Numbered Record Books
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, RG93
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The descriptive pamphlet (DP), published by NARA, and written by Howard H. Wehmann, provides a great deal of information and background for this title. Much of it is used here on this page. To read or download a copy of the DP for M853, use this link.
These document images are digitized from NARA microfilm publication M853, which reproduced 199 numbered record books, with related separate indexes and one unnumbered record book, concerning Revolutionary War military operations and service, pay and settlement of accounts, and supplies. These records are part of War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93. Most of the numbered record books were created during the period 1775-1783 but some were continued in use or were begun in the early postwar years, and a few are copies made after 1800 of earlier records. The separate indexes were compiled in the 19th and 20th centuries by custodians of the records.
In order to understand how the numbered record books came to be the distinct body of records they presently constitute in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, it is necessary to understand the composition and organization of the entire Collection in terms of its major components.
Many of the Revolutionary War records acquired by the War Department were placed in one or the other of two large files of unbound material. Muster rolls, returns, pay lists, guard reports, and other records showing the military service of persons in particular organizations were placed in one of these files (reproduced as Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-83, M246). Letters, receipts for pay, supply returns, and other records of a miscellaneous character were placed in the second file generally referred to as the "Manuscript File" (reproduced as Miscellaneous Numbered Records (The Manuscript File) in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, 1775-1790's, M859).
Some bound records were taken apart and their contents added to these files. The photographic copies of records made in 1914-15 were kept together as a third major record aggregation. "Compiled military service records" were created mainly from the information in the records composing the file of rolls, returns, and related items.
To index these compiled records—which consist of one or more paper jackets for each person whose name appears in the rolls and returns file, with one or more cards in each jacket containing information copied from the original records, a "General Index" was prepared (reproduced as General Index to Compiled Military Service Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers, M860). Another name index, the "Special Index" (reproduced as Special Index to Numbered Records in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, 1775-1783, M847), was prepared for the "Manuscript File."
Timeline of record acquisitions and losses
August 7, 1789
An act of Congress (1 Stat. 49), established the Department of War in the Federal Government. The act provided that the Secretary of War should have custody of all records in the office of the Secretary at War, the head of the old War Department created by the Continental Congress in 1781.
November 8, 1800
Most of the records were destroyed by a fire that swept through the building occupied by the Secretary of War.
British troops occupied Washington and burned Government buildings. The War Department's Revolutionary War records were in a fireproof room and escaped injury from the flames, but some of them were destroyed or carried away by persons who entered the room after the fire. As a result of these events there were, until 1873, few records of the Revolutionary War period in War Department custody.
Secretary of War William Belknap purchased a private collection of Revolutionary War records for the Department from Professor Charles A. Joy of Columbia University. The items purchased consisted primarily of records associated with the activities of Timothy Pickering, Quartermaster General of the Army from 1780 to 1785, and with those of Samuel Hodgdon, Commissary General of Military Stores during the latter part of the war. Hodgdon also served as an Assistant Quartermaster in Pennsylvania. Secretary of War Belknap obtained smaller quantities of Revolutionary War records from other persons, but the records he accumulated did not remain in the War Department very long.
The records acquired by Belknap were transferred to the State Department for use in connection with a proposal to publish the archives of the Government of the Revolutionary War period.
July 3 & 16, 1889
By War Department orders, a Record and Pension Division was established in the War Department to take custody of the military records of the volunteer armies of the United States and to transact the pension and other business of the Department connected with those records.
The Division was designated the Record and Pension Office of the War Department by an act of Congress of May 9, 1892 (27 Stat. 27). Col. Fred C. Ainsworth became chief of the Office. At Ainsworth's instigation, Congress passed acts of July 27, 1892 (27 Stat. 275), and August 18, 1894 (28 Stat. 403), which directed the other executive departments of the Federal Government to transfer military records of the Revolutionary War in their possession to the War Department.
As a result, not only were the records that the War Department had sent to the State Department in 1888 returned, but they were accompanied by personnel returns, oaths of allegiance, and other military records taken from the George Washington Papers in the State Department. Military records of the Revolution were also received from the Pension Bureau of the Interior Department and from the Treasury Department's Office of the Auditor for the Interior Department. The transfer of these records was accomplished in a number of transactions between 1894 and 1913.
Further adding to the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, some records pertaining mainly to the activities of the Quartermaster General's Department were received from Henry G. Pickering, the great-grandson of Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering.
Photographic copies of Revolutionary War records in the possession of individuals and institutions in several states were made by the War Department to supplement its original records, thus completing this collection.
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1-11......Lists of Continental and State Troops and Militia, 1775-83.
12-76....Orderly Books. June 23, 1775-Sept. 27, 1783.
77-81....Receipt Books of Samuel Hodgdon, Commissary General of Military Stores and Assistant Quartermaster. Oct. 1778-Sept. 1779 And Mar. 1780-Nov. 1789.
82-88.....Letters Sent by Timothy Pickering, Quartermaster General. Aug. 5, 1780-July 9, 1787.