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Military Records: Focus on Confederate Forces in the Civil War

Want to know the best place to look for state records on your Confederate ancestor? Read on.


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The article Military Records: The Civil War, 1861-1865 gave a general overview of the available Civil War military records. This article focuses on records for those who served in the Confederate Forces.

As with most other military records, your main hunting ground will be the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), both in Washington, D.C. and at various NARA regional offices. The records that are available on microfilm for Confederate Forces are known as the consolidated or compiled Index to Confederate Soldiers. Don't let the term compiled service records fool you. Although that is the term NARA uses, it does not mean all the records on your ancestor have been compiled in one place or is complete. It refers to the fact that Confederate military records are compiled from various sources.

Following the armistice, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, instructed that all military service records be turned over to the government in Washington, D.C., saying that the records were "essential to the history of the struggle." These records have been added to over the years. Beginning in 1903, the process of compiling records for each individual soldier was begun by the War Department.

The Confederate indexes themselves are NARA microfilm publication M1290 and this broad category covers 535 rolls of microfilm for 14 states and Arizona Territory. You will find that NARA also compiled histories for the various military units including the Confederate navy. These records are part of microfilm publication M861. On this index you should be able to find the name, rank and unit for your ancestor.

Copies of NARA's Confederate microfilm indexes are available at your nearest Family History Center (FHC) operated by the Church of Latter Day Saints. If you happen to live in the state where your ancestor served, your nearest public library may have a copy of that state's microfilm in their genealogy department. Once you have the index information you can then order the pertinent records from NARA.

The service record of a particular Confederate soldier will be part of a card abstract and normally at least one other original document. This data may have been pulled from muster rolls, union prison rolls or descriptive rolls and may include age, place of enlistment, place of service and usually the place where the person was discharged.

If your Confederate ancestor died during the war and you have been unable to locate a gravesite, it is possible he died as a prisoner of war. An estimated 28,000 confederate soldiers, sailors and even civilians, died in the North. In an attempt to identify the confederate gravesites and names of persons buried there, a transcript register was compiled in 1912. This register is held by NARA as Register M918 and is part of Record Group 92. The register is compiled by the name of the prison camp or place where the death occurred, and then by name in alphabetical order. An occasional cemetery is named and documented. Name and rank as well as date of death are normally listed.

There is a separate microfilm list called Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War 1861-1865, filed as microfilm series M598. Rolls 5 and 6 of this series records deaths compiled by the Office of the Commissary General of Prisoners. Although burial information may not be on these two rolls of film, they are arranged alphabetically and normally include name, rank, unit, place of capture, date of capture and the date of death as well as the cause of death.

In addition, there may be records on your ancestor at the state level. Many states had militia units that weren't officially "mustered in" to the Confederate Army. Check your state archives for source materials. I also recommend contacting the local chapters of the Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of the Confederacy.

The largest one-stop shop for Confederate State records is your nearest FHC. Ask for the Military Records Register, Vol II: Civil War. If they don't have it on hand, they can obtain a copy through the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

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Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2005.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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