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What Are CMSRs?

My husband and I recently attended a local parade, for the "Cowboy Culture Celebration" in our local community. One of the groups on parade was the Sons of Confederate Veterans 1896,. I was reminded as I watched this group that many Confederate veterans came to Texas during the 50 years after the Civil War.
The Family Stories
One of those veterans was my 2nd gr-grandfather, Jeremiah Castleberry.
I remember when I first learned that he had served in the Civil War. My grandmother's cousin had this ambrotype of him. She also had an ambrotype of my 2nd gr-grandmother, Jeremiah's wife Martha Jane Lewis. Martha would have had Jeremiah's picture and he would have carried hers.

It seemed all so romantic. I wanted to know more.

I asked my father what he knew about his gr-grandfather. He told me that his gr-grandfather hated being in "The War" [for those of you who are not Southerners, "The War" is the Civil War] and that Jeremiah was conscripted to serve by the slave owners. He also said that the Castleberrys didn't own slaves and so Jeremiah resented having to support that institution. He also told me that Jeremiah and his brother were marching along a road when Jeremiah's brother was shot. Jeremiah stopped to render aid but the commanding officer made him leave his brother on the road and keep marching. Jeremiah's brother died that day and Jeremiah resented the officer.
The Romance Began to Fade....

Compiled Military Service Records
This was back in 1981, so I had to order his records. Unlike Union soldiers, there are few confederate records. Fortunately for me, Alabama has quite a collection. This was my first introduction to Compiled Military Service Records.
Brigadier General Fred C. Ainsworth, head of the Record and Pension Office in the War Department [now the Department of Defense], directed that the Civil War Records and Documents be organized to obtain as complete a record on each soldier as was possible. This project began in 1903 and a card was completed for each time a soldier's name appeared in a record.
These cards come from documents such as muster rolls, hospital records, enlistment papers, officers' reports and notes, etc. In some instances, there may be original documents included in this file. All of the cards and any documents specific to that soldier were placed in jacket envelopes.

 Copies of Jeremiah's records cost me $5 back in the 1980s. The clerks in the National Archives chose which documents they would include in your package. Sometimes you got the whole file and sometimes you did not. In the late 1990s, my sister ordered Jeremiah's records from the NationalPark Service . She got more than I had gotten, but it cost her $50.

 Two years ago when I became a member of Footnote I looked for Jeremiah's records. Now I have 31 images of his service in the Confederate Army.
Make a Chronology 

Jeremiah's CMSR (Compiled Military Service Record) provides these facts:

 Served as a private in Co. F of the 2nd Battalion known as Hilliard's Legion, which later became Co. C of the 59th Alabama Regiment.
26 March 1862: enlisted at Rockford, Coosa Co, Alabama.
  • 1 June 1862: present [Muster rolls included the lists of soldiers in a company. The notes indicated whether they were "present", sick, wounded, captured, deserted, etc.
  • 1 Sept 1862: present
  • 31 January 1863: present "joined from desertion."
  • July/August 1863: present
  • 20 September 1863: reported sick to the hospital. The same day his brother Joseph was killed at Chickamauga. One can only believe that he said he was ill so he could check on his brother, who had been shot.
  • 12 May 1864: wounded; "shell wound slightly above the left knee."
  • 25 May 1864: returned to duty
  • 17 June 1864: captured at Petersburg, VA
  • 24 June 1864: arrived at City Point, VA
  • 27 July 1864: transferred to Elmira Prison in New York. He spent most of the rest of the war at Elmira Prison in New York. Elmira was the Union equivalent of Andersonville in the South.
  • 14 Mar 1865: released in a prisoner exchange
  • 25 Mar 1865: furloughed from General Hospital, Howard's Grove, Richmond, VA.
There were 6 cards in this file that belong to a Jerry M. Castleberry, Pvt. Co B, 30th Regiment, AL Inf, who died at Camp Douglas, Illinois while a prisoner. This is not my Jeremiah, since he lived to come home and father my gr-grandmother in 1868.
Facts Generate Questions
Jeremiah's CMSR generated more questions for me:
Why did he desert?
Why did he return to his unit?
What was time spent in Elmira prison really like?
Did his experiences during the Civil War, such as battles like Chickamauga where Texas brigades fought or imprisonment at Elmira where he would have met Texans, influence his decision to move to Texas?
What was life like for his family in Alabama while he was away at war?
Did his two other brothers and his brothers-in-law serve in the Civil War?
From these questions, I can look for more documents to help me understand Jeremiah's experience and his family's experience during the Civil War.
For each question I can make a research plan to help me focus on the records and strategies most likely to answer that question.
What I Learned 
  • I learned that family stories frequently have a kernel of truth in them.
  • I learned that the records can give meaning to seemingly inexplicable actions.
  • I learned that there may be more than one soldier with the same name and cards for both may be filed together.
  • I learned that by knowing the facts found on the cards and using Civil War books and websites, I can trace the movements of my Civil War ancestor.
  •  I learned that if I create a chronology of the facts found on the cards, I have a better picture of what Jeremiah's experience was in the war and where I can find answers to my questions.
  •  I learned that in spite of being Southern and an avid fan of Gone With the Wind, the Civil War was a dark period in the history of our country. It was in no way romantic.
If you want to find the CMSRs for your Civil War ancestor, check out Footnote. The searches are free. You can purchase a subscription or pay a fee for each individual page you want. I recommend the subscription. There were 31 images for Jeremiah. Had I paid the single image fee, it would have cost me over $65 for just his file. By paying $15 more for an annual subscription, I have access to the records of my other Civil War ancestors and my Revolutionary War ancestors and several get the picture.


  1. this is one of my grand uncles

  2. Sandra, Very interesting post. Do you have a picture of his brother that was killed? I found your page by searching his image. I collect images of Soldiers wearing the style of coat found on your ancestor in that picture. Most have been from Hilliards Legion and all being of Alabama Units. Would love to chat with you more about your ancestor.

    J. Wheeler