Tuesday, November 19, 2013

TSLA’s Union Provost Marshal Database is now online

During the Civil War, the provost marshal was the Union Army officer charged with maintaining order among both soldiers and civilians. The provost marshals were the Union’s military police. Records of this office, which the State Library & Archives is making searchable online, reveal a great range of activities in Tennessee. The provost and his soldiers hunted down and arrested deserters, spies, and civilians suspected of disloyalty; confined prisoners; maintained records of paroles and oaths of allegiance; controlled the passage of civilians in military zones and those using government transportation; and investigated the theft of government property. In some instances, provost courts were set up to try cases that fell under the provost marshal’s jurisdiction and those cases where military personnel were accused of civil crimes.

This scene depicted in the January 18, 1862 edition of Harper’s Weekly was typical of provost marshal offices throughout the country, as citizens waited in line to apply for permission to travel within Union-occupied territory.

The provost marshal records, microfilmed by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), were collected from War Department files and are dated 1861 to 1867. In the series of records with which the State Library and Archives is working, each document pertains to two or more civilians, or “citizens,” as they were referred to during the Civil War, and were gathered from provost marshals across the country. [Note: There is another series of records about individual citizens, which we might want to tackle next.]

These documents provide valuable information related to many Tennesseans, not only of soldiers but of ordinary men and women caught in the turmoil of war. They include correspondence, oaths of allegiance, orders, passes, transportation permits, lists of prisoners, paroles, provost court papers, and claims for compensation for property used or destroyed by military forces. Now, these documents are available online on the Tennessee State Library and Archives web site.

Pass from the Provost Marshal's Office at Gallatin, Tennessee, to permit W. T. Robinson to travel within Federal lines until further orders. The pass was issued by order of Brigadier General E. A. Paine, and signed by Major J. J. Searitt, provost marshal.
(Image from the Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) Civil War Military Records Collection.)

The Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) Union Provost Marshal Database project began in 2011, with the goal of creating a fully searchable online database for the Tennessee portion of these records. The staff at TSLA, along with volunteers Cinnamon Collins and Shirley Wilson, have been going through and digitally scanning any documents that were from provost marshal offices in Tennessee or that relate to Tennesseans during the Civil War. All of this hard work and effort has now culminated in a database which lists the name, location (city or county), year, file number (if provided), and a brief description of the document(s), along with a digital copy of the document itself.

The Union Provost Marshal Database will be of great benefit to genealogists, historians, and others, who can use the database to learn fascinating details about their ancestors and what their lives were like during the Civil War. We invite you to search the site at http://www.tnsos.net/TSLA/provost/index.php.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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