Records of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

One of the basic responsibilities of government is the protection of its citizens from armed aggression. As a consequence of that responsibility, Pennsylvania’s government has created a vast amount of documentary evidence. Beginning with the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and culminating in the Vietnam Conflict (1961-1975), the Pennsylvania State Archives, observing its centennial in 2003, maintains more than five thousand cubic feet of records that document the military service ren­dered by Pennsylvanians in defense of their state and country.

On Thursday, JuJy 17, 2003, the Penn­sylvania State Archives (PSA) in conjunc­tion with the National Civil War Museum, Harrisburg, formally announced the availability of the Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866, on the Archives Records Information Access System (ARIAS). ARIAS was designed to facilitate citizen access to archival records created by all branches and levels of the Keystone State’s government. The addition of more than four hun­dred thousand images more than doubles the number of military abstract cards available for remote research on ARIAS. These cards – a boon for researchers were initially prepared to serve as an index to History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865, compiled by Samuel Penniman Bates, and published between 1869 and 1871 in Harrisburg. The information generally includes the soldier’s name, military unit, Bates’s citations (volume and page), age at enrollment, physical description (complexion, height, color of hair and eyes), residence, birthplace, the dates and places where enrolled and mustered in, and the date of discharge.

Using the cards on ARIAS as a start­ing point, a researcher can delve further into an ancestor’s military service by con­sulting the one hundred and thirty-five cartons of Civil War Muster Rolls and Related Records, 1861-1866, in Record Group 19, Records of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, held by the Pennsylvania State Archives. The records are arranged by regiment and then by company. The series contains various types of records, including:

Alphabetical Rolls. The rolls are arranged alphabetically by the soldier’s surname. Entries usually give the name, rank, civilian occupation, and residence; the unit, regiment, company, and commanding officer; and the date and place where the roll was taken. Particulars about sickness or injuries are sometimes noted.

Descriptive Lists of Deserters. Lists give the names, ages, places of birth, height, hair and eye color, civilian occupations, and ranks of deserters; the units, regiments, and companies to which they were assigned; and the dates and places from which they deserted.

Muster-In Rolls. Entries usually list the name, age, rank, unit, regiment, and company of the soldier; the date and place where enrolled; the name of the person who mustered him in; the term of enlist­ment; the date of mustering in; and the name of the commanding officer. Remarks concerning promotions and assignments are sometimes recorded.

Muster-Out Rolls. The dated lists ordi­narily give the soldier’s name, age, rank, unit, regiment and company; the date, place, and person who mustered him in; the period of enlistment; and the name of the commanding officer. Particulars con­cerning pay earned, promotions, capture by the enemy and the like also regularly appear.

Muster and Descriptive Rolls. Gener­ally the rolls give the name, age, town or county, and state or country of birth, civil­ian occupation, complexion, height, eye and hair color, and rank; the unit, regi­ment, company, and commanding officer; and the amount of money received for pay, bounties, and clothing. Rolls for assigned United States black troops are included in this group. Included through­out are related materials such as regimen­tal accounts of action, and correspondence related to infractions of military proce­dures, correspondence from soldiers addressed to the governor expressing grievances or petitioning for promotion. In addition to the muster rolls, visitors can consult many other Civil War related records available at the PSA.

While the documents available on ARIAS represent a major step forward in the State Archives’ efforts to make public records more readily accessible, it also serves as an introduction to the PSA’s extensive holdings of public records that document all aspects of state and local government. To learn more about these records, visit the Archives Records Infor­mation Access System (ARIAS) website.