Here’s looking up your ancestor…

Dana Shoaf, the very talented editor of America’s Civil War magazine, passed on a letter to me that he received from a reader recently.  The reader read my most recent article in the magazine, called “Opening the Ball at Gettysburg: The Shot that Rang for Fifty Years” about Lt. Marcellus Jones of the 8th Illinois Cavalry firing the first shot of the battle on July 1, 1863.  (You can read an online version of the article here.)  In the article I mention a Pvt. Hale who was one of the troopers at the advanced picket post atop Wisler Ridge on the Chambersburg Pike that morning, and who was present for that first shot.  The reader had a great-grandfather named John F. Hale who had joined an Illinois Cavalry unit during the Civil War, and he thought perhaps they were the same man.  The trooper at Gettysburg that morning, however, was James O. Hale, so they were two different men – but I sent a response to the reader to help him find information on his great-grandfather… he didn’t know what regiment he was in, only a few scattered details.  Since Dana might print the letter and my response in an upcoming issue, I won’t reproduce everything here, but I wanted to repeat a small part of my response here since it may help folks research their ancestor:

Your great grandfather, it seems, was a member of the 6th Illinois Cavalry. I did a search tonite on the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database (located at for “John Hale” and came up with a John F. Hale of Company H, 6th Illinois Cavalry. His service record is located in the National Archives at Film No. M539, Roll 36. The 6th Illinois Cavalry served admirably in the Western Theatre, participating in many battles, skirmishes, and raids. If you go to the website above, and put your grandfather’s data into a soldier search, you will get a listing of all Hales in the unit. You can then click on both his name and the regiment for more information.

I would suggest that you acquire his military and pension records – there is likely to be a wealth of information in them, which will be of interest to both you and your descendants. One of the best and quickest ways to get the records is to visit Broadfoot’s site, at Make sure you request both his service record and pension record. It’s not very expensive, and you will probably get a copy of the records within a week or two. I have used this service to get many service and pension records over the years.

As I mention, I’ve used these and several other websites to look up general information on names and units as a starting point for finding out more.  There are several good books in print that assist descendants/researchers in looking up information as well.

I closed the letter by stating my hope that the reader enjoys the journey he’s about to undertake – discovering his ancestor all over again, and bringing his story home for himself and his own descendants.  I guess I’m a bit jealous – my great-grandfather didn’t arrive here until 1895, and I have no known ancestors that served in the war.  We’ve traced our family roots as far back as the 14th century in Italy – but that’s a whole ‘nother story…

Published in: on November 1, 2006 at 10:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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