Some of the state rolls, both printed and manuscript, are defective; many of the men are unaccounted for, or accounted for erroneously; and, for some regiments, the rolls are missing entirely.
But, in such cases the different states have perfected their rolls through information furnished by the War Department at Washington
Owing to the liberal policy of the Government
in regard to pensions, the friends of deceased soldiers have supplied much of the lacking information in the prosecution of their claims.
Of course, many of those who were unaccounted for on the rolls had no legal heirs to present their claims at the Pension Bureau; men recorded as “wounded and missing in action,” and who, through lack of family or social ties, disappeared without question or remark.
But the various state adjutant-generals have been untiring in their efforts to obtain information in such cases, and have, for the most part, settled definitely the fate of the missing.
The historian will find in the muster-out-rolls a mine of information valuable and necessary to his task.
He may have already learned the names of the regiments which were present at the battle, and the movements of the brigade, division or corps.
But which of these regiments did the fighting?
Which of then were in reserve, and which of them were in the first line?
Which of theni led in the assault?
Which ones stood in the breach?
In these records he will find a clear and unequivocal answer.
The long column of names marked as killed in some particular action tells the story of how well they stood.
More rolls are searched, and from them he makes a list of regiments whose losses map out the points of contact on some field and s how plainly where the press was heaviest.
He notes, also, that the records do not warrant the boastful account of some regimental historian, while it reflects honor on the gallantry of some command which has hitherto been overlooked and unrecognized.
He notes, again, that some regiment which has figured conspicuously in the official casualty list by reason of its aggregate of losses, did so on account of its large number of missing; and, that of these missing ones few were killed, the remainder having been.
captured. He notes, again, on. examining some other rolls, that the number of killed is large in proportion to the number enrolled, and so credits tie regiment with a percentage of loss which tells better than any flight of rhetoric how often and how well they faced the enemy's fire.
The story of the muster-out-roll is, at best, but a sad one. One is carried back to the war and surrounded by its sad pictures.
In scanning the remarks attached to the names there are the ever recurring phrases which recall vividly its thrilling scenes.
“Killed, July 3, 1863, at Gettysburg
;” and one thinks of Pickett
's charge, or other incidents of that historic field.
“Killed, May 3, 1863, at Marye's Heights
;” and the compiler lays down his pencil to dream again of that fierce charge which swept upward over the sloping fields of Fredericksburg
“Wounded and missing, May 6, 1864, at the Wilderness
,” suggests a nameless grave marked, if at all, by a Government headstone bearing the short, sad epitaph, “Unknown.”
“Killed at Malvern Hill
, July 11 1862;” and there rises a picture of an artilleryman lying dead at the wheels of his gun.
“Died of gunshot wound before Atlanta
, August 20, 1864,” tells of some lad who fills a grave long miles away from the village church-yard of his Northern home.
“Wounded at Antietam
, September 17, 1862, and died on the amputating table,” brings up the dire vision of the field-hospital, that ghastly sequel of every battle.
“Killed at Appomattox
, April 9, 1865;” and one sees the dead cavalryman, who, falling in that closing battle of the war, died with home and victory in sight.
“Died of sunstroke,” recalls the long march, the heavy load, the dust, the heat, and a senseless form lying at the roadside.