Recent efforts by the Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission to digitize Virginia’s Civil War legacy is reminiscent of a similar, yet very different, endeavor by the state of Virginia over one hundred years ago. Created in 1904 by an act of the General Assembly as the Office of the Secretary of Virginia Military Records, the Department of Confederate Military Records was tasked with assisting the federal government in compiling a complete roster of Confederate soldiers from Virginia. Although the modern approach is to digitize collections held in private hands, the Department of Confederate Military Records was charged with simply compiling the names of Virginia’s Confederate veterans. This small agency accomplished their mission by borrowing or collecting original muster rolls and other records listing Confederate officers and enlisted men in the various branches of service. The secretary also relied heavily on finished rosters gathered by the Office of the Adjutant General in 1884 and rosters sent to commissioners of the revenue throughout the state in 1898 and 1900. Despite these earlier efforts, a truly complete roster of Virginia’s Confederate veterans was still lacking which prompted the need for a Department of Confederate Military Records.
Major Robert Waterman Hunter, a veteran and an officer in the 2nd Regiment of Virginia Volunteers, was appointed the first Secretary of Virginia Military Records by Governor Andrew J. Montague in 1904. Hunter served in this capacity until 1910 when he was succeeded by Joseph Virginius Bidgood, former Commander of the Grand Camp of Confederate Veterans. The Office of the Secretary of Virginia Military Records merged into the Adjutant General’s Office in 1911 and became the Department of Confederate Military Records under Bidgood in 1912. An act of Assembly passed in 1918 abolished the department and their records were transferred to the Virginia State Library. The result of their work was twenty volumes on Confederate Rosters arranged by unit.
The Library of Virginia houses some sixty-eight cubic feet (62 boxes and 48 volumes) related to the Department of Confederate Military Records, commonly known as the Bidgood Papers. The collection contains correspondence, muster rolls, scrapbooks, payrolls, news clippings, rosters, printed material, letter books, military orders, photographs, and other items. Particularly useful are the unit record files which often contain original materials from the Civil War. Hunter and Bidgood’s correspondence is an underutilized resource that sometimes includes genealogical information or personal recollections of veterans or their families. Two scrapbooks of obituaries document the deaths of over sixteen hundred Confederate veterans who died between 1910 and 1917. Also significant are muster rolls and payrolls for militia units stationed in Harper’s Ferry following John Brown’s Raid in 1859. Last, but not least, there are the aforementioned twenty volumes of Virginia’s Confederate veterans. The Library of Virginia created an online index to these rosters which provides the name and unit of the veteran. Though not considered an official roster like the National Register of Compiled Service records, the volumes and database provide easy access to an online list of Virginia’s Confederate veterans. More importantly, the records of the Department of Confederate Military records represent the Library’s largest collection of Civil War-related materials.
-Craig S. Moore, State Records Appraisal Archivist