Personnel, pay, and supply records of American Army units in the Revolutionary War
Updated March 1, 2016
The primary function of the many Revolutionary War rolls maintained by the American Army was to provide basic information about the identities, numbers, condition, equipage, and pay status of the men and units that comprised the Army in order to facilitate administrative control.
The Continental Congress required the periodic mustering of regiments and companies for the verification of rosters by a commissary of musters. The requirement was included in the rules and regulations for the Continental Army (approved November 1, 1775) and in the Articles of War (approved September 20, 1776). A commanding officer was required to submit certificates to the mustering officer explaining all absences, and a surgeon or surgeons' mate was required to provide certificates of illness for sick or injured soldiers. The mustering officer then added to the muster roll the information contained on the certificates. If convicted by general court-martial of submitting false certificates or of falsifying the muster roll, an officer could be dismissed from the service and barred from holding public office under the
authority of the United States.
A resolution of the Congress on April 4, 1777, established the office of commissary general of musters and provided for four departmental deputy muster masters general and for a deputy muster master for "each grand division of the army." The same resolution specified that each company (or troop) was to be mustered monthly by a deputy muster master and at least quarterly by the deputy muster master general for the department. The mustering officer was formally charged with examining the "cloaths [sic], arms, accoutrements, and pay of the troops" and with reporting any observed deficiencies to the departmental commander. The resolution also required the company commander to prepare and sign five copies of each muster roll, and directed the disposition of four of the copies as follows: one copy, upon certification by the mustering officer, to the captain of the company; another copy to the Board of Treasury; a third copy to the departmental paymaster general; and a fourth copy to the regimental paymaster who affixed it to his payrolls. Another resolution (May 2, 1777) directed that the officers of the mustered company were to appear before a general officer (or before the post commander if a general officer was unavailable) and swear under oath that the muster roll was correct. The form of the oath as prescribed in the resolution required the officers to affirm that the roll represented the "true state of the company, without fraud to these United States, or to any individual, according to our best knowledge." The oath, dated and signed, appears on the reverse of the muster roll.
A resolution of the Continental Congress on February 5, 1778, established a formal requirement for company payrolls. The resolution instructed the company commander to submit a monthly payroll to the regimental paymaster. The paymaster, in turn, retained "true copies of such pay rolls," and added the amount due to each company to the payrolls of the field and staff officers and noncommissioned officers, "that the whole may be examined . . . by Congress."
The principal kinds of rolls found in the Revolutionary War Rolls are muster rolls, strength returns, and payrolls. Muster rolls were prepared for companies and regiments, while tabulated strength returns were prepared for brigades, corps, divisions, and armies. Also included are a number of miscellaneous rolls of a more specialized nature, dealing with matters of personnel, supply, and finance.
The vast majority of muster rolls in this publication are company rolls. They consist of a list of names in descending order of rank of all officers and men of the company present or absent on the day the unit was assembled for muster. For officers, the rolls give rank, date of commission, and an explanation of absences. For noncommissioned officers (sergeants and corporals, fifers, drummers, and privates, the information includes date (and frequently place) of enlistment, term of service (generally duration of war, 3 years, or 9 months), and an explanation of absences noted in the remarks column with an appropriate term, such as "sick," "on guard," "on furlough," or "on command" (absent from camp on official business). Frequently, these entries were supplemented by dates of absences and the locations of those absent, sick or on command. Concluding the rosters for each rank are the names of soldiers to be dropped from the rolls by reason of transfer, discharge, desertion, or death. On the reverse of each muster roll is a tabulated statement titled "Proof of Effectives," giving the number of officers and men of each rank present and absent, excluding those who were to be purged from the rolls.
Regimental muster rolls normally provide only a list of names of all commissioned officers of the regiment not assigned to specific companies. The names of field officers (colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major) precede the names of staff officers (adjutant , paymaster, surgeon, quartermaster, and chaplain), and each list is arranged in descending order of rank. Occasionally, the names of company officers are listed after those of the staff officers. Following the name of each officer appears his rank and date of commission and an explanation of any absence. Sometimes the names of noncommissioned officers serving at regimental headquarters are also listed, with their dates of enlistment and terms of service plus explanations of absences.
The returns of larger Army units differ from the muster rolls in that they do not provide a name list of officers or men Instead, each return contains a tabulated statement of the number of soldiers of each rank in each unit (normally a regiment or larger unit) listed on the return. Total numbers of officers and enlisted men are tabulated for each unit and finally for each rank of all units on the return.
Payrolls were maintained for both companies and regiments. Company payrolls list generally alphabetically officers, noncommissioned officers, fifers, drummers, and privates in descending order of rank, with columns for date of commencement of pay period, length of pay period, rate of subsistence, rate of pay, and amount due. Space is also provided for remarks about absences.
Regimental payrolls (also called general pay abstracts, general abstracts, or pay abstracts) list field and staff officers and such noncommissioned officers as were assigned to regimental headquarters, in descending order of rank and thereunder generally alphabetically. After each officer's name is listed his rank, date of commencement of pay period, length or pay period, rate of subsistence (in dollars per month), rate of pay (in dollars per month), and amount due (in pounds). A final column entitled "casualties" provides space for remarks about absences. A total amount due to the field and staff personnel is given, below which the amount due to each company of the regiment is listed (in pounds), followed by the total due the entire regiment (in pounds and dollar equivalents).
In addition to muster rolls and payrolls, the American Army created a large number of specialized rolls and other records concerning personnel, supply, and finance. These miscellaneous rolls were not standardized from unit to unit and show considerable variation in size, format, and content, even among rolls performing a similar function.
Personnel records include inspection reports detailing the appearance, general condition, state of combat readiness, and quality and quantity of arms and equipment of the inspected company or regiment; field returns tabulating the numbers o£ officers and men of individual regiments; promotion and vacancy lists; and lists of men who, by reason of transfer, discharge, death, or desertion, were stricken from company or regimental muster rolls and payrolls. These latter lists often provide information about money owed to the United States at the time the men were dropped from the rolls. Included also are special rolls prepared upon the consolidation of two or more units, listing the names of officers and enlisted men of both the new unit and the older ones from which it was derived; affidavits from individuals attesting to service in the American Army, submitted in support of claims for compensation for such service; and records concerning military service copied by the Record and Pension Office from original State records.
Supply rolls consist primarily of receipts for clothing, equipage, guns, and ammunition and commonly include name, rank, and signature of the issuing officer; date of issue; name, rank, and signature (or mark) of the receiving officers or enlisted men; date of receipt; and type and quantity of issued items. Other records include receipt rolls for money received in lieu of clothing (listing members of the regiment or company by name, the amount due to each, and their signatures or marks), ration abstracts (listing the per diem ration allowance, in dollars, of all officers of the regiment and the total amount due to each), and ration deficiency returns (listing the dollar amounts due to the regiment for subsistence stores authorized but not
The financial rolls include pay accounts of the regimental paymasters (showing sums received and disbursed) and pay receipt rolls of individual companies (including name, rank, amount of money received, and signature or mark of each officer and enlisted man).
- Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783. War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93, Publication Number M246; National Archives, Washington.