Hidden in Plain Sight
Compiled Service Records as Sources for Confederate Arms and Equipment
Winter 1995, Vol. 27, No. 4 | "War in an Age of Wonders"
By Michael P. Musick
Often the best source for documents concerning the arms, uniforms, and equipment of specific Confederate units is an unlikely one. The microfilmed Compiled Service Records are first and foremost personnel records, and personnel records are generally of little or no use for research on material culture. The Confederate personnel records, however, are different. They became the preferred filing location for receipts, returns, reports, and correspondence relating to the things worn and carried by the men in butternut and gray.
In order to find documents on arms, clothing, equipage of the Sixty-third Georgia Infantry, for example, a check of finding aids such as Military Service Records: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications or the descriptive pamphlet for M266 would show that rolls 562 through 567 of microfilm publication M266, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Serviced in Organizations From the State of Georgia, cover the regiment from "Abraham (colored)," a cook through Zehnbauer, George J. The microfilm can then be scanned for documents filed along with the carded transcriptions from muster rolls. Commissioned officer's service records are the most likely to have pertinent documents, but they sometimes appear in those of noncommissioned officers and occasionally in those of the lowly privates.
Another series of Compiled Service Records beyond those for the regiment is also rich in records on issuances to the troops. This is National Archives Microfilm Publication M331, Compiled Service Records of Confederate Generals and Staff Officers and Nonregimental Enlisted Men (275 rolls), arranged in alphabetical order by name of individual for the entire Confederate army. With the names of brigade or division ordnance and quartermaster officers, for example, this series can then also be searched. Such names can be gleaned from unit CSRs, returns in RG 109 entry 65 inspection reports on M935, and elsewhere.
In the case of the Sixty-third Georgia Infantry, the CSR of Maj. Joseph V.H. Allen includes a "Return of Ordnance and Ordnance Stores Received, Issued, and Remaining on Hand at Thunderbolt Battery" for the third quarter of 1863, dated September 30, 1863. The Sixty-third Georgia was stationed at this battery, and the return gives the number of items in each category of every class of ordnance equipment. The CSR for Capt. J. H. Peebles includes receipts for uniforms. Many other CSRs for the regiment provide further documentation.
The records filed in the CSRs do not tell everything the researcher would like to know. Rather, they offer glimpses. They do not include uniform patterns, illustrations or (ordinarily) even detailed descriptions. They do often specify types of arms and ammunitions on a given date; whether hats or caps, coats or jackets were issued and how many; the type of tents used; the number of knapsacks, haversacks, etc.; when overcoats were received; and issuance of miscellaneous items such as gaiters. Serendipitous discoveries cannot be anticipated, but they do occur. One would not expect that the CSR of James W. Thomson of Capt. J. W. Carter's Virginia Horse Artillery would precisely identify a gun in the battery as "one 12 pdr. Bronze Howitzer, No. 1543 WT 770 JRA & Co. 1861," but such is the case.
These documents are primarily of value to the advanced researcher. They require patience to locate and sort through, and they are interspersed with requisitions for forage, horses, stationery, commissary stores, letters on personnel matters, and the like. Nevertheless, used in conjunction with artifacts, photographs, newspapers, and inspection reports, they can shed much welcome light into a hitherto murky area.
See also these related articles:
- When Class Is Crucial
- Firearms Genealogy: The Impossible Takes Longer
- A Widow's Plea— And An Inventory
- The Struggles of a Soldier-Inventor: Capt. William Brooke Johns
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