I’ve meant to mention this for a week now, so it’s high time that it hits the blog. Alexander Street Press has announced free access to its The American Civil War Research Database (found here) until June 30, 2008. While I don’t know what their normal subscription rates are, I highly encourage anyone who hasn’t already done so to visit the site. There’s a wealth of information there for anyone interested in virtually any aspect of the Civil War. Click here for username and password information during the offer. Thanks to Brett Schulte for mentioning this on TOCWOC in his Odds & Ends: May 10, 2008 column, or I would have missed out on this great opportunity.
I found another resource for gathering information on soldiers yesterday. It’s been around a while, but it’s new to me.
Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, in the War for the Suppression of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, by Samuel M. Evans, lists all of the army and navy volunteers from Allegheny County who fought in the Civil War. Entries include name, rank, company, regiment, type of service, and which tablet number the individual is listed on in Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh.
It is available here through the University of Pittsburgh Digital Research Library. It is based on a printed work of the same title published in Pittsburgh in 1924.
There’s some great information here. Much to my delight, I’ve found lists of three companies from the 6th US Cavalry, as well as discovering that scores of the members of the 1st MD Cav, 1st and 5th WV Cav, and 70th NY Inf were in fact Pennsylvanians.
Does anyone out there by chance know of a good NARA Civil War researcher for hire? I’ve come across a few possibilities lately in my research, but don’t think I have enough info to know the correct place to look in the online catalog for material.
I took a trip to the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond on Saturday afternoon. It was a short trip, but one I’d put off for months for one reason or another. I’d learned that the manuscripts of Philip St George Cooke were housed in the reference library there, and hoped to find some good information for an upcoming Fiddler’s Green entry.
I had no problems finding the place, as the directions listed on the website (and on Mapquest) were very clear and specific. A minor ($5) fee permits access to those who aren’t VHS members. Within minutes of entering the library, I was briefed on the rules of the library and was seated at a table while one of the research librarians retrieved the manuscripts. The rules of the library are reasonable, and firmly oriented around preventing theft or damage to library materials. I found the staff extremely patient and helpful, particularly since they have to make all photocopies of manuscripts.
One tip for researchers: look through the library’s excellent online catalog before your visit so that you know what you’re looking for. I had printed off the call numbers and brief descriptions of the selections that I was looking for, which made things much easier for the staff and I. Consequently, the vast majority of my time was spent with the material instead of waiting for it. It is a closed circulation library, so no materials may be checked out.
The manuscripts were all that I’d hoped for and more. Much of the information will be featured here in future posts. I was surprised to learn that Cooke and Sherman exchanged several letters after the war, and that Cooke had closely followed Merritt’s post-war career. It was particularly special as a former member of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment to see and touch the commission appointing Cooke Colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Dragoons, signed by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and President James Buchanan. I was surprised to note that the presidential signatures on all of the commissions looked as though they were signed in pencil.
With my usual luck, last night as I was paging through my notes I found a notation on another set of manuscripts held in the same library that will be potentially be far more valuable to my research. Fortunately, there’s still time for another visit later in the week. Given this last experience, I’m looking forward to it.
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.
I found this site when I first began my research on the Regular cavalry, and have found it to be a treasure trove of information. The researcher, Edward Czarnecki, has created a wonderful site that is in my opinion the single most comprehensive site on the Regulars in the Civil War on the internet.
Mr. Czarnecki has regimental histories for most of the Regular regiments of all three arms from two different sources. The first is Frederick H. Dyer’s A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, and the second is T.F. Rodenbough’s 1896 The Army of the United States. Czarnecki has excerpted unit histories from both of these works, arranged in numerical order by arm. For the infantry regiments, he even has unit rosters.
This site also contains excellent references for tactics of the period. There are locations for contemporary infantry, cavalry and artillery tactics manuals, including Philip St. George Cooke’s 1862 Cavalry Tactics. Additionally, there are references for West Point curriculum for each year of the war, and the officers who served as faculty. Even military administration is addressed, with copies of the 1861 version of US Army Regulations and customs of the service for officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers. Several manuals for volunteer units are also available on the site.
Overall, Edward Czarnecki has created an easily navigable site full of valuable information to the Civil War researcher, whether researching Regular or volunteer units and tactics.