Spurred on Eric Wittenberg’s post a couple of days back about rising costs at NARA, I ordered my first set of muster rolls from the National Archives online yesterday before prices could increase. Unit records weren’t specifically mentioned in the post, but why take chances. It was a much easier process than I expected. I was able to find the publication number relatively easily, and from that point it was simply a matter of narrowing the search.
I rarely get excited about anything, but this is one of those times. After reviewing the publication info (Publication number M-744, Returns From Regular Army Cavalry Regiments 1833-1916, for those curious), there should be an incredible amount of information on this microfilm roll when it arrives.
According to the guide, “some of the information obtainable from the regimental monthly return is as follows:
Names of regimental commanders
Names of all officers and reasons for loss or gain, if applicable
Names of company commanders
Stations of the regiment and companies
Names of absent enlisted men, 1857-1904, and reason for absence
Names of enlisted men lost and gained, 1821-1914, and reasons
Names of enlisted men on extra or daily duty, 1857-1873, and nature of duty
Record of events information, 1832-1916
Total strength of both officers and enlisted men by rank, 1819-57
Total strength of horses by company, 1846-1916″
If this is indeed the case, the entire Civil War record for the 6th Cavalry should be contained on this roll, since it runs from the regiment’s inception through 1867. Since it formed after the war started, every soldier, non-commissioned officer and officer assigned to the regiment should be listed. basically what many of us hoped to find when we delved into the volumes of the Supplement to the OR devoted to volunteer units.
There are two problems with the order, however. First, I don’t know how long it will take to get here. Today would be nice, but is pretty unlikely since the online tracking status says they’re still servicing the order. Patience is supposed to be a virtue, so I’m sure the waiting will be good for me.
Second is the matter of printing the returns. This is unfortunately a multifaceted problem that I spent a good deal of time pondering the mechanics of yesterday evening. The muster rolls are of course on a roll of microfilm. I will check this weekend, but I’m pretty sure that places like Kinko’s and Staples and such don’t print from that medium. I’m sure the university libraries do, but cost per copy is liable to be fairly high and I don’t know how thrilled they’ll be about the number of pages. Conservatively estimating a two page report per company leads to a very large number of pages on this roll (2 per company x 12 companies + 3 pages for the regiment each month, x 12 months, x 4 years, plus any additional reports….you get the idea). Another possible but unlikely issue is page size, but I think digital imaging will hopefully be able to fix one. The returns were on printed forms 23″ wide x 18″ long until 1862, then they were changed to 24″ wide x 18″ long.
Printing the entire contents isn’t absolutely necessary, of course. Worst case scenario has me spending a good bit of quality time in a library with some eyestrain and a headache, a small sacrifice in the grand scheme of things. I greatly prefer hardcopy, though, so we’ll see how it works out. And once I get this one straight, there are only 7 more rolls to get the records of the other five regiments. At least a dearth of material isn’t a concern at this point.