Archives employees prepare Civil War documents

By Curt Yeomans


The National Archives at Atlanta facility in Morrow has, for several years, kept documents from the Civil War era, ranging from Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest's bankruptcy papers, to oaths of allegiance in which former Confederate soldiers promised to not rebel against the United States again.

But, according to archives employees, the documents were scattered across the many types of files at the facility. There has not been a large, focused concentration of the documents - until now.

Archivists at the local branch of the National Archives are processing Union Army documents from Kentucky and Tennessee. The documents were recently transferred to the Morrow location from the National Archives facility in Washington D.C., as part of the nationwide effort to put such documents in regional facilities that are closer to people who would be interested in them, archivists said.

The National Archives at Atlanta serves eight states, including Kentucky and Tennessee.

"We've had scattered documents here and there, but this is the largest concentration of Civil War documents we've ever received," said Mary Evelyn Tomlin, public programs specialist for the National Archives at Atlanta.

The documents will remain at the local facility indefinitely, and will be used as part of a June 27 workshop on how researchers can use Civil War resources, archivist Maureen Hill said. The documents only cover Kentucky and Tennessee. Kentucky never seceded from the Union, and Tennessee fell to the Union Army early in the war, Hill said.

She said the documents illustrate the nation's first wartime draft, which began in 1863. They include records on who was drafted, correspondence between the Provost Marshall of the Union Army and local draft leaders; the names of soldiers who deserted the army; the names of African Americans - mostly slaves at the time - who served as substitutes for other people who were eligible for the draft; acts of violence committed in protest of the draft, and the condition of barracks for African-American soldiers in the Union Army.

Hill and Tomlin said the records would not be the best place to search for ancestors from Kentucky and Tennessee who served in the Civil War, because a person would need to know from which congressional district their ancestor was drafted. From a scholarly point of point, however, Hill and Tomlin said the documents are valuable resources.

"I keep saying to myself, someone could write a dissertation on the information in these documents, because there is so much here," Hill said.

One set of records that Hill pointed out sheds some light on the story of Ed Bryan. Bryan was an 18-year-old African American, whose pre-draft occupation is listed as "laborer" in draft records. Gabriel Duvall, a slave-owner in Kentucky, paid $300 in February 1864, to sign up Bryan in his place at a draft office in Lexington, Ky.

Hill said the hiring of what were called "substitutes" for $300 was a common practice during the draft. Bryan would have served in the Union Army for three years, Hill said.

The records for Bryan show an ongoing saga, which lasted several months. He never showed up for the formation of his assigned company at Camp Nelson, in Kentucky. The documents show monthly updates, which continued to say the same thing - Bryan deserted the army, and was not heard from again.

"It does not say whether the man Ed Bryan was a substitute for, was his owner," Hill said. "What I would really like to flesh out is whether or not he was serving for his own master, or for someone else."

The Civil War resources workshop costs $10 for participants, and anyone interested in signing up for it, can call the National Archives at Atlanta at (770) 968-2100.