Family Tree Friday: An overview of Confederate Records
Since we are about to embark on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War–various activities commemorating events leading up to the war have already taken place around the country since January–it seems useful to highlight some of the major records we have available at the National Archives. Let’s start with an overview of Confederate records. For obvious reasons, Confederate records are much less voluminous than records relating to the Union–these are the records that survived the war, those not deliberately destroyed but were either captured or surrendered to Union military authorities at the end of the war. The War Department took custody of these materials and organized them into a “Rebel Archives” (as they were known for many years). The Archive Office of the Adjutant General’s Office held the records, organizing them with an eye towards eventual publication as part of The War of the Rebellion–the 128-volume official documentary history of the war published by the Federal government between 1881 and 1901 (known to most researchers as the Official Records, or the OR). When they came to the National Archives with other War Department records in 1938, they were arranged as a separate record group, RG 109, War Department Collection of Confederate Records.
So, what records actually survived the war? Most of the records seized in Richmond consisted of materials relating to the Confederate War Department and the Confederate Army, but there were also smaller caches of materials for the Confederate Congress, the Executive branch, the Judiciary, and the Treasury, Navy, and Post Office Departments. Also, records relating to various states of the Confederacy. In the records of the War Department and the Army, you can find information concerning the administrative aspects of the Office of the Secretary of War, the Adjutant and Inspector General’s Department, the Engineer Department, and the Medical Department. The latter, in particular, contains surviving records of military hospitals in various states–probably enough info to warrant a separate blog post!
Another important aspect of the records as a whole is that, as time went on, the War Department also decided to add relevant Union records about Confederates to the collection as well. Most importantly, these additions included records of Union military prison camps located throughout the North–in well-known places such as Elmira, Point Lookout, and Johnson’s Island–as well as records compiled by the Union Commissary General of Prisoners. Also added to the collection were the carded military and naval service records compiled by the Adjutant General’s Office from 1903 to 1927 (we’ve talked about the CMSRs in previous blog posts).
Many of the series in the War Department Collection of Confederate Records are described in the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) on NARA’s web site. You can easily access the descriptions by going to the ARC Civil War Gallery and selecting “The Confederacy” icon. Relevant material from other record groups show up in the search results as well, including intercepted letters of Confederates and Confederate sympathizers in RG 107 (Records of the Office of the Secretary of War), and newspaper clippings about foreign attitudes towards the Confederacy compiled by the State Department in RG 59 (General Records of the Department of State). Although the records remain fragmentary in nature, the War Department Collection of Confederate Records offers the principal source of information and starting point for any serious student of the Civil War.