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The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies is a 128-volume collection of records pertaining to military activities during the American Civil War. It is augmented by The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies and the more recent Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.
The process of compiling the Official Records began in 1863 when General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck proposed gathering and publishing documents and reports. Congress passed a resolution calling for printing Union military records on May 19, 1864, and President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law the next day. A new law calling for publication of other Union and Confederate records was passed in 1866, but the project languished for lack of funding until 1874 when Congress appropriated $15,000 for publication of records through an amendment to an appropriations bill by Congressman James A. Garfield.
The project struggled until the Publications Office, War Records was established in late 1877 to organize and publish the Civil War records. Led by Captain Robert N. Scott, the office oversaw publication of the first eighteen volumes of the Official Records, the first in 1880. The thousands of reports were transcribed by clerks for publication. The project was complicated, however, by a scarcity of Confederate records, many of which had been burned during the war. Former Confederate brigadier general Marcus J. Wright and other former officers traveled through the states of the old Confederacy from 1878 to 1917, gathering materials for inclusion in the Official Records. Publication of the Official Records concluded in 1901 with the publication of the General Index to the 128-volume compilation. It had taken nearly forty years and cost more than $3 million to bring the project to completion.
The Official Records are organized in four series. Series I consists of fifty-three volumes of battle reports and official correspondence. Series II, containing eight volumes published from 1894 to 1899, contains materials related to prisoners of war. Series III, with five volumes published between 1899 and 1900, features Union correspondence not covered in Series I and II, and the four-volume Series IV, published between 1900 and 1901, contains similar Confederate correspondence. The Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, featuring maps and illustrations, was published between 1891 and 1895.
Volumes in Series I pertaining to events in Arkansas include Volume I (1880), covering February 7 to May 9, 1861; Volume III (1881), May 10 to November 19, 1861; Volume VIII (1883), November 19, 1861, to April 10, 1862; Volume XIII (1885), April 10 to November 20, 1862; Volume XXII (1888), November 20, 1862, to December 31, 1863; Volume XXXIV (1891), January 1 to June 30, 1864; Volume XLI (1893), July 1 to December 31, 1864; and XLVIII (1896), January 1 to June 30, 1865.
Development of The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies was started much later, with Congress first appropriating funds for the project on July 7, 1884. That and subsequent funding would include salaries for clerks to transcribe the written reports. Confederate naval records were initially scarce, though significant collections were located to be included in the compilation. The first volume of Series I, which chronicles active naval operations, was published in 1894, and twenty-six others would be published through 1917, when printing was suspended during World War I. Series II—consisting of three volumes containing statistical data, correspondence, and official documents—was published in 1921 and 1922.
Volumes containing reports on naval activity in Arkansas, titled “Naval Forces on Western Waters,” are Volume XXIII (1910), chronicling events from April 12 to December 31, 1962; Volume XXIV (1911), January 1 to May 17, 1863; Volume XXV (1912), May 18 to February 29, 1864; and Volume XXVI (1914), March 1 to December 31, 1864.
While the Official Records are recognized as the major source of information on operations during the Civil War, other documentation uncovered in the years after their publication led historian Noah Andre Trudeau and others in 1992 to approach Broadfoot Publishing Company in Wilmington, North Carolina, about publishing a supplement. After determining that there was a substantial market for such a publication, Broadfoot agreed to the project. Historians, including former University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM) professor Dr. William Shea, suggested sources of relevant materials that had not been included in the original Official Records, and documents were gathered, transcribed, and edited. Ultimately, 100 volumes were published under the editorial leadership of Janet B. Hewett. Part I consists of twelve volumes of reports; Part II has eighty volumes of “Records of Events” that include camp and campaign reports at the company level, with Arkansas materials included in Volume 2; and Part III holds three volumes of correspondence. The Supplement also has a five-volume index.
For additional information:
Aimone, Alan C., and Barbara A. Aimone. A User’s Guide to the Official Records of the American Civil War. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane Publishing Co., 1993.
Civil War Documents. Making of America. Cornell University Library. http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/m/moawar/waro.html (accessed November 14, 2017).
Hewett, Janet B. “Updating the Documentary History of the U.S. Civil War: The Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.” Journal of Government Information 26.1 (1999): 43–55.
Hewett, Janet B. et al., eds. Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 100 vols. Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1994–2001.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 128 vols. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1880–1901.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1894–1922.
Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 11/14/2017
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