Prologue Magazine

Which Henry Cook? A Methodology for Searching Confederate Ancestors

Fall 1995, Vol. 27, No. 3 | Genealogy Notes

By Desmond Walls Allen

© 1995 Desmond Walls Allen

"Which of these Henry Cooks in the Confederate soldiers' index is my Henry Cook?" Does this question sound familiar? Perhaps this article will help researchers sort men of the same and similar names in fragmentary Confederate military records.

Successful genealogical research cannot be done on the basis of name alone, and this is especially true in military research.

Researchers need to identify the state from which an ancestor served as well as his unit. The research technique of keeping an ancestor with a known group of associates is helpful in research on Union soldiers, but it is vital to success in searching Confederate records.

The Compiled Military Service Records for both Confederate and Union soldiers are in the custody of the National Archives and are well described in Henry Putney Beers's The Confederacy: A Guide to the Archives of the Government of the Confederate States of America (1986) and Beers's and Kenneth W. Munden's The Union: A Guide to Federal Archives Relating to the Civil War (1986). Additionally, chapter 5, "Service Records of Volunteers," in Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (1985) is a good overview of the subject.

To answer the question about "which Henry Cook," the researcher must know as much as possible about her Henry Cook. Working from known to unknown is always the best policy in genealogical research.

When and where did Henry Cook die? Was he buried with a government-issued tombstone? The name of his regiment may be carved on that stone. There may be no government-issued tombstone as Congress did not approve federal funds for Confederate markers until 1906. If the family erected his tombstone, they probably did not include the military regiment in the inscription. Cemetery census compilations have been popular publishing projects for many local historical societies and may yield a vital clue to the regiment.

Did Henry Cook receive a Confederate pension? Unlike Union pensions issued by the United States government, which were based on regiment, Confederate pensions were based on residence and issued by the state in which the veteran lived after the war. If the Henry Cook known to the family lived in a former Confederate or border state after the war, he or his widow may have applied for a pension. Confederate pension records normally provide information about the veteran's physical and financial condition at the time of application. They usually list the veteran's regiment and company and the names of his commanding officers and some of his comrades-in-arms. Confederate pension records are not a part of the National Archives' holdings— state archives must be consulted. All eleven of the former Confederate states and Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma provided financial assistance to exConfederates. Much of the legislation, however, was enacted many years after the war's end.

But what if Henry Cook or his widow did not receive a pension? It is tempting at this point to select a Henry Cook from the Confederate indexes. A little background information on the indexes may be helpful. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the War Department organized records of volunteer soldiers not just from the Civil War but from all wars from the Revolutionary War through the Philippine Insurrection. Abstracts about individual volunteer soldiers, from a variety of sources, were noted on cards and filed in jacket envelopes according to the soldiers' names and regiments. Sometimes original documents, when they related to one particular soldier, were included in the jacket envelope. These jacket envelopes were arranged first by war, then by state, then by regiment or unit, and finally by surname. These records are referred to as "Compiled Military Service Records."

Records relating to Confederate soldiers were also included in the compiled service record project. The information to create those records was taken from Confederate documents transferred to the federal War Department after the fall of the Confederate government, from data about the Confederate soldiers within the federal records, and from materials loaned to the federal government from state archives and private sources. The Confederate records are arranged by state and by two additional series: National Archives Microfilm Publication M331, Compiled Service Records of Confederate General and Staff Officers and Nonregimental Enlisted Men; and M258, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations Raised Directly by the Confederate Government. The Compiled Service Records (CSRs) for Confederate soldiers have been microfilmed.

Card indexes, also available on microfilm, were created for these CSRs of Confederate soldiers. The large, overall index is M253, Consolidated Index to Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers. It covers all the compiled records whether service was from a state unit, from a unit raised directly by the Confederate government, or as a staff officer. There are also smaller indexes to the two groups of nonstate records mentioned above and individual indexes of the records of soldiers who served in regiments from Alabama, Arizona Territory, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. These microfilm publications are described in Military Service Records: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (1985).

Not all Confederate soldiers have Compiled Service Records. The absence of a CSR for a soldier does not mean he did not serve or that no records exist about his service. If he served in a unit raised late in the war, or in a unit organized only for a short time, or in a unit never officially mustered into formal Confederate service, there may be no federal records about him. For these soldiers, the researcher must consult a variety of state and local records.

Spelling can be another impediment to finding Confederate records. Spelling seems to have been a creative art form, and no emphasis should be placed on the particular spelling of a name. The name "Moffitt" is found variously for the same man as Mofit, Moffit, Mofitt, Mofett, etc.— even as Mawfit. "Harrell" has a dozen or more variations, including Herald. Henry Cook had a short, simple surname, not usually subject to many spelling variations, but "Cook" might also have been written as Cooke or Koch. Given names designated only by initials can also create problems for unwary researchers.

Of the soldiers listed in M376, Index to Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas, there are five listings for the name Henry Cook and three more Cooks with "H" first initials— a field of eight from which to select the right Henry Cook, assuming he served in an Arkansas unit formally mustered by the Confederate government. If Henry Cook had served in a regiment raised directly by the Confederate government or if he was an officer not associated with a state unit, he will not be listed in the Arkansas index. If Henry Cook served in a guerrilla band, a home-guard or militia unit, or in some civilian capacity, he may not appear in the Confederate indexes at all.

There is a series of miscellaneous Confederate papers that might be helpful in the case of a poorly documented soldier. M346, Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, contains references to soldiers, government employees, slaves, and civilians. The material is arranged in alphabetical order by surname and therefore is not indexed.

Is the situation hopeless? Will it be impossible to find the right Henry Cook among the eight possibilities? To further compound the problem, the researcher should be reminded that Henry Cook may have served in more than one regiment and thus would have more than one compiled military service record. There is, however, a strategy that may solve this problem. Rather than relying only upon a man's name to identify him, try to more positively identify him by finding his comrades-in-arms. This is not the easy solution, but it gives a much greater degree of accuracy than arbitrarily choosing a name from an index.

First, the researcher should assemble all known information about Henry Cook and his family using traditional genealogical sources, including federal census population schedules. Federal census population schedules are a part of National Archives Record Group 29 and are described in chapter 1 of the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives.

The search for a soldier's comrades-in-arms begins with the 1860 federal census population schedules. Henry Cook, the right Henry Cook, was an 1860 resident of Fourche Lafave Township, Perry County, Arkansas. The men and boys living in that neighborhood are Henry's potential comrades-in-arms. Men generally enlisted in groups from geographic regions. Groups of roughly one hundred men were called companies and designated by a letter. Ten or more companies were grouped into regiments and designated with a number. Reading the population schedules for Henry's neighborhood and making a list of all the men who would have been of an age to serve in the impending war keeps Henry with a known group of associates— his neighbors and relatives.

The next step is to search for the research subject's neighbors in the appropriate index to compiled service records. All of the men will not appear in one military group, but upon examination, a pattern should appear. Henry Cook's closest neighbors, the Brazils, Creasys, and Kendricks, served in Company B of Cocke's Sixth Regiment of Arkansas Confederate Infantry. His wife's relatives also served in that company. Several more residents of the township served in the same company. Wiliiam Bostick, the captain of that company, was listed just a few pages away from Henry Cook in the census schedules. Most of the soldiers in Company B were from Perry and adjoining Yell Counties. And from the list of eight candidates in the Arkansas index, there is a Henry Cook in Company B of that regiment. Yes, the right Henry Cook has been located.

This strategy does not always work. People do unpredictable things. Henry might have ridden across two state lines to join a company from "back home." He might have refused to serve at all and been conscripted into a company with no ties to his home. Henry might even have joined the Union army.

After locating the right Henry Cook in the index, the next step is examination of his service record. There are two ways to do this— ordering photocopies of Henry's record with National Archives Trust Fund (NATF) Form 80 [see note] or viewing the record on microfilm. All the Confederate CSRs are available on microfilm, and the Military Service Records catalog lists details about specific publications. Roll 243 of M317, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations From the State of Arkansas, contains Henry Cook's service record as well as those of his comrades-in-arms. The researcher should look at the CSRs for other members of the military company as well. Isolating a record from its context decreases its potential value to a researcher. For example, in census records, the names, birthplaces, and other information about people living near a family of interest often yield important clues about relationships and migration patterns. Many state and local research institutions have copies of National Archives microfilm and loan rolls through local libraries' interlibrary loan programs. (The National Archives itself does not loan microfilm.) National Archives microfilm is also available at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Family History Library and Family History Centers. Several commercial vendors offer the microfilm for rental or purchase.

Once located, the information in a Confederate Compiled Military Service Record may be fragmentary. Other than information about the soldier's service, there is usually no information about his family. In rare cases, an enlistment paper may have the signature of a parent if the solder enlisted before he was eighteen years old.

What happened to Henry Cook? He died in a military prison in Alton, Illinois, in January 1864

Desmond Walls Allen is owner of Arkansas Research, a publishing company, and past president and life member of the Arkansas Genealogical Society. She has written or compiled 163 books and many articles about Arkansas historical materials and co-author of Beginner's Guide to Family Research and How to Become a Professional Genealogist.

Note: NATF Form 80 was discontinued in November 2000. Use NATF 85 for military pension and bounty land warrant applications, and NATF 86 for military service records for Army veterans discharged before 1912.

Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.