Wesley Lewis had always considered himself to be a good, loyal man: Loyal to his wife, his children and to his country. And when the 'War Between the States' moved closer to his home, Wesley's loyalty never wavered. Surrounded by neighbors in Texas who were Confederate sympathizers, Wesley felt pride in his deep desire to support the Union. So with only a small gun hidden inside his coat and a knapsack filled with a few clothes, Wesley and his closest friend escaped in the middle of the night to the Union Line.

Deeply missing his wife and children, Wesley Lewis struggled with his decision to leave them 300 miles away. But as the war approached his home, he knew he must claim allegiance to one side and for Wesley, that side would be the Union. Seeing the fate of fellow Union sympathizers in Texas, many hung from trees within his families' sight, Wesley escaped back to his hometown in Arkansas were the Union 1st Calvary had mustered in several hundred men. It was a strange time. Families separated, brothers fighting brothers, homesteads burned and Wesley was left making the most difficult decision of his life.

Receiving notice that his wife was sick with fever, Wesley requested an emergency leave from duty in order to tend to her. The leave was granted and he returned to Texas to find his beloved Malinda, struggling to take care of herself, their children and the farm on her own. And as he prepared to nurse his wife back to health, Confederate soldiers stormed their home. Yielding guns, they destroyed their crop, killed their horses and livestock and stole the children's clothes. But the destruction of Wesley's property was only minor compared to the bandit's goal: The assault and ultimate death of his wife, Malinda.

The Confederates knew they were invading the home of a Union soldier and they had entered the house not to kill Wesley but to torture him. To kill his wife in front of him, knowing that witnessing her death would be more torment than his own demise. And so as Wesley struggled to free himself from his captors in order to save his wife, he was forced to watch Malinda as she was beaten and dragged from her bed, lying helplessly on the floor until her death.

The story of Wesley Lewis, my great great grandfather, is only one of thousands during the Civil War. A war of three million soldiers and more than 620,000 deaths, it was a time of epic battles and personal tragedy. Entire cities were destroyed, farms burnt to the ground and there was not a family left untouched. And in one day, during the Battle of Antietam, 12,401 Union men were killed, wounded or missing; double the casualties of D-Day.

The month of April begins the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War. Whether your ancestors were Union or Confederate soldiers, their lives, their experiences, are worth exploring. If you do not subscribe to Ancestry.com, now is the time to utilize all of the Civil War records found on the site. Until Thursday, April 14th, 25 million records from the National Archives including the entire U.S. Civil War Draft Registration Records and the 1860 and 1870 U.S Federal Census are free. Other sites I recommend for research are: The National Park Service,  Military Records On-Line and many of the individual state archives.

But is is not enough to make note of your ancestor's records. Read and listen to their own words whether through the files of the Southern Claims Commission or their pension records through the National Archives. And gain a better perspective on the history of the Civil War through PBS.

Now is the time to gain a better understanding of your Civil War ancestor's life, struggles and sacrifices. Because their history is your history, their story is your story.

Keep searching for answers,

(Source: PBS-The Crossroads Of Our Being)