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Genealogy Research Guides, Inventories & Finding Aids

Why Online Inventories & Finding Aids Aren't Always Enough


See it in Action

Take, for example, the case of my 3rd great grandfather, Henry Charles Koth. Just a few years after arriving in the United States from Germany, he enlisted on 2 July 1863 in the 4th Regiment, S.C. Cavalry, Company D, and served in the Confederate Army for the duration of the Civil War. According to his Compiled Military Service Record he was involved in a Court Martial on 7 Dec 1864 under the Army of Northern Virginia pursuant to General Order 69-5. According to the same record he was one of many Confederate soldiers taken prisoner in Salisbury, North Carolina on 12 April 1865 by General George Stoneman and the Union Army so if he was the one being court-martialed, he was apparently either found "not guilty" or at least returned to duty. Why was he involved in a court martial? Was he the one being court martialed or did the event relate to him in some other way? What was the outcome? Do courts martial records still exist for the Confederate Army in Virginia from December 1864? The card in his CMSR only tells me that "this record contains information relative to the above named man [H.C. Koth, Pvt, Co D, 4th SC Cav], upon the subject stated [court martial]." This at least seems to imply that such a record may still exist.

According to the online inventory of the War Department Collection of Confederate Records from Record Group 109 at the U.S. National Archives (NARA), the Records of the Adjutant and Inspector General's Department include among their textual records: "Records relating to courts-martial, 1861-65" as well as "General and special orders, 1861-65." It appears that at least some court martial records still exist, but for what states and time periods? What can I expect to find if I travel all the way to Washington D.C. or hire a researcher to access these records for me?

Thankfully, most record groups at NARA have a published guide available called a "Preliminary Inventory" (P.I.). For the specific record group I'm interested in, an enhancement of the original preliminary inventory compiled by Elizabeth Bethel was prepared and published by military records expert Craig R. Scott:

Elizabeth Bethel, Preliminary Inventory of the War Department Collection of Confederate Records (Record Group 109), rev. ed., with Craig R. Scott (Athens, Ga.: Iberian publishing Co.), 1994.

This P.I. goes into much greater detail on the records of courts-martial available at NARA. One such example:

"RECORD OF COURTS-MARTIAL. 1861-65. 6 vols. (ch. I, vols. 194-199) and 4 index vols. 1 ft.
"Shows date and number, name, rank, and organization of person tried, whether acquitted or found guilty, and sentences. Entries in volumes 194 and 198 are arranged alphabetically by initial letter of name of person tried and thereunder numerically; entries in the other volumes are arranged numerically. Some entries on volumes 197 and 198 also give the date the court was held, the date the sentence was approved, and the name of the general approving the sentence; and volume 199 contains some correspondence and endorsements. The dates of the entries in some of the volumes overlap, but the entries are not duplicated. There are separate name index volumes for all of the volumes except 194 and 197."

Another finding aid, The Confederacy, A Guide to the Archives of the Government of the Confederate States of America by Henry Putney Beers (online at the HathiTrust Digital Library), also addresses the availability of Confederate courts-martial records:

"The Judge Advocate's Office had charge of the records relating to courts-martial. Letters, telegrams, and endorsements sent, Mar. 24, 1964-Mar. 24, 1865 (ch. I, vol. 42), contain fair copies of communications relating to the convening of courts-martial, the suspension or execution of sentences, and the transmission of records. A volume of endorsements on court-martial correspondence, Mar.-Nov. 1864 (ch. I, vol. 201), contains abstracts of letters received and a record of endorsements on them. A record of courts-martial, Apr. 1861-May 1865 (ch. I, vols. 194-199, 1 ft.), gives the date and number, name, rank and organization of persons tried, the finding, and sentence. Separate name indexes are available for vols. 195 and 196. A brief record of court-martial cases submitted to the Secretary of War, Jan. 9-Mar. 30, 1865 (ch. I, vol. 200), includes a name index."

Both the preliminary inventory and research guide are helpful in describing more precisely what records of courts martial are available for the Confederate Army, what I'm likely to learn from these records, and where to access them. Whether I research them myself, or hire a research to obtain them for me from the National Archives, the two finding aids have saved a lot of time and raised my confidence that pursuing the records is worth the expense.

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