MILITARY RECORDS:

History of and How to Use Them

 

© Linda Haas Davenport May 1998 (revised Sep 27, 1998 & Feb 2000)

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Information War by War (Cont)

 

Confederate Service Records: When Richmond was evacuated by the Confederate Government in April 1865 the centralized military personnel records of the Confederate Army were taken to Charlotte, NC. These records were later taken to Washington DC along with other Confederate records captured by the Union Army. Between 1878-1901 The War Department tried to locate as many Confederate Records as possible. In 1903 The Secretary of War asked all governors of the Southern States to lend all of their Confederate Records to the War Department for copying. (6)

The Union Army kept fairly accurate records of units mustered and furnished the states with this information. The Confederate States didn't. The muster rolls and other military paperwork stayed with the commander of the unit and thus were scattered everywhere. Some were turned in to the Confederate Military Personnel Office or Southern State government, some were kept for years by the commander or his family. With the decision of the Southern Sates to issue pensions to Confederate Servicemen the need for these records became acute. The War Department with the help of the Southern States began to actively seek out these records. The War Department began to compile service records for those soldiers who were applying for a pension. The Service Record was compiled from what original records were available; Confederate muster rolls, returns, descriptive rolls and Union prison and parole records. Later the War Department began to compiled service records for all Confederate Soldiers. This project went on until 1927 when it was finally completed. All of the War Departments records (both Union and Confederate) were moved to the National Archives where they are today

This huge project is referred to as the "Compiled Military Service Records". The compiled military service record of a Confederate soldier is kept in a jacket envelope filed with envelopes for other soldiers in the same regiment or similar unit. The compiled service records usually provide the following; age, place of enlistment, places served, place of discharge or death and often a physical description. The National Archives has microfilmed indexes to the service records and most of the compiled service records themselves. Indexes will provide the rank, unit and name of the soldier and the pertinent file can then be ordered from the NARS.

The War Department's Compiled Confederate Records are not complete, even though great efforts were made to assemble all official information. A soldier may have served in a state militia and never mustered into the Confederate Army. It is wise to check the State Archive, in the state you believe your ancestor lived in for all of their Confederate Records. Many of the southern state archives have copies of their state's NARS microfilm and, many times, records that were never sent to the War Department to be copied.

The LDS is continually releasing new microfilm records. Check the Military Records Register at your local FHC.

Two other sources should be checked for Confederate ancestors: (1) Military Academy Records. Try Biographical Resister, Officers and Graduates of the US Military Academy, West Point, New York 3rd ed., 9 vols. (Boston: Houghton-Miffli, 1891) Many of the officers of the Confederate Army were graduates of West Point and had to choose sides when the war began.

And (2) probably the most overlooked of all sources, local court records. Reconstruction brought about many bitter and lengthy court battles.

Pension files for the Civil War are found in 9 categories: Navy survivors' originals, navy survivor's certificates, navy widows' originals, navy widows' certificates, survivor's originals, survivors' certificates, widows' originals, widow's certificates, "C" and "XC" files.

These pension files contain such items as; Name of the veteran, the military or navel unit in which he served, the date and place of his enlistment, his birth date and place, the date and place of his marriage, the names and birth dates of his children, the maiden name of his wife, information about subsequent marriages, the date and place of his discharge, the physical disabilities connected with his service-related injuries, and his residences since his discharge. They will usually contain affidavits of individuals who could attest to his disabilities, character, etc. Once again, these pension files have been indexed and the indexes are found at the NARS, the LDS FHCs and many libraries.

One of the most valuable things found in the pension files is the list of places the veteran lived. With the westward expansion people moved many times between census years and this record can be the key to finding them between the census.

Post Civil War Service Records for soldiers serving in the armed forces after the Civil War are not as readily available, even though the records of these later Wars are more detailed. Using records for soldiers who served within the last 75 years is restricted to immediate family members under the provisions of the Right-to-Privacy Acts. Most of the federal records are housed at the National Personnel Records Center, 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63132. A fire in 12 July 1973 destroyed millions of records and damaged millions more. According to the Record Center - 80% of the army records for 1912-50; 60% of the air force records for 1947-63 and 1 % or less of Army records for people discharged after 1973 were destroyed. Records for active veterans have been reconstructed, there are no plans to reconstruct the other records.

Documents issued to the veteran at the time of discharge (or to his/her next of kin in the case of death) usually contain important genealogical information. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA as amended in 1974) does require the release of some information from the National Personnel Records Center. If the serviceman/woman is deceased be sure to send a copy of the death certificate with your request for information. The center charges for searches, copying, etc. contact them for current rates.(7)

Original draft card records for WWI were transferred to the National Archives Regional Branch in East Point, GA in 1990. The LDS filmed all cards and the microfilm is now available at the FHCs. Ancestry has WWI draft cards on-line at their site, but be forewarned that they are not complete! In searching for 6 of my male ancestors in their records I did not find a one, even though I made copies of the original draft cards at the East Point Archives. Stick with the LDS film. I was at the Archives several times while the filming was going on and the volunteers did an outstanding job of making sure the microfilm was accurate. The cards are arranged by state and then draft district. Within the district the cards are filed alphabetically by last name.

As people were discharged from the Service they were requested to file their discharge papers at their local courthouse. Most of these records have not been microfilmed and must still be researched at the local level.

 

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