Augustus D. Ayling (1840-1918) was a Civil War veteran from Massachusetts who served as New Hampshire’s Adjutant General between 1879 and 1907 and was thus responsible for supervising the state militia. In 1897, he oversaw the publication of the Revised Register of the Soldiers and Sailors of New Hampshire in the War of the Rebellion 1861-1866 which listed abbreviated service records for everyone from New Hampshire who fought in the Union army and navy during the Civil War (about 35,000 men). It is, more or less, the final word regarding the military service of Granite Staters during that conflict (although, as we will inevitably see in some later posts, Ayling’s work does suffer from errors).[i]
This source, which has been digitized and can be accessed on a number of web sites, is invaluable for both genealogists and historians. The book is organized by unit, and within each unit, by soldier’s surname (in alphabetical order). You can see a portion of a page below.
If you are a genealogist attempting to locate a particular person, a digitized copy is all you need; you can just do a simple search and find what you are looking for. However, a historian who wants, for example, to figure out how many men from Claremont, NH, joined the 5th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry in the fall of 1861 needs to find a way of sorting and searching Ayling’s Revised Register. Do you see where I’m going? Yes, I embarked on the arduous job of copying from Ayling’s Revised Register all the data associated with soldiers who served in the 5th New Hampshire and pasting them into an Excel spreadsheet. And the effort was indeed arduous because around 2,500 men passed through the ranks of the 5th New Hampshire during the Civil War.
I was very lucky because just as I started this task in the fall of 2017, I received some indispensable help from several undergraduates at Saint Anselm College.
In the last four years or so, the History Department at the college has made a really big push to involve undergraduates in faculty research. We have set aside what remains of our limited department funds to pay students to assist us in a variety of ways. That fall, I got the go-ahead from my department chair to hire Caitlin Williamson ‘19, Gregory Valcourt ‘19, Lauren Batchelder ‘18, and William Bearce ‘19. What an embarrassment of riches! Williamson and Batchelder helped me transcribe a large number of letters written by various soldiers who served in the 5th New Hampshire (that story will require a different post). Meanwhile, Valcourt, Bearce, and I bravely tackled the massive task of transferring data about soldiers who served in the 5th New Hampshire from Ayling’s Revised Register to an Excel spreadsheet. To make a long story short, we finished the job in January 2018. I did a third of the names (and checked the work of the others), Bearce did about a quarter, and Valcourt, bless his heart, did the rest.
The resulting spreadsheet was worth the effort. I can now extract information that was previously inaccessible. For example, in a matter of seconds, I can find out how many men deserted from the 5th New Hampshire and when they did so. Moreover, the spreadsheet has served as the basis for further research.
And that brings me to what I’m working on right this minute. Among other things, I’m interested in what happened to veterans of the 5th New Hampshire after the war. The larger question is, did military service in the Union army’s most bloodied regiment have a lasting impact on these men’s life outcomes? I’ve started using information on my Excel spreadsheet to track these men on FamilySearch to find out. But that is a story for another time.
Whatever happens, I know that I will be returning frequently to my spreadsheet. Thank you August D. Ayling. And thank you Greg and William.
[i] Ayling was born in Boston and fought in the Civil War with the 29th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as a company officer (until January 1863, this unit, ironically enough, was the only regiment in the Irish Brigade whose men were not of Irish extraction). When the war ended, he was transferred to the 24th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry which occupied Richmond, VA. There he served as a regimental adjutant and judge advocate until January 1866. During his service, he kept a diary that has since been published by the University of Tennessee Press.