Important Role of former Nazis in Eastern Germany." 

November 21, 1950
Central Files Decimal Number 762B.00

Civil War Service Reports of Union Army Generals

Date Range: 1864-1887
Content: 9,712 pages
Source Library: U.S. National Archives


The Civil War began with no real core of military experience; the Regular Army in 1860 comprised only four elderly general officers.  At war’s end, over a thousand men of every conceivable background and level of competence had worn a general’s insignia. Some were professional soldiers. Most were civilian volunteers, relatively young men who successfully commanded entire divisions. These leaders of all stripes alone determined by force of arms the outcome of the most decisive conflict in American history.

Civil War Service Reports of Union Army Generals provides a unique opportunity for the examination of the conduct of the war from the perspective of the general officer corps.

These generals' reports of service represent an attempt by the Adjutant General’s Office (AGO) to obtain more complete records of the service of the various generals contacted. In 1864, the Adjutant General requested that each such general submit ". . .a succinct account of your military history . . . since March 4th, 1861." In 1872, and in later years, similar requests were made for statements of service for the remaining period of the war.  Seeking both comprehensiveness and uniformity, the AGO requested of each general that he include certain kinds of information in his report. As a result, most of the reports consist of chronologically arranged sketches of activities associated with battles and other engagements. The generals also usually included information concerning the inclusive dates of their service with each command, the dates of their tours of duty as members of military commissions and courts-martial, and periods of leaves of absence. Many reports give the names, ranks, and dates of service of their personal staff officers, and a summary or list of engagements in which the general took part. In order to provide information about specific engagements, many of the generals included copies of pertinent reports made by other officers during the course of the war. The lengths of the generals' reports range from the one-paragraph response of Brig. Gen. Francis Vinton, declining an AGO request for information, to the multivolume reply of Brig. Gen. Henry W. Benham. A few reports include newspaper clippings, maps, or pamphlets.

In the reports are numerous accounts (and often conflicting ones) of battles, including:

  • First Bull Run
  • Second Bull Run
  • Antietam
  • Fredericksburg
  • Chancellorsville
  • Gettysburg
  • Chickamauga
  • And many others

Some accounts of engagements contradict other versions of the same events, as in the case of Brig. Gen. George A. McCall's report. McCall included a pamphlet entitled Pennsylvania Reserves in the Peninsula: General McCall's Official Reports of the Part Taken by His Division in the Battles of Mechanicsville, Gaines' Mills, and New Market Cross Roads, in which he attacked the accuracy of Maj. Gen. George McClellan's account of those battles. Another example of conflicting interpretations of the same events is the denunciation by Brig. Gen. William P. Carlin of certain accounts of the battle of Chickamauga.

The performances of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas at Perryville, Stones River, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga, and of Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg are documented, as are the wartime activities of President James A. Garfield. General Benham reported on his campaign in South Carolina in 1862. Brig. Gen. Abner Doubleday's report contains some 50 manuscript maps primarily depicting troop positions and movements on the battlefields of Cedar Mountain, Groveton, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg.

There are even reports concerning Native Americans, including: Brig. Gen. James H. Carleton's report on activities in the Department of New Mexico; Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley's accounts of his campaign against the Sioux and Dakota Indians in the Minnesota Territory and of treaty negotiations with the Sioux and Cheyenne; Brig. Gen. Benjamin Alvord's report of treaty negotiations with the Nez Perce; and General Hancock's narrative of fighting with the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Arapaho, and Apache in 1867.

A few generals did not limit their reports to just military events and expressed personal feelings about the war and slavery as well as duty during Reconstruction.

The handwritten documents within Civil War Service Reports of Union Army Generals provide a wealth of information necessary for research in Civil War Studies, Military History, 19th Century Studies, American Studies, and Social History.

Because these materials are almost entirely handwritten manuscripts, users are able to locate materials by searching by each general's names.   An intuitive platform makes it all cross-searchable by subject or collection.

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