Family Tree Friday: Confederate prisoner of war records
Continuing the discussion of Confederate records, another major portion of material in Record Group 109, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, includes records about Confederate prisoners of war. Of particular note, these are actually records created by Union military prisons, compiled or maintained by the Office of the Commissary General of Prisoners in the U.S. War Department. Because the records contained specific information about Confederates, the Commissary General of Prisoners transferred the records to the Adjutant General so they could be filed with the other Confederate-related material in the “Rebel Archives.” As you seek these records out, keep that odd juxtaposition in mind–these are Union records about Confederates, so they are filed in the “Confederate” record group (RG 109). All of these records have been reproduced on microfilm as National Archives Publication M598, Selected Records of the War Department Relating to Confederate Prisoners of War, 1861-1865. Two other publications derived from portions of the general records compiled by the Commissary General of Prisoners also include M1871, Muster Rolls and Lists of Confederate Troops Paroled in North Carolina, and M2072, Lists of Confederates Captured at Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863. The microfilmed records have also been digitized in a searchable database by Ancestry.com.
As I mentioned, most of the records consist of bound volumes which were kept by various Union prisons. Although some volumes contain information relating to Federals held as prisoners, most include information about Confederates only. Two general sets of records compiled by the Commissary General of Prisoners included the series “Records of Confederates in Union Prisons, 1861-1865″ (ARC ID 2133277) and “Registers of Confederate Prisoners” (ARC ID 2554642). The former includes lists of arrivals, transfers, exchanges, prisoners who desired to take the oath of allegiance and/or enlist in the Union Army, and deaths, arranged by prison. The registers of prisoners generally include an alphabetical listing of POWs by name, rank, unit organization or residence (for civilian prisoners), date and place of capture, and disposition.
Records of individual prisons include all of the well-known installations that operated in the North during the war, including Camp Chase and Johnson’s Island in Ohio; Point Lookout, Maryland; Camp Morton, Indiana; Fort Delaware, Delaware; and Elmira, New York; as well as many other lesser-known camps established in several Southern cities during the war, including Knoxville, Tennessee; Little Rock, Arkansas; Memphis, Tennessee; and New Orleans, Louisiana. A variety of records are usually available for each camp, including general ledgers of prisoners, death registers, descriptive lists of prisoners, and records showing the disposition of prisoners (whether they were exchanged, released, paroled, transferred to another camp, escaped, or died). See below, for example, two pages from the register of deaths for the military prison at Elmira, New York, which show the name of each prisoner, their unit information, when and where they were captured, when they were transferred to Elmira, when they died, and the cause of death. More personal records include prisoner accounts (clothing and supplies issued), records of prisoners sent to hospital (some include volumes of surgical or dental procedures and prescriptions issued), as well as some administrative material such as letters sent and received by prison officials, and orders issued and received. Some camps also maintained records of amnesty oaths administered to released prisoners, in particular Point Lookout, which served as a primary recruiting location for the “Galvanized Yankees” (ex-Confederate soldiers who joined the Union Army to fight Indians on the western frontier during the war).
Most Confederate compiled military service records contain references to specific prison records if the individual soldier was captured during the war or surrendered near the end of the conflict. Such notations offer a convenient way to identify the original source material for a specific prison, which you can then easily locate in the microfilmed records in M598. If you have a Confederate ancestor who spent time as a prisoner of war, these records are definitely worth searching! Do you have any tips to share or stories you have uncovered by researching these records for your ancestors?