

    From a Redditor:

    [M]y [great-great-great-great]-grandfather fought with the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery. It suffered more casualties in an ill-fated charge during the Siege of Petersburg than any Union regiment lost in a single day of combat throughout the war. He ran a cannon.

    He lied about his age in order to fight (he was too old). He was present at the surrender of [Gen. Robert E. Lee]; I have pictures of it. As a result of fighting he was given land out in Minnesota...

    I come from a long line of Continental Army soldiers and founding politicians. [I]t’s crazy he was able to survive; without doing so I would not be able to type this.

    198 votes