Guide to Civil War Resources at the Missouri State Archives

Online Databases for Research 

Using the Internet as a key tool for providing wide and easier access to collections of the state's original, historical records is one of the Archives' principal objectives. Many online projects are completed with the assistance of volunteers (both in-house volunteers who work at the Archives and “e-volunteers” who transcribe away from the Archives and transmit their work online) and partner organizations. These database projects use technology to approach the task of researching voluminous record groups and gaining a new understanding of the history Missourians share.


Civil War Provost Marshal Index Database

The Provost Marshal Papers for the state of Missouri are part of Record Group 109, War Department Collection of Confederate Records in the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Although they are records of the Union Army, they were associated with Confederate records in the War Department because they relate, in part, to Confederate citizens and sympathizers. The National Archives refers to this collection as Union Provost Marshals' File of Papers Relating to Individual Citizens. This national collection is three hundred rolls of microfilmed documents, 1861-1866. The online database created by the Missouri State Archives is an index of the Missouri portion of the collection. There are similar documents that refer to more than one citizen, Union Provost Marshals' File of Papers Relating to Two or More Civilians - this latter collection, however, is not represented in the Missouri State Archives index but is available for research at the Missouri State Archives.

The microfilm collection contains thousands of pages of documents detailing the way the provost marshal affected the lives of Missouri citizens who came into contact with the Union Army. The office of provost marshal generated much paperwork which offers a unique look at a state divided in loyalty and beliefs, and the war society that resulted. Far from being solely a resource for military research, the provost marshal papers provide information about the role of women during the war, its effect on Missouri's slavery institution, and the difficulties experienced by war refugees.

The documents on film include correspondence, provost marshal court papers, orders, passes, paroles, oaths of allegiance to the United States, transportation permits, and claims for compensation for property used or destroyed by military forces. Charges could be initiated by anyone, civilian or military. Statements by accusers or witnesses were taken down as evidence; citizens could be arrested, however, simply on suspicion.

The Missouri State Archives database index is an ongoing project that began in 2000. Volunteers and student interns extract discrete information, such as name and subject matter, from a review of microfilm with the goal of creating a finding aid for the Missouri portion of the document collection. It is estimated that over 40,000 documents relating to Missouri exist within the national collection. This represents a virtually unknown manuscript collection detailing the national experience in the trans-Mississippi West.

This database is simply an index to assist researchers in locating information found in the original microfilmed records. The database index provides a microfilm reel number(s) where researchers can locate the original record. The records are not available online. This is an ongoing indexing project. Additional indexes will be added to the database as they become available.

Missouri Supreme Court Historical Database

The Missouri Supreme Court database provides an index and abstract of the criminal and civil court cases that were appealed to the territorial and state Supreme Court of Missouri up to 1861, and a partial listing of cases to 1871. A number of documents in the earliest cases date from the 1780s and 1790s, under the rule of French and Spanish governments, and are written in the French language.

This database is made possible by a partnership between the Missouri State Archives, the Supreme Court of Missouri, and the Supreme Court of Missouri Historical Society.

The case files demonstrate the rich variety in Missouri history as cases evolve from French fur trappers to steamboat cases of the Mark Twain era. Court dockets feature the names of prominent Missourians alongside the infamous and notorious. Although litigants came from the entire range of Missouri society, the vast majority of cases involve relatively unknown citizens. These cases provide great insight into the lives of many common Missourians that were only sporadically documented during the first century of the state. The records also offer observations about historical development in the politics, economics, and social issues of 19th century Missouri. A wide range of topics is available for research, including slavery and freedom suits, business and industry, local and state elections, dueling, agriculture and mining, morality issues, and the role of women in society.

The case files include civil, criminal, and chancery (equity) cases appealed to Missouri's highest court. The majority of the cases are civil suits regarding debts or damages. Unredeemed promissory notes, breaches of contracts, and land disputes dominate the dockets. The criminal cases span the breadth of Missouri's laws. Cases range from horrific murder to petty theft. Chancery or equity cases are usually divorces, estate settlements, or other types of probate.

Naturalization Records Database

The United States has always been a land of great opportunity, founded and shaped by its immigrants. These immigrants had imagination and ambition. Coming from many nations and traditions, they strengthened and enriched the state's culture and helped shape Missouri life. The study of naturalization records plays an important role in understanding the history of immigration in Missouri. Legislators created a short-lived State Board of Immigration in 1865, just before the end of the Civil War, to encourage immigration into the war-torn state.

Immigrants to Missouri who became naturalized citizens primarily emigrated from European countries, including England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Belgium, Austria, Romania, Hungary, Switzerland, Prussia, Germany, and various German principalities including Hanover, Bavaria, and Saxony. They filed their naturalization papers to become United States citizens in county courts across the state.

The information contained in the naturalization records includes name, native city and/or native country, date of record, court of application (county court, circuit court, Supreme Court), and microfilm location for copy of full entry (reel number, volume and page numbers).

St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project

The St. Louis Circuit Court Historical Records Project was initiated in 1999. It is a long-term initiative that seeks to provide access to the rich materials contained in the St. Louis Circuit Court records. Ultimately over four million pages of original court documents, dating from 1787 to 1875, will be preserved and accessible for research. These records comprise the largest single collection of historically valuable records in Missouri never systematically reviewed by historical researchers. In 2000, work on records from the early years (1790s to 1830) was designated an official project of the national Save America's Treasures initiative. The project consisted of conservation treatment of the documents, followed by preservation microfilming to make the records available for research.

This project is a broad partnership of government, university, legal, and business organizations to preserve and make available these unique judicial records to the citizens of Missouri and the nation. Students from St. Louis University, University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Washington University in St. Louis work under the direction of professional staff from the Missouri State Archives to process and digitize case files. An Academic Advisory Committee of historians selects themes from the court cases that have particular significance to regional and state history. To stimulate further research within the court documents, leading to a greater understanding of Missouri and the American past, the records in those thematic series are digitized for online access. The current selection of themes includes more than 280 legal petitions from slavery (freedom suits) filed in St. Louis between 1814 and 1860.

The St. Louis freedom suits, and other records like them, shed new light on the complex institution of slavery. Included in many of the cases are depositions - rare “oral histories” that document family, travel, work, and interaction with both owners and advocates. The cases were allowed because a Missouri law accommodated the pursuit of freedom under certain circumstances. As early as 1807, a statute stated that any person, black or white, held in wrongful enslavement could sue for freedom. The statute was codified into state law in 1824. In general, slaves based cases on residence in a free state or territory. For a variety of reasons, including easier access to information and legal advice, as well as a certain measure of autonomy from owners, a relatively large number of slave freedom suits were initiated in St. Louis.

Although Dred Scott's case is certainly the most recognizable and most emphasized freedom suit in American history, he was not the first Missouri slave to sue for freedom. Many preceded and many followed. The cases give a unique human dimension to the study of slavery. They enable researchers to understand the length of the struggle for freedom and realize that progression toward civil rights began with these freedom suits.

There were many precedents in Missouri law upholding the “once free, always free” judicial practice - most of them originated from freedom suits filed in St. Louis. The cornerstone case of Winny v. Whitesides (Missouri Supreme Court, 1824) established Missouri's judicial criteria for eligibility for freedom: once free, always free. The validity of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance was upheld by the courts in decisions handed down in Merry v. Tiffin & Menard, LaGrange v. Chouteau, and Theoteste alias Catiche v. Chouteau. The idea that residence in Illinois worked a slave's freedom was upheld in numerous decisions, including Julia v. McKinney, Nat v. Ruddle, and Wilson v. Melvin. Residence at a military post did not prevent emancipation, according to Rachel v. Walker. In addition, the 1820 Missouri Compromise included provisions to limit the spread of slavery. The cases and legal rationales clearly established the doctrine of “once free, always free.”

Currently underway is a major project encompassing Civil War-era records in the St. Louis Circuit Court, which will include case files dating from 1861 through 1865.

Soldiers Database: War of 1812 to World War I

The Missouri State Archives holds nearly 1½ million pages that document the service of Missourians in domestic and foreign wars between 1812 and World War I. These military records primarily consist of individual service cards, but the extensive collection also includes muster rolls, special orders, reports, and more.

The Soldiers Database is a comprehensive database abstracted from the individual service cards and listing more than 576,000 Missourians who served in the military from territorial times through World War I. It includes entries for twelve wars and military engagements in which Missouri soldiers took part. These range from well-known wars, such as the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I, to the battles that were peculiarly Missourian, including the Heatherly War of 1836, the Mormon War of 1838, and the Iowa (Honey) War of 1839.

The bulk of service cards, over 380,000 of them, record the fractured history of the state during the Civil War. The personal information on the service cards found in the database gives human faces to that turbulent time, which began during the antebellum period and continued until Reconstruction. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, allowing popular sovereignty in those territories, set the stage for a decade of border warfare that contributed to the outbreak of civil war in 1861. The militia men organized to defend Missouri's western border against the Kansas “jayhawkers” are identified in the Soldiers Database. Known as the Southwest Expedition, they attempted to scatter the Kansas guerrillas and maintain peace.

Brief periods of peace in the late 1850s were interrupted by sporadic bouts of violence until, finally, in April 1861, the deepening sectional crisis over the expansion of slavery erupted into open warfare. In southwest Missouri, the bloody battle at Wilson's Creek became the second major clash after Bull Run. More than 540 men were killed and over 1600 wounded in the six-hour battle. Information about those men is now readily available in the Soldiers Database, whether they fought for the Union or for the Confederacy. Although major battles in the state ended after Wilson's Creek, the remainder of the war in Missouri saw frequent bushwhacking activities and violent skirmishes. Military organizations such as the Missouri State Militia (M.S.M.) and the Enrolled Missouri Militia (E.M.M.) were organized to maintain order within the state. About 10,000 men served in the M.S.M., and about 52,000 in the E.M.M. In total, over 109,000 Missouri men served the Union, while some 30,000 fought with the Confederacy.

The database is searchable by name or unit and searches can also be limited to a particular war. Images of the original service records are linked to most database records. Many of the records are incomplete; see Guidelines for Use for more details. A brief Abstract of Wars is available, with additional links. The original service cards contain a wealth of information, such as name, race, residence, place and date of enlistment, place of birth/age or date of birth, rank, wounds or other injuries, dates of service, and date of discharge. Some cards also include dates of overseas service, where applicable, and serial number. Service cards were originally created to collect historical and statistical information about the men and women who served in the military. The cards were prepared by abstracting information from original soldiers and sailors service records. The cards were maintained by the Missouri Adjutant General's office until their transfer to the Missouri State Archives. The cards are a critical source of historical and genealogical information.