In January 1997, the digital history archive Footnote.com launched online with 5 million documents. Today its collections, which focus on U.S. history, exceed 66 million items, with more added each day. Readers of Civil War Times may be familiar with this digital resource, but a surprising number of historians and general history enthusiasts remain unaware of the site.
Footnote.com’s vast U.S. Civil War collections range from soldiers’ compiled service records to Confederate Citizens’ Files, which were used by the U.S. government to document Southerners’ support for the Confederacy and deny their claims for property lost to Union forces. The site offers access to the “Amnesty Claims,” personal requests written by Confederates not covered in President Andrew Johnson’s general amnesty, as well as the approved pension applications of U.S. sailors who served from 1861 to 1910, and the applications of their widows and dependents.
Readers interested in African-American history will applaud Footnote’s collection of petitions, manumission records and other documents related to the District of Columbia’s Emancipation Acts of April 1862, as well as the compiled service records of U.S. Colored Troops and other African-American units.
Historians studying Union soldiers may be disappointed by the compiled service records, which are dominated by Southern forces, though this section does include the records of volunteers from Western territories and states, and Union forces raised in slave states. Those working on Confederate forces, however, will be thrilled by the resources available that include soldiers’ military records, prisoner of war and hospital records and much more thanks to Footnote.com’s relationship with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), FamilySearch.com and other repositories. These do not, however, include soldiers’ pension records.
Readers interested in the postwar experiences of volunteers and their families will still have to access pension records through NARA, which they can do online or in person in Washington, D.C. Despite its limitations (which are decreasing daily), Footnote.com has an astonishing collection of maps, photographs and records that will appeal to scholars and popular historians alike.
Originally published in the October 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.