All the Information We Need

Posted on: 02/25/2011
As word is getting out about the Great Task project through the Fieldpress and quarterly Friends of Gettysburg Newsletter, we thought it might be helpful to give members visiting the blog an example of what they need to add their ancestor to the project.  So, we randomly picked a soldier from the National Park Service's Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System.  The soldier we're going to look at on this post was named Cleveland Coffey.

Here we see that Cleveland Coffey was in Company F, 26th North Carolina Infantry.  Not a lot to go on, but you'd be surprised at how much we'll be able to find out about Mr. Coffey just from knowing is name and unit.

Using one of many online researching sites, we were able to find Cleveland's service records by looking for his name among the soldiers in Company F of the 26th NC.  These records tend to be mostly muster rolls that list information about things like when the soldier was present for duty, pay, and enlistment information.  Sometimes though- there's more.  Here is a record with Cleveland's enlistment information:

He enlisted March 20, 1862 for "3 years or [the] war" in Lenoir, NC and was paid a bounty of $50.  Cleveland enlisted at a time when the Confederate government was still offering bounties before it adopted a policy of universal conscription for able bodied men between 18 and 35 (with some exceptions) about a month later.

His next record is a muster roll for March and April 1862 stating that he was present for duty.  While this doesn't provide exact dates when he may or may not have been present with his company, it gives us evidence to support his presence at any battle fought by his regiment during that time. 

Now we jump to December 1862.  None of Cleveland's muster rolls are available the from period between April and November.  This record is one of the more interesting ones:

Apparently, after serving exactly nine months in the army, Cleveland was admitted to Epicsopal Church Hospital in Williamsburg, VA on December 20, 1862.  He complained of rheumatism, which during the Civil War was a vague term for joint pain sometimes connected with common camp diseases such as dysentery.  He was in the hospital until March 8, 1863; just in time for the spring campaigning season.  His regiment was serving in North Carolina at the time he got out of the hospital.  But, in a few months they would be attached to Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia for the invasion of Pennsylvania.

Now, those of you familiar with what happened to the 26th North Carolina at Gettysburg are probably already thinking that Cleveland is facing very poor odds as he marched north with his comrades.  On July 1, 1863 the 26th NC was in a severe fight with the Iron Brigade near the Herbst Woods and Willoughby Run.  In this engagement the opposing sides nearly annihilated each other.  Unfortunately, Cleveland was struck by a bullet or shell as his regiment surged forward to drive the Union forces back.  He died in Gettysburg on July 3 at age 25 according to his listing on a Roll of Honor.

The 26th suffered incredibly high casualties at Gettysburg.  We'll share an excerpt from a report of the regiment's quartermaster to the Governor of North Carolina, Zebulon Vance, to give you an idea of their experience:

Near Gettysburg, Pa.,
July 4, 1863.
My dear Governor:

I will trespass a few minutes upon your indulgence to communicate the sad fate
that has befallen the old Twenty-sixth.

The heaviest conflict of the war has taken place in this vicinity.  It commenced July 1, and raged furiously until late last night.  Heth's division, of A. P. Hill's corps, opened the ball, and Pettigrew's brigade was the advance. We went in with over 800 men in the regiment. There came out but 216, all told, unhurt.

Yesterday they were again engaged, and now have only about 80 men for duty.

…Our whole division numbers but only 1,500 or 1,600 effective men, as officially reported, but, of course, a good many will still come in. The division at the beginning numbered about 8,000 effective men...

                                Yours, truly,
                                J. J. YOUNG,
                               Capt., and Assistant Quartermaster.

We didn't locate any records that had more information on the fate of Cleveland Coffey.  He was likely buried somewhere in the area around Gettysburg and possibly re-interred elsewhere.  However that doesn't mean that more information isn't out there somewhere.

I hope we've shown that even starting with just his name and unit, we were able to tell a pretty detailed history of Pvt. Coffey's service.  If you know of a Civil War ancestor please send us all the information you have by using the submission form so that we can tell their story the way we told Pvt. Coffey's. 

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Thanks for reading.

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