Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 4

Table of Contents

Chapter 4. Records of the Committee on Armed Services and Its Predecessors, 1816-1986


Records of Committees Relating to Defense, 1816-1988 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States


Committee records discussed in this chapter:

Records of the Committee on Military Affairs, 1816-1946

4.4 The records of the Committee on Military Affairs consist of nine series, totaling 131 ft. These include committee reports and papers, 1816-47 (2 ft.); committee papers, 1847-1946 (84 ft.), including records of an investigative subcommittee; petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures referred to the committee, 1816-1946 (36 ft.); legislative dockets, 1849-91 and 1907-1937 (40 vols., 5 ft.); executive dockets, 1864-1909 (14 vols., 1 ft.); nomination registers, 1903-33 (9 vols., 1 ft.); minutes, 1877-1932 (18 vols., 2 ft.); rough minutes, 1893-99 (2 vols., 3 in.); and rough committee journal, 1887-89 (1 vol., 1 in.). The series of dockets and minutes are incomplete.

1816-1861 (14th-36th Congresses)

4.5 There are three series of records for the pre-Civil War period: Committee reports and papers, 1816-47 (2 ft.); committee papers, 1847-61 (2 ft.); and petitions and memorials and resolutions of state legislatures referred to the Committee, 1816-61 (6 ft.). For each Congress, there are at least some records in each of these series. The committee reports and papers include original committee reports, many of which are printed as part of the Congressional Serial Set beginning with the 15th Congress (1817); correspondence from executive agencies relating to legislative matters; and bills and resolutions with accompanying papers. The committee papers include the same types of records, without original committee reports. The petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures are sometimes accompanied by supporting correspondence and other records.

4.6 Many of the earliest committee records relate to claims and pension requests resulting from wartime service of volunteers, militiamen, and regular Army enlisted men and officers, as well as their widows, other family members, and legal representatives. Records of claims may include petitions or memorials, committee reports, and legislative case files with accompanying correspondence or other documents to support the claim and may pertain to events of the Revolutionary War, the "quasi-war" with France, the Barbary pirate conflict, the War of 1812, the Seminole Indian war, the Black Hawk Indian war, other lesser Indian confrontations, and the Mexican War. Claims were also filed by civilians whose property may have been expropriated or otherwise used during a military action and by disgruntled contractors seeking additional compensation. The claims may be based on alleged destruction or loss of personal property during war and remuneration for moneys or property expended to support a military action or on peacetime accidents and routine activities of the Army or militia that resulted in some property loss. Some claimants sought restitution in the form of bounties or land grants.

4.7 While claims and pension files are chiefly of genealogical value to researchers today, a number of them relate to events or individuals, or include records, of larger historical significance. For example, in 1828 a Kentucky militiaman sought compensation for his unit's role in putting down Aaron Burr`s attempt to liberate Mexico and make Louisiana an independent republic (20A-D8). The claim of Revolutionary War Col. Henry Livingston contains, as exhibits, the original certifications of his military service signed by George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and Benedict Arnold from the mid-and-late 1770's (21A-D10). Records relating to claims also document the territorial history of Florida (25A-D9). Some notable military leaders who filed claims that were referred to the committee include Winfield Scott (20A-D8, 20A-G10), George E. McClellan (35A-E7), and John Charles Fremont (32A-E7).

4.8 Another form of claims file concerns inventors seeking payment for inventions and other innovations with military applications, such as John Lloyd's flammable liquid, "Greek fire" (17A-D9, 17A-G8), John Balthrope's improved gun carriage (21A-G11), Hall's gun improvements (27A-G10), and J.M. Hoge's cryptographic communication system (36A-E8). Sometimes the petitions or reports on them are accompanied by drawings. In the instance of Hoge's innovation, the file includes an enthusiastic endorsement by the Secretary of War and several samples of the cipher.

4.9 A number of records relate to military construction, including fortifications, armories, depots, barracks, and roads. The competition for military facilities, particularly a western armory, was very intense. A graphic example of what a community might submit to convince Congress of its suitability is the project prospectus of the Cairo Canal Company of Cairo, IL, complete with diagrams (26A-G10). Another file contains a unique, detailed listing or schedule of property to be acquired for an expansion of the Harpers Ferry, VA, armory (29A-D8).

4.10 Numerous other records relate to the settlement of accounts, equalization of officers' pay and emoluments, restoration of rank, and real estate transactions, such as the return of the Battery section of Manhattan to the city of New York (16A-G8), the government's purchase of George Washington's home at Mt. Vernon (30A-H9), and alleged fraud in the purchase of military land at Point Lime, CA (35A-E7).

4.11 Miscellaneous records include petitions opposing use of bloodhounds in the Seminole Indian war (26A-G10.1) and protesting the British destruction of the steamboat Caroline at Schlosser, NY, in 1837 (25A-G11.2); muster rolls of Kentucky volunteers in 1836 (24A-G9); a statement of West Point expenses (15A-D7); a status report on army desertion (20A-D8); a report on a system of improvement of artillery (26A-D8); and three committee legislative docket books, 31st-34th Congresses (1849-57).

4.12 Related to the records of the Committee on Military Affairs are those of the following select committees of the Senate: Select Committee on Memorials of Revolutionary Officers, 1825-26 (19th Cong.), and Select Committee on Revolutionary Officers, 1827-28 (20th Cong.), both concerning officer compensation; Select Committee on a Military Asylum Near the District of Columbia, 1858 (35th Cong.); and Select Committee To Inquire into the Facts Attending the Invasion and Seizure of the United States Armory at Harpers Ferry, 1859-60 (36th Cong.), which investigated John Brown's attempted takeover (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1196). Except for the Harpers Ferry records, these select committee records are very limited.

1861-1901 (37th-56th Congresses)

4.13 There are committee papers (27 ft.) and petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State and territorial legislatures (16 ft.) for this period. The committee papers include legislative case files relating to specific bills and resolutions, executive communications and reports chiefly from the War Department, messages from the President usually transmitting a report from the War Department, and miscellaneous reports and letters received by the chairman. The petitions and memorials are similar to those of the pre-Civil War period and are sometimes accompanied by supporting documents. There are also 22 legislative docket books for the 38th-51st Congresses (1863-91); 14 executive docket books for the 38th and 44th-60th Congresses (1864, 1875-1909); minute books for the 45th-48th and 53d-54th Congresses (1877-85, 1893-97), and 1 volume each of a rough journal, 50th Cong. (1887-89), and rough minutes, 53d-55th Congresses (1893-99).

4.14 Senate involvement in the military operations of the Civil War are not, contrary to what one might expect, well documented by the records of the Military Affairs Committee. For the role of Congress in such matters, the manuscript reports and publications of the Joint Select Committee on the Conduct of the War in both Record Groups 46 and 128 and the Congressional Serial Set, are better sources. One file of the Military Affairs Committee dealing in some depth with field operations concerns its investigation of the misconduct of Gen. Louis Blenker of the New York volunteers, and is interesting for its information about camp life and sutlers serving the Army of the Potomac (37A-E7). During the war, the Senate received petitions seeking compensation for war-related damages, such as those inflicted by guerilla forces in Kansas (38A-H10), and those from merchants and other businessmen suffering from reduced transportation facilities between New York and Philadelphia (38A-H10.4), from ministers and pacifist religious groups seeking exemptions from conscription (38A-H10.2), and from the troops themselves for a pay increase (38A-H10.3). As the war came to a close, benefits for disabled veterans, such as a national home and civil service jobs, were sought from Congress (38A-H10.5).

4.15 The ramifications of the war were felt by the committee after Appomattox, as the committee received numerous petitions and memorials claiming service-connected injuries, alleging personal damages, and seeking soldiers' and widows' pensions and land as remuneration for military service (numerous Congresses). Many petitioners sought homes for war orphans and disabled veterans, even Confederate veterans (49A-H15.1). The Senate was petitioned frequently to change or correct individual military service records by passing a law removing a desertion charge, overturning the decision of a court-martial, or obtaining an honorable discharge, which might then entitle the soldier to veterans benefits. While these files may be chiefly of genealogical interest, some, such as those concerning black soldiers and their officers (38A-H10.5, 45A-E11, 48A-H15.1), may have broader historical significance. Such records exist for most Congresses into the 1880's, and some led to the introduction and passage of private bills. Other effects of the Civil War on the business of the committee are reflected in its consideration of proposals for battlefield memorial parks and national cemeteries, such as Gettysburg (38A-H10.5) and Fredericksburg (55A-J21.2, 56A-F21), unsuccessful Government attempts to acquire the Rand-Ordway photographic collection documenting the war (49A-E16, 49A-H15.1), and publication of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion (48A-H15.1).

4.16 Other military conflicts of the late 19th century are less well documented. There are a few unpublished Military Affairs Committee records concerning the conflicts with the Spanish but little or none on concerning conflicts with Indians through the end of the 56th Congress. Most voluminous are exhibits accompanying the "Report of the Third Auditor on the California Indian War Claims," concerning events in that State in 1857-58 (53A-F15, oversize). Petitions for increased military protection were received on occasion from such areas as Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas (40A-H12.3, 41A-H12, 46A-H13.1). The committee also considered bills to compensate veterans and heirs of soldiers killed in the war with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe (48A-E13) and to permit enlistment of Indians (52A-F16), and a memorial, signed by Gens. John Pope and George Crook, to authorize brevet promotions for Indian service (47A-H15.2).

4.17 A large number of bills, petitions, and memorials for this period relate to military organization, personnel, and other administrative matters. Included in this broad category are records relating to the establishment and improvement of the Signal Service (37A-E7, 47A-H15.1), hospital and ambulance corps (37A-H9.3, 38A-H10.1) and veterinary corps (55A-J21, 56A-J24.2), and the upgrading and expansion of the Army Medical Corps (43A-H12) and dental surgery staff (56A-F21, 56A-J24.4). Also in the medical area, the records document attempts by homeopathic surgeons to obtain limited professional recognition by a guaranteed percentage of medical officer appointments (37A-H9.2) and to end discrimination against them by the medical corps (47A-H15.1), and efforts to allow the use of female nurses in military hospitals (55A-F17, 56A-J24). Military chaplains also sought from Congress greater status and responsibility within the Army (51A-J16), as did Army engineers and ordnance officers. Bills and memorials relating to adjustment of accounts and contracts, pay increases for officers, and requests from servicemen to be placed on either the retired list or restored to active duty are scattered throughout the records. One petition from several citizens of Indiana opposed S. 59, 47th Cong., to place General and former President U.S. Grant on the retired list (47A-E13).

4.18 The construction and improvement of military roads, forts, arsenals, and armories and the disposition of military real estate, including abandonment of military posts and the granting of rights of way to railroads through military reservations, constitute another major subject category of the records. After the war, there generally was less need for military facilities in the East, such as the Harpers Ferry armory (39A-E7,-H10.2), and greater need in the West. Occasionally, legislative case files, Presidential messages, and executive communications include maps and architectural drawings or blueprints of the facilities, such as plans for the conversion of a building at Fort Leavenworth to a military prison (43A-E10), a map of the Presidio in San Francisco (44A-E9), a drawing of the Perth Amboy bridge (46A-E13), and drawings of renovations of several military facilities (47A-E13).

4.19 The committee's records also document scientific developments and technical innovations applicable to military activities. Dr. William T. G. Morton claimed in his petition (37A-H9.4) to be the discoverer of a "practical anathesia" (ether), a claim that had been the subject of the Senate Select Committee on Claims to Priority of Discovery of the Use of Ether in Surgical Operations, 32d Cong., 2d sess., for which no other records have been preserved. Other technical innovations documented in the records include the military use of balloons (37A-E7), portable canvas boats (44A-H11.1, 45A-H12), a counterpoint battery for protection of cannon for coast defense (47A-H15.2), and Leonard smokeless powder (53A-J20). The records also document the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition to the Arctic in exhibits submitted to the Senate by the four enlisted men who survived (54A-F17).

4.20 Other subjects documented by these records include military education at West Point (42A-E10) and in the public schools (54A-J22, 55A-J21.2); interaction between the labor movement and the military, including objections from musicians unions to public appearances by military bands (45A-H12, 50A-J15, 52A-J16.1); and the use of troops in labor disputes in Illinois (50A-J15) and Idaho (56A-J24.4). Temperance advocates petitioned for abolition of liquor sales on military posts and in Government buildings (50A-J15, 54A-J22.1, 55A-J21.1, 56A-J24.3). The records also include a petition from Clara Barton to obtain military surplus in Washington to assist freedmen (41A-H12) and copies of charters and catalogs of black colleges and academies, such as Fisk University (41A-E10).

1901-1946 (57th-79th Congresses)

4.21 Beginning with the 57th Congress, the legislative case files of the committee are no longer part of the committee papers, but rather were maintained in the series papers supporting bills and resolutions. Legislative dockets, 1907-37 (15 vols., 3 ft.) record committee action on bills and resolutions referred to the committee. Because legislative case files previously constituted the bulk of the committee papers (49 ft.), what is generally left, at least until 1940, are original reports, printed executive communications, and original Presidential messages, such as Wilson's recommendation of the permanent rank of general for John J. Pershing (66A-F14). Some records deal with the committee's investigation into the Brownsville Affray, a violent confrontation between some black soldiers of the 25th Infantry and civilians in Brownsville, TX in 1905; the file contains numerous exhibits, including maps and bullets (60A-F15), in addition to the printed record (59A-F19, 61A-F18). In the records of the 71st Congress (1929-31), a list of mothers and widows entitled to make a pilgrimage to European cemeteries to visit the World War I gravesites of their sons and husbands is arranged by State and county and includes each person's address, soldier's name and unit, and other information (71A-F17, oversize). From the mid-1920's to the early 1940's, however, the committee papers consist chiefly of a small number of annual reports from such groups as the American War Mothers, the Belleau Wood Memorial Association, and the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice.

4.22 With the beginning of World War II, there is a corresponding change in the emphasis of the committee's work and, likewise, its records. Concern for the defense of the Panama Canal was the subject of an executive session of the committee on July 10, 1940 (76A-F15). War Department reports on cost-plus contracts, disposition of military surplus, land and equipment acquisitions, and lists of persons commissioned from civilian life who had no prior military experience form a substantial part of the committee papers for the 76th-79th Congresses. Most voluminous are records accumulated by the committee following the report of the President's Commission on the Deferment of Federal Employees; 38 feet of the total 49 feet of committee papers for the 1901-46 period are listings of persons who received occupational deferments from the draft (78A-F19, 79A-F18). In addition to this series, there are minute books for the committee through 1932 and, among the records of the Committee on Armed Services, legislative calendars for the 75th-79th Congresses.

4.23 The committee papers also include records of the subcommittee investigating the disposal of surplus property, 1945-46 (79A-F18, 6 ft.). Pursuant to S. Res. 129, 79th Cong., the subcommittee continued an investigation of terminated war production contracts started under S. Res. 198, 78th Cong., and expanded it to include the disposal of Government property under the Surplus Property Act of 1944. Joseph C. O'Mahoney of Wyoming chaired the subcommittee. The records include correspondence of the chairman and subcommittee counsel with numerous agencies and businesses, hearing transcripts and exhibits, and printed matter. The records are arranged alphabetically by subject; all subject headings are listed in a preliminary inventory of the subcommittee's records. In 1947, jurisdiction for this investigation was transferred to the newly created Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments, a predecessor of the Committees on Government Operations and Governmental Affairs.

4.24 The petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures referred to the committee (14 ft.) concern a wide variety of subjects. Between 1901 and 1917, the principal subjects are the establishment of a volunteer retired list for Civil War veterans (60A-J85, 61A-J63), strengthening the National Guard (59A-J74, 62A-J56) and Army Medical (64A-J53, 65A-J34) and Dental Corps (64A-J52), improving the status of military chaplains (58A-J50, 60A-J87), the Gardner Resolution (House) proposing a national security commission to investigate military preparedness of the Army and Navy on the eve of World War I (63A-J59, 63A-J62), and the anticanteen law prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages on military property (57A-J46, 58A-J49, 59A-J71, 60A-J83, 62A-J55, 65A-J40). Also included are petitions concerning completion of the Alaskan cable extension (57A-J47, 58A-J51); a government annuity for Clara Barton (57A-J47); the Brownsville Affray (59A-J72, 60A-J87); a request for troops by the Douglas, AZ, chamber of commerce during the Mexican border crisis in 1912 (62A-J57); and military training in civilian colleges (64A-J54).

4.25 During and immediately following World War I, the subjects of the petitions concern military preparedness (64A-J56,-J57), an arms embargo (64A-J55), exemptions from military service (65A-J36), aliens and the draft (65A-J43, 66A-J45), establishment of moral zones around military camps (65A-J37), veterans benefits (65A-J35, 66A-J43), universal military training (65A-J39, 66A-J44), and demobilization of the Army (65A-J43, 66A-J45).

4.26 From the late 1920's through 1946, petitions, memorials, and resolutions referred to the committee in each Congress reflect support for and opposition to improved national defense, especially air power and the draft, as well as demands for improved veterans benefits. The records also illustrate public sentiment about persons of Japanese descent in the United States (78A-J15) and the impact of World War II on certain professions and occupations (77A-J14). Of continuing interest was the issue of prohibiting liquor sales or consumption on military installations (78A-J14).

4.27 The most complete source among the records of the Senate for information on its activities relating to the conduct of World War II are the records of the Special Committee of the Senate to Investigate the National Defense Program, 1941-48. This committee, also known as the Truman Committee, was the principal investigative body of the Senate concerned with the war effort. The records are fully described in an inventory of the records of the special committee, which includes a complete list of folder titles as an appendix.

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42). By Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.