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     A Guide to Research Resources

Court-Martial Records

Civil War Union Army Court-Martial Records

Court-martial records can be a helpful, interesting, and often entertaining source of information. Records related to the proceedings of Union army courts-martial, courts of inquiry, and military commissions can be found in Record Group 153 - Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army).

To find an individual's case file, first consult National Archives Microfilm Publication M1105 - Registers of the Records of the Proceedings of the U.S. Army General Courts-martial, 1809 - 1890. The registers direct you to an alphanumeric series of case file numbers. There is also a typed index in the consultant’s office.

The actual case files are located in Record Group153, entry 15, and must be  requested in the consultant’s office and reviewed in the textual research room.

Note:  A series of court-martial case files (1861-1865) that were lost during the Civil War were later recovered by the Judge Advocate General in the early 1890s. These files are arranged numerically and are not included in the registers reproduced on microfilm publication M1105. The only index to this series is in the Old Military and Civil Records section of the National Archives. The index is arranged alphabetically by surname. The name index is followed by brief descriptions of each case file including case number; the individual's name, rank, and unit; the trial date; charges; and a summary of findings.

Related Records

M1523 - Proceedings of U.S. Army Courts-martial and Military Commissions of Union Soldiers Executed by U.S. Military Authorities, 1861-1866. (8 Rolls) RG 94

Navy & Marine Court-Martial Records

Navy court-martial records in Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Navy), RG 125, also relate to officers and enlisted men of the Marine Corps. The records include transcripts of proceedings of general courts-martial. A name index identifies the case file of a particular person and the records relating to a court of inquiry. "Each dossier, when complete, contains the precept appointing the court; letters detailing or detaching its several members; a letter dissolving the court; the charges and specifications; minutes of the court, consisting chiefly of a verbatim transcript of testimony; the plea of the defendant (often printed); copies of correspondence introduced as part of the minutes; the finding of the court; the sentence in case of a finding of guilty; and various endorsements." Records pertaining to the Civil War will be found in M273, Records of General Courts-martial and Courts of Inquiry of the Navy Department, 1799 - 1867.

Published Sources

Lowery, Thomas P. Curmudgeons, Drunkards, and Outright Fools: The Courts-Martial of Civil War Union Colonels.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2003.
----------. Don't Shoot That Boy! Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice.   Mason City, IA: Savas Pub. Co., 1999.
----------. Tarnished Eagles: The Court-Martials of Fifty Union Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997.
----------. Tarnished Scalpels: The Court-Martials of Fifty Union Surgeons. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2000.  

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Related Links

NARA Article

The Shady Side of the Family Tree: Civil War Union Court-Martial Case Files
By Trevor K. Plante
From Prologue, Winter 1998, Vol. 30, No. 4

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