Military Monday: A Civil War Compiled Service Record

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I thought I would share the Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) of my one and only direct ancestor who served in the Civil War, namely John Fenton of Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry.1

John Fenton, of Bole, Nottinghamshire, England,2 came to America with his wife and children before 1850.3 They settled first in Summit County, Ohio,4 and later lived in Montgomery County, Illinois. By the time the Civil War rolled around, John was a widower with four children between the ages of nine and eighteen: Sarah Alice, Harriet, John, and George W. Fenton.5

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On 14 September 1861, John enlisted as a Private in Company M of the 3rd Illinois U.S. Cavalry in Pana, Christian, Illinois, for a term of three years. He was now forty-six years old – no longer a young man, he would have been nearly fifty before his term of service was complete. John stood at 5 feet 9 inches tall, and had a dark complexion, black hair, and hazel eyes.6

As of 1860, John had made his living as a farm laborer, boarding with three of his children in the household of another family.7 One of his daughters boarded with a family in the next county.8 Perhaps, being that John was apparently a horseman, a three-year stint in the cavalry seemed to be as good of an option as any in terms of bringing in steady pay. John’s daughters were old enough to look after their younger brothers, and perhaps – hopefully – there were friends or relatives willing to take them in while he served. The pension file submitted by his minor son, decades later, may answer some of these lingering questions.9

John’s service was relatively short lived. Soon after his enlistment, the Regiment made its way to Missouri; John spent time on prisoners’ guard in Rolla, and may have seen action at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas. In late April of 1862, John left the site of Pea Ridge with the train of wounded, arriving in the hospital in Lebanon, Laclede, Missouri. After a lingering illness, it was there that he died of typhoid fever on 7 July 1862 at the age of forty-seven.10 Although John was initially buried at Lebanon, his grave was likely unmarked and his body may since have been exhumed and reburied the National Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri.11

How can you obtain your ancestor’s Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR)? I acquired John Fenton’s CMSR in person at the National Archives in 2011, when I still lived near Washington, D.C. It was a definitely an experience to be able to view and photograph the original document at my leisure; although the National Archives can seem intimidating, I was able to place my request without any problems and there were plenty of staff members and volunteers willing to point me in the right direction as needed. If you don’t find yourself there anytime soon, and if the CMSR that you seek isn’t available online or on microfilm at a local branch of the National Archives, you can still request a copy for a fee, using information located in indexes online. The online ordering system is easy to use – just be prepared to wait for your record to arrive in the mail!

1 Compiled service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Illinois Inf.; Carded Records, Volunteer Organizations, Civil War; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917, Record Group 94; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
2 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
3 1850 U.S. census, Summit County, Ohio, population schedule, Stow, p. 931 (penned), dwelling 33, family 52, John Fenton; digital image, ( : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M432, roll 732.
4 1850 U.S. census, Summit Co., Oh., pop. sch., Stow, p. 931 (penned), dwell. 33, fam. 52, John Fenton.
5 1860 U.S. census, Montgomery County, Illinois, population schedule, Audubon Post Office, p. 319 (penned), dwelling 2284, family 2287, John Fenton; digital image, ( : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M653, roll 214.
6 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
7 1860 U.S. census, Montgomery Co., Ill., pop. sch., Audubon P.O., p. 319 (penned), dwell. 2284, fam. 2287, John Fenton.
8 1860 U.S. census, Christian County, Illinois, population schedule, Pana, p. 319 (penned), dwelling 574, family 5114, Harriet Fenton; digital image, ( : accessed 11 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm M653, roll 161.
9 “U.S., Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934,” digital images, ( : accessed 11 November 2013); John Fenton (Co. M, 3rd Ill. Inf.) index card; imaged from General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934, T288 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives [n.d.]), roll 150.
10 Compiled military service record, John Fenton, Pvt. Co. M, 3 Ill. Inf., Civil War, RG 94, NA-Washington.
11 “Union Soldiers Buried at Lebanon, Missouri 1862-1865,” Judy’s Stuff ( : accessed 11 November 2013).

8 thoughts on “Military Monday: A Civil War Compiled Service Record

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  2. Melanie Frick Post author

    Jo, I’m glad to be of help! I’m planning to send off for a pension record next – it turns out that this ancestor’s orphaned son applied for a pension in 1887, which I hope will share some more details. (And, like you said, it will probably raise even more questions!) I look forward to reading about your family mystery.

  3. Dawn Bingaman

    Hi Melanie,
    I like what you’re doing with your blog. It is one of the nicer ones that I have seen. I use WordPress, too, and am curious about the plug-in you’re using to display the CMSR of John Fenton. It seems like a good way to show a number of pages from one record without taking up a lot of screen space.

    1. Melanie Frick Post author

      Thank you, Dawn! I appreciate that. I actually didn’t even use a special plug-in to display the CMSR – it’s very easy (although easy to miss!). When adding a new post, select “Add Media.” At the far left of the screen that comes up, select “Create Gallery.” Then, select all of the images that you want to appear in your gallery, and it will then give you the options to make a gallery like the one in this post. Hope that will work for you!

      1. Dawn Bingaman

        Awesome, thank you. Not sure how I overlooked that, but I will give it a go the next time.
        Do order the pension file. I have been working with a number of them of late (I got something like 13 of them last July!) and they are truly revealing. Fortunately, my guys had special investigators assigned in many cases, which led to files 200-300 pages in length.

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