Civil War and Later Navy Personnel Records at the National Archives, 1861-1924
Summer 1995, Vol. 27, No. 2 | Genealogy Notes
By Lee D. Bacon
United States Navy personnel records for the period 1861–1924 are one of the best secrets in genealogical research. These records commonly contain information that is otherwise unobtainable in federal records. The personnel records include military service records and pension records. The former document volunteer military service, and the latter document compensation due a veteran or widow for disability, age, or loss.
Military Service Records
These documents give information such as dates of service and vessel of duty. Before 1885 there are no naval service records that correspond to army compiled military service records. For the navy, rendezvous reports, keys to enlistments, and muster rolls document a veteran's service. It is also possible to find information related to a veteran's service in the various pension indexes (described later in the article).
Records for Civil War Union and Spanish-American War personnel are easy to use. If the researcher does not already know if the veteran was an officer or enlisted man, consult Lewis R. Hamersly's General Register or Edward W. Callahan's List of Officers. 1 Either of these sources will reveal the veteran's rank if he is listed. The absence of a veteran's name from the latter index usually means that the veteran was not an officer.
If the veteran is an officer, there are several different sources in which to look for information on his service. First, Hamersly or Callahan usually give information concerning the officer's early service, such as the date he became a midshipman and the succession of commands that he held. Second, a researcher should consult National Archives Microfilm Publication M330, Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers ("Records of Officers"), 1798–1893, and M1328, Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers ("Records of Officers"), 1829–1924. These abstracts give a basic overview of an officer's service life along with key information like ship assignments and important events such as death in the line of duty or a court-martial. These sources will also suggest additional records to search. For example, if a researcher finds a reference to a court-martial in a given file, then he or she should check M273, Records of General Courts-Martial and Courts of Inquiry of the Navy Department, 1799–1867.
If the veteran was an enlisted man, look for his name in T1099, Index to Rendezvous Reports, Civil War, 1861–1865. This alphabetical index gives the name of the ship that the serviceman rendezvoused with and the date he enlisted in the navy. It is also a good idea to check T1098, Index to Rendezvous Reports, Before and After the Civil War, 1846–1861, 1865–1884. Remember that Civil War navy servicemen may also have served in the pre–Civil War navy. After finding an entry in the index, the researcher may then order the rendezvous report and record any additional information found in it. Request copies of these reports from the Textual Reference Branch. 2 You may also view the original rendezvous reports and ship muster rolls at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.
For service after 1884 and before 1900, there are only a few resources available to locate service record information. First, if the researcher knows the name of the vessel(s) aboard which the veteran served, it is possible to check the Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (Record Group 24) to see if there is a muster roll or conduct book for the ship in question for the right time period. Second, a veteran who served after 1885 may have a personnel file at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. 3
Pension records are more likely than military service records to contain genealogical information because a dependent had to prove his or her relationship to the veteran. The proof the federal government required included signed affidavits, marriage licenses, and in the case of an invalid pension, personal testimonies of service. From these records you can learn such information as the sailor's name and rank, name of ship and period of service, and the sailor's date of birth or age and place of residence. Other information may be included in a sailor's file, as well. Because pension indexes are arranged without regard to rank, a researcher can use the same indexes to search for either an enlisted man or an officer.
Civil War Union and Spanish-American War pensions are also easy to use. Researchers should consult T288, General Index to Pension Files, 1861–1934, which is an alphabetical index to pensions for those years. As with pension indexes for other time periods, T288 will give the serviceman's name, dates of service, alias if any, and the ship(s) on which he served. If a researcher is unsuccessful with T288, there are two other pension indexes that may lead to navy pensions.
The first is T289, Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900, which is organized by unit rather than alphabetically by surname. Although it primarily lists army veterans, its miscellaneous section does list naval personnel. The next index is on microfiche publication M1279, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War and Later Navy Veterans ("Navy Widows' Certificates"), 1861–1910. This is an alphabetical and numerical compilation of approved navy pensions. A researcher who knows the veteran's full name, application number, and certificate number may then look at the microfiched pensions. A book index accompanies this series. M1274, Case Files of Disapproved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War and Later Navy Veterans ("Navy Widows' Originals"), 1861–1910, and M1391, Lists of Navy Veterans for Whom There are Navy Widows' and Other Dependents' Disapproved Pension Files ("Navy Widows' Originals"), 1861–1910, may help if there is some question as to whether the veteran received a pension or if cards in the previous indexes are illegible.
Confederate records are probably the most difficult military records in the National Archives to use. Comparatively few Confederate records survived the war, and those that did were generally in poor condition. The United States government made an effort to preserve Confederate records during the latter part of the nineteenth century. This effort resulted in the War Department's Collection of Confederate Records (Record Group 109) and the Navy Department's Subject File, which contain several microfilmed series that are useful in researching Confederate navy service. 4 Researchers can use these records to reconstruct a Confederate veteran's service. It should be noted, however, that Confederate pensions are not federal records, and they are held by various state archives, historical societies, and record centers. Write to the National Archives for more information.
Examples of Record Searches
As an example of a search for a Civil War veteran, let us look at the records of Lt. Comdr. Charles W. Flusser. Even though it was unnecessary to check Hamersly's General Register or Callahan's List of Officers to determine Flusser's rank, we checked it anyway to see what information was there. From Hamersly we learned that Flusser became a midshipman on June 10, 1853; he was promoted to master on September 15, 1855, then to lieutenant on September 16, 1855. He was promoted to lieutenant commander on July 16, 1862. The last note of his service stated that he was killed in action on April 19, 1864, aboard the gunboat Miami.
Next we looked at microfilm publication M330 to determine the particulars of his service. On roll 11, entry 325, we found a notation that Lt. Commander Flusser was killed in the line of duty on April 19, 1864. This confirmed the information that we found in Hamersly and gave us two additional avenues to search. The first was to check pension records. His death in the line of duty would probably yield a pension if he had any dependents.
The second, less obvious, resource was ship deck logs. Since he was an officer on board the Miami, it was possible that there might be useful information about Flusser and his activities prior to his death. When we checked the various deck logs from the Miami, we determined that he was killed during an engagement with the Confederate ironclad Albemarle. This and other interesting facts, however, were obtained only after hours of research. Researchers with limited time should ignore deck logs and concentrate instead on pension records, if available.
We checked T288, General Index to Pension Files, 1861–1934, to see if we could find a pension record for Lt. Commander Flusser. On roll 156 we found an entry for Charles Flusser: application #226, certificate #670, and the name of the dependant, his mother, Juliana Flusser. It was therefore unnecessary to check any of the other various indexes such as disapproved pensions in M1391. We then ordered the pension record.
The pension record contained many interesting facts. First, the cause of death was listed as vulnus sclepticum, Latin for gunshot wound. Second, we learned that Juliana Flusser had depended on her son for her support because her husband, Charles T. Flusser, had died, and her one remaining child was unable to support her. She was granted an initial pension of thirty dollars a month dated April 19, 1864. Her pension was later increased to eighty dollars a month after an appeal. The pension provided the following additional information: a physical description of the late Lt. Commander Flusser; the date of Juliana Flusser's marriage, November 24, 1827, in Anne Arundel, Maryland; and the place of her current (1865) residence in Jefferson County, Kentucky.
This information, in turn, suggests other avenues of research outside of navy records. For example, the date and place of Juliana and Charles T. Flusser's marriage is useful if one wanted to try to obtain a copy of their marriage certificate.
Our example of a search for a Spanish-American War enlisted man is Michael Murphy, who served on board the USS Niagara during that war. Needless to say, there were quite a number of Michael Murphys in the U.S. Navy at the time. We could not use T1098 (Index to Rendezvous Reports) because it covers the wrong time period. Our next step was to try the pension index on T288. Fortunately, on roll 342 we found an entry for a Michael Murphy, #44,581, who served as a machinist first class on board the USS Niagara.
The pension itself yielded some interesting information. Michael Murphy's pension request was originally rejected by the government on the grounds that his deafness was not a result of his duties in the navy. The navy first claimed that Murphy's hearing had begun to deteriorate shortly before he entered the navy and that his subsequent deafness was not a result of his service. Michael Murphy appealed the ruling and produced affidavits stating that his hearing was fine before he entered the navy. The special examiner of the U.S. Pension Claims Office interviewed Charles H. Reeder, who had been Michael Murphy's foreman in the "five or six years" that Murphy lived in Baltimore. Reeder states that Murphy "lost no time from work because of sickness" and that "he was not deaf." The special examiner also checked the records of the naval hospital in New York. The records stated that Michael Murphy was admitted to the hospital on December 25, 1898, suffering from erysipelas. According to Murphy, he was "infected in the sickbay (?) of the USS Vermont." The record further states, however, that the patient's "fight ear is much swollen and patient states that he was struck with a club. He is just recovering from a debauch, December 26. His mind is wandering and he is suffering from acute alcoholism." The navy implied that this condition was the probable reason for the loss of his hearing, and if so, the navy was not responsible. The matter was finally settled in a compromise that stated that "there is testimony tending to show prior unsoundness as well as prior soundness . . . but . . . the fact remains that there is no evidence to show that the claimant was ever deaf before he joined the navy." Michael Murphy was granted his pension.
The research strategies illustrated here for Charles Flusser's and Michael Murphy's navy records are typical for searching for an enlisted man or officer in the National Archives' Civil War and Spanish-American War navy records. First, determine the veteran's rank and dates of service. Once you know the rank and dates of service, you can then look through the various indexes and appropriate microfilm publications to determine the ship(s) on which the veteran served. Next, determine if there were any events in the veteran's service that would suggest another avenue of search such as court-martial records. Last, look for a pension record even if you are not sure if the veteran received a pension. A successful pension search usually gives a wealth of genealogical information on a veteran that is not available in other types of records.
Researchers who are unable to visit the National Archives to research navy records in person may request copies of records through the mail. This request is made on a National Archives Trust Fund (NATF) Form 80 [see NATF note]. To obtain this form, write to the National Archives (NWCTB), Washington, DC 20408. The fee for providing copies for each search request is $10; allow eight to ten weeks for the request to be processed.
Using all of the available navy resources not only improves the chances of finding information relating to a veteran of the Civil War and Spanish-American War periods but also increases the likelihood of finding information about the veteran that will in turn lead to other nonnavy sources for genealogical research.
NATF 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.
Lee D. Bacon is on the staff of the User Services Division of the National Archives and Records Administration. He received his B.A. in European history at the University of Maryland.
1 Lewis R. Hamersly, General Register of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, 1792-1892 (1900); and Edward W. Callaban, List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900 (1901, reprinted 1969).
2 Write to the Old Military and Civil Branch (NWCTB), Room 13W National Archives, Washington, DC 20408.
3 The National Personnel Records Center also has records for both enlisted personnel and officers for service in 1900 and later. The Center has records relating to U.S. Navy officers separated after 1902 and enlisted personnel separated after 1885 and Marine Corps officers separated after 1895 and enlisted personnel separated after 1904. Genealogical requests for information should be submitted on Standard Form 180, "Request Pertaining to Military Records." These forms may be obtained from local Veterans Administration offices or from the National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records), 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63132.
4 M260, Records Relating to Confederate Naval and Marine Personnel; M1091, Subject File of the Confederate States Navy, 1861–1865; M909, Papers Pertaining to Vessels of or Involved With the Confederate States of America: "Vessel Papers"; M918, Register of Confederate Soldiers, Sailors, and Citizens who Died in Federal Prisons and Military Hospitals in the North, 1861–1865; M275, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865.