What comes to your mind when you think about the Civil War? Abraham Lincoln? Ulysses S. Grant? How about row after row of Union and Confederate soldiers facing off with single-shot rifles? And where do you see the battles happening? Can you think of any west of the Mississippi?
Most of the military action during the Civil War did, in fact, take place much farther to the east. However, Barbara Crowell Filbin, a local genealogist and historian, has recently published a book reminding us that California was by no means insulated from the conflict. Its title is Civil War Veterans of San Joaquin County California. Thanks to the author, residents of San Joaquin County need not go any further than their own doorstep to catch vivid glimpses of the passions that almost destroyed the nation.
Filbin captures those emotions on the book's opening pages. She recounts the story of a Unionist named George W. Tyler, who organized a meeting in Woodbridge in May 1861—one month after shots were fired at Fort Sumter—to organize a Union club. As the meeting progressed, the Unionists proposed a series of patriotic resolutions and the chairman called for a vote.
According to Filbin, a secessionist named Mark Evans jumped up. "Tyler," he exclaimed, "you'll never live to see those resolutions enforced." The Secessionists had a base in nearby Liberty and outnumbered Unionists. Confusion broke out and the meeting ended without taking action.
Passions didn't simply disappear at the end of the war, four years later. The presence of veterans who either returned home to San Joaquin County or moved west after hostilities helped keep memories alive well into the twentieth century.
Filbin devotes a large section of her book to the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), the organization for Union veterans formed after the Civil War. She includes photographs of San Joaquin County posts and members, passages from newspaper clippings that recount their activities, and photographs of soldiers and their tombstones in local cemeteries.
The core of the book is a Burial Index of San Joaquin County Civil War Veterans, which occupies more than one hundred pages and is arranged alphabetically. The Index lists soldiers from San Joaquin County from both sides of the conflict. Each entry includes dates for birth and death, branch of service, and burial place. In addition, it often contains the name of the military unit in which the veteran served and a brief narrative biography.
This book is a product of painstaking research. Genealogists will find it a goldmine. Anyone interested in the Civil War and the history of San Joaquin County will find themselves drawn into its pages and the many stories its characters are capable of telling. It can be purchased online at Lulu Enterprises.