Virginia Military Records
This entry was originally written by Johni Cerny and Gareth L. Mark for Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.
Colonial Wars. American military history in Virginia began with the establishment of the colonial militia early in the seventeenth century, primarily to fight against attacks from native inhabitants. Service records of Virginia soldiers in the colonial wars (1622–1763) offer more historical than genealogical information and usually provide only the name of the soldier and the unit in which he served. The records consist primarily of rosters, rolls, and lists that survived the wars and several fires and are helpful in placing someone in a particular place at a given time. Most of these rosters and rolls have been published and can be found in genealogical libraries throughout the nation.
Lloyd Dewitt Bockstruck’s Virginia’s Colonial Soldiers (1988; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1998) is compiled from county court minutes and orders, bounty-land applications and warrants, records of courts martial, county militia rosters, Hening’s Statutes at Large, the Draper manuscripts (see Wisconsin Periodicals, Newspapers, and Manuscript Collections), and manuscripts of the former Public Record Office (now The National Archives) in London. It supplements William A. Crozier, Virginia Colonial Militia, 1651–1776 (1905; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000), and H. J. Eckenrode, List of the Colonial Soldiers of Virginia (1917; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000).
Another valuable publication is Virginia Military Records: From the “Virginia Magazine of History and Biography,” “The William and Mary Quarterly,” and “Tyler’s Quarterly” (1983; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2000), a reprint of articles published in those periodicals that deal with military records during the colonial and Revolutionary War eras. See also Murtie June Clark, Colonial Soldiers of the South, 1732–1774 (1983; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1999).
Revolutionary War. Some of the original service records for the Revolutionary War were destroyed by fire. Those remaining are on file at the National Archives, compiled primarily from rosters and rolls of soldiers serving in Virginia’s militia units, with additions from correspondence and field reports of military officers. However, there is no comprehensive list of Virginia veterans of this war. Some published indexes exist, such as John Hastings Gwathmey, Historical Register of Virginians in the Revolution, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, 1775–1783 (Richmond, Va.: Dietz Press, 1938). A card index of Virginia soldiers is available only at the National Archives and is not on microfilm.
John Frederick Dorman continues to compile abstracts of files of Virginia soldiers who received pensions or bounty land in Virginia Revolutionary Pension Applications, 51 vols. (Washington, D.C., 1958– ). The last volume carries the series through the name Harding, Robert. Virgil D. White has compiled abstracts of all Revolutionary War soldiers who applied for pensions or bounty land in Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, 4 vols. (Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing, 1990–1992). Vol. 1 covers surnames A-E; vol. 2, F-M; vol. 3, N-Z; vol. 4, Index. Another abstract of information from pension files of soldiers who received pensions from the state of Virginia is Virginia Revolutionary War Pensions (1980; reprint, Easley, S.C.: Southern Historical Press, 1982). Virginia Land Office records of Revolutionary War soldiers are found in Louis A. Burgess, comp., Virginia Soldiers of 1776, 3 vols. (1927–1929; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994). See also Revolutionary War Virginia State Pensions, a searchable online database on the Library of Virginia website at http://eagle.vsla.edu/rwp/virtua-basic.html. Document images of this collection are available online.
Bounty-land warrants were issued to Virginia soldiers for their war service. After the war, soldiers who served in the Virginia State Line or Continental Line applied for a warrant and, when approved, received a certificate to be exchanged for a warrant. The land to be issued was located in Kentucky and the Virginia Military District of Ohio. See Gaius Marcus Brumbaugh, Revolutionary War Records, vol. 1, Virginia (1936; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1995), for an index of soldiers who received warrants for Ohio. See also Willard Rouse Jillson, The Kentucky Land Grants: A Systematic Index to All of the Land Grants Recorded in the State Land Office at Frankfort, Kentucky, 1782–1924 (1925; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994). In the case of deceased soldiers, their heirs made application. Kentucky land was occupied first, then land was granted in Ohio after 1792.
The Library of Virginia and the FHL have microfilmed copies of applications for Virginia bounty-land warrants. See “Revolutionary War Bounty Warrants and Index” or Hamilton J. Eckenrode, comp., Virginia Soldiers of the American Revolution, 2 vols. (1912–13; reprint, Richmond, Va.: State Library and Archives, 1989). Rejected applications are filmed under Revolutionary War Rejected Claims and Index of Soldiers from Virginia, 1811–51. See also Military Land Certificates, 1782–1876, at the Library of Virginia and the FHL (see also Kentucky and Ohio).
The federal government was not alone in awarding bounty land to citizens and soldiers for services rendered. Nine states (Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia) adopted similar policies but did not create a specific record group to document bounty land grants. Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck compiled Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants (1996; reprint, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1998) from a variety of manuscript records and printed books. See also Virgil D. White, Index to Revolutionary War Service Records, 4 vols. (Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing, 1995), which is an alphabetical index compiled from National Archives Record Series M860. Researchers can use the Library of Virginia website to access Revolutionary War Bounty Warrants, a searchable index to the documents used to verify dates and length of service of officers, soldiers, and sailors in a Virginia or Continental unit during the Revolutionary War. The index can be searched at http://eagle.vsla.edu/rwbw/virtua-basic.html. Another useful publication is Janice Abercrombie, Virginia Revolutionary Public Claims (Athens, Ga.: Iberian Publishing, 1992).
War of 1812. Information included in service records for the War of 1812 is similar to that in the same records of soldiers in the colonial wars and the Revolutionary War. Soldiers of the War of 1812 (Research Notes Number 19) is a good overview of records and the soldiers from Virginia who served in the War of 1812 and can be viewed online at www.lva.lib.va.us/whatwehave/mil/rn19_sold.htm. The searchable Index to War of 1812 Muster Rolls and Pay Rolls can also be accessed on that website at http://eagle.vsla.edu/war1812. Only the National Archives has copies of original pension and bounty-land warrant applications for the War of 1812. Researchers can use microfilmed indexes at the National Archives or the FHL. See Stuart Lee Butler, A Guide to Virginia Militia Units in the War of 1812 (Athens, Ga.: Iberian Publishing Co., 1988), for unit histories and commanding officers, and Virgil D. White, comp., Index to War of 1812 Pension Files (Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing Co., 1989).
Civil War. When the Confederate government evacuated Richmond in April 1865, the adjutant and inspector general, Samuel Cooper, took the centralized military personnel records of the Confederate Army to Charlotte, North Carolina. When the Confederate civil authorities left Charlotte after agreeing to an armistice between the armies in North Carolina, President Jefferson Davis instructed Cooper to turn the records over, if necessary, to “the enemy, as essential to the history of the struggle.” After the armistice, when Union General Joseph E. Johnston learned that the records were at Charlotte, he turned them over to the Union Commander in North Carolina.
These military personnel records were taken to Washington along with other Confederate records captured by the Union Army and were preserved by the War Department. Between 1878 and 1901, the War Department employed a former Confederate general, Marcus J. Wright, to locate missing Confederate records and borrow them for copying if the possessors did not wish to donate them to the War Department. In 1903 Secretary of War Elihu Root persuaded the governors of most of the southern states to lend to the War Department all Confederate military personnel records still in their possession for copying.
The material gathered became the source for the Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Virginia (similar records are available for all Confederate and border states). The records are indexed in Index to Compiled Service Records of Confederated Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Virginia. These National Archives microfilm series are available at the Library of Virginia and the FHL. The Library of Virginia has several searchable online databases that every researcher should use, including Index to Confederate Rosters, an index to the unofficial rosters of soldiers from Virginia who served in the army of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War. Index to Confederate Pension Applications indexes original and amended pension applications filed by resident Virginia Confederate veterans and their widows. The pension applications are available on microfilm at the Library of Virginia and the FHL. The Confederate Pension Rolls, Veterans and Widows Electronic Card Index contains information not included in the searchable index. See also Using Virginia Civil War Records (Research Notes Number 14). Links to these items appear at www.lva.lib.va.us/whatwehave/mil/index.htm.
FamilySearch.org has a variety of collections available for free online:
- Virginia, Civil War Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865
- Virginia, Civil War Service Records of Union Soldiers, 1861-1865
World War I. Two important collections can be searched for ancestors from Virginia who were eligible to be drafted or who served in World War I. Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918 is arranged alphabetically by county or city and then alphabetically. Information on each registration card differs but generally includes full name, date and place of birth, race, citizenship, occupation, personal description, and signature. They can be searched at the FHL or online at www.ancestry.com. The Library of Virginia has a collection of World War I History Questionnaires at www.lva.lib.va.us/whatwehave/mil/index.htm. Names in the index link directly to images of the questionnaire online.