Monday, November 14, 2011

Reviewing Civil War Compiled Military Service Records

Not long ago I wrote a post about ordering a Civil War Compiled Military Service Record from NARA for my great-great-grandfather, Ellis H. Bickerstaff. NARA said it could take four to six weeks for the file to arrive so I settled in for the wait, anticipating a nice, bulky bunch of photocopies. Surprise! The envelope arrived last Friday, just over three weeks from the date I ordered it. Surprise again! (And disappointment, too.) There were only 2 pages of records in it.

I had hoped these records might shed some light on events in Ellis's past that led him to commit suicide. They don't. But I did learn some things I didn't know.
  • Ellis enlisted in Steubenville, Ohio, and mustered in at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, a (current) distance of about 150 miles.
  • He enlisted on Monday, May 2, 1864, to serve for a period of 100 days. He mustered in on Sunday, May 15, 1864 and mustered out on Friday, September 2, 1864. From muster in to muster out, he served for 110 days.
  • Ellis was 24 when he enlisted.
  • He had blue eyes, brown hair, a fair complexion, and was 6' tall.
Ellis left behind a wife, Emma Nelson Bickerstaff, and one daughter, Susan, who was not yet two years old. A son was born in 1864 but I don't know if it was before Ellis left or after he returned. Ellis and Emma married on September 1, 1861. He was discharged one day after their third anniversary.
The first page may be an index but to what I don't know. It doesn't correlate to the other pages that arrived.

Biggerstaff, Ellis H.
Co. D, 157 Ohio Infantry,
(National Guard.)

Private | Private
1 - 26171747
2 - 26171830
3 - 26171812
4 [through 50 are blank]
Number of personal papers herein 0
Book Mark : [blank]
See also [blank]
The second paper in the envelope is divided into 3 columns. Two are Muster Rolls, the other is a Muster-out Roll. They are in reverse chronological order on the paper. I separated them when I scanned them and I've transcribed them below in chronological order.

B | 157 | Ohio N. G.
Ellis H. Biggerstaff
Pri., Co. D, 157 Reg't Ohio National Guard Inf.
Appears on
Company Muster and Descriptive Roll
of the organization named above. Roll dated
Camp Chase, O., May 15, 1864.
Where born Jefferson Co. O.
Age 24 y'rs; occupation Farmer
When enlisted May 2, 1864.*
Where enlisted Steubenville, O.*
For what period enlisted 100 days.*
Eyes Blue; hair Brown
Complexion Fair; Height 6 ft. ___ in.
When mustered in May 15 , 1864.
Muster-in to date May 15, 1864.
Where mustered in Camp Chase
Bounty paid $ [blank]; due $ [blank]
Where credited [blank]
Company to which assigned [blank]
*Muster and descriptive, muster and muster-out rolls show enrollment of all men of this company as of same date.
Book mark: [blank]
Owsley [?] [signature]

B. | 157 | Ohio N. G.
Ellis H. Biggerstaff
Pri., Co. D, 157 Reg't Ohio National Guard Inf.
Appears on
Company Muster Roll
for May 15, to June 30, 1864.
Present or absent Present
Stoppage $ [blank]
Due Gov't $ [blank]
Remarks: [blank]
Book mark: [blank]
W. T. Owsley [signature]
B | 157 | Ohio N. G.
Ellis H. Biggerstaff
Pri., Co. D, 157 Reg't Ohio National Guard Inf.
Age 24 years.
Appears on Co. Muster-out Roll, dated
Camp Chase, Sept. 2, 1864.
Muster-out to date Sept. 2, 1864.
Last paid to June 30, 1864.
Clothing account:
Last settled [blank]; drawn since $ [blank]
Due soldier $ [blank] due U. S. $ [blank]Amt. for cloth'g in kind or money adv'd $19 10/100
Due U.S. for arms, equipments, &c., $ [blank]Bounty paid $ [blank]
Remarks: [blank]
From Second Auditor's Roll [rubber stamped]
Book mark [blank]
W. T. Owsley [signature]
If any of you readers have insights about these records that I may have missed, I'd be grateful to hear from you. With this information is there a way to tell where Ellis served and whether his company and/or regiment fought in any battles? Thanks.


  1. I'm surprised a discharge paper wasn't included. But yeah, the file is usually pretty small. My ancestor was in the war for over a year and his file was only about a half dozen pages. The pension file is where the heft is.

    According to Ancestry the 157th was assigned guard duty of POWs at Fort Delaware. The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System also has information on the regiments:

  2. Leah, thanks for adding this information about the 157th's assignment. Perhaps guard duty wasn't as bad as being in battle.

    I've been to the Soldiers and Sailors System but wasn't looking for regiment information. I'll go see what I can find.

    Thanks so much.

  3. Nancy-

    You might also look through the Fort Delaware website. Here is a link to information about the 157th, a garrison unit at the Fort:

    And this link has pages from the Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion for the 157th. Check out Co. D...there were many Bickerstaffs. Relations?

    And scroll down the page to this link to read more about the 157th at Fort Delaware:

    Good luck!

  4. When did he commit suicide? Perhaps it was a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Are there any files related to injured or hospitalized soldiers?

  5. Heather, thanks for all the links and other information. I'll check them out and see what I can find. Yes, Ellis and several of his brothers and cousins enlisted at the same time and/or served together.

  6. Claudia, it was 40 years after his C.W. service that Ellis committed suicide. I just wondered if it was something that had weighed on his mind all those years until it wore him down. I'll do some more research. Thanks for the suggestion about injured/hospitalized soldiers' records.

  7. Nancy, I couldn't find a book written explicitly about the 157th Ohio, but WorldCat indicates that "Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Her Generals, and Soldiers" by Whitelaw Reid has a chapter on the 157th regiment. It's available for free on Google Books, and also in the Columbus library.

    Did Ellis or his widow apply for a pension? If so, that should give you a more insight on his experiences. It could have been in that he was in constant pain, and it eventually became unbearable. Best of luck in your search!

  8. Endlessly informative. An insight into a type of record we do not have over here.

  9. Try this one - you have to scroll way down the page or use "find" for 157:

  10. Shelley, thanks for finding this book and looking up its location. I'll see what it can offer me.

    As far as I can tell, Ellis didn't apply for a pension. He died before his wife (well, before his 3rd wife). I'll scout it out and confirm whether there was one or not but I don't think so.

  11. Dee, thanks so much for this link. I looked at it this morning. It's brief but it's more than I already knew. Thanks for telling me about it.

    I have lots of research to do with all the links people have posted.

  12. You wrote:
    "The first page may be an index but to what I don't know. It doesn't correlate to the other pages that arrived."

    The first page (card) is an index. Each of the numbers listed is stamped on the back of the subsequent cards you showed. 3 numbers equals 3 cards.

    Hope this helps.

  13. Dawn, thank you so much for verifying that I imagined but didn't know for certain. With no numbers on the front of the pages, I was only able to guess. Thanks!

  14. The words that are "undecipherable" on the first page are "Private." He was a Private when he mustered in and still a Private when he mustered out.


  15. Liz, thanks so much for deciphering this for me.

  16. The civil war pension records generally contain more information about the solder and his family than the service records. I have two civil war ancestors and a twin brother of one of those who served also served. I guess I was somewhat lucky, my civil war service records contains enough documents to copy onto 9 - 15 legal sized pages.

    Regards, Jim
    Civil War Service Records at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets


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