Young-Sanders Center Presents Compiled IndexTo The Confederate Vessel Papers


Index to the Confederate Vessells Papers 1861-1865

 The indexing of the 32 microfilm reels of the Confederate Vessel Papers has recently been completed by the staff of the Young-Sanders Center. This new index will assist researchers as a guide to locating over 3000 Confederate Vessel files in the Confederate Vessel Papers located with the National Archives.

The Young-Sanders Center has copies of the Confederate Vessels Papers within our microfilm collection. For those researchers who do not have access to this collection the Young-Sanders Center will accept request for copies.Contact us at
The following information gives a description of the contents of the Confederate Vessel Papers located at the National Archives.

On the 32 rolls of this microfilm publication are reproduced an index volume and papers pertaining to vessels of or involved with the Confederate States of America, “Vessel Papers:” The series consists of several thousand alphabetically arranged jacketed files, most, but not all, of which pertain to vessels that served the Confederate Government from 1861-1865. The “Vessel Papers” are a part of the War Department Collection of Confederate Records, Record Group 109.

Most of the original papers reproduced in this microfilm publication were created by the Confederate War and Treasury Departments. After the Civil War the records were among those of the Confederacy that came into U. S. War Department custody. A number of years later, the present series of “Vessel Papers” was assembled by the Archive Office and its successor, the Confederate Archives Division, in the War Department.

The Archive Office originated officially with a War Department order of July 21, 1865, which specified “That a Bureau be organized in the Adjutant General’s Office for the collection, safekeeping, and publication of the Rebel Archives that have come into the possession of this Government.” The office was officially designated as the “Archive Office of the War Department” by a subsequent issuance of August 23, 1865, and on August 19, 1867, it was officially rendered an intergral part of the Adjutant General’s Office. An order of July 24, 1880, directed that the Archive Office be merged into the War Records Office of the War Department, but a modification of August 10, 1880, placed it in the Record Division of the Office of the Secretary of War. The Archive Office, now designated the Confederate Archives Division, was once again placed under the Adjutant General’s Office by an order of February 7, 1888, and remained there until transferred to the War Department Record and Pension Office by an order of May 15, 1894.

Custody by the War Department offices of the records comprising the “Vessel Papers” is indicated by stamps that appear on many of the documents. The most frequently used stamp is a large oval one reading “Record Division, Rebel Archives, War Department,” apparently a designation used by the Archive Office. A variety of smaller oval stamps can also be found, including those reading “Office of Secretary of War, Record Division,” “Adjutant General’s Office, Confederate Archives Division,” and “Confederate Archives.” Occasionally the date appears on the stamp.

The “Vessel Papers” was one of several files created during the late 19th century to facilitate research in claims cases. Following the Civil War, Southern citizens filed claims seeking compensation for property losses allegedly inflicted by Union forces. The treasury and Justice Departments, Southern Claims Commission, Court of Claims, and congressional claims committees were involved in processing these cases, and all, upon occasion, required documentary evidence based upon the confederate records in War Department custody. If disloyalty of claimant could be established by documenting services performed for the Confederacy, the claim could then be disallowed at a great saving to the Government.

Many of the claims submitted were from Southern vessel owners or their heirs, and the Archive Office listed 6 such cases pending before the Southern Claims Commission in 1873. The “Vessel Papers” were assembled during the following decade to facilitate references in these instances, and the present arrangement apparently was perfected before 1890. Subsequent additions, however, were made as late as the 20th century.

The “Vessel Papers” relate to vessels involved in any way with the Confederate Government. Most of the files in the series are relatively small, containing few, and, in many instances, no original Confederate documents. Some files, however, do contain larger aggregations of papers, and a select list of these appears as appendix A to this publication. Most of the files pertain to privately owned shipping that carried passengers or freight for the Confederacy, but a number of the files also pertain to vessels of the Confederate States Navy or Government. Some files also pertain to non-Confederate shipping, including British and other foreign vessels that entered and departed from Confederate ports and Union merchant or naval vessels that either engaged in actions with Confederate ships or were captured by the Confederates. A few files do not pertain to specific vessels but to shipping companies and other miscellaneous subjects, and they are listed both in the accompanying index volume and in appendix B.

Most of the documents in the “Vessel Papers” are dated 1861-65. Frequently encountered are vouchers and voucher abstracts pertaining to the transportation of passengers or freight for the Confederate Government. The series also includes correspondence, papers pertaining to accounts, receipts, invoices, requisitions, claims, contracts and agreements, bills of landing, passenger and crew lists, shipping articles, muster rolls and payrolls, reports of persons and articles hired, insurance policies, ships licenses, reports of the Second Auditor of the Confederate Treasury Department regarding vessel claims, accounts of proceedings in Confederate prize courts, decrees of condemnation and sale, and lists of foreign vessels entering and leaving Confederate ports. In an atypical instance, the file for the cruiser C. S. S. Alabama includes original plans drafted by the Laird Company in Great Britain, which constructed the vessel.

Some of the documents in the “Vessel Papers” predate or postdate the Civil War. Most of the earlier items pertain to vessels operating before 1861, which later served the Confederacy or were captured by Confederate forces. Post-civil War documents generally pertain to claims actions instituted from the 1870’s to 1890’s and include copies of congressional bills relating to vessel claims, House of Representatives and Senate documents, and research compilations by the Archive Office and the Confederate Archives Division.

Many of the files constituting the “Vessel Papers” contain references prepared by the Archive Office and the Confederate Archives Division. In some instances the information appears on the file jackets, but usually on cards placed within. There are some cross-references to the other files reproduced in this microfilm publication. The citations include references to chaptered and numbered book records; letters received by the Confederate Secretary of War, the Adjutant and Inspector General, and the Quartermaster General; vouchers among the papers relating to citizens or business firms (“Citizens File”); payrolls for civilian and slave labor; letters received by military commands; returns of port collectors; military inspection reports; sequestration papers; and other series. There are also references to the published War and Navy Department compilations The War of the Rebellion: A compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (1881-1901) and The War of the Rebellion, a compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies (1894-1922). Frequently, files consist solely of reference cards (or jackets containing the information) and no original papers.