Researching Confederate Marines in the Civil War
Winter 2001, Vol. 33, No. 4 | Genealogy Notes
By Trevor K. Plante
A common reaction that many researchers have when first confronted with a reference to the Confederate States Marine Corps is, "There was a Confederate Marine Corps?" Genealogists familiar with researching Confederate soldiers and sailors rarely, if ever, investigate the Confederate Marine Corps.
One of the reasons for a lack of interest in this subject is simple math. One historian has estimated that the Confederate Marine Corps never exceeded more than six hundred marines at a given time and that no more than twelve hundred men served as Confederate marines during the Civil War.1 At six hundred men, the C.S. Marine Corps was equivalent in size to a Confederate infantry regiment.
Another reason for the lack of research is that few records of the Confederate Marine Corps survived. In 1880, Lloyd J. Beall, former colonel commandant of the Confederate Marine Corps, explained in a letter to a U.S. Marine Corps officer that the "books and papers" pertaining to the C.S. Marine Corps were burned. Beall claimed Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory ordered the destruction of the records, presumably to prevent capture by Federal forces.2 The small size of the corps, combined with this lack of documentary evidence, results in only occasional research by Civil War historians, present-day marines, or individuals researching ancestors who served as a Confederate marine.
The Provisional Confederate Congress established the C.S. Marine Corps under the act of March 16, 1861. The act, providing for the organization of the navy, authorized a corps of marines to consist of one major, one quartermaster sergeant, and six companies of one hundred men each. Later an amendatory act of May 20, 1861, increased the size of the corps and raised the rank of headquarters officers. During the war, marines served in small detachments on land and at sea. Many recruits and new officers trained at Camp Beall at Drewry's Bluff, Virginia. Confederate marine guard detachments served at naval stations at Richmond, Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and Charlotte. Marine detachments were also assigned to many of the larger vessels of the C.S. Navy.3
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintains the fragmentary records relating to the C.S. Marine Corps such as Confederate muster rolls, shipping articles, clothing receipts, descriptive rolls, and payrolls. Headquarters records were destroyed around the time of the evacuation of Richmond on April 2, 1865, including corps records kept at Colonel Beall's house. Lt. Nathaniel E. Venable, assistant to the quartermaster, took records of that department to Danville, Virginia, where they too were destroyed.4
The good news for those navigating this rarely traveled road is that a few historians have paved the way. In addition to several articles on this subject is Ralph W. Donnelly's book, The Confederate States Marine Corps: The Rebel Leathernecks (1989). The author begins by focusing on the first year of the war and provides background on the organization of the corps including various Confederate laws establishing and expanding the Confederate Marine Corps. The book continues by describing duty ashore in Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. One chapter provides information on marines serving on board Confederate ships. Donnelly also concentrates on life as a Confederate marine, providing a chapter each on enlisted men and officers. The appendix contains a list of Confederate marines taken prisoner at Fort Fisher on January 15, 1865.5
To research officers, consult the Register of Officers of the Confederate States Navy, 1861–1865 (1931) and the more descriptive "Biographical Sketches of Marine Officers" in Donnelly's Rebel Leathernecks. For enlisted men, consult Donnelly's earlier work, Service Records of Confederate Enlisted Marines (1979). This book is arranged alphabetically by name of marine and provides a brief description of service. As an example, the following is information provided in Donnelly's book for enlisted marine John W. Barry:
Co. A. Private enlisted New Orleans, 5/8/61. On CRR [clothing receipt roll] Capt. Holmes comd., c. 5/10/61. Corporal as of 7/25/61. Presumably served at Pensacola until company transferred to Savannah c. 9/18/61. On Ga. & S.C. Stations [Savannah] 9/1/-12/3/61. On board CSS Savannah 1/23/62 and 3/25/62. Transferred with company to Drewry's Bluff c. July 1862. Assigned Marine Guard, Navy Yard opp. Rocketts [Richmond], by 10/8/63; on this duty through 4th Qr. 1864. Charged for canteen and strap lost at Wilmington 9/30/64. Took oath to US in Richmond, Va., 8/24/65. Age 36 in 1865; occupation: farmer; residence Alabama.6
National Archives Sources
To research service of Confederate marine enlisted men and officers, four NARA Microfilm Publications are of particular interest:
- 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"
- M598, Selected Records of the War Department
Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861–1865
The first four rolls of NARA Microfilm Publication M260, Records Relating to Confederate Naval and Marine Personnel contain hospital and prison records of Confederate sailors and marines. Roll seven includes reference cards and papers relating to Confederate marines. Note that the Confederate Marine Corps (and Navy) service records are incomplete. These records, found in Record Group 109, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, were compiled by the Adjutant General's Office of the U.S. War Department in the late nineteenth century, based on Confederate records in the U.S. War Department's possession and other sources. This series consists of cards that provide the name and rank of naval personnel and refer to other records in RG 109 such as vessel papers, payrolls, muster rolls, and volumes in which information related to the marine or sailor can be found. Original records such as correspondence and paymaster requisitions are sometimes found in this series filed with the cards.
The U.S. Navy collected a variety of records after the war, including some fragmentary Confederate muster rolls, shipping articles, clothing receipts, descriptive rolls, and payrolls related to Confederate marines. These records are located in Record Group 45, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library. Many of these records can be found in the Subject File, 1775 - 1910 (RG 45, entry 464), and are reproduced as National Archives Microfilm Publication M1091, Subject File of the Confederate States Navy, 1861 - 1865. This series is arranged by primary and secondary subjects. The primary subjects include: naval ships (design, construction, etc.), ordnance, communications, engineering, battles and casualties to ships, instructions, nautical technology and science, medical, personnel, operations of naval ships and fleet units, bases (naval bases—including navy yards and stations), prisoners and prisons, merchant ships and commerce, governmental relationships, supplies, and pensions.
Of particular interest to those researching Confederate marines are these subjects: "M" Medical (see MV Marine Corps—Miscellaneous); "N" Personnel (NV Marine Corps—Miscellaneous); "R" Prisoners and Prisons; "H" Engagements and Casualties to Ships; and "O" Operations of Naval Ships and Fleet Units. Subject file NA contains muster rolls, payrolls, and lists of naval and marine personnel. Most of these records are related to vessels, stations, squadrons, and naval shore batteries. Subject file OV contains bills; vouchers; correspondence; certificates of deposit; invoices; abstract of expenditures; accounts; receipts; special orders relating to provisions, clothing, and equipment for marine detachments; returns of ordnance and ordnance stores; returns of clothing and equipment; and transportation requests.
There are two series of muster rolls and payrolls in RG 45 that are not reproduced on M1091. To research marines who served on land, consult RG 45, entry 426, "Muster Rolls and Pay Rolls of Marine Detachments of the Confederate States Navy, July 1861–Dec. 1864." This entry provides rolls of varying dates for marines at: Mobile, the Georgia and South Carolina Station, Savannah, Wilmington Station, and in and near Richmond. The rolls also cover companies B and C; marines transferred from the army to the marine corps at Drewry's Bluff, Virginia; and marines who served under Capt. George Holmes. For marines who served at sea, consult RG 45, entry 419, "Muster Rolls and Pay Rolls of Vessels of the Confederate States Navy, May 1861–Apr. 1865." This series is arranged alphabetically by the name of the Confederate vessel.
Vessel papers (M909, Papers Pertaining to Vessels of or Involved with the Confederate States of America: "Vessel Papers") are arranged by name of vessel or subject. This series includes records such as vouchers, voucher abstracts, correspondence, accounts, receipts, invoices, requisitions, claims, contracts, agreements, receipts, bills of lading, passenger and crew lists, shipping articles, muster rolls and pay rolls. The personnel cards reproduced on M260 refer researchers to these papers.
If the marine was captured during the war, consult prisoner-of-war records found on NARA Microfilm Publication M598, Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861–1865. There you will find lists and registers of prisoners-of-war and records relating to individual prisons or stations. Records relating to all prisoners include register of prisoners, register of deaths of prisoners (compiled by Office of the Commissary General of Prisoners), registers of prisoners' applications for release and decisions, registers related to release of prisoners, registers relating to prisoners' possessions, and registers of deaths of prisoners (compiled by the Surgeon General's Office).
These records are followed by the records of individual prisons or stations including Alton, Illinois; Bowling Green, Virginia; Camp Butler, Illinois; Camp Chase, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; Fort Columbus, New York; Department of the Cumberland; Fort Delaware, Delaware; Camp Douglas, Illinois; Elmira, New York; Gratiot and Myrtle Streets Prisons, St. Louis, Missouri; Department of the Gulf; Hart Island, New York; Hilton Head, South Carolina; Johnson's Island, Ohio; Knoxville, Tennessee; Fort Lafayette, New York; Little Rock, Arkansas; Louisville, Kentucky; Fort McHenry, Maryland; McLean Barracks, Cincinnati, Ohio; Memphis, Tennessee; Department of the Missouri; Camp Morton, Indiana; New Orleans, Louisiana; Newport News, Virginia; Department of the Ohio; Old Capitol Prison, Washington, D.C.; Point Lookout, Maryland; Richmond, Virginia; Rock Island Barracks, Illinois; Ship Island, Mississippi; Fort Warren, Massachusetts; Division of West Mississippi; and District of West Tennessee.
Also consult Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, entries 699 and 700, "Register of Confederate Soldiers and Sailors who Died in Federal Prisons and Military Hospitals in the North." Both entries are arranged alphabetically by city where death occurred and thereunder by name of deceased. Entry 699 contains one volume dated 1913, and entry 700 contains two volumes dated 1914.
Sources Outside the National Archives
The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (ORN) comprises thirty-one volumes of printed correspondence and reports. Like its army counterpart, this is a very good source for anyone researching the Civil War. Consult the ORN index for names of officers, ships, or geographical locations of battles or naval stations that you are researching. Series II, volume I, contains several printed muster rolls showing marine detachments aboard Confederate naval vessels as well as companies A through E of the C.S. Marine Corps. These rolls are followed by muster rolls for receiving ships and stations.7 Printed muster rolls can be found for the following: C.S.S Arctic (p. 280); Baltic (p. 281); Georgia (p. 287); Jamestown (p.290); McRae (p. 291); Morgan (p. 293); North Carolina (pp. 294–297); Raleigh (p. 302); C.S. Tender Sampson (p. 204); Savannah (p. 305); Virginia (pp. 310–311); Virginia II (p. 312); C.S. Marine Corps companies A, B, C, and E (pp. 313–315); C.S. marines transferred from C.S.S. Savannah to Richmond, Virginia (p. 316); marines on the receiving ship C.S.S. Arctic (p. 316); and C.S. marines on Georgia and South Carolina stations (pp. 316–317).
For brief histories of Confederate vessels, consult volume II of the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Appendix II provides information on "Confederate Forces Afloat." After descriptions of the several major classes and types of vessels in the Confederate navy, you will find an alphabetic listing of ships. The ship list gives a brief history of each Confederate vessel and provides statistics such as type or classification, tonnage or displacement, length, beam, draft, speed, complement, armament, and class.8 Both the ORN and the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships are available at many large reference and university libraries.
Confederate pensions are not at the National Archives. To search for these records, contact the state archives of the former Confederate state where the veteran lived after the war. Descriptions of state pension laws and addresses and telephone numbers of state archives that hold these records are available on the National Archives web site.
Unless otherwise mentioned, the records and microfilm publications described in this article are available at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. For researchers unable to visit the National Archives, copies of service records held by NARA can be obtained through the mail by sending a written inquiry to Old Military and Civil Records, National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001.
1. Ralph W. Donnelly, The Confederate States Marine Corps: The Rebel Leathernecks (1989), p. 4.
2. Ibid., p. 324.
3. Henry Putney Beers, The Confederacy: A Guide to the Archives of the Government of the Confederate States of America (1968, reprint 1986), pp. 351–352.
4. Ibid, p. 352. See also Dallas D. Irvine, "The Fate of Confederate Archives," American Historical Review 44 (July 1939): 823–841; and William C. Davis, An Honorable Defeat: The Last Days of the Confederate Government (2001).
5. Rebel Leathernecks, appendix C, pp. 288–290.
6. Ralph W. Donnelly, Service Records of Confederate Enlisted Marines (1979), entry B-20, p. 6.
7. Navy Department, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, series II, Vol. 1 (1894), see "Muster Rolls, Etc., Confederate Vessels," pp. 273–323.
8. Navy Department, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. 2 (1968, reprint 1977), see appendix II, pp. 487–583.