If you’ve got an ancestor who served in an Iowa Regiment during the Civil War we’ve just acquired a great resource to assist you in your research. Thanks to some generous folks like the Tawani Foundation in Chicago who provided grant assistance and the Scott County Iowa Genealogical Society who stepped in when this project became a bit more expensive than we anticipated, we can now offer the Volunteer Enlistment Papers for Iowa Civil War soldiers. Previously these documents were only available at the State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines. Now that they have been microfilmed you no longer have to drive to Des Moines to view them – you can do that right here in Davenport!
You say you already know that your ancestor served in the War and you know his dates of service and the regiment and company he served in. Why would you care about the enlistment papers? Do you know how tall he was? Or what color his eyes and hair were? Do you have a copy of his signature? The enlistment paper generally gives this information for each soldier. It also documents the soldier’s place of birth in some detail – especially for those soldiers who were born overseas.
If you are really lucky, your soldier was not of legal age and had to have his parent or guardian sign the paper giving their permission for the soldier to enlist. In one case, the enlistee’s wife signed giving him permission to volunteer. We wondered if she was doing her patriotic duty in allowing her young husband to go off to war or if she was, perhaps, happy to see him go?
Like any record, the volunteer enlistments do have their limitations. The biggest one is that the records begin in June of 1862 with records of soldiers in the 27th Infantry, so if your ancestor was an early enlistee their enlistment paper isn’t available. The others are simply a product of the time the records were created. For example, some soldiers could not write their names so a signature isn’t on the record. Sometimes the person filling out the form didn’t have good handwriting and/or spelling skills (or maybe they just didn’t ask how the soldier spelled his name!). The result is that you might find your soldier’s last name spelled four different ways all on the same document.
The records are arranged by regiment and then by company so that’s the information you will need in order to find your soldier’s enlistment paper. If you don’t have that information there are a number of printed indexes available in the Special Collections Center. Or you can try searching an online index at the national park service website: http://www.civilwar.nps.gov/cwss/ Our experience has taught us that none of these indexes are complete, so thanks to one of our wonderful volunteers we are working on creating an index that is specifically for the Volunteer Enlistments – hopefully you’ll see it soon as a work in progress on our website at www.qcmemory.org
UPDATE (23March2009): Our searchable index is now available!