When the first shots rang out over Fort Sumter in April 1861, many Southern and Northern men already identified themselves with a local militia unit. For years before the opening barrage, they had drilled in small companies and gathered afterward in social camaraderie.
In Augusta County these militia units served an additional purpose—protecting the white citizenry against a slave rebellion. They were called to action in the crisis following John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, an event that brought these volunteers together in a way that drills could not. In Franklin County the militia had not yet seen active duty, but their regular marching and drill in the years preceding the war brought considerable local attention.
Local newspapers reported regularly on the militia’s parades and drills, and the fairs hosted by their “ladies’ auxiliaries.” These events helped boost the communities' allegiances and pride. The companies took local names that reinforced their community ties, such as the West Augusta Guards, the Churchville Cavalry, the Chambers Artillery, and the Chambersburg Light Dragoons. For the volunteers, these companies were as much social and civic organizations as they were military units.
When the war began in 1861, these militia companies were called into active service. They paraded through the towns, enlisted en masse, and prepared themselves to do their duty. These companies formed the nucleus of the first regiments raised in Augusta and Franklin.
During the war the regiment became the most important unit to the men who fought, and consequently, to the generals who commanded. Most regiments developed a special identity, built around common geographic, family, and personal ties. Brothers, cousins, and neighbors joined the same unit to fight together. In the war the regiment's battle service also provided a source of pride and identity. The regiments carried their colors to identify not just their place on the field of battle but who they were and where they’d fought together. The armies’ commanders knew that this identity was a powerful motivator on the field of battle and used it to great effect from the start of fighting at Bull Run where General Thomas J. Jackson relied on regimental identity to convince his troops to stand like a stone wall.
Military service records were kept by the United States and Confederate States on each soldier during the war. The Valley Project has amassed all the service records from the National Archives that we could find concerning men from Augusta and Franklin counties. These records contain a wealth of information on the individual Augusta and Franklin men who fought in the war.
You can search by name, enlistment date or age, regiment, or many other fields. These records often contain detailed notes about service, wounds sustained, and desertion.