Service Records of Volunteers, 1784-1811
NARA M905. These are compiled service records of volunteer soldiers who served between the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
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These are digitized images taken from the 32 rolls of microfilm publication M905. They are the compiled service records of volunteer soldiers who served from 1784 to 1811. The compiled service records consist of a jacket-envelope for each soldier, which typically contains card abstracts of entries relating to the soldier as found in original muster rolls, payrolls, receipt rolls, returns, and lists. These compiled service records are part of the Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780fs-1917, Record Group 94 (Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917).
Much of the content on this page is taken directly from NARA's descriptive pamphlet (DP), written by Richard Myers. It can be viewed our downloaded here. The contents of each roll are listed in the DP.
The U.S. Military Establishment, between the end of the Revolutionary War and the beginning of the War of 1812, consisted of a small Regular Army that was supplemented, when necessary, with State and Territorial militia units that were called into the service of the National Government. Volunteers, raised by individual states, territories, or the National Government to meet specific emergencies, also constituted a part of the Military Establishment.
By the time of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, September 3, 1783, the American Army of the Revolutionary War was already in the process of dissolution. On January 29, 1784, a committee reported to the Congress that the American Army had been disbanded except for one infantry regiment, commanded by Col. Henry Jackson, and a small detachment of artillery. The committee recommended that Jackson's regiment be fully officered and consist of 500 rank and file formed from those soldiers "whose times of service do not expire until the year 1785." On June 2, 1784, the Congress directed that all U.S. troops be discharged with the exception of an artillery company of 80 privates and the appropriate number of officers necessary to guard the military stores at West Point, Fort Pitt, and other depots.
On June 3, however, the Congress resolved that the States of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania furnish from their militia units a force of 700 men for a period of 12 months. Pennsylvania was directed to contribute the greatest number of troops, and the Congress directed that the commander of this regiment be furnished by that state. Lt. Col. Josiah Harmar became commander of this First Regiment of Infantry. The artillery company that had been retained in the service formed part of this new infantry regiment. The following April, an act of Congress authorized the raising of 700 men to replace those previously enlisted in the First Regiment of Infantry whose enlistments would soon expire. The final authorization for raising troops under the Articles of Confederation came October 3, 1787, when the Congress enacted legislation to continue the strength of the First Regiment at 700 men.
The Constitution of the United States empowered the Congress to "provide for the common Defence." To carry out this provision, the Constitution specifically authorized the Congress to declare war, raise and support armies, provide and maintain a navy, provide for the calling up of the militia, and establish rules for the regulation of land and naval forces as well as for the organizing, arming, and disciplining of the militia. The Constitution placed the executive authority of the government in the Office of the President and invested the holder of that office with the role of "Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States."
Exercising its constitutional powers, the Congress took under consideration the matter of defining the nature of the Military Establishment. On August 7, 1789, an act (1 Stat. 49) was adopted that set up an executive department, to be known as the Department of War, and directed the Secretary for the Department of War to carry out the duties assigned to him by the President. Soon after taking office, President Washington sought from the Congress a statutory basis for the existing military forces of the Nation, and on September 29, 1789, the Congress enacted legislation (1 Stat. 95) to recognize and retain the organization of troops that had been raised by the Confederation Congress in its resolution of October 3, 1787.
Subsequent congressional action increased the size and altered the composition of the Military Establishment. On April 30, 1790, the Congress passed an act (1 Stat. 119) to enlist a maximum number of 1,216 regular troops. As a consequence of the legislation of September 1789 and that of April 1790, the earlier units mentioned (Jackson's First American Regiment, Harmar's First U.S. Regiment, and the Battalion of Artillery) became the nucleus of the Regular Army of the United States.
Legislation enacted on March 3, 1791 (1 Stat. 222), gave the President the authority to enlist as many as 2,000 levies in addition to or in place of militia. These levies, whose period of service was limited to 6 months, were raised and maintained by the Federal Government, and thus were distinguishable from State militia that were called into Federal service.
The Congress also enacted a basic militia law on May 8, 1792 (1 Stat. 271), that called for the enrollment of "every able-bodied white male citizen between the ages of 18 and 45." The law further directed that each citizen enrolled provide himself with a "good musket, or firelock, and a sufficient bayonet and belt." The Congress prescribed a system of discipline for the militia based on the rules of discipline and field exercises of Maj. Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, as amended by General Washington.
In addition to state militia units, the Congress provided for the organization of militia units in the territories of the United States (1 Stat. 271). When a government was formally constituted for a territory, the Congress recognized the organization of a territorial militia and made the Governor of the territory its commander in chief. Territorial militia units were organized in the same manner and operated under the same regulations as the state units.
The original records from which these service records were abstracted are in Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, Record Group 94, with the exception of a volume in Records of United States Army Commands, 1784-1821, Record Group 98. This volume consists of an inspection return of officers of the American Regiment of Foot under Col. Henry Jackson at West Point in May 1784. Correspondence, records of accounts, and other records created by the early Military Establishment that pertain to the mustering, equipping, provisioning, and paying of the volunteer forces are available in Record Group 94. An important series of records relating to this period is available as M904, War Department Collection of Post Revolutionary War Manuscripts.
Several numbered record books in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93, include material relating to military affairs after the Revolutionary War. These numbered record books are reproduced as M853, Numbered Record Books Concerning Military Operations and Service, Pay and Settlement of Accounts, and Supplies in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, available on Fold3.
In many cases, soldiers who served between 1784 and 1811 had served previously with an organization of troops during the Revolutionary War. If an individual served during the Revolutionary War, a record of his service may be located among the compiled service records of Revolutionary War soldiers. These records are part of Record Group 93, and they have been reproduced as M881, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, available on Fold3. Card indexes to these service records are also available on microfilm as M860, General Index to the Compiled Military Service Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers.
Information concerning where, when, and how long a soldier enlisted in the Regular Army appears on Registers of Enlistments, 1798-1912. These registers, which are part of Record Group 94, are reproduced as M233, Registers of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798-1884.
If a soldier whose compiled service record appears in this microfilm publication applied for a pension or a bounty land warrant, additional information about him may be located among the pension and bounty land warrant application files in Records of the Veterans Administration, Record Group 15. Pension and bounty land warrant application files based on the service of Revolutionary War military and naval personnel have been reproduced as M804, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land-Warrant Application Files, available on Fold3. Pension application case files based on service between 1783 and 1861 ("Old Wars" series) include claims relating to soldiers whose compiled service records are reproduced in this publication. A name index to these files has been microfilmed as T316.
Legislative records, including journals, correspondence, and other related materials of the Confederation Congress that affected the Military Establishment, are in Records of the Continental and Confederation Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, Record Group 360. These records are reproduced as M247, Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, and M332, Miscellaneous Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, both are available on Fold3.
Legislative records created after 1789 are in Records of the United States House of Representatives, Record Group 233, and in Records of the United States Senate, Record Group 46. Records relating to fiscal matters are in Records of the Bureau of Accounts (Treasury), Record Group 39; Records of the Bureau of the Public Debt, Record Group 53; General Records of the Department of the Treasury, Record Group 56; and Records of the United States General Accounting Office, Record Group 217.