2/22 | Online Primary Sources in the Civil War

2/22 What primary sources are available on your soldier’s unit? What records did you find by searching?

When looking through my soldier’s file of documents, its safe to say I felt a little in over my head. I had never really took the time to uncover historical documents unless they were excerpts put into my high school history books. Not being a history major meant that I had never written any college papers on history or historical events, and hadn’t the slightest clue what is considered a primary source or not. Looking through my soldier’s file was overwhelming at first, but once I understood what these documents were and what they meant it became much easier. The explanations for my documents were outlined on my course’s website (HIST 390: THE DIGITAL PAST). When reading these documents without the ‘document cheat sheet’, it can be complicated. Because these documents were for military and federal use, they didn’t feel the need to explain what this document meant and why it was being sent to who it was sent to. I had no clue what an Affidavit was, why every document seemed to have a seal from the Pension office, or where these soldier’s even came from. Like I said, in over my head.

One of the best primary sources on my soldier’s unit, in my opinion, is the CMSR (Combined Military Service Record) form. The documents are cards of stored information that are basically the ‘roll call of the unit’. I found this to be of the utmost importance when it pertains to the unit as a whole because its the best indication of how many people were still in the unit as of that particular date, it shows who was the author of it (most likely the General would be the one taking record), and it shows whether or not the soldier’s activity is present or absent. So when a solider is gone on a mission and the newest CMSR is taken, it will show them as absent, so when it comes to knowing where your soldier’s were at that time, you have a good understanding of the type of activity they participated in.

When searching the Valley of the Shadows for records, it was very difficult. Although it portrays itself as a place to search for all soldiers, they only have the soldiers listed in the counties of Franklin and Augusta, and if your soldier and soldier’s unit is not in that county, zero information will come up. Luckily, any information you search for about soldiers that are technically under ‘federal control’ are still usually for public use, and free to use as a primary source.


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