A sampling of the wide variety of Civil War records held in collections at the Library & Archives.
The images found in this section have been gathered from various manuscript collections and offer a glimpse at the wide variety of material available at the Tennessee State Library and Archives that may be of interest to those researching Civil War history and genealogy. These images illustrate the extensive recordkeeping system at work during the Civil War and demonstrate the complex organizational structure needed to handle the massive accumulation of records. From transportation orders to quartermaster records, these items not only provide insight into the soldiers’ lives, they also illustrate the costs of war and sacrifices that were made from all facets of society on both the Confederate and Federal sides.
To genealogists and historians, finding enough information to adequately rebuild an individual’s military experience during the Civil War can sometimes be a difficult task. Typically, researchers consult the compiled service and pension application records. Occasionally, a muster roll might present a bit of revealing information. There exists, however, a more extensive collection of Civil War materials at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, one that was amassed through the exhaustive recordkeeping system that functioned during the Civil War. The images in this collection are intended to expose researchers to the wide variety of Civil War material available at TSLA, and to provide insight into records that provide more detail than the military information generally found in mainstream Civil War research material. A wealth of information is hidden in various collections at TSLA. A brief look at some of the records in this unit takes the researcher from preparations before the beginning of the war to long after, when soldiers returned home and attempted to rebuild their lives and when states strove to reconstruct and restore.
Tennessee long ago earned the nickname "The Volunteer State." Although Tennessee was divided on issues such as secession and Confederate or Federal sentiment, Tennesseans displayed no hesitancy when it came to defending their cause. With over 186,000 Confederate and approximately 31,000 Federal forces from Tennessee, a wealth of information was captured, recorded, and is available through a variety of documents housed in various collections.
Often, when researchers delve into the Civil War compiled service records, they are disappointed with the lack of detailed information. Occasionally, a descendant can find a description or notation that the soldier died on a particular day. More often than not, however, only brief notations are made as to the date and place of enlistment and when the soldier was present at muster. On a rare occasion, there may be information concerning a promotion, capture, hospitalization or death. It is possible much more can be discovered, allowing for a more vivid illustration of a soldier’s military life. If a researcher is fortunate enough to uncover a record such as a Volunteer Enlistment, not only is there affirmation that the ancestor was, indeed, a Civil War soldier, but even more information can be found. Elie Nelson’s Volunteer Enlistment reveals he was 21 years old at the time he volunteered; was born in Coffee County, Tennessee; was six feet, three inches tall and had blue eyes and "light" hair. He was a tall man, young and fair-haired, brought to life through physical description and thrust into battle upon making his "mark."
Lack of detailed information in compiled service records is not the only stumbling block encountered by researchers. Omission of soldiers’ names from muster rolls was not unheard of during the Civil War. Making research even more difficult, particularly in the case of Confederate units, is the fact that not all personnel records survived the war. Under such circumstances, researchers must turn elsewhere in search of information. One such collection is the William Alonzo Wainwright, United States Assistant Quartermaster Records, which is the second largest collection of Quartermaster’s records in the country. The Wainwright collection is replete with reports offering glimpses at military life through obscure details, and, in some cases, may offer evidence of service when other documentation is not available.
Not only do the records provide information relative to a soldier’s military experience, but they also provide insight into the nature of the sophisticated operation necessary to run the day-to-day activities on both sides of the war. What would normally be considered simple communication and mundane requests, such as clothing and supply orders, evolved into a complex recordkeeping network. For researchers, even a simple receipt for supplies received can reveal a great deal more than the number of trousers required to satisfy the clothing needs of a company. These receipts on occasion included the names of the soldiers. This can sometimes answer unanswered questions if service records and muster rolls were incomplete.
Although the military battle ceased in 1865, reconstruction after the war continued for years. Cleaning up, rebuilding, compensating for properties lost and paying for services rendered are only a few of the matters that endured long after the war. A glimpse at records such as a Soldier’s Application for Arrears of Pay and claims for property taken or destroyed reveals only a minute and tangible portion of the cost of the Civil War. Even more costly were the families torn, lives lost and bitterness endured – costs which were not only more devastating, but impossible to recover.