Using Confederate Compiled Service Records (CSRs) at Fold3.com

by Brett Schulte on February 13, 2012 · 0 comments

I am currently working my way through the First Offensive Order of Battle (June 15-18, 1864) and Second Offensive Order of Battle (June 21-24, 1864) for the Siege of Petersburg.  One of the items which has come up again and again is who exactly commanded various Confederate regiments, batteries, and even brigades in June and July 1864.  In this post I’ll cover in detail how I’m trying to answer this question using the Confederate Compiled Service Records at Fold3.com.

Civil War Compiled Service Records (CSRs)

What I Know:

Camp Pope Publishing

The information pop-up window at Fold3.com describes the Confederate CSRs as follows:

Full Title: Confederate Records
These records contain card abstracts of entries relating to each soldier as found in original muster rolls, returns, rosters, payrolls, appointment books, hospital registers, Union prison registers and rolls, parole rolls, and inspection reports. They may also contain the originals of any papers relating solely to a particular soldier. Browse by military unit, then name of soldier, or use the search box related to this title.
Essentially, Confederate soldiers were identified by name throughout the entirety of Confederate records and cards were created for each time a “hit” was found on a soldier.  This leads to a few cards for most enlisted men up to literally hundreds of cards for men such as regimental commanders, adjutants, quartermasters ordnance officers, and others who likely had a lot of paperwork associated with their day to day jobs.
I’d like to go through and describe some of the various card types I’ve encountered while going through the CSRs of Colonels, Lt. Colonels, and Adjutants of Confederate regiments.  These are the items where I have a pretty good idea of what they mean in terms of whether or not the soldier in question was or was not present on a given date:
  1. Bi-Monthly Field and Staff Muster Rolls
  2. Appearance on Confederate Inspection Reports
  3. Appearance on a Hospital Register
  4. Letters Written By Soldier in Question

Let’s take these one at a time with actual examples from Fold3.com.

Field and Staff Muster Roll for May and June 1864 James J. Phillips 9th VA Page 18Bi-Monthly Field and Staff Muster Rolls

The Confederacy took bimonthly muster rolls at the end of every other month, so you’ll see rolls for May-June 1864, for example.  Being listed at present on the May-June 1864 muster roll indicates only that a soldier was present on June 30, 1864, and no other date in those two months is guaranteed.  A soldier who was on leave or in the hospital for all of May and June but who came back on June 30 and was present for muster would be counted as present, for instance.  The card to the right is for Colonel James J. Phillips of the 9th Virginia and indicates he was present with his command on June 30, 1864.  Left click for the full-sized image.  You’ll notice the actual date of the muster roll is listed as June 30, 1864.  In addition Phillips’ full name, rank, regiment and company are listed.  Dates of commission are listed as well which has proven handy when listing regimental commanders for all nine offensives on unit pages at The Siege of Petersburg Online.  This particular type of card is also handy when looking for regimental commanders who were not at the rank of full colonel.  Often you will see something along the lines of “signs roll as commanding the regiment” for lieutenant colonels, majors, and captains.  During the Siege of Petersburg a lot of regimental commanders are unknown on the Confederate side for lengthy periods of time.  I’m literally going through the CSRs of likely commanders of regiments one by one to fill in some of these gaps.  This idea was not an original one.  Ray Sibley does this extensively in his book The Confederate Order of Battle, Volume 1: The Army of Northern Virginia, and I’m going even further than Sibley did in his research by checking the CSRs of known regimental adjutants, the de facto record keepers of the regiment, to find references to commanders at various times.

Appears on an Inspection Report of Hunton's Brigade December 28 1864 ABSENT SICK Norborne Berkeley 8th VA Page 23Appearance on Confederate Inspection Reports

Confederate Inspection Report cards are a little trickier.  The card alone is not always sufficient to place a man with his regiment on the date of the inspection report.  Officers are listed on inspection reports typically for one of two reasons: they were commanding a unit or they were absent for various reasons.  In most (all?) cases where the officer was absent the card will note this.  The sample card to the right is an example of this.  Colonel Norborne Berkeley of the 8th Virginia was absent sick when an inspection of Hunton’s Brigade was made on December 28, 1864.  Notice the card mentions Berkeley was sick at Chester Hospital on this date, so we know he was not commanding his regiment.  To really get the most out of these cards you must go look at the corresponding Confederate Inspection Report.  Unfortunately your only options are to visit the National Archives to view microfilm record M935, obtain the microfilm via ILL at your local library, or purchase an expensive, $125 per roll or CD copy for yourself.  I’ve done the latter just to always have the full information available, and interested parties may purchase transcribed copies of these Confederate Inspection reports at only $1.99 per report.

Appears on a Register of General Hospital No. 4 Richmond VA September 19 1864 James Giles 29th VA Page 15Appearance on a Hospital Register

Appearances on hospital registers and cards mentioning admittance to hospitals are useful because they often give the entry and exit dates of a soldier into and out of the hospital.  This helps to eliminate potential regimental commanders from contention on the given dates.  The CSR card over to the right shows Colonel James Giles of the 29th Virginia entered Richmond General Hospital No. 4 on September 19, 1864 and returned to duty on September 29, 1864.  This tells the researcher Giles was not in command for all of September 20-28 and parts of the entry and exit dates in the fall of 1864.  Someone else must have been in command during that time frame.  It is probably no coincidence that Giles returned to his regiment on September 29, as the Union Fifth Offensive against Richmond and Petersburg was just getting underway.  Note also the issue which afflicted the colonel.  The clerk has written “Febris Intermis”, which I am pretty sure means “intermittent fever”.  If you are looking for an ancestor or other person of interest, something else you might see after a battle or skirmish is “vulnus sclopeticum”, which is Latin for “gunshot wound”.

Letters Written By Soldier in Question

Letter from August 11 1864 Indicating Giles Commanded Regiment James Giles 29th VA Page 36Men involved in the official business of the regiment, including colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors, quartermasters, adjutants, ordnance officers and the like, often have some of their letters included in their CSRs.  You can often find the name of the regimental commander at the bottom of these letters, especially if the person writing the letter was the commander.  Regimental commanders almost always signed the letter similarly to the following: “[insert rank here] Commdng Regt”.  I have found many leads using these letters.  Let’s go back to James Giles, the Colonel of the 29th Virginia, for an example.  In the letter to the left, Giles is writing about rthe need to have an election for a vacant 2nd Lt. spot in the 29th.  He signs the letter “Col. Comdg”, and dates it August 11, 1864.  You can therefore be almost certain Giles was present and in command of the 29th Virginia in mid-August 1864.  For time periods you are interested in, try to identify possible commanders of a regiment or other unit and look through their CSRs.  See if your potential candidates sign their letters (if any exist) as “Comndg Regt” or mention who the commander might be in their letters.  One last point I’d like to make is that many regimental commanders wrote to their brigade commanders as a part of their every day functions as the leader of the unit.  In this way you can also identify brigade commanders for periods of time where other records are scarce.

Conclusion

These are some of the various types of cards in the Confederate Compiled Service Records, available for various subscription time frames at Fold3.com.  I am reasonably sure of my statements above concerning each card type.  If anyone familiar with these cards has additional points to make or corrections to what I’ve said above, please feel free to comment below.

The interesting thing is that in many cases the CSR for the acting adjutant of a regiment will often yield clues like this as well.  If you want to learn more about the command structure of a given regiment, identify who was adjutant for the time period you are interested in and it may reveal some interesting things about the regiment.  In any case, the Compiled Service Records often reveal important information about regiments or men you may be interested in.  However, in many cases these pieces of information are like gold nuggets on the bottom of a stream.  You have to sift through a lot of “misses” for each “hit”.

Next time, I’ll take a look at some of the questions I have about other card types, including pay vouchers, ordnance returns, and some of the various cards indicating promotions.


***

Check out the Siege of Petersburg Online for daily posts on battle accounts in newspaper articles, diary entries, letters and more!

What are your Top 10 Gettysburg Books? See what a panel of bloggers said recently.

Want to read some interesting Civil War content from amateurs and pros alike? Check out the Top 10 Civil War Blogs and Top 10 Civil War Blogs: 11-20.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: