New Feature for the Civil War Soldiers & Sailors Database
One of the most consistently useful online research tools available for Civil War folks is the National Park Service’s Civil War Soldiers & Sailors (CWSS) database. It has a number of features, but the most important is the database of soldier’s names and units, which can be searched a number of ways. If you’re looking for a specific Civil War soldier, it really is the place to start before going on to more in-depth primary sources, like the national Archives’ compiled service records (CSRs) at subscription sites like Fold3. One nice aspect of the NPS database is that it seems to be drawn from the CSRs at the National Archives (Mike, is this correct?), which means that if you find an entry in the database, there should be ay least something at NARA. As I say, it really is the place to start.
The CWSS recently had a big makeover, which improved its look tremendously. As for search functionality, I dunno. The original system had very much a Web 1.0 sort of interface, and it was clunky. The new system is clunky in a different way, with extensive pull-down menus that have to be opened and closed individually. This helps standardize queries much more precisely, and allows users to search on multiple parameters at once — say, both cavalry and dismounted cavalry — and that’s good. But it’s also a bit more complicated, maybe more than it needs to be — in designating the geographic origins to search, is it really necessary to use a two-tier arrangement that first requires one to select the letter, T, and then Texas from a second menu?
Nevertheless, that’s a minor quibble. One tool that seems to be new, that I’d not seen before, is the option of downloading an Excel file containing all the men in the database for a specific regiment or other unit. This is tremendously valuable , as it puts a more-or-less complete — or as complete as the records are — listing of an entire regiment’s complement at your fingertips with one click. The fields (columns) include name, initial rank, final rank, and company within the regiment. This is an example from the 1st Texas Heavy Artillery Regiment, that was stationed here during the war:
(This example also highlights something to be aware of in both the CWSS database and the CSRs from the National Archives; there are entries for each spelling of soldiers’ names in the cards at NARA. Privates Joseph Maschack, Joseph Maschick, and Joseph Maschuck are all pretty clearly the same individual.)
When searching for a regiment or similar-sized unit, the user will get a brief synopsis of that unit’s service, with links to the CWSS database entries for major actions in which they fought, like this one for that same regiment:
Overview: 1st Heavy Artillery Regiment was organized at Galveston, Texas, during the winter of 1861-1862 using the 3rd Texas Artillery Battalion as its nucleus. The unit served in the Trans-Mississippi Department primarily at Galveston and along the upper Texas coast. Company F was stationed at Sabine Pass during September, 1863, and was prominent in the surrender of two Federal gunboats, the Sachem and Clifton. In April, 1864, it was stationed at Galveston Island with 23 officers and 462 men, and in April, 1865, there were 430 present for duty. The regiment was included in the surrender on June 2. Its commanders were Colonel Joseph J. Cook, Lieutenant Colonel John H. Manly, and Major Edward Von Harten.
Then when you click the link “View Regiment’s Soldiers,” you get this:
Click on “Download Spreadsheet” and you’re in business.
What makes this so useful is that, once you have the Excel file, that can serve as the framework for a larger database, with other fields and information to be added from other sources — a scaffold of sorts, for larger research projects. The data can be sorted by rank or company, allowing one to quickly compile a list of (say) the regiment’s officers, or all the members of a given company.
This is a very useful feature of the CWSS that, I think, has not been available previously. It opens up a lot of new possibilities, and puts a powerful new tool in the hands of professional and avocational historians alike.
Good hunting, y’all!