Librarian discovers rare index of SC Civil War units

The War Between the States ended nearly 150 years ago, yet primary-source documents connected to the conflict continue to surface, often under the most unusual of circumstances.

Recently, an employee of the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, S.C., was in a storage area of the institution and came across what may well be a one-of-a-kind record: a large ledger detailing muster rolls for hundreds of companies that served as part of South Carolina Civil War regiments.

“I spoke with the state Archives Department and they’ve never seen or heard of anything like this, where all this information is in paginated and typed form,” said  Debbie Bloom, who manages the library’s local history room.

Bloom, who highlighted the find on her The Dead Librarian blog, said she came across the index, called the Confederate Rolls of South Carolina, earlier this year when she saw a large box, approximately 18 inches by 30 inches, lying in a storage area.

Inside was a battered ledger about two inches thick consisting of hundreds of company rolls for South Carolina infantry, cavalry and artillery units that served during the 1861-65 war.

“I have absolutely no idea how long it had been there or where it came from,” she said. “But wherever it came from, it’s a wonderful resource.”

The Richland County Public Library contacted the University of South Carolina and, using USC’s large scanning machines, put the entire resource online. It can be found here.

According what appears to be a newspaper article pasted inside the ledger, the work looks to have been completed in 1898 and printed by August Kohn, an established Columbia-area writer and printer.

The effort to compile the Confederate Rolls of South Carolina was apparently begun some 16 years earlier, by an act of the General Assembly, according to the newspaper article.

On Jan. 30, 1882, the Legislature passed an act “to provide for the preparation of rolls of troops furnished by the State of South Carolina to the army of the Confederate States, and of the militia of the state in active service during the war between the Confederate States and the United States,” it reads.

Beginning with the names of South Carolinians who died in the war, an effort begun by Professor William James Rivers of South Carolina College starting in 1862, several well-known ex-Confederate officers worked during the 1880s and 1890s to compile the military records of Palmetto State units, including Gens. Milledge Luke Bonham and Arthur Manigault.

The ledger is far from complete, however. While there were more than 550 companies from South Carolina that served during the Civil War, there appear to be few if any militia or state troops included in the ledger, and gaps exist even among major regiments.

For example, rolls for companies A, B and C of the 11th South Carolina Infantry Regiment are missing, but companies D-K are included; while the 20th South Carolina Infantry is missing rolls for companies B, D and G.

According to the article pasted into the ledger, the 1898 Confederate Rolls of South Carolina was presented to Gov. William Ellerbe by Col. John P. Thomas, who had the designation of Historian of the Confederate Records.

The rolls themselves are of varying quality. Some are extremely detailed, listing the ages of soldiers in the unit in question, what county they hailed from, their rank and when they enlisted. Some companies managed to keep careful track of this data, but many, beyond rank, did not.

Next, there are columns with spaces that allowed the individual compiling the information to show how and where the solider died (killed, died of wounds, died of disease), where they were wounded, and if they surrendered, were captured and made a prisoner of war, or were discharged or surrendered at war’s end. Again, record-keeping could be spotty.

The rolls are also far from complete in terms of listing each and every soldier that served in specific companies.

However, they can offer valuable insight for those looking for information on specific individuals, particularly the grunts whose may be otherwise lost to history.

For example, a glance at Co. C of the 3rd South Carolina Infantry shows a listing for one William Davenport, a private from Newberry County. Davenport, according to the 114-year-old record, died at the bloody Battle of Chickamauga on Sept. 20, 1863.

At least four other members of Davenport’s company were killed at Chickamauga and three more wounded, according to the muster roll included in the index.

Bloom, of the Richland County Public Library, said her institution will likely give the unique find to the S.C. Department of Archives and History. They have the equipment needed to conserve historic documents such as the Confederate Rolls of South Carolina.

“It’s really rather remarkable to come across this just sitting here,” she said. “We don’t know where it came from, how it got here, or who brought it here. But thanks to technology, we’re able to make it available for anyone who wants to make use of it.”

(Above: Excerpt from roster of Co. H, 7th SC Infantry Battalion. Click on image to enlarge.)

6 thoughts on “Librarian discovers rare index of SC Civil War units

    • It seems like items such as this pop up regularly around the world. I think we’re better attuned to historical documents than we were even, say, 25 years ago, and the ability to put things like this out for public consumption through electronic means so easily nowadays heightens the excitement.

  1. Awesome discovery! I found my great grandfather as well as his two brothers that were killed in the war. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Pingback: Paper misses boat on passing of UDC member | The Cotton Boll Conspiracy

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