The Compiled Military Service Records (CMSRs) are one of the best places to look for information on the military careers of your Civil War ancestors. Compiled by the National Archives starting in the 1890s, the Civil War CMSRs contain basic military service information for soldiers in the volunteer armies (and in a few cases for women attached to the armies, often via hospital service as matrons, laundresses, etc.).
The information in a soldier’s CMSR was originally consolidated from a variety of sources and summarized on card abstracts, which were then filed using a system of envelopes, with one envelope per soldier per regiment. The sources for the card abstracts included muster rolls, regimental returns, pay vouchers, hospital rolls, and other such records. In addition to the cards, some CMSRs also contain personal papers such as casualty sheets, discharge certificates, enlistment papers, inventories of personal effects, medical records, or even photos, newspaper articles, and letters.
Although Fold3 already has many of these CMSRs, our collection is still growing! Whereas previously for some states, Fold3 had index cards rather than the full CMSRs, we’re now adding (or planning to add) the complete documents for Union soldiers from California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Washington DC. We’ve also already added full CMSRs for the U.S. Colored Troops.
The new CMSRs are being scanned directly from the original papers at the National Archives (rather than from microfilm), which means that this the first time these records will be available digitally. However, it also means that the process may be lengthy, since the records have to be carefully scanned page by page.
Just to give you an idea of the type of information you can find in CMSRs, let’s look at the service record of Gardner Pasho, who served in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. From a card abstract of his company’s muster roll we learn that he enlisted as a private at age 18 on 9 December 1863 for a period of 3 years and that he had black eyes and dark hair and was 5’7″. From subsequent card abstracts, we find out that Pasho was absent from his company from May to August 1864 because he was in a dismounted camp and was absent from September to December due to illness. In January 1865, Pasho was back on duty until his company was mustered out in June. In addition to the card abstracts, Pasho’s CMSR also contains some personal documents, like his enlistment papers and records from his hospital stay (which include a photograph of him).
Interested in taking a look at the Civil War CMSRs? Begin searching or browsing them here.