Teaching With Documents:
The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War
Compiled Service Records
Compiled service records consist of both a jacket-envelope for each soldier, labeled with his name, rank, and unit, and several information cards. The compilation of service records of Union soldiers began in 1890 under the direction of Col. Fred C. Ainsworth, head of the Record and Pension Office of the Adjutant General's Office, Department of War. Information from muster rolls, regimental returns, descriptive books, and other records was copied verbatim onto cards. A separate card was prepared each time an individual name appeared on the document. Great care was taken through a separate operation of comparison, to ensure that the cards were accurate.
A typical jacket often contains card abstracts of entries found in original records relating to the soldier and original documents relating solely to that soldier. Examples of the latter include enlistment papers, substitute certificates, casualty sheets, death reports, prisoner-of-war memorandums, and correspondence. Unique to the records of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) are deeds of manumission, oaths of allegiance, proof of ownership, certificates of monetary award, and bills of sale. These items appear most frequently in units recruited in the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, and Maryland. These states remained in the Union but were slave states. Jackets and cards include a section labeled "bookmark," which was reserved for cross-references to other records relating to the individual or his unit. The service records are arranged by arm of service, thereunder numerically by regiment or independent battalion or company, and thereunder alphabetically by name with the records of enlisted men and women. If an individual served in more than one unit, which was typical for USCT officers, there will be a separate service record for each unit in which he served.
Service records of all USCT units are being filmed as part of an ongoing project. Some of these records are available in the microfilm publications listed below.
M1801 contains the compiled military service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served with the United States Colored Troops in the 55th Massachusetts Infantry (Colored).
M1817 contains the compiled military service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served with the United States Colored Troops in the 1st through 5th United States Colored Cavalry, 5th Massachusetts Cavalry (Colored), and the 6th United States Colored Cavalry.
M1819 contains the compiled military service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served with the United States Colored Troops in the 1st United States Colored Infantry, 1st South Carolina Volunteers (Colored), Company A, 1st United States Colored Infantry (1 year).
M1898 contains the compiled military service records of volunteer Union soldiers who served with the United States Colored Troops in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (Colored).
Microfilm is available for research at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, and at 13 of our regional records services facilities. In addition, many large libraries and genealogical societies have purchased all or some of the microfilm sets listed above.
The National Archives Genealogy Page offers more information on records related to the Civil War.