Presentation Notes by Jeanne Carley
Mr. Walter, who studied individuals in the Civil War, including Confederate prisoners buried in New York, gave an informative talk at the May CCGS meeting. He outlined the kind of military information to be obtained from the National Archives: service records and pension records. The service files contain old muster records which are good for family history. This applies to previous war records also.
You can order the records from the National Archives, but he explained they are very slow, usually inaccurate, not everything is filmed and you must have the exact name and unit of service. "You'll get an answer eventually if you live long enough," he added jokingly. You can hire a professional which is more expensive, or you can travel to Washington and do it yourself. You can follow-up if you do the latter.
Toward the end of the 19th century, more people were seeking pensions. The muster records were copied by government clerks which took 15 years. Then they copied the Revolutionary War and Spanish-American War records. The majority of service records were not microfilmed. However, for those that were, you can find the individual on index, fill out an order form, then you can get the file to copy or see the microfilm in library. (No index of soldiers from Revolutionary or Spanish-American wars so one must know date of enlistment).
Service records contain an envelope showing name, unit, ranks, number of cards inside and notes; enlistment papers. Items to be found may or may not include monthly rolls, detached, hospitalization, casualty reports, transfers to Invalid Corp (called NY Veterans Reserve or VCR) for wounded or disabled men, court-martial, desertion, orders/correspondence, discharge/muster-out. ("Desertion" had various meanings: Left temporarily to take care of the farm; caught and court-martialed, or came back and sometimes reprieved). Some files have physical descriptions begun in 1881 to help find deserters.
Pension Records: those eligible were widows or guardians from soldiers' deaths, those veterans seriously injured or who had contracted disease, the loss of hearing or eyesight in duty. Not everyone applied for pensions; one had to apply each time when laws changed. Often records include a family tree, a lock of hair, photos (example: man showing a lost eye),birth, marriage, and death certificates, medical reports. No pension files were microfilmed except for the Navy. Index of pensions are blue card for Navy, white for Army.
Confederate records exist, but not as many, as they were not filed or were destroyed by the Confederates. The Confederate state gave pensions and records may be in southern states' archives. Georgia was most generous whereas Virginia was stingy about pensions. All existing Confederate service records were microfilmed and available at Family History Centers. Indexes are available by state in the South with a mass index of Confederates. In the North, there was no mass index.
The Revolutionary pension records prior to 1800 were destroyed but are duplicated in state records; Colonial Wars records are incomplete. Also available are Bounty Land Records-government gave land instead of cash, especially in the Midwest. After the Civil War, veterans got first chance for Homestead land when that act was passed. The US Ship Encyclopedia lists all ships commissioned by the Navy. POW records on Confederates buried in Brooklyn and southern prisons such as Andersonville are available. Mr. Walters stated that Northern prisons were just as bad as the Southern ones.
See the Presentation Notes Index for summaries of other presentations given at the Society's monthly meetings.