Military Records

War of 1812 Discharge Certificates

War of 1812 Discharge Certificates


NARA microfilm publication M1856, Discharge Certificates and Miscellaneous Records Relating to the Discharge of Soldiers from the Regular Army, 1792-1815 (6 rolls) reproduces discharge certificates and miscellaneous other records relating to the discharge of soldiers from the Regular Army, 1792-1815. These records are part of the Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, Record Group (RG) 94, and are part of the records identified as Series 19, "Post Revolutionary War Papers, 1784-1815," in Lucille H. Pendell and Elizabeth Bethel, comps., Preliminary Inventory 17, Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Adjutant General's Office (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Service, 1949).

Roll List
Roll 1 Miscellaneous Folders
Infantry: Legion of the United States
Infantry: Sublegions
Infantry: 1st - 12th
Roll 2 Infantry: 13th - 24th
Roll 3 Infantry: 25th - 38th
Roll 4 Infantry: 39th - 40th
Roll 5 Infantry: 42nd - 45th
Riflemen: 1st - 3rd
Roll 6 Riflemen: 4th
Miscellaneous Units
Unit not Indicated

All 13 of NARA's Regional Archives Microfilm Reading Rooms have M1856. For details search Microfilm ID "M1856" in the Microfilm Catalog. M1856 is available for sale. Cost is $85 per roll to U.S. addresses ($95 to foreign addresses). See How to Order Microfilm for ordering procedure.


The War Department was established by the act of Congress of August 7, 1789 (1 Stat. 49). During the early years of the republic, the Regular Army was a relatively small fighting force supplemented by regiments of volunteers or state militia units during Indian wars, the Whiskey Rebellion, and other conflicts. At the declaration of war with Great Britain on June 18, 1812, the Regular Army consisted of about 10,000 men, half of whom were new recruits. An act of June 26, 1812 (2 Stat. 764) mandated that the Regular Army was to consist of 25 regiments of infantry, 4 of artillery, 2 of dragoons, 1 of riflemen, plus engineers and artificers, for a total authorized strength of 36,700 men. An act of January 29, 1813 (2 Stat. 794-797), authorized enlargement of the army to 52 regiments of cavalry, artillery, dragoons, and infantry. In addition to these troops, volunteer regiments and state militia also took part in the conflict.

Each Regular Army infantry regiment was recruited from a particular state (or states). Rifle, artillery, and dragoons were recruited at large. For example, the 12th, 20th, and 35th infantry regiments were recruited from Virginia. Most, but not all, of the men recruited for a particular infantry regiment were from the state of recruitment. For a list showing the regimental recruiting districts, see William A. Gordon, A Compilation of the Registers of the Army of the United States from 1815 to 1837, 1 (Washington, DC: James C. Dunn, 1837), reproduced on the microfilm following this introductory material.

The enlistment and system of payment of troops is described by Donald R. Hickey thusly:

Those who enlisted in the army at the beginning of the war had a five-year commitment, though later recruits were given the option of enlisting for the duration of the war. At first the bounty was $31 and 160 acres of land, but because enlistments lagged, Congress gradually increased the incentives to $124 and 320 acres of land. This was a princely sum-probably the highest bounty ever paid by an army in the world. The cash bounty alone was as much as many unskilled laborers earned in a year, and even if the land sold for only 50 cents an acre (which is a low estimate), the total bounty was more than most people made in two years. This enormous bounty did much to spur enlistments, though the army did not become an effective fighting force until the last year of the war.

* * *

The system for paying the troops broke down from the beginning. At the start of the war privates were paid $5 a month, non-commissioned officers $7 to $9, and officers $20 to $200. To stimulate enlistments, Congress in late 1812 raised the pay of privates and non-commissioned officers by $4. At $8 a month, privates still earned less than the $10 to $12 that unskilled laborers normally made, but as the bounty increased, army wages soared well above the civilian average. [Quote from Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), pp. 76-77. Hickey's footnotes are omitted.]

By law army pay could not be more than two months in arrears "unless the circumstances of the case should render it unavoidable." But even in the first year of the war, when the government had ample resources, administrative inefficiency and slow communication kept many troops from receiving their pay on time. In October, 1812, men who had enlisted five months earlier "absolutely refused to march untill they had recd. their pay," and other troops also mutinied for want of pay. As the war progressed, the problem of paying the troops became almost unmanageable. By the fall of 1814, army pay was frequently six to twelve months in arrears, and in some cases even more.

In the 19th century, soldiers discharged from the Regular or Volunteer armies received a discharge certificate that became their personal property; the War Department generally did not retain a copy for its own records. If the soldier was owed pay upon his discharge, the soldier presented the discharge to the paymaster in order to collect the pay. Numbers upon the face of some discharge certificates (adding and subtracting dollar amounts) suggests that these discharge certificates were used in connection with the payment of back pay.

Records Description

These records relate solely to the discharge of soldiers from the regular army; no militiamen or volunteers are included, although several civilians are mentioned. Most of the over 2,200 discharges are for the period 1812-15, although a few date from the 1790s. The records are of several types:

Record Type 1: Certificate of Discharge

The Certificate of Discharge unambiguously states that the soldier was discharged from service on a particular day and may indicate the reason for discharge. It also typically includes the dates of the soldier's enlistment and discharge, the company and regiment in which he served, the amount and kinds of clothing provided to him, and the period for which he was due pay upon discharge. The discharge may also provide his place of birth, age, physical description, and occupation, so that the discharge could not be used for improper purposes in the event it was lost or stolen from the veteran. For example, the discharge of John Buntin (Capt. Samuel G. Hopkins's Troop, 2nd Light Dragoons) indicates the reason for detailing his physical description as follows: "To prevent imposition or an improper use being made of this discharge . . . be it known that the sd. John Buntin is of the following description . . ." The discharge of Gabriel Caves (Capt. John B. Long's Co., 39th Infantry) states, "and to prevent fraud hear [sic] follows His personall [sic] description. . . ." As an example of the complete text of a discharge certificate, here is that for Samuel Dawson, a private in Capt. Samuel G. Hopkins's Troop, 2nd Light Dragoons, which states:

Camp Near Sackets Harbor
7th December 1813
The Bearer hereof Samuel Dawson a private in Captain Samuel G. Hopkins Troop 2nd Regiment United States Light Dragoons has served for and during eighteen months; his term of service having expired on the 7th day of December 1813, he is entitled to an honorable discharge. He has been paid up to the 31st day of May 1813, has returned his arms & accoutrements in good order and has received his full allowance of clothing. He is entitled to pay from the 31st day of May 1813, together with three months pay as his allowance upon being honorably discharged and pay and rations from this place to Frankfort in the State of Kentucky being his place of residence. To prevent imposition here follows a description of the said Samuel Dawson he is five feet five inches and half blue eyes fair complexion dark hair born in Amherst County in the State of Virginia and by Profession a Farmer.
[signed] Samuel Goode Hopkins
Capt. 2nd Reg. U.S. Light Dragoons

Record Type 2: Descriptive List

The Descriptive List provides a description of the man and may indicate the clothing and other supplies furnished him. Some are in chart form while others are in narrative form. Both types sometimes indicate the information was taken from the company's record book. The Descriptive List of William T. Smith (Capt. John Machnesney's Co., 16th Infantry), which is in chart form, indicates his age; physical description (height, color of eyes and hair, and complexion); place of birth; date, place, and term of enlistment and the name of the officer who enlisted him; occupation; amount of bounty paid and amount due; amount of pay due; and the number and type of each item of clothing issued to him. Finally, the officer's certification indicates the information was "taken from the Company Book."

Record Type 3: Certificate of Death

The Certificate of Death usually indicates the soldier's date of death and unit in which he served. For example, the certificate of death for Henry Carman (2nd Artillery) states:
I hereby certify that Henry Carman of the 2d Regt. Artillery U.S. Army, died in the Genl. Hospl. in this City, February 28th 1814. (signed) Wm. E. Horner, H.S.M., Ph[iladelphi]a April 1st 1814
Record Type 4: Pay Voucher

The Pay Voucher usually indicates the amount of pay due and/or the period of time for which pay was due. For example, a pay voucher for Henry Carman (2nd Artillery) states:
I Certify on Honor that there is pay Due to Henry Carman from the 31st day of Octobr 1813 until the 28 day of Feby 1814 the day of his Death and eight Dollars bounty[.] he was enlisted for 18 months[.] he having Served faithfully untill his Death is entitled to three months extra Pay. [signed] Benjn S. Ogden, Lat[e] Capt U.S. artillery, Philad[elphi]a, 3d Novr 1815
Miscellaneous Record Types

Other records may be found with, or instead of, one of the four records listed above. Examples of such "other records" include (1) a simple note written by the commanding officer recommending that the soldier be discharged; (2) a furlough (e.g., George Shippey, Light Dragoons); (3) an affidavit by the father indicating the son did not have permission to enlist (e.g., William B. Marvin, Capt. John N. McIntosh's Co., Light Artillery); (4) a record of enlistment or procurement of substitute (e.g., John Miller, 1st Light Dragoons, or Hugh S. West, Capt. William Gates's Co., 1st Artillery), or (5) a record of birth or marriage of a man who died (Henry Carman, 2nd Artillery). The records relating to William Briggs (Capt. Abraham F. Hull's Co., 9th Infantry) include an affidavit from his father, Thomas Briggs, who served in the same company and regiment, regarding William's date and place of birth.

The "year" listed in Appendix III is the year of discharge indicated on the discharge certificate. For a small minority of soldiers, however, if there was no discharge certificate, then "year" is the year of death, furlough, date to which last paid, or the latest year indicated on the available records for that man.

In Appendix III, if a regiment but no company is listed, it means that the soldier's discharge records will be found in the folder for "__ Regiment, Company not Indicated."

Notes on the Men who Served

Military Age

Most of the men serving were of the usual military age (20s-30s), but a few were outside that range, such as Drury Hudson, who was 60, and Solomon Stanton, who was 54.

African Americans

African Americans also served in the Regular Army, primarily in the 26th Infantry. The notation "(B)" appears following their names in Appendix III for those whose physical description indicates black or mulatto skin color. Persons whose skin was described simply as "dark" are not indicated as "black" since they were probably "dark" caucasians. "Blacks" and "mulattos" noted during records arrangement are:
4th Infantry: Richard Boyington.

14th Infantry: George B. Graves.

26th Infantry: Hosea/Hossea Conner, John Cooper, Joseph Freeman, Charles Mathias, Samuel Morris, John Peters, and William Smith.

Note on Records Arrangement

In arranging the records and preparing the lists of men in each unit, two principles were followed:

Principle No. 1. The records were arranged by regiment, then by company, with the exception of the miscellaneous records reproduced at the beginning of roll 1. If the discharge or other record unambiguously stated that John Doe served in Richard Roe's company, then John Doe's record was placed in a folder with other men discharged from Richard Roe's company. If, however, the discharge simply stated that John Doe served in a given regiment, but did not specifically and unambiguously indicate the company in which he served, then John Doe's record was placed in a folder for "__ Regiment, Company not Indicated." In reading these records, we found that the words "John Doe was enlisted by Capt. Smith ..." did not necessarily mean that John Doe served in Capt. Smith's company; more likely than not, he served in and was discharged from some other company. In addition, we found that John Doe's discharge was frequently signed by a company commander other than his own.

Principle No. 2. During and at the end of the War of 1812, changes were made to the organization and designation of the various infantry, artillery, dragoon, and riflemen regiments. For details, see Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army from its Organization, September 29, 1789 to March 2, 1903 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1903), and William A. Gordon, A Compilation of the Registers of the Army of the United States from 1815 to 1837 (Washington, DC: James C. Dunn, 1837). Selected pages from both books are reproduced on the microfilm following this introductory material. These pages trace the changing designations of the regiments for which records are found in this microfilm publication. Variations in the name of the regiment to which the company was assigned are sometimes noted in Appendix IV, List of Soldiers by Unit. Researchers studying individual soldiers should (1) carefully note the text of the discharge for the soldier to determine the exact regiment in which he was serving upon discharge and (2) consult Heitman for details on the individual's regiment's designations through time. Researchers studying an entire artillery, dragoon, or riflemen company or regiment should probably study all artillery, dragoon, or riflemen discharges, as the case may be, as well as understanding the chronology provided in Heitman.

Note on Condition of Records

There is great variation in the quality and condition of the original records reproduced in this microfilm publication. Some of them were written with ink that has greatly faded with time; they are hard, sometimes nearly impossible, to read. Some were written on highly acidic paper that has turned "dark" with the passage of time. Most were "trifolded" for filing purposes; some of the folds turned brittle and broke, and words at broken folds may be hard to read.

We have provided transcripts [on the microfilm] for some of the hardest-to-read records. In particular, the records of the 39th Infantry were almost uniformly written with ink that has faded on paper that has darkened. A transcript has been provided for each of the records of that regiment.

Notes on Locating Men in the "Miscellaneous" Folders

Some men have a record in both the "Company" folder and in a "Miscellaneous" folder. Other men only have a record in a "Miscellaneous" folder. The appendices direct the researcher to the "Miscellaneous" folders in following ways:

  • Appendix I, List of Units and Subunits, makes references such as "Men at Fort Mifflin and Province Island Barracks" or "Squadron on Lake Champlain." These references point to lists within "Miscellaneous" folders.

  • Appendix III, List of Soldiers by Name, gives more precise directions for locating records in the "Miscellaneous" folders. For example, one listing for David Durgan is "Lists of Discharged Men (45th Inf., Lt. Samuel Sylvester's Detachment, 1815)." The phrase "Lists of Discharged Men" refers to the folder of that name among the "Miscellaneous" folders, and the phrase "(45th Inf., Lt. Samuel Sylvester's Detachment, 1815)" directs the researcher to a particular record in the folder. Durgan has a second listing in Appendix III for a record concerning him in Lt. Sylvester's "company" folder. The commanding officer's name in the parenthetical is the spelling shown on the record in the "Miscellaneous" folder even if it is different from the officer's name according to the standardization rule described in "Notes on Editorial Conventions Used in Appendixes."

  • Appendix IV, List of Soldiers by Unit, also directs the researcher to the "Miscellaneous" folders. For example, under 45th Infantry, the listing for Lt. Samuel Sylvester's Detachment indicates (see also folder "Lists of Discharged Men"). Under the 16th Infantry, there are listings for "Men at Fort George" and "Men at Fort Mifflin and Province Island Barracks," which both relate to lists in the "Miscellaneous" folders.

If the researcher is uncertain in which folder(s) to look for records for a particular man, refer to Appendix III, since it gives the most precise references.

Notes on Editorial Conventions Used in Appendixes

Officers' names were standardized according to the spelling used in Heitman, which, as with any publication, may itself contain errors. The spelling used by the officer on the records is, in fact, sometimes different than the spelling given by Heitman. [The one major exception to this rule is that we followed the spelling used by Capt. Joseph Marechal, 14th Infantry--"Marechal" instead of Heitman's "Marshall"--since his signature was clear, consistent, and agreed with other published sources.]

Great effort has been made to make the Appendixes as accurate as possible, but difficulty in interpreting sloppy handwriting has probably resulted in some errors.

Related Records

Since the War Department did not retain copies of discharge certificates, relatively few are found among the records in NARA custody. Thus, thorough research of a soldier, company, or regiment requires inquiry into numerous other records, such as the registers of enlistments, enlistment papers, descriptive rolls, muster rolls, certificates of disability, bounty books, inspection returns, monthly returns, and post returns, all in the Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, RG 94; records relating to courts-martial in the Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Army), RG 153; company or orderly books in the Records of U.S. Army Commands, 1784-1821, RG 98; and various records in the Records of Accounting Officers of the Department of the Treasury, RG 217.

The registers of enlistments, reproduced as NARA microfilm publication M233, Registers of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1914 (81 rolls), deserve special mention. The registers covering the period 1798-1815 include notations of all kinds of information entering the Adjutant General's Office about each soldier. Naturally, the amount of information varies considerably. It usually includes the name of the enlistee, his age, place of birth, physical description, the date he enlisted, the regiment for which he was enlisted, and the name of the person who enlisted him. It also includes the date and place of discharge. It may also include information such as where the soldier's unit was stationed, or that the soldier was included on a prisoner-of-war list, a muster roll, or subject of a courts-martial. If there was an issue relating to a pension, there may be a "see pension file" notation. The clerks entering the information appear to have been meticulous in entering data. For example, if there were discrepancies or conflicting information, such as different dates of enlistment or different places of birth given in different records, both dates or places were given. The 1798-1815 registers also include some notes about state militia officers, regular army officers, and U.S. Military Academy cadets. The registers for the 1798-1815 period are arranged roughly alphabetically by the first letter of the surname, then by first letter of the first name, then by the second letter of the surname, then by the second letter of the first name, and then roughly chronological by date of enlistment. Thus, for example, David Atkins would be found among other persons whose surnames and first names began with At___, Da___.

For more information about these and other records of men who served in the Regular Army, see Anne Bruner Eales and Robert M. Kvasnicka, eds., Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States, 3rd ed. (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2000), Chapter 4, "Records of the Regular Army."


Numerous publications provide information about the causes and conduct of the War of 1812 and the persons involved. Two excellent histories of the war are Donald R. Hickey, The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1989), and Robert S. Quimby, The U.S. Army in the War of 1812: An Operational and Command Study, 2 vols. (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1997).

Information on the organization of the Regular Army is in Thomas H.S. Hamersly, ed., Complete Regular Army Register of the United States for One Hundred Years, 1779-1879 (Washington, DC: T.H.S. Hamersly, 1880; 2nd ed., 1881), and William A. Gordon, A Compilation of the Registers of the Army of the United States from 1815 to 1837 (Washington, DC: James C. Dunn, 1837). In addition, many other books have been published about the Regular Army and/or militia units and personnel from particular states. For example, books on Virginia's contributions to the War of 1812 include Stuart Lee Butler, Virginia Soldiers in the United States Army, 1800-1815 (Athens, GA: Iberian Pub. Co., 1986), and Stuart Lee Butler, A Guide to Virginia Militia Units in the War of 1812 (Athens, GA: Iberian Pub. Co., 1988).


The microfilmed version of this descriptive pamphlet (DP) in Appendixes III and IV accidently listed two men named Sylvester Fuller, but only one should have been shown. Sylvester C. Fuller served in the 25th Infantry, Company not Indicated. There was no man named Sylvester Fuller who served in the 33rd Infantry, Capt. Isaac Hodson's Co. The erroneous entries have been omitted from the published pamphlet and the website publication.


Claire Prechtel-Kluskens wrote this descriptive pamphlet (DP). Cindy L. Norton assisted in compiling the indexes. Norma Clark Gransee, Marie Varrelman Melchiori, and Claire Prechtel-Kluskens arranged the records for filming.

Thanks is due these current or former NARA colleagues for helpful comments on a draft of this DP: Benjamin Guterman, Stuart Lee Butler, John K. VanDereedt, and Jo Ann Williamson. The website publication of the DP differs slightly from the original print and microfilm DP version.