About Union Provost Marshal Files

During the Civil War, the Provost Marshal was the Union Army officer charged with maintaining order among both soldiers and civilians. The Provost Marshal records microfilmed by the National Archives include many records related to Tennesseans.

The provost marshals were the Union’s military police. They hunted and arrested deserters, spies, and civilians suspected of disloyalty; confined prisoners; maintained records of paroles and oaths of allegiance; controlled the passage of civilians in military zones and those using Government transportation; and investigated the theft of Government property. In some instances, provost courts were set up to try cases that fell under the provost marshal’s jurisdiction and those cases where military personnel were accused of civil crimes.

The entries in this database are based on a microfilm collection of 94 rolls created by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as Microcopy 416. These materials were collected from War Department files and are dated 1861 to 1867. Each document pertains to two or more civilians, or “citizens”, as they were referred to during the Civil War. The materials were gathered from provost marshals across the country. They include correspondence, oaths of allegiance, orders, passes, transportation permits, lists of prisoners, paroles, provost court papers, and claims for compensation for property used or destroyed by military forces. Copies of a similar collection of NARA microfilm, which contains documents relating to just one civilian, can also be found in the Tennessee State Library and Archives microfilm holdings (Mf. 1047).

An index created by the National Archives appears at the beginning of this microfilm, but it is incomplete and difficult to use for searching. This Union Provost Marshal Database was created to index those documents that were from provost marshal offices in Tennessee and that relate to Tennesseans during the Civil War. The fully searchable database includes name, location (city or county), year, file number (if provided), and a brief description of the document(s).