The Civil War, spanning from April 12, 1861 to May 13, 1865, is considered to be the deadliest conflict in American history, with historical estimates suggesting that 620,000 soldiers died during the war. From Bedford County, there were over 500 Union soldiers who died who called this quaint county home.
Kevin Mearkle, who was born and raised in Bedford County, is working to gather the names, stories, and photographs of Civil War soldiers who called Bedford County home to publish his book, Civil War Soldiers of Bedford County Pennsylvania. Kevin, who majored in history at Shippensburg University, got inspired to start gathering this information whenever he returned to Bedford County 13 years ago with his wife after having lived in California for 25 years.
“When we returned from California, we moved onto our family’s farm that has been in our family since 1865,” Kevin explained. “Our great-great grandparents were the first people to live on this farm, and our great-great grandfather was a Civil War veteran whose brother died in a Confederate prisoner war camp, and his wife also lost a brother in the Civil War. There’s always been an interest in the Civil War because of what our family went through…”
With a projected publish date in April 2021, Kevin has been busy collecting the stories, photographs, diaries, and more from local and online sources, including the Bedford County Historical Society, the Bloody Run Historical Society, Ancestry.com, and more. Of all of the information Kevin is finding, some can be really impactful.
“Just the scope of how many local families during the Civil War era were directly affected by the war is astounding,” Kevin shared. “I’m currently working on a chapter in the book about families who had four or more enlistments, meaning four or more brothers, who were in the Union army. Eight families in Bedford County had six sons that were enlisted, and there was one family that had seven brothers. Approximately 80 families in the county had at least four brothers or more enlisted in the Union army.”
What is even more somber about the families that were affected during the Civil War era is they couldn’t keep consistent communication with their loved ones, unlike the instantaneous communication of today.
“Families would read about a major battle that happened somewhere in the country where they would have known that their loved ones were in battle, but it would be weeks later before they would find out the fate of their loved one,” said Kevin.
Overall, the feedback and support this project has received has been very positive and encouraging. As far as Kevin’s hope for the book: “I’m very hopeful that we can reach out to some of the younger generations so they can learn some lessons of the Civil War and some stories that will resonate with them, and really including all of us. I hope this will help us to understand our heritage and gain a better understanding of what our ancestors went through during the Civil War era.”
Kevin is encouraging any readers, if they have pictures, diaries, letters, or the like from their Civil War era ancestors to please drop it off at the Bedford County Historical Society or contact Kevin at firstname.lastname@example.org for possible inclusion in the book.
Set to publish in April 2021, all proceeds from Civil War Soldiers of Bedford County Pennsylvania will benefit the local historical societies where the book will also be available to purchase.