So you’ve been doing some research on your ancestor who may or may not have served in the Civil War. You’ve consulted the Consolidated Enrollment Lists which have been digitized and made available on ancestry.com (accessible for free in National Archives research rooms and probably at a public library near you), and found that your ancestor was in fact drafted. You’ve requested a search of the military service records and pension records held at the National Archives in Washington and no record was found. What now? Is there a way to find out why he didn’t serve?
The answer may lie in extensive Civil War draft records held at the National Archives’ regional archives facilities around the country. Located in Record Group 110, Records of the Provost Marshall General’s Bureau, along with the Consolidated Enrollment Lists, are additional records related to medical waivers, deserters, and the payment of substitutes to serve in the place of draftees. The records are arranged by congressional district, and held at the regional archives facility that covers that portion of the country.
In my capacity as an Archives Technician at the National Archives at Boston, I recently dealt with a reference request along these lines. A gentleman was attempting to find out whether his great-grandfather had paid a substitute to serve in his place during the war. I was able to locate a volume entitled “Descriptive Book of Drafted Men and Substitutes, 7/1863-11/1865” for the 4th District of Connecticut, which included an entry for the person in question. (Keep in mind that these records are not digitized. I’ve attached a scan of the page below as an example)
In this case the “Remarks” section, which often indicates whether or not the draftee was exempted from service, was left blank. However, the volume also included a list of substitutes and the principals whom they were replacing, and he was not listed here. While I couldn’t say that this was definitive proof, I was able to tell the great-grandson that it was likely that his great-grandfather did not pay for a substitute to fight in his place.
It is important to keep in mind when researching these records that the draft records of many individual congressional districts are incomplete. They are also spread across many volumes that cover often overlapping time periods, making them difficult to research. It is important to begin your search knowing the draftee’s home town, and ideally the date he was drafted, in order to locate any additional information that might be included in the records. That being said, if these obstacles can be overcome, the Records of the Provost Marshall General’s Bureau can provide interesting insights into your ancestor’s Civil War draft experience.
For more information on the National Archives’ regional facilities, please see:
Another great resource is the National Archives’ catalog—a search for the Provost Marshall General’s Bureau in the catalog brings up the following results, which can then be narrowed down by location using the “Refine by Location’ option on the left of the screen: https://research.archives.gov/search?q=*:*&f.oldScope=(descriptions%20or%20online)&f.recordGroupNoCollectionId=110&SearchType=advanced&f.level=series
For further information please see:
Meier, Michael T., “Civil War Draft Records: Exemptions and Enrollments.” Prologue Magazine, Vol. 26, No. 4, Winter 1994. https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1994/winter/civil-war-draft-records.html.