Tuesday 6 September 2022

Civil War Bluejackets Project to reveal lives of Irish Civil War sailors

Launching today is the Civil War Bluejackets Project which aims to help tell the stories of sailors in the American Civil War in ways never before possible.

Called the “Civil War Bluejackets” Project because of the distinctive uniform worn by U.S. Civil War sailors, the project hopes to reveal details of the thousands of Irish who departed these shores and ended up helping the U.S. battle the Confederacy on water.

It will also examine the large numbers of others – including thousands of recently enslaved African Americans – who donned the U.S. Navy’s famous bluejacket during the conflict. Additionally, the project team seek to reveal answers to questions about where the US Civil War sailors came from, their background and what they did before they enlisted, how they lived and interacted on board, and what became of some of them in the years after the conflict.

The project is a collaboration between Irish historians Professor David Gleeson and Dr Damian Shiels at Northumbria University; information and data scientists at the University of Sheffield and the University of Koblenz-Landau; and U.S. partners including the United States Naval Academy. It is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

It is calling for citizen volunteers to help transcribe tens of thousands of Civil War Muster Rolls. These were documents carried on board U.S. ships and capture the personal details of the c.118,000 men who fought on water for the Union between 1861 and 1865. The online Zooniverse platform is being used to share these Rolls, and are asking the public to help in revealing their contents.

Speaking at the launch, Principal Investigator (and Tipperary native) Professor David Gleeson of Northumbria University said: “We are calling on people-power to help us tell the story of common sailors in the Civil War. We estimate that some 20 percent of these men were born in Ireland, many more were the children of Irish emigrants. With the public's help, we aim to create a new freely available database of these men, and use the information generated by citizen scientists to explore the social and military experiences of these ordinary people."

An additional advantage of this approach is that the public's transcriptions will be compared with the original 19th-century handwriting in order to train computers to assist in the reading and deciphering of historic documents. This will create an important tool for those interested in uncovering the past.

To find out more, click the project's logo above or go direct to the Zooniverse Civil War Bluejackets page.