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Revolutionary War Service Records
Pictures & Records
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by Craig R. Scott, CG
This series of images consists of more than complied military service records of soldiers who served in the American Revolutionary War. They include service records for the Continental Army, State Troops, and some state and local militias. They include the service records of infantry, artillery, cavalry, and other units. Also included are records that relate to the unit, rather than to the individual soldier.
A typical infantry regiment in the Continental Army, generally referred to in this series as a regiment or battalion without the designation "infantry," might contain field officers, such as a colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major; a regimental staff, including an adjutant, quartermaster, surgeon, surgeon's mate, paymaster, and chaplain; and eight to ten companies. Cavalry companies were frequently called troops. Artillery companies included specialized soldiers, such as bombardiers, gunners, and matrosses. Artificers were civilian or military mechanics and artisans employed by the Army to provide necessary services. Artificer companies included carpenters, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, harness makers, coopers, nailers, and farriers.
The service records were created, beginning in 1894, under the direction of Colonel Fred C Ainsworth, Chief, Record and Pension Office of the War Department. They were established under several Congressional Acts, including 27 Stat. 275 and 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.
Abstracts were made from original records and verified by a separate operation of comparison. Great care was taken to ensure that the abstracts were accurate.
There are two groups of records for each military unit: unit records and the compiled military service records of individuals in that unit. Unit records consist of abstract cards that describe the documents from which information was gleaned for the individual records. Compiled military service records consist of a jacket envelope, a number of abstract cards, and rarely, for officers, personal papers.
Jacket envelopes, with caption cards for an entire regiment, precede those containing caption cards for the field, staff, and individual companies. The cards show the exact captions of documents that were copied for each organization and the certificates of officers verifying the accuracy of the records. Jacket envelopes for general pay abstracts precede those for other caption cards, and printed caption cards for general pay abstracts usually reproduce the entire pay abstract. A jacket envelope for the caption cards of Captain Lawson’s and Payne’s Company of the First Virginia Regiment is shown here. The jacket envelope contains all of the abstract cards for this unit.
The majority of the abstract cards are for muster rolls and pay rolls. Image 2 is an abstract card found in the jacket envelope for a muster roll, dated July 1778, stating the company was in Brunswick, New Jersey, on 5 July 1778.
The back of the card (image 3) also provides information about the composition of the unit. Unlike a typical company, this one had two captains. The number “35660417” near the top of the card relates to the same number on the face of the jacket envelope. Other than that, it has no meaning.
The jacket envelope of an individual’s record is labeled with the name, rank, and unit in which the soldier served. It is possible for a soldier to have more than one jacket envelope, as he may have served in more than one unit during the Revolution.
For example, Woodson Parsons served in the 1st Virginia Regiment. There are seventeen abstract cards in the jacket envelope and no personal papers.
The card numbers have no meaning, but represent the serial numbers stamped on the back of each abstract card. The backs of the abstract cards are not included in the images at Fold3.
Some jacket envelopes are reference cards that tell you where records are filed when they are not found where expected.
Abstract cards are of several types. The most common describe the soldier on a specific muster roll or payroll. Woodson Parsons’ envelope consists of 17 abstract cards, about half are muster rolls and half are payrolls. The “P” on the top left stands for the first letter of the surname and not “private” and the “1” stands for the First Regiment. This abstract card tells us the Woodson Parsons, a private, was serving in Captain Lawson’s and Captain Payne’s Company of Col Richard Parker’s First Virginia Regiment. This is a Continental Line unit. During this period he was “on guard.” Remarks might lead to other information, and may identify periods of absence, missing in action status, becoming a prisoner, or death.
Using the collection
Locate the compiled military service record for an individual through the state hierarchy in the browse menu. Select the regiment, battalion or company, then the word “Individual.” Then choose the first letter of his surname and locate his name in the next section of browse titles.
To locate the unit cards follow the same procedure except select “Regiment” instead of “Individual.” At the end of a few state Regiment menus, under “Blank,” and then “Individual” within the Record Type menu are men who belong to the state but are not identified with a specific unit.
Many soldiers have the same name. It is sometimes difficult to be sure that the soldier in the record is the soldier you are interested in. Sometimes the many soldiers are all the same man. It may be a better research strategy to begin with Fold3’s collection of Revolutionary War Pensions to determine the service of the individual, and then locate the appropriate Compiled Military Service Record within the collection described here.
Within the records for the Continental Troops is a series labeled "Miscellaneous," consisting of compiled records of soldiers' names that cannot be identified with a particular military unit.
The descriptive pamphlet for this title, published by NARA, is available here to view or download as a PDF file.
The abstract cards found in this series were created from records held by the War Department. Many of these records are available here at Fold3. For example, the abstract card for Woodson Parsons, dated July 1778, is taken from this record found in Fold3’s Revolutionary War Rolls series.
Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land-Warrant Application Files, M804, also available at Fold3, should be consulted to determine if the soldier obtained a pension.
Similar records for naval personnel and members of the Quartermaster General and the Commissary General of Military Stores are found on National Archives Microfilm Publication M880.
The records shown here are scanned from the National Archives microfilm publication, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, M881.
The original records are from the Records of the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93. They include entries relating to the soldier as found in original muster rolls; payrolls; rank rolls; inspection, provision, and clothing returns; receipts for pay and bounty; accounts for subsistence, pay, rations, clothing, and ordnance; abstracts of muster and pay rolls; and correspondence. Abstracts were also made from 24 of the numbered record books in the War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Volumes 1-11, 13 1/2, 136 1/2, 139, 142, 143, 145, 147 1/2, 170-173, 175, and 176.