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Family Tree Friday: Confederate POW Deaths & Burials Online

by on June 10, 2011


As a way to tie together all the Confederate prisoner of war records that we’ve discussed over the last several weeks, I thought you might want to know about a specific record the War Department compiled in the early 20th century to document all of the Confederate POWs who died in Federal custody during the war.  I’m referring to the “Register of Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Who Died in Federal Prisons and Military Hospitals in the North.”  Published by the War Department in 1913 (with a later revision the following year), the textual copy of this record is now located in Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General (ARC ID 617202).  The 1913 report has also been reproduced in National Archives Microfilm publication M918 (under the same title as the published version) and is also digitized on Ancestry.com as part of their “Civil War Prisoner of War Records” database.

During the Civil War, Federal authorities  took immediate steps to document the Union dead–which led in part to the creation of our current system of national cemeteries (perhaps an appropriate topic for a future blog)–but it was not until the 1890s, well after the war ended, that officials finally accepted responsibility to render an accurate accounting of the Confederate dead as well.  Beginning in 1898, President William McKinley advocated such an effort and also promoted the care of Confederate graves located in the North.  In 1900, Congress appropriated money to establish a Confederate section in Arlington National Cemetery, and re-interred 264 remains from other locations within Arlington and the National Soldiers Home cemetery.  By 1901, Confederate veterans organizations also called for a uniform system of federal care for all Confederate graves in Northern cemeteries.

Accordingly, a federal statute of March 9, 1906 (34 Stat. 56) established the Office of the Commissioner for Marking Graves of Confederate Dead, which was charged with  identifying the graves of Confederate combatants who had died in the North as prisoners of war and had been buried near their places of confinement. Responsibilities were later expanded to include the marking of Confederate civilians’ graves located in the North among those of Confederate combatants, and also responsibility of erecting monuments in the North containing names of Confederate combatants and civilians whose graves could not be located. The office was terminated upon submission of a final report dated October 23, 1912, which was published the next year as the “Register of Confederate Soldiers and Sailors” mentioned above.   Reactivated by Senate Joint Resolution 90 (38 Stat. 768), March 14, 1914, to mark the graves of all Confederate combatants and civilians buried in national and post cemeteries, the  Office of the Commissioner for Marking Graves of Confederate Dead continued until March 13, 1918.

The Confederate burial register included lists arranged by the name of the prison camp or other location where the deaths occurred, such as the above image showing Confederate prisoners who died at Fort McHenry in Baltimore while in Union custody.  Individual burial lists were arranged alphabetically by the name of the deceased and generally gave the rank, company, regiment, date of death, and number and location of the grave for each individual interred.  Some of the burial lists contained incomplete information, especially for cemeteries where the dead were not buried in numbered graves.  In those cases, regimental and company designations, as well as some dates of death, were not always included.  Some of the burial entries also referred to unknown graves or to bodies that were later disinterred and reburied elsewhere.  Such entries often contained notations indicating the remains were “sent home” or “taken home by friends.”


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