Premiering Today, June 8, 2021, at 1 p.m. Eastern: “Civil War Union Noncombatant Personnel: Teamsters, Laundresses, Nurses, Sutlers, and More”

Premiering today, June 8, 2021, at 1 p.m.! The National Archives Building in Washington, DC contains many records about noncombatant civilians connected with the Union Army during the American Civil War. However, the records are underutilized because there is no comprehensive index, no “one” place to look, and require time-consuming research into obscure records. Digitization is slowly changing that, however! This lecture by Claire Kluskens will provide suggestions for research with emphasis on online materials that can help you get started.

This is the 5th of six presentations in the 2021 NARA Genealogy Series.

Letters and Financial Reports, June-December 1870, and Letters and Endorsements Pertaining to Trusses, November 1875-July 1884, by Assistant Surgeon John S. Billings

There are now 26.7 million descriptions and 136 million digital objects (images) in the National Archives Catalog. Those figures will continue to grow.

One recently digitized series – that consists of just one item (one volume) – is the “Letters and Financial Reports, June-December 1870, and Letters and Endorsements Pertaining to Trusses, November 1875-July 1884, by Assistant Surgeon John S. Billings” (National Archives Identifier 15501038).

A truss is a prosthetic appliance used by a person with a hernia. The Act of Congress of May 28, 1872 (17 Statutes at Large 164), “An Act to provide for furnishing Trusses to disabled Soldiers,” entitled “every soldier of the Union army who was ruptured while in the line of duty” during the Civil War “to receive a single or double truss of such style as may be designated by the Surgeon-General of the United States Army as the best suited for such disability.” Section 2 of the act directed the soldier to make his request to “an examining surgeon for pensions” who would “prepare and forward the application” without charge. Section 3 of the act directed the Surgeon General to purchase trusses “at a price not greater than the same are sold to the trade at wholesale.”

This volume contains two different sets of fair copies of correspondence sent by Assistant Surgeon General and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel John S. Billings.

Pages 1-32 contain fair copies of correspondence sent by Dr. Billings from June 1, 1870, to December 31, 1870, and related records. These are letters to various payees who received government checks for services or supplies; suppliers of artificial limbs concerning limbs for specific veterans; and others. There are copies of receipts issued for money received from the sale of surplus U.S. Government property as well as weekly financial statements submitted to the Surgeon General concerning the financial condition of the Medical and Hospital Department, Army Medical Museum, Surgeon General’s Office Library, and the funds for the “Comfort of Sick and Discharged Soldiers.” Pages 23-32 (August 6 – December 31, 1870) consist solely of financial statements.

Pages 35-49 contain a name index arranged roughly alphabetical by the initial letter of the surname. Each entry includes the person’s name and the page number in this volume upon which correspondence was recorded.

Page 51-201 and 204-237 contain fair copies of letters sent and endorsements made by Dr. Billings concerning trusses from November 1875 to May 1884. Letters were recorded on the upper section of pages 51-71 while an endorsement on an unrelated matter was recorded sideways on the lower section of pages 51-58, 62-65, 70-71, 85, 100, 109, and 151, and sideways on the upper section of page 165. Letters addressed to manufacturers are primarily purchase orders or, in a few cases, complaints about specific truss models. Many letters to U.S. Pension Examining Surgeons and other physicians are notifications that individual soldiers were ineligible to receive a free replacement truss, while others address concerns about a truss issued to a particular pensioner. There is also correspondence with pensioners and the Pension Office. The endorsements copied into this volume were made on truss applications returned to examining surgeons with directions to obtain measurements necessary to provide the applicants with the correct size truss. A sample of the form of notice that the Act of May 28, 1872, permitted only one truss per soldier was inserted loosely at pages 358-359. Page 358 also contains a brief note in shorthand. For unknown reasons, an anatomical diagram of the “venus sinusesal base of brain” was inserted loosely at pages 360-361.

Pages 33-34, 202-203, 238-357, and 359 are blank.

The Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America – Thursday, March 16, 2017, 7 p.m.

On the eve of the Civil War, 1.6 million Irish-born people were living in the United States, most in the major industrialized cities of the North. For The Forgotten Irish, Damian Shiels researched Civil War pension records to craft the stories of 35 Irish families whose lives portray the nature of the Irish emigrant experience. This will be the book’s U.S. launch.

Michael Hussey, a National Archives archivist and historian, and David T. Gleeson, Professor of American History at Northumbria University and author of The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America, will co-moderate the discussion and audience Q&A. A book signing will follow the program.

You can view it live from the comfort of your home on YouTube or see it in person by reserving a seat in the William G. McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, 700 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC.

These authors’ research shows the truly international value and importance of records in the U.S. National Archives. You can subscribe to the National Archives Event Newsletter to receive timely information about future programs.

Damian Shiels blogs at Irish in the American Civil War and David T. Gleeson blogs at The Atlantic Irish.

Women in the Civil War

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When we think of the Civil War, the image that likely immediately springs to mind is that of thousands of men in uniform clashing in epic battles, such as at Gettysburg.

Forgotten are the thousands of women who performed tedious, dirty, inglorious tasks–hospital matrons, hospital nurses, laundresses, cooks, and others. They were there, too, on both sides of the conflict.

Documenting their presence, identity, and contributions, is infuriatingly difficult, however, due to the paucity of records that were kept–or retained. A new article,
“Union Army Laundresses,” NGS Magazine, Vol. 42, No. 3 (July-Sept. 2016): 33-37, breaks new ground by outlining research strategies for documenting the service of hospital laundresses, fort and post laundresses, and camp laundresses.

Most of these women likely came from the poorer end of the economic spectrum. They included African-Americans as well as Caucasians. Their efforts deserved to be better remembered, and I hope this article will encourage research.

Civil War Chaplains

My colleague, John P. Deeben, recently published an excellent article on records in the National Archives about Union and Confederate Civil War chaplains. It is “Faith on the Firing Line: Army Chaplains in the Civil War,” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Spring 2016).  Researchers will find it informative and useful.chaplains-cooke-l

Civil War Telegrams

Like the Civil War? Like codes and cyphers? Looking for an interesting do-it-at home volunteer project? This one might be for you.

Smithsonian Magazine‘s article, “You Can Help Decode Thousands of Top Secret Civil War Telegrams,” describes an interesting project recently launched by the Huntington Library (San Marino, California), which holds the telegrams.

The project is partially funded by a two-year grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Call Number 13

The near-infinite variety of records in military pension files is the very essence of a truism: a statement that is obviously true and says nothing new or interesting. And yet, of course, you do not know what will be in any particular pension file until you look. It is in looking that interesting things are found. Egads, another truism.

A Civil War (or later) veteran’s answer to “Call Number 13” is one of those interesting things that will only be found in certain Union Civil War pension files. You can read about Call 13 and the circumstances under which it is found in “Did Your Civil War Ancestor Respond to Call Number 13?” NGS Magazine, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Apr.-May 2016): 35-39.

Those “Boring” Administrative Files….

Most novice genealogists understandably focus on finding vital records of birth, marriage, and death. More experienced researchers know that understanding an ancestor’s full life – as well as finding ways around “brick wall” problems – comes from delving into a wide range of records created by government record keepers at all levels of our federalist structure.

The “wide range of records” includes those “boring” administrative files, which, it often turns out, are not so boring after all. My recent article – “Special Examiners: Records of the Bureau of Pensions’ Efforts to Combat Waste, Fraud, and Abuse, 1862–1933” – in Volume 8 of the Federal History Journal seeks to bring greater appreciation to less-well known records in Record Group 15, Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933

Any time money is involved, a record must be created. Successful pension applicants expected payment. Records were created to ensure that payment was timely, correct, and made to the right persons. Records also helped guard against theft and fraud. Read more about the 1907-1933 pension payment cards for Caroline S. Moulton, widow of George H. Moulton, 38th Massachusetts Infantry (Civil War). More information is in a longer article from this summer’s NGS Magazine. Updated 8 October 2015.

Civil War Union Prisoner of War Claims for Money Taken by the Confederates

One of the many relatively obscure record series in the National Archives is “Claims Made for Money Taken from Federal Prisoners of War Confined in Confederate Prisons” (NAID 615449) in Record Group 249, Records of the Office of the Commissary General of Prisoners, 1861–1905. Researchers will find this list of claimants useful. The NGS article, “The Rebs Took My Money!” describes these records and the claims of William R. Davidson, David Williams, William H. Bogart, and Mathias Nero. An article about Andersonville Prisoner George Langworthy of Geauga County, Ohio, transcribes Langworthy’s claim letter and tells how his claim was handled. Updated 8 October 2015.