Well - I have officially requested my first set of records from the National Archives!
The National Archives is the repository for all of the old military records for the Civil War - including pension files. I have always delayed in getting records from the National Archives because they are so expensive. Yes - Spent $110.00 requesting two different files on Mary Alice Smith's (the real Little Orphant Annie) dad - Thomas Smith. I really need to request some other files from National Archives - - but just can't afford it right now. Wish that there was someone who could go to DC for me to do the research - or better yet - I would LOVE to go myself. But, do you have any idea how much THAT would cost??
So what did I request?
First I requested Thomas Smith's Compiled Military Service Record or CMSR. This file cost $30.00 and should provide me with information about his military service. The CMSR contains basic information about the soldier's military career. The CMSR is an envelope (a jacket) containing one or more cards. These cards typically indicate that the soldier was present or absent during a certain period of time. Other cards may indicate the date of enlistment and discharge, amount of bounty paid him, and other information such as wounds received during battle or hospitalization for injury or illness. The soldier's place of birth may be indicated; if foreign born, only the country of birth is stated. The CMSR may contain an internal jacket for so-called "personal papers" of various kinds. These may include a copy of the soldier's enlistment paper, papers relating to his capture and release as a prisoner of war, or a statement that he had no personal property with him when he died. A CMSR is as complete as the surviving records of an individual soldier or his unit.
What I am specifically hoping is that Thomas Smith's CMSR may give me some information on why he was charged with desertion in March of 1862. I am hoping that it may have some ties to Mary Alice - as this would be when she was living at the Riley Home - and had not been there for very long. His military cards from State Archives indicates that the charge was changed from desertion to AWOL - so he did return to his unit. Thomas Smith did serve the entire 3 year service for which he enlisted.
The CMSR should take anywhere from 60-90 days to arrive.
The second file that I requested was Thomas Smith's Pension File. This one cost $80.00. The pension file will often contain more information about what the soldier did during the war than the CMSR, and it may contain much medical information if he lived for a number of years afterwards. It may also contain affidavits from comrades in arms about specific injuries that were obtained during battle. It also will list family members as beneficiaries - such as children and a wife. They also can contain information about a soldier's admittance into a Veterans home. Widows or dependent children could also file for those benefits too.
What I am specifically hoping is that if the CMSR does not provide me info about a desertion - the pension file may explain why the decision was changed to AWOL. I am hoping to see that whenever Thomas applied for a pension - who was he claiming to still be living as far as his children? I know that when he entered the Veterans Home in Lafayette - he claimed that all of his children were dead, which is not true as Mary Alice was still living. I know that Ellen Smith Rittenhouse - his oldest daughter by his second wife had passed, and it appears that John Smith, his son, may also have passed too. However, I have not been able to find out a statement that confirms John Smith's death. I know John Smith's son (Thomas' grandson) was raised by maternal grandparents - but we know that Mary Alice's own story about how mother and father both died - - was not true. Did John Smith leave his family or did he die? Susan Smith - Thomas Smith's youngest daughter is a mystery. She is in the 1860 census and in the 1870 census, but then she disappears. I have not found a marriage or a burial on her. Information in this file may shed some light on that situation. Also, what happened to Melvina Smith, Thomas Smith's second wife, after he died? It appears that he was going to have her come live with him in the Veterans Home - but according to state archives - she didn't. She was with Mary Alice and her husband in the 1900 census - two years after Thomas Smith passed. So did she apply for a widow's benefits? Where is she buried and when did she die? This file may also talk about Thomas Smith's first wife, Ellen Rittenhouse Smith - and may shed some light on what happened to her. All of this info may be answered in that pension file.
The pension file should arrive in 90 -120 days.
The problem is - I really need to get information on other soldiers. John Rittenhouse - the uncle who brings Mary Alice to the Riley Home, may only have a CMSR - and no pension file. I can't find any information on the final status of his military service. The information simply says - "never notified." For this reason, I may also have to request Nathaniel Rittenhouse's CMSR - who I believe is John Rittenhouse's brother - and may be the reason that John Rittenhouse returned home with very little military service. This all ties into Mary Alice's stint at the Riley Home - and why it was so short.
Lastly, it would also be nice to get John Wesley Gray's CMSR and Pension file - because this may shed some light on his service and his family. John Wesley was Mary Alice's husband. I know that Mary Alice did apply for his pension - so records had to be kept for that information.
As you can see - - this could get costly - research is NOT cheap. I only hope that in having these people look at that information that they won't miss something that may prove to be important.
I can't wait to get these files - and see what they say!