On Veterans’ Day, we commemorate the sacrifices made by all the men and women of our armed forces. Our nation remembers some wars and battles more than others, so I’d like to take this opportunity to draw attention to a few of the least-remembered veterans.
Two hundred years ago, in November 1814, the militia of South Carolina was furiously preparing for a British invasion that never came. Activated by Governor Joseph Alston (amid a hailstorm of public criticism), thousands of militiamen from across South Carolina were ordered to the lowcountry to help defend our coastline against British marauders. After several months in the field, our soldiers learned that the war was over, and they quietly returned home. South Carolina’s militiamen did not face the heat of battle as our northern brethren did, but their brief rounds of active duty did qualify them for some veterans benefits from the Federal government. Thus began a chain of paperwork that can provide useful, even unique information for genealogists in search of the stories of the ancestors.
Finding Veterans of the War of 1812 in South Carolina
If you’d like to search for your South Carolina ancestor who may have served in the War of 1812, there are five principal resources to consider. Note that some of these resources are found in Federal repositories, while others are found at our state archive in Columbia.
Compiled Service Records: The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has a file on every soldier who has served our country. Most of this material was collected at the state level and then forwarded to Washington D.C. in generations past. Some of that locally-collected information no longer exists in South Carolina, so the NARA “compiled service records” may represent your best source for veterans’ information. These records are arranged by state, and then alphabetically, but they are not on microfilm. There is a master index on microfilm, however, and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History (SCDAH) has seven reels of microfilm containing an alphabetical index to our state’s soldiers from the War of 1812. By searching through this index for your ancestor, you can find the file number for his compiled service record and then write to NARA to obtain a copy. Alternatively, you can now browse through this index, arranged alphabetically, through FamilSearch.org.
Pension Applications: Veterans of the War of 1812 (and their families) were eligible for Federal pension benefits under the provisions of a number of nineteenth-century laws. In short, Congress altered the pension laws at various times to allow men who served as briefly as fourteen days to qualify for benefits, and pension applications were still being accepted as late as 1878. These applications constitute a vast number of records to which access has been limited until recently. NARA has microfilm of an alphabetical index to this material, and in 1989 Virgil D. White published a three-volume Index to War of 1812 Pension Files (Waynesboro, Tenn.: National Historical Publishing Company, 1989; SCDAH has a copy of this index). More importantly, the website Fold3 has recently mounted digital images of NARA’s War of 1812 pension applications, so now you can search for your ancestor online. In a matter of seconds, for example, I was able to find and download my 4th-great-grandmother’s 1878 application for the pension due to her late husband, Thomas Butler of Pennsylvania. These applications represent a must-have genealogical resource.
Bounty Land Warrant Applications: At the commencement of the War of 1812, the U.S. Congress passed a law granting acres of land as a bounty to every soldier who would serve in the conflict with Great Britain. In the decades after the war, many veterans (or their heirs) petitioned the Federal government to obtain a warrant directing a surveyor to admeasure their “bounty” land in the Midwest region of the country (Illinois, Arkansas, and Missouri). These applications for bounty land warrants survive at NARA, and are available there on microfilm. There is no index, but the materials are arranged alphabetically. Ancestry.com has posted a useful guide to understanding Military Bounty Land, and also has some of these records available online.
Muster Rolls: The captain of every militia company was supposed to keep monthly rolls of all the soldiers mustered under his command, and to forward copies of such rolls to his superiors. In South Carolina, like elsewhere, the state’s Adjutant General was supposed to collect and retain these muster rolls for administrative purposes. Due to various nineteenth-century fires and military accidents in our state, however, not many muster rolls survive from the War of 1812 or any other antebellum period. Nevertheless, it’s worth making an inquiry at SCDAH, once you’ve used the above-mentioned resources to determine in which company your ancestor served.
Payroll Receipts: The South Carolina Department of Archives and History has a small number of the state Adjutant General’s manuscript payroll receipts from the War of 1812. Since militia service was obligatory for able-bodied white males aged 16 to 45 in antebellum America, you might wonder why payrolls exist. While limited “voluntary” service was indeed required by law, militiamen received pay whenever the governor ordered them to perform full-time active duty, especially when such duty meant leaving your family and home for a period of time. South Carolina was very much on the periphery of the War of 1812, but in 1813 and 1814 Governor Alston did order parts of our state militia to travel from the upstate and midland regions to monitor the coastal area to protect against British raids (ships searching for supplies) and in case of a British invasion. As a result, there were claims for service pay in South Carolina after the war. Again, the records of the state adjutant-general are incomplete, but at SCDAH you’ll find an alphabetical card file index to the names of the men appearing in the surviving manuscript payroll receipts.
I hope this information is useful to anyone searching for information about ancestors who served in the often-overlooked “Second American Revolution.” If you’d like to learn more about the War of 1812 in general, you can download my selected bibliography of published sources. If you’d like to learn more about the war in South Carolina and the veterans’ records that survive, please join me for a program titled:
“Finding Veterans of the War of 1812
in South Carolina”
Saturday, November 15th at 1 p.m.
2nd Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401
For more information, please contact Dr. Nic Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.