Prologue Magazine

Sailors, Soldiers, and Marines of the Spanish-American War - The Legacy of USS Maine, Part 2

Spring 1998, Vol. 30, No. 1

By Rebecca Livingston


Navy Records

Enlisted men. Personnel files for enlisted sailors who served after 1885 are at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Researchers seeking to study these records should use Standard Form 180 and send it to the National Personnel Records Center, Military Records, 9700 Page Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63132-51001 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138. The National Archives in Washington, D.C., does not have an index of these personnel records or compiled or consolidated records of any type for enlisted sailors. However, researchers able to visit the National Archives in person, and willing to search through old fragile volumes, can successfully ferret out the information that is typically included in a personnel file.

The National Archives Building does have annual registers of enlistment, called the "keys to enlistments, 1846-1902," for sailors. These registers are arranged by the year (or partial year), then by the first letter of the sailor's surname, and then by the date of his enlistment. The five volumes for 1898 include records for most of the sailors who enlisted in response to the outbreak of the war or who enlisted for the war's duration. If you are searching for a John Brown, for example, you would need to check all the "B" enlistments for 1898. From these records you can learn the sailor's rating, date of enlistment, place of enlistment, terms of enlistment (e.g., one year), the names of the ships on which he served, and his discharge date. The records do not indicate earlier or subsequent enlistments. Sailors could enlist for terms from one to four years. Boys aged sixteen to seventeen were required to enlist until their twenty-first birthday. Since some sailors who served in the Spanish-American War enlisted before 1898, researchers should also check the keys to enlistment for 1894-1897.

Another source of information at the National Archives is a register of Bureau of Navigation correspondence with enlistees for the years 1896-1902. However, this register is only suitable for the most patient and hardy researchers. It is arranged by the first letter of the enlisted man's name and then by the date of the correspondence.

When you know the names of ships on which a veteran served, you can examine U.S. Navy muster rolls and conduct books. Both are arranged alphabetically by name of ship. The muster rolls are nearly complete for every ship. The conduct books are a much less comprehensive collection. Musters were taken quarterly and cover the preceding three months. Within each muster roll, sailors are listed by the first letter of their last name. For each sailor the rolls show his name, rating, date of his present enlistment, place of enlistment (city or ship), citizenship (native, alien, or naturalized), date received on board the ship, reason for leaving the ship (transfer, death, end of enlistment), and place transferred, discharged, or died. If the rolls show a "continuous service certificate number," it means that the sailor had a previous enlistment. A check mark or "OK" penciled in beside a name indicates that the person was entitled to the Spanish-American War campaign badge, the "Sampson Medal."

In addition to the main set of navy muster rolls, there is a separate, smaller set that combines navy muster rolls with shipping articles. Shipping articles are records of the enlistee's terms of enlistment, and they include his signature, something not found in the main set. Some also provide physical descriptions of the enlistee, which are not in the main set either. These records are unavailable for many ships, however.

Conduct books, which describe the enlistee's conduct and performance during drills, are another excellent source for genealogists. They show the same information as the muster rolls, but conduct books may also include address of next of kin, birth date, birthplace, marital status, years of previous naval service, personal description, punishments, scores on drills and training, and medical condition (good or poor). The names in conduct books may be unarranged or arranged alphabetically, by muster number, or by rating. Some conduct books have name indexes.

Commissioned officers. The service records of regular navy officers who served in the Spanish-American War are available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M1328, Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers ("Records of Officers"), 1829-1924. The descriptive pamphlet contains a name index to the abstracts. There are also registers of officers arranged by name of ship or station. Other good sources of information about officers are the proceedings of the promotion examining boards and retirement examining boards, found among records of the Judge Advocate General's Office. Names and dates of service of naval officers are printed in List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775-1900, edited by Edward W. Callahan. Most Spanish-American War-era U.S. Navy logbooks include a list of officers in the first few pages of each volume. For biographical records about chaplains, there are Chaplains Division records, a collection of records used to write a history of the Navy Chaplain Corps. Records of medical officers are located among records of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

Acting officers. During the Spanish-American War, many volunteers were given temporary commissions. The National Archives has copies of these acting officers' commissions and discharges or resignations, in addition to order books. A register of temporary officers shows their assignments and "remarks." There are special records for acting engineers, including application papers and order books, and a register of commissioned officers of the Auxiliary Naval Force, 1898.

Warrant officers. Application papers and examination papers are available at the National Archives for the following warrant officers: carpenters, boatswains, gunners, and machinists. Many of them were promoted from the comparable chief petty officer position (chief boatswain's mate, chief machinist mate, etc.) Others were appointed from civilian life because they had related experience in their civilian occupations. The papers include letters of recommendation from civilian employers or commanding officers. Promotion Board proceedings are another excellent source for information about warrant officers.

Navy medical records. The National Archives has medical logbooks kept by ships' surgeons and by surgeons at shore stations. These logs describe medical treatments received by officers and enlisted men and their return to duty or death. There are also registers of patients at U.S. Navy hospitals.

Court records. Additional information about some sailors and marines who served in the Spanish-American War, including both officers and enlisted men, can be found in proceedings of U.S. Navy courts-martial, courts of inquiry, boards of investigations, and boards of inquest. In these proceedings, researchers can learn about men who were in trouble, who were investigated for various reasons, or who died by accident or as a result of foul play.

Marine Corps Records

Enlisted men. Personnel jackets ("case files") for marines who fought in the Spanish-American War can be found in two places. If the marine was discharged before 1906, his personnel jacket is at the National Archives. If the marine continued to serve after 1906, his personnel jacket is at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. A typical personnel jacket includes enlistment papers, descriptive list, conduct record from each ship or station, and records relating to campaign badges or awards. Occasionally, the personnel jacket will include a letter from a relative relating to pension benefits, cemetery headstone, or general information. These records usually show the address of next of kin, birth date, birthplace, age, personal description, medical condition, and discharge information. The Marine Corps case files are arranged alphabetically by name of marine for enlistments after 1895. Case files for enlistments before 1895 are arranged by enlistment date. There is a card index to Marine Corps enlistments, 1798-1941.

Officers. The National Archives does not have personnel files for Marine Corps officers for the period around the Spanish-American War. Personnel files beginning with 1896 are at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. However, researchers who can travel to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., can find monthly reports on the duties to which the officers were assigned and summaries of their service among the Records of the U.S. Marine Corps. There are some correspondence files for officers, 1904-1912, with a name index.

Army Records

Volunteers (regiments raised by states called into federal service). Most soldiers called into service for the Spanish-American War served with regiments raised by their state. A consolidated name index to the compiled military service records of these men has been microfilmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication M871, General Index to Compiled Service Records of Volunteers Who Served During the War With Spain. Compiled service records are arranged by state, type of regiment (artillery, cavalry, and infantry), and then by number of the regiment. Within each regiment, the jackets for individual soldiers are arranged alphabetically. There are compiled military service records for both officers and enlisted men. A typical record includes cards that extract the monthly muster rolls and other regimental papers about that individual. Usually the cards show whether the soldier was present with his company, absent on detached duty, or sick. In addition, you may find medical treatment cards and certificates of discharge for disability. The compiled military service records for the Spanish-American War usually show the date of enlistment, place of enlistment, birth place and date, personal description, medical information, date and place of discharge, and address of next of kin.

Military Service Record
Richard L. Oskison's military service record suggests his Native American heritage and records his injury while a "Rough Rider" at San Juan Hill. (NARA Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, RG 94)

U.S. Volunteers. The U.S. volunteers were special regiments raised for the Spanish-American War. The most famous of these is the First Volunteer Cavalry, the official name of the Rough Riders. There were three volunteer cavalry units, three volunteer engineers, ten volunteer infantry regiments, and a volunteer signal corps. The Seventh to Tenth Volunteer Infantries were composed of African American soldiers. There are compiled military service jackets for the enlisted men and officers, similar to the jackets for the state volunteers. Their names are also indexed on National Archives Microfilm Publication M871.

Regular army--enlisted. Enlistment papers for men who served in the regular army, arranged alphabetically by name of soldier, show the personal description, age, and birthplace of the soldier. With the enlistment papers are assignment and descriptive cards. Registers of enlistments are available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914. The registers show the regiments to which the soldier was assigned and his discharge date. More detailed information about his service can be found in muster rolls, which are arranged by type of regiment, by number of regiment, and then by company, troop, or battery.

Regular army--officers. The War Department did not compile personnel files for regular army officers. For most officers, however, there is a consolidated correspondence file that includes their orders, assignments, oaths of office, monthly fitness reports, promotions, and more. An officer's consolidated correspondence file may be found in several different places. Many officers of the Spanish-American War have a consolidated correspondence file among the Adjutant General's Office Document File ("AGO Doc File"), 1890-1917. The index to this file is available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M698, Index to General Correspondence of the Office of the Adjutant General, 1890-1917. Other officers have consolidated correspondence files among the Appointment, Commission, and Personal Branch (ACP) of the Adjutant General's Office. The index to the ACP files are available on National Archives Microfilm Publication M1125, Name and Subject Index to the Letters Received by the Appointment, Commission, and Personal Branch of the Adjutant General's Office, 1871-1894. Many of the most frequently requested ACP files have been reproduced on microfiche; the others are available in the original format. Officers whose service goes back to the Civil War may have a consolidated correspondence file among the Commission Branch (CB) of the Adjutant General's Office. The CB files are reproduced on National Archives Microfilm Publication M1064, Letters Received by the Commission Branch of the Adjutant General's Office, 1863-1870. The descriptive pamphlet includes a list of frequently requested files. A complete card index is also available. For regular army medical officers, there are service cards and personal papers.

Nurses care for convalescents at Sternberg Hospital in Camp Thomas, Chickamauga Park, Georgia. (NARA 80-G-7U-1) Nurses at Sternberg Hospital

Contract nurses and surgeons. During the Spanish-American War, the army hired many civilian nurses and surgeons by contract. Records of the Surgeon General's Office include case files, personal data cards, and correspondence files for contract nurses and doctors, most of which is arranged alphabetically. A researcher should also check the index to the Surgeon General's general correspondence (Doc File), 1889-1917, under the letter "C" for "contract surgeons" and "contract nurses." Under these categories, there are alphabetically arranged index cards by name of contractor. The cards provide the pertinent consolidated document file number. In addition, there are records relating to contract surgeons among the personal papers of medical officers and physicians.

Unless otherwise mentioned, all the records described in this article are available at the National Archives Building in downtown Washington, D.C. Researchers who are unable to visit the National Archives in person may request copies of records through the mail. This request is made on a National Archives Trust Fund Form 80 [see note], National Archives Order for Copies of Veterans Records. To obtain this form, write to the National Archives and Records Administration, Attn: NWDT1, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001.

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.

Sailors, Soldiers, and Marines of the Spanish-American War, Part 1

See also these related records:

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