Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System Overview
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I. SUMMARY OF THE CWSS
The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System is a publicly available website providing record lookup capability on individuals who served during the United States Civil War. Every soldier who participated, from either the Union or the Confederacy, should have a record on this website. The initial focus of the CWSS was to record basic information on each soldier, including full name, side, unit, and company. The source for this data was the General Index Cards into the Compiled Military Service Records, at the National Archives. This information about the soldiers came from records that are indexed to many other documents about Union and Confederate Civil War soldiers, maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration.
Other information includes: unit histories for both the Union and Confederate Armies, descriptions of 384 significant battles, sailors records, prisoner of war records, burial records, medal of honor recipients, and other historical information. Additional information in each of these areas will be incorporated into the website over time as its capabilities are expanded and improved.
The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) is a cooperative effort by the National Park Service (NPS) and several other public and private partners, to make information about the Civil War publicly available. The primary goal of the CWSS is to provide an interpretive tool on the Civil War for the National Park Service Civil War Battlefield Parks and other Civil War-related Park units. An additional objective is to increase the American people's understanding of this decisive era in American history by making information about it widely accessible. The CWSS enables the public to make a personal link between themselves and history.
II. CURRENT STATUS OF THE CWSS
The data entry phase of the 6.3 million soldier records was completed in the 2000-2001 timeframe by volunteers across the country. The records then went through the enormous and tedious task of being edited for accuracy, consistency, etc. by two of our main partners, the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS). After editing was complete, NPS staff loaded the final edited version into a database for access by the CWSS website. In 2004 the final portion of the 6.3 million soldier records were added to the database and made available for access by the website, completing the soldier names phase of the CWSS. A special ceremony was held on September 27, 2004 at Ford's Theatre, Washington, DC to commemorate this significant milestone.
The CWSS includes 6.3 million soldier records from the National Archives, which were compiled by NPS' partners in the CWSS project. By February, 2000, volunteers in over 36 states had completed the data entry of all the 6.3 million soldier names. The two final editing processes for the records were then completed.
The source of the data entered is the General Index Cards in the Compiled Military Service Records at the National Archives. In September of 1996, the CWSS completed the first phase of the Names Index and placed 235,000 names of African American Union soldiers on the Internet. These were completed first in order to provide the names to the African American Civil War Memorial that was dedicated in Washington, DC..
More soldier names were added to the CWSS as the final editing was completed in Salt Lake City by the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS). NPS computer systems personnel loaded the edited data from GSU and FGS into a database for use on the CWSS website. In May of 2000, a new version of the website with an improved graphical design was launched. The remainder of the Soldier records was added gradually, with the final one million records added in September 2004.
Upon completion of the Soldiers section, the CWSS database contained over 6 million soldier records. These include records from all Union and Confederate states and territories.
The NPS and its' CWSS partners are committed to eventually include the records of all Union and Confederate Naval personnel. Given that the records sources for the Navy are not as well organized as the Army records, nor are they micro-filmed, the target date for this is still to be determined.
In the meantime, with funding from the Defense Department, NPS has partnered with Howard University to identify African American sailors who served in the Union Navy during the Civil War. The research has resulted in a database of approximately 18,000 African American sailors from various historical Navy documents. These were made publicly available as part of the CWSS website in November, 2000. The incorporation into the CWSS was formally announced at a special program held at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D. C., on November 17, 2000. This project has received grants from the Department of the Defense Legacy Resources Management Program.
The CWSS includes narrative histories of approximately 4,000 Union and Confederate units (regiments), which are linked to from the soldier records and are linked to the battle histories. The full complement of available history narratives were recently completed and added to the CWSS. The website currently includes histories of units from 44 states and territories. It should be noted that this linking of soldiers to regiments to battles does not indicate with certainty whether a soldier participated in a particular battle, only that the regiment was present. Additional research would be required to validate whether a soldier was actually enlisted in the regiment at the time the battle took place, as well as whether or not he was present for duty in that particular battle.
The source publications for the unit histories are "A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion" by Frederick H. Dyer for the Union, and "Units of the Confederate States Army" by Joseph H. Crute, Jr. for the Confederacy.
The unit histories are linked to battle summaries for those battles among the 384 most significant in which the unit participated. These battle summaries were compiled as part of a report to Congress in 1993 by the Civil War Sites Advisory Committee. In addition, the capability to begin with any battle and determine which units participated from each side has been incorporated into the website. By obtaining lists of soldiers in those units, it is possible to speculate as to which soldiers may have been present at a particular battle. For the same reasons given for Regiments (above), there is not any way to determine without significant additional research whether a soldier was actually enlisted in that unit during at the time which the battle occurred, or whether a soldier was actually present for duty in that particular battle.
The CWSS now includes a lookup capability for Civil War Monument graphical images. These images are associated with units and states, and the capability now exists to link the unit history narratives (above) to images of all monuments associated with a particular unit.
The National Park Service manages 14 National Cemeteries, all but one of which is related to a Civil War battlefield park. The NPS is planning on listing all names of burials in these cemeteries on the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. The first phase involves data taken from written records of Poplar Grove National Cemetery at Petersburg National Battlefield, and also includes images of the headstones.
This feature of the CWSS includes information on over 1,200 Civil War soldiers and sailors who received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The current version of the CWSS includes prisoner records of Union prisoners at Andersonville and Confederate prisoners at Fort McHenry.
This feature links to the web pages of all National Park Service Civil War sites.
Throughout all periods of development of the system, great care has been taken by NPS and its' Partners to use data from original historical documents as the source of the data where possible.
During the American Civil War, every two weeks on average, usually at the company level, soldiers' names were recorded on muster rolls. Beginning in the 1880s General Ainsworth's staff in the Department of the Army indexed these records originally to determine pension eligibility. His staff wrote a card for each appearance of a soldier's name on a muster roll. When Ainsworth's staff finished the Compiled Military Service records, each soldier's file usually had many cards representing each time his name appeared on a muster roll.
One type of card, the General Index Card listed the soldier's name, the soldier's rank at the time of enlistment from the first card and the date the soldier left the service with the soldier's final rank from the last card. These General Index cards form the basis for the Civil War Soldiers System. When Ainsworth's staff completed the project, there were 6.3 million General Index Cards for the soldiers - both Union and Confederate - who had served during the American Civil War. Historians have determined that approximately 3.5 million soldiers actually fought in the War. A soldier serving in more than one regiment, serving under two names, or spelling variations resulted in the fact that there are 6.3 million General Index Cards for 3.5 million soldiers.
In one Connecticut regiment during the American Civil War a young drummer boy witnessed firsthand the intensity of war. Several decades later in 1903, this drummer boy, now a grown man, devoted himself to writing the histories of all the Union regiments. This man was Frederick Dyer. After the war, the Department of the Army assembled some of its vast information on the War and published the multi-volume work entitled the "Official Records of the War of the Rebellion." However, the Official Records were not fully indexed and were therefore not easily usable. Dyer used information from this source and from Union veterans to complete his work. After five years of almost solitary confinement, Dyer completed his task which was published under the name "Compendium of the War of the Rebellion."
Over seventy years later, the Civil War Soldiers System Historian's Steering Committee, which consisted of National Park Rangers and Historians, recommended Dyer's Compendium as the most complete and reliable source for Union regimental histories. Dyer's Compendium had withstood the test of time and became the CWSS source for Union regimental histories.
The Confederate unit history narratives are taken from "Units of the Confederate States Army" by Joseph H. Crute, Jr.
The unit histories are linked to summaries of the 384 most significant Civil War battles compiled as part of a report to Congress in 1993 by the Civil War Sites Advisory Committee.