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NJ State Archives
P.O. Box 307
Trenton, NJ 08625-0307

Office Address:
225 West State Street - Level 2
Trenton, NJ

Contact Information

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Civil War Grant Project

Project Summary

The full story of New Jersey's role in the American Civil War remains to be told. The reason for this is the inaccessibility of much of the State Archives' extensive collection of wartime and post-war records relating to the state's volunteer regiments. Thanks to a successful collaboration between the State Archives and the New Jersey Civil War Heritage Association (NJCWHA), that is about to change.

On March 9, 2009 the NJCWHA received a grant of $13,000 from the New Jersey Historical Commission to fund a project for developing guidelines to process the New Jersey State Archives' (NJSA) series of Civil War regimental records. With this funding, the association has hired project archivist Larry Weimer who, under the supervision of NJSA's staff, is rehousing and inventorying the records of the 12th New Jersey Volunteers as a pilot project.

With the model regiment as a sample and the estimates and work-plan developed in Phase I of the project, the Archives will seek federal funding to process, describe, index and conserve the rest of the collection. With the 150th anniversary of the Civil War (2011-2015) soon to be upon us, this partnership between NJCWHA and NJSA could not have come at a more opportune time.

Civil War Records at the New Jersey State Archives

The State Archives holds almost 380 cubic feet of Civil War-related records created or collected by the offices of the Adjutant General, Treasurer, and Secretary of State. For decades, the State Archives has worked diligently to preserve, describe and encourage use of this material for research. In recent years, several projects have been undertaken in partnership with NJCWHA.

The current collaboration of the State Archives and NJCWHA focuses on the records of the 40 volunteer regiments raised by New Jersey during the war. These documents—including correspondence, orders, casualty and deserter lists, ordnance and quartermaster reports, muster rolls, descriptions of military engagements, and much more—hold a wealth of information about New Jersey's volunteer soldiers and their wartime experiences.

Despite the importance of these regimental records for Civil War research and for genealogists, most of them remain housed in 269 scrapbook-like binders where they were placed in the 1930s by Work Projects Administration workers. Although well intentioned, the WPA processing effort actually damaged some of the documents, mainly by folding the many large documents several times over in order to fit them into the small binders.

Retaining the records in these binders not only threatens their long-term preservation, but prevents easy access to them for research, scanning for web display, exhibitions, and other purposes. Unhappy with the condition and inaccessibiilty of the records, the State Archives and NJCWHA jointly launched a pilot project as a first step in processing and preserving all of these invaluable documents. Funded by a grant to NJCWHA from the New Jersey Historical Commission, the Civil War Regimental Records Pilot Project has two main goals:

  • Rehouse and inventory the records of one sample regiment according to professional archival standards, and
  • Using experience from the sample regiment, develop a work plan and define resource requirements for processing, describing and conserving the records of all the regiments.

Started in April 2009, the pilot project is centered on the records of the 12th Regiment, often called by its motto "Buck and Ball" and especially known for its role in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. In addition, the pilot includes a broad-brush assessment of all the regimental records, identifying important documents from other New Jersey volunteer units as well. Among these is a detailed account from the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, written by a captain in the 21st Regiment.

12th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry

The 12th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry was mustered into service on September 4, 1862. In the spring of 1863 it was assigned to the 3rd Division of the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac and was the only New Jersey Regiment in that Corps. Its baptism by fire came at the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1863), where Robert E. Lee's military skills trumped superior forces of Federal troops resulting in a significant Confederate victory.

During the battle, the 12th suffered a loss of 179 killed, wounded or missing. Their next major engagement was in Gettysburg, Pa. (July 1-3, 1863) where, on the second day, several companies from the 12th dislodged Confederate solders from a farmhouse on the front lines (capturing confederate officers and some eighty troops) and on the third were actively engaged in the repulse of Pickett's Charge which ended the battle.

From May-June 1864 the 12th fought in a series of battles known as Grant's Overland Campaign which enabled the Union to mount the Siege of Petersburg (June 9, 1864, to March 25, 1865); and finally the Appomattox Campaign in which Union troops pursued the retreating Confederate Army, culminating in the surrender at Appomattox (April 12, 1865) at which the 12th was also present.

Unique Information Within the Regimental Records

The current collaboration of the State Archives and NJCWHA focuses on the records of the 40 volunteer regiments raised by New Jersey during the war. These documents—including correspondence, orders, casualty and deserter lists, ordnance and quartermaster reports, muster rolls, descriptions of military engagements, and much more—hold a wealth of information about New Jersey's volunteer soldiers and their wartime experiences.

In the process of reviewing the records of the 12th for this NJHC application, at least two "gems" have already been uncovered, providing the kind of first-hand accounts of the war that NJCWHA and NJSA know will be found throughout the collection. Included is an 1882 letter from William F. Moore (Corporal in Co. K of the 12th) in which he describes being wounded at Spotsylvania Court House, making his way to a hospital where, "the second day after I arrived there the Hospital was broke up. All men who could travel where [sic.] sent with the Hospital Trains to Brandy Stations to ship them North while those who could not walk (about 800) where [sic.] left to the tender mercies of the 2nd N. Carolina Cavalry & Brigade."

The current collaboration of the State Archives and NJCWHA focuses on the records of the 40 volunteer regiments raised by New Jersey during the war. These documents—including correspondence, orders, casualty and deserter lists, ordnance and quartermaster reports, muster rolls, descriptions of military engagements, and much more—hold a wealth of information about New Jersey's volunteer soldiers and their wartime experiences.

In 1910, Captain George Wesley Swing of the 12th Regiment turned over several wartime documents still in his possession to New Jersey's Adjutant General. In his letter of transmittal, Swing reflected on the war, concluding: "To do justice to our men would require a full biographical history of nearly every man in the Regiment and its 10 companies with their various commanders. Whether such a history is ever prepared or not, I am satisfied that posterity will ever hold in grateful remembrance the achievements of the Civil War veterans. The preservation in permanent form by the state of these Rolls and Records will contribute greatly to that end."

It is to the same end that the New Jersey Civil War Heritage Association and the State Archives have undertaken this project: to preserve the records of the officers and men from New Jersey who fought for the Union, to make them more accessible to the public, and to rediscover the personal testimonies of men like Captain Swing, who, after four decades, remained profoundly moved by his experiences during the Civil War.

See also Civil War Vouchers Database