Prior to the Civil War, most of the settlement in the Nebraska Territory was located in the eastern portion of the state, primarily along the Missouri River. There were other minor settlements west of there, particularly along the trails that had been leading pioneers westward for almost well over a decade. The territory was settled primarily by people who were sympathetic to the Union case. The U.S. Census of 1860 reveals only fifteen slaves in the Nebraska territory.
When President Lincoln called for troops, Nebraska furnished 3,300 men. This is a remarkable number considering the entire population of the territory in 1860 was only about 30,000 with 9,000 of those being males of military age. Some Nebraska men went to Iowa and Kansas to enlist and some from those states came to Nebraska to enlist.
At the beginning of the Civil War, troops were withdrawn from the garrisons at Fort Kearny and further north along the Missouri River at Fort Randall. This left the area wide open for Indian attack and caused great concern. Major General John J. Thayer of the Nebraska Militia suggested volunteers be placed at the two forts. The federal government proposed that one regiment be raised within Nebraska Territory with a portion of it being used to garrison the forts and defend the frontier. Contrary to the original formation of this regiment, they were ordered to serve against the Confederates in the South and the frontier still remained unprotected.
The regiment, mustered from Omaha, became known as the First Nebraska Volunteer Infantry. They fought in the first major engagement at Fort Donelson, Tennessee in February of 1862 and were at the Battle of Shiloh. The regiment was also involved in scouting and skirmishing in Missouri and Arkansas. They were granted a furlough in June of 1864 to 13 August 1864 to return to Nebraska.
With the passage of the Homestead Act on 20 May 1862, Nebraska became populated by men (and their families) who had served in the Civil War. As they settled and remained here, camps of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) were formed. Records were created which today can be beneficial to the genealogist. One of the best places to begin online research is at the web page, Nebraskans in the Civil War.