Court Martial files contain the records of military trials of Union soldiers during the Civil War. The soldiers in these trials faced charges ranging from petty theft to murder.
Confederate Court Martial records are not held by the National Archives, although some may exist within the archives of the individual southern states.
It is estimated that about 80,000 Federal courts martial were conducted during the four years of the Civil War. The records for about 38,000 of those trials still exist and they involve more than 178,000 soldiers. (Many cases involved multiple soldiers).
Many Court Martial cases resulted in an acquittal. In fact, some soldiers expressed the belief that charges were commonly brought as a form of petty discipline, out of spite, or as a measure of disfavor by the charging officer with no expectation of a conviction but with the sole purpose of tarnishing the reputation of the accused. While this may be a cynical defense, the fact remains that many people today still believe that if a soldier was “Court Martialled,” then he was necessarily guilty. It is worth remembering that a Court Martial was merely a trial and that the soldier was innocent until proven guilty.
Even a conviction by Court Martial did not necessarily result in the soldier’s discharge from military service. Some serious charges called for a demotion while minor offenses frequently resulted in a reprimand, fine, forfeiture of pay, loss of privileges, assignment to less-desirably duty, hard labor, etc. Conviction in cases of disobeying orders or insubordination sometimes merely required that the convicted soldier provide a written apology.
Pro Tip: Some Compiled Military Service Records contain references to the charges and disposition of a Court Martial even though the full record of that trial no longer exists.
The case file for a Court Martial will typically identify the charges and specifications, the officers who were detailed to the court, the plea, testimony of witness(es), statement of the defendant, disposition, and sentence, if any.
A sample case file:
Our prices are based on a flat rate and do not vary based on the number of pages in the file(s). So while you will not be charged less if the file contains only a few pages, you will also not be charged more if the file is much larger than average.