Compiled Military Service Records
Beginning in the 1890s, the War Department created the Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) to document the military service of Volunteer soldiers. Transcribed from original muster and pay rolls, regimental returns, descriptive books, hospital rolls, and other records, the CMSRs were intended to permit more rapid and efficient checking of military and medical records in connection with claims for pensions and other veterans’ benefits.
The War Department initially created CMSRs for Union veterans of the Civil War and later expanded the records to include state Volunteers from other conflicts. As a result, the National Archives now holds CMSRs for Volunteer soldiers from the Revolutionary War through the Philippine Insurrection.
Contents of CMSRs
The CMSR contains basic information about a Volunteer soldier's military career, and it is the first source that researchers should consult. The CMSR includes an envelope (jacket) containing one or more cards. A separate card was prepared each time an individual's name appeared on a muster roll, pay roll, or other document. These cards were all numbered on the back, and these numbers were entered onto the outside jacket containing the cards. The numbers on the jacket correspond with the numbers on the cards within the jacket.
CMSRs typically indicate that the soldier was present or absent during a certain period of time. Other basic information contained on the cards may include:
- Full name
- Date(s) of enlistment
- Period(s) of service
- Residence at the time of enlistment (which may or may not be the same as place of birth)
- Personal description, including age, height, hair and eye color, and complexion
Other cards may indicate pay rates and bounty, and other information such as promotions, wounds received during battle, or hospitalization for injury or illness.
The CMSR may contain an internal jacket for so-called “personal papers” of various kinds. These may include a copy of the soldier's enlistment paper, papers relating to his capture and release as a prisoner of war, or a statement that he had no personal property with him when he died. Note, however, that the CMSR does not identify parents or next-of-kin, and rarely indicates battles in which a soldier fought; that information must be derived from other sources.
CMSRs, indexes, and related records are housed at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC (Archives 1).
CMSRs can be researched on site or copies can be ordered remotely. Many indexes to CMSRs and some CMSRs have been digitized and made available online.
CMSRs are available for Volunteer soldiers from the Revolutionary War through the Philippine Insurrection.
CMSRs for the Revolutionary War and the Post-Revolutionary period have been digitized and made available online through Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. Many CMSRs for the Civil War (including all Confederate and some Union organizations) are also available on these sites.
Other CMSRs have not yet been digitized in full. These records include:
- Carded Service Records of Volunteer Organizations: War of 1812 (NAID: 300392)
- Carded Service Records of Volunteer Organizations During Indian Wars, 1817–1858 (NAID: 300395)
- Carded Service Records of Volunteer Organizations: Mexican War, 1846–1848 (NAID: 654520)
- Carded Service Records of Volunteer Organizations: Civil War (Union), 1861–1865 (NAID: 300398)
- Carded Service Records of Volunteer Organizations: Spanish-American War, 1898 (NAID: 300400)
- Carded Service Records of Volunteer Organizations: Philippine Insurrection, 1899–1902 (NAID: 654560)
Select files from these series have been scanned in the Archives 1 Innovation Hub and made available online for free in the National Archives Catalog.
Copies of CMSRs can be ordered remotely using NATF Form 86 or by submitting an order online.
Microfilmed indexes to the CMSRs exist for the following wars or conflicts. For the Civil War, note that there are separate Union and Confederate indexes for each state.
- Indexes to Revolutionary War Compiled Military Service Records (NAID: 572371)
- Indexes to Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations: Post-Revolutionary War Period, 1784–1811 (NAID: 654498)
- Indexes to Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations: War of 1812 (NAID: 654501)
- Indexes to Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations: Indian Wars, 1817–1858 (NAID: 654513)
- Indexes to Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations: Mexican War (NAID: 654518)
- General Index to Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations: Civil War (Union; NAID: 654530)
- General Index to Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers (NAID: 595144)
- Indexes to Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations: Spanish-American War (NAID: 654543)
- General Index to Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations: Philippine Insurrection (NAID: 654566)
The indexes for the War of 1812, Early Indian Wars, Mexican War, Civil War, and Spanish-American War have been digitized and made available online through Ancestry.com and Fold3.com.
Many of the records used by the War Department to create the CMSRs are also available, as well as records created by Volunteer regiments that document their service in the field.
Some of these records, including many of the muster and pay rolls, are in very fragile condition and may not be used for research. In such cases, the CMSRs should be consulted first because they contain literal transcriptions of the available information.