Posted By Norman Gasbarro on January 20, 2011
The Civil War Veterans’ Card File of the Pennsylvania Archives is an excellent resource for information on individual Civil War soldiers who served in Pennsylvania regiments during the Civil War. It is one of many on-line resources available through the Pennsylvania Archives which are maintained by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission at their web site.
While the card file was originally created as an index to the five volume Samuel Penniman Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865, published in Harrisburg between 1869 and 1871, it now contains more information about the veterans than is found in Bates. Basically, there is an individual file card for each veteran and for each regiment and company in which he served. The cards with the least amount of information are those which only reference the veteran, the regiment in which he served, and the volume and page of Bates’ work where the veteran appears. Cards could also contain information such as date and place of enrollment, “muster in” date and place, “muster out” date and place, discharge information, age at enrollment, a physical description of the veteran (complexion, height, eye color, hair color), occupation at time of enlistment, residence at time of enrollment, and some remarks (things such as wounded, killed, missing, deserted, re-enlisted, promotions, etc.).
There is a page called “Interpreting Your Civil War Record Card” which gives a key to the abbreviations used and a table of regimental equivalents. Most Pennsylvania regiments were numbered (1 to 215) and most of the regiments were “Infantry.” However, if the regiment was a cavalry, reserve or artillery regiment, it was given a second number. For example, cavalry regiments were numbered from 1 to 22, reserve regiments were numbered from 1 to 13, and artillery regiments were numbered from 1 to 6. Thus, the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry is also known as the 92nd Pennsylvania Volunteers. Pennsylvania Archive Veterans’ Card use the cavalry, reserve and artillery number designation unlike Steve Maczuga’s Civil War Project, a subject of a previous post, which uses only the sequential numbers from1 to 215. Thus, the Civil War Veterans’ Card File refers to the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry as “9 C” while Maczuga refers to the same regiment as “PA 92.”
To locate a card for a veteran, it is helpful to know the exact spelling of the veteran’s name, although in some cases where the veterans name has multiple spellings, there is “see” card referring to the place in the alphabet where the card for that soldier is found.
A sample card is shown below – one that has been previously posted here.
At the top center of the card is the company, regiment, and type of unit in abbreviation (A -50 I) indicating Company A, 50th Pennsylvania Infantry, the “I” designating “infantry.” The Bates reference, I – 1284, is indicated in the upper right corner (Volume I, page 1288).
Note that William W. Rothermel gave his age as 21 at the time of enrollment. Other sources give his birth date as 2 May 1842 which would have made him just over 19 years and 3 months old at the time of his enrollment. Since enlistees did not have provide proof of age, many younger men inflated their ages to seem older and many older men gave lower ages in order to seem younger. In William’s case, he received two promotions during his time in service and was mustered out at the rank of sergeant. Perhaps he felt that a younger man would not have received the promotions, so he added almost two years to his age.
One important thing to remember about the Civil War Veterans’ Card File is that it is a compiled index and there could be errors in transcription. As with any secondary source, it is always best to check with an original source, if available.
In tomorrow’s post, Bates’ work will be discussed and links will be given to on-line access to the five volumes.