The work of preparing the records of the war for public use was begun under the resolution of Congress of May 19, 1864, by Adjt. Gen. E. D. Townsend, U. S. Army, who caused copies to be made of reports of battles on file in his office and steps to be taken to collect missing records.

Under the provisions of joint resolution No. 91, of 1866, Hon. Peter H. Watson was appointed to supervise the preparation and formulate a plan for the publication of the records, but he did no work and drew no pay under this appointment, which expired July 27, 1868, by limitation of the resolution. This resolution also repealed the former one and work ceased.

The first decisive step taken in this work was the act of June 23, 1874, providing the necessary means ‘to enable the Secretary of War to begin the publication of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, both of the Union and Confederate Armies,’ and directing him ‘to have copied for the Public Printer all reports, letters, telegrams, and general orders, not heretofore copied or printed, and properly arranged in chronological order.’ Appropriations have been made from time to time for continuing such preparation. Under this act the preliminary work was resumed by General Townsend, who first outlined the plan on which the records are printed, though it appears that originally he contemplated publishing to the world only the more important military reports.

Subsequently, under meager appropriations, it was prosecuted in a somewhat desultory manner by various subordinates of the War Department until December 14, 1877, when the Secretary of War, perceiving that the undertaking needed the undivided attention of a single head, detailed Lieut. Col. Robert N. Scott, U. S. Army, to take charge of the bureau and devote himself exclusively to the work.

The act of June 23, 1874, greatly enlarged upon the first crude scheme of publication. On this more comprehensive basis it was determined that the volumes should include not only the battle reports, but also ‘all official documents that can be obtained by the compiler, and that appear to be of any historical value.’ Colonel Scott systematized the work and the plan, and presented the records in the following order of arrangement, which has been adhered to by his successors:

The first series will embrace the formal reports, both Union and Confederate, of the first seizures of United States property in the Southern States, and of all military operations in the field, with the correspondence, orders, and returns relating specially thereto, and, as proposed, is to be accompanied by an Atlas.

In this series the reports will be arranged according to the campaigns and several theaters of operations (in the chronological order of the events), and the Union reports of any event will, as a rule, be immediately followed by the Confederate accounts. The correspondence, &c., not embraced in the ‘reports’ proper will follow (first Union and next Confederate) in chronological order.

The second series will contain the correspondence, orders, reports, and returns, Union and Confederate, relating to prisoners of war, and (so far as the military authorities were concerned) to State or political prisoners.

The third series will contain the correspondence, orders, reports, and returns of the Union authorities (embracing their correspondence with the Confederate officials) not relating specially to the subjects of the first and second series. It will set forth the annual and special reports of the Secretary of War, of the General-in-Chief, and of the chiefs of the several staff corps and departments; the calls for troops, and the correspondence between the National and the several State authorities.

The fourth series will exhibit the correspondence, orders, reports, and returns of the Confederate authorities, similar to that indicated for the Union officials, as of the third series, but excluding the correspondence between the Union and Confederate authorities given in that series.

The first volume of the records was issued in the early fall of 1880. The act approved June 16, 1880, provided ‘for the printing and binding, under direction of the Secretary of War, of 10,000 copies of a compilation of the Official Records (Union and Confederate) of the War of the Rebellion, so far as the same may be ready for publication, during the fiscal year;’ and that ‘of said number 7,000 copies shall be for the use of the House of Representatives, 2,000 copies for the use of the Senate, and 1,000 copies for the use of the Executive Departments.’ Under this act Colonel Scott proceeded to publish the first five volumes of the records.

Col. Robert N. Scott died March 5, 1887, before the completion of the work, which, during a ten years service, he had come to love so dearly. At his death some twenty-six books only had been issued, but he had compiled a large amount of matter for forthcoming volumes; consequently his name as compiler was retained in all the books up to and including Vol. XXXVI, although his successors had added largely to his compilations from new material found after his demise.

The Secretary of War, May 7, 1887, assigned Lieut. Col. H. M. Lazelle, U. S. Army, to duty as the successor of Colonel Scott. He had continued in charge about two years, when, in the act approved March 2, 1889, it was provided —

That hereafter the preparation and publication of said records shall be conducted, under the Secretary of War, by a board of three persons, one of whom shall be an officer of the Army, and two civilian experts, to be appointed by the Secretary of War, the compensation of said civilian experts to be fixed by the Secretary of War.

The Secretary of War appointed Maj. George B. Davis, judge-advocate, U. S. Army, as the military member, and Leslie J. Perry, of Kansas, and Joseph W. Kirkley, of Maryland, as the civilian expert members of said board. The board assumed direction of the publication at the commencement of the fiscal year 1889, its first work beginning with Serial No. 36, of Vol. XXIV.

Each volume includes a copious and accurate index, and for the further convenience of investigators there will be, in addition, a general index to the entire set when complete in a volume by itself.

Nothing is printed in these volumes except duly authenticated contemporaneous records of the War. The scope of the board's work is to decide upon and arrange the matter to be published; to correct and verify the orthography of the papers used, and occasionally to add a foot-note of explanation.

Geo. B. Davis, Major and J. A., U. S. A., Leslie J. Perry, Civilian Expert, Joseph W. Kirkley, Civilian Expert,
Board of Publication.
Approved: Redfield Proctor, Secretary of War. War Department, Washington, D. C., August 1, 1891.

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