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Guide to Using the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion

Trying to find battle reports in the Official Records can be frustrating. Here’s a quick reference guide for using the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion aka Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies to aid your efforts.

If you’re looking for a major battle I’d recommend using our Topics and links tab which has shortcut links to major battles in the Official Records. If the link doesn’t take you to the index, be sure to look in the index of that volume (use the “jump to page” and scroll down to the index) and confirm you’ve exhausted all the reports, maps, etc. for that battle.

If you’re looking for a particular regiment, we don’t yet have those listed in our Topics and links tab so I’d recommend using the search button for the regiment in question. You might want to go to the index of a volume and see how they reference regiments because the search engine will use the exact wording found in the volumes.

For researchers, a general understanding of the layout might help. There are 127 volumes in four series. Here’s a breakdown of each series.

    Series I includes 53 volumes and focuses on military operations including battle reports which are arranged chronologically by campaign and theater of operation. Union reports precede Confederate reports.
    Series II has 8 volumes and includes Union and Confederate correspondence, orders, reports, and returns relating to Prisoners of War and political prisoners.
    Series III contains 5 volumes and includes miscellaneous correspondence, orders, and reports of the Union; requests for Union troops; correspondence between the National and State authorities; and correspondence between Union and Confederate authorities.
    Series IV has 3 volumes and includes miscellaneous correspondence, orders, and reports of the Confederacy as well as General and Special Orders of the CSA and correspondence related to conscription and blockage running.

Two helpful hints:

The indexes for the early volumes are more helpful than for later volumes. Reports listed by battle in the early volumes include page numbers. In later volumes the page numbers are not given under the battle listing in the index, but usually are given if you turn to the specific campaign that battle was a part of.

This is because toward the end of the war and the end of Series I, battles were increasingly contained in larger campaigns. It’s important to look in the index of the pertinent volume to make sure you’ve found everything the ORs have to offer. For example, early in the war, in the Battle of Shiloh aka the Battle of Pittsburg Landing on April 6-7, 1862, using the Topics and links tab you can go directly to a Summary of Principal Events: or a listing in the index: This will exhaust the records for this battle in this volume. You’ll find the reports and page numbers listed under this battle’s heading in the index. Compare this to a battle late in the war, such as the Battle of Nashville on December 15-16, 1864. The Topics and links will take you to the index: You will not find reports with corresponding page numbers under this battle listing. From here you’ll need to be aware that it tells you to also look under the “North Alabama and Middle Tennessee, Campaign”. If you turn to “North Alabama and Middle Tennessee, Campaign,” you’ll find page numbers for every report in that campaign.

One last tip, by default the search engine takes you to actual page images but if you want to copy and use the text you’ll need to select the “Full Text” tab above the image and copy the text from there.

If you have requests for Topics and links or other suggestions/comments, please email us at: Happy searching!