Are Muster Rolls New to You, Too?

Posted by Paul Rawlins on May 11, 2010 in Content

I’ve been waiting to get a look at the Alabama Civil War Muster Rolls, 1861–1865. Not because I have family from Alabama—most of my Southern relatives had headed west a generation or two earlier—but because I didn’t have a good handle on what muster rolls contained. I knew they were lists of soldiers and their status, but what did that mean?

If muster rolls are new to you, too, here are a few things I’ve discovered about this collection.

First off, the Ancestry Index pane is your friend. Having the names with the column headings right above them can be a lifesaver. (Turn the pane on by clicking the View All link in the toolbar. It may not be available for every page.)

You can search by name of course, but records are organized by unit, and you can narrow in pretty quickly using the browse function as well. When you are searching a name, don’t stop at the record page that comes up. Many of the rolls are two pages wide (or long), so go to the image and check the next page, where more facts could be waiting.

The formats of the muster rolls vary, and so does what you can find in them. The rolls for 1st Alabama Infantry, Company E, list name, rank, age, state and county of enlistment, and remarks, where the soldier’s status (present, absent, etc.) is explained.

Not bad. But check out the column heads for the rolls for the 15th Alabama Infantry Regiment, Company K:



Enlisted: When. Where. Period.

Born (State)


Residence (Nearest P.O.)

Age when enlisted

Married or single



And here is the most intriguing bit to me: Under Engagements and Remarks you’ll find a soldier’s battle history. Each column under Engagements lists the name and dates of battles the unit fought in. Letter codes give a soldier’s status: P (present and unhurt), w (wounded), a (absent without leave), etc. You’ll find a legend to the codes at the top of the roll.

This collection contains payroll and other records as well as muster rolls (some ancillary records are not indexed), and you won’t find every unit or Alabama soldier—many records were lost. But everything you might discover makes these records well worth getting acquainted with.


1 Annette JacksonMay 12, 2010 at 7:13 am

I was amazed to see the amount and variety of information on the muster roll that you used as an example; however, the Union muster rolls that I have for various ancestors are not as complete. They also apparently vary from one state to another, or one regiment to another. For example, for one ancestor (Missouri) I have a record of all the engagements in which he participated during his three year enlistment, while for others (from Illinois and Missouri) I had to research their engagements by studying the history of the regiment and checking the muster roll for that month to see if they were present. For one relative I have his actual enlistment papers included in the file, but for others that information was not present. In the case of pension records, I found information on another relative that established that he was divorced from his wife, and information that he and his wife had had two children, heretofore unknown, who had died as toddlers. So I am sold on the value of military records!

2 MargaretMay 13, 2010 at 5:15 pm

Are these Alabama muster rolls Confederate or union or both?

The Title of the unit definitely needs to specify union or confederate. I had family to fight with both 1st Ala (CSA) and 1st Ala (USA). It is important to know which set of records one is talking about here.

3 BobNYMay 13, 2010 at 9:36 pm


That is why ancestry includes a description of the dataset.

“About these Records

These rolls are for Confederate units formed in Alabama during the Civil War—though many operated outside of the state over the course of the war.”

4 Sharon Dickinson Van DaeleMay 14, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I have tried to access information and was successful so far, but in entering data for the World Archives Project, I found the instructions to be confusing, whether military or other. They need to not only be more interactive, with windows you can open when you hit a snag, but also give more “WHAT IF” examples.

5 MargaretMay 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Yes, the “about these records” does provide this information; however I was reading this blog and it doesn’t mention if it is union, confederate or both and it would be even more helpful if the Title were a little more precise!

6 AlexandraMay 18, 2010 at 1:14 pm

I found my Confederate great grandfather easily in these Muster Rolls, and was able to figure out which unit he fought with. This was really great since there were two people with very similar names in the previously available index and I wasn’t absolutely sure which one was my guy. Having more info and the actual documents was a great help.

I also have Union ancestors & I’d love to see their records too – can we expect more soon?

7 Brenda Billups DodsonMay 19, 2010 at 9:47 am

Are there muster rolls for Missouri and Virginia as well? Does anyone know how to identify a particular military unit with a particular county. I am finding that my family’s habit of using the same name creates problems when searching these records. During the Civil War my family had at least 8 men, in just one branch of the family, enlisted ,some on both sides, all with the same name and I haven’t been able to figure out a way to weed out just the one I am searching for. Any hints would be appreciated.

8 Carol MatlockMay 19, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Have you tried the National Parks adminstration site Soldiers and Sailors (civil war) or search engine the relatives county and civil war. Or even their name, county and civil war. I use the search engine and have had a lot of luck finding ancestors.
Good Luck!

9 Peggy PatickMay 19, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I am new at this research, so bear with me. My great grandfather enlisted, at age 16, in the Union Army in 1866. I found his enlistment paper. But I find it hard to read the script and decipher the “remarks” column that uses a lot of abbreviations. It looks like”des” and then a date, then that is repeated twice more with different dates. Is there a guide to reading these documents? Thanks

10 CHARLIEMay 19, 2010 at 5:41 pm



11 AnnetteMay 20, 2010 at 11:56 am

Civil War records for Missouri are indexed on the ancestry site and other sites as well — but if Brenda Dodson wants the actual record on-line I have not yet found a site that has that information. Check the National Archives website and Footnotes, the latter is putting many of the Archives records on line. Otherwise, you’ll probably have to pay your $25.00 to the National Archives for a photocopy of the record.

12 AnnetteMay 20, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Meant to add that you can get some digital information on the website for the Missouri State Archives — not the whole record, but a view of a card that gives the Reg and the company, as well as the date of enlistment, and, sometimes, the age of the veteran.

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