On December 20, 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union and in the next few months other States of the lower South followed suit. From February 4 to 8, 1861, a Congress of the Seceded States -- South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana -- sat at Montgomery, Ala., and drafted a constitution for the provisional government of the Confederate States of America, which was signed by the delegates on February 8, 1861. The executive power was vested in a President, who, together with a Vice-President, was to be elected by ballot by the States represented in the Congress then in session, ech state casting one vote, and a majority of the whole being requisite to elect; the legislative power was vested in the Congress then assembled; and the judicial power was vested in a Supreme Court and such inferior courts as the Congress should from time to time establish. Until the inauguration of the President executive powers were vested in the Congress. The Congress was also given power to admit other States, and on March 2, 1861, deputies from the State of Texas were authorized to sign the provisional constitution. The constitution for the provisional government was to be in force for 1 year from the inauguration of the President of until a permanent constitution should be put into operation, whichever should occur first. The President was to hold office for 1 year or until the provisional government should be superseded by a permanent government, whichever should occur first. On February 9, 1861, the Provisional Congress, as this first Congress was called, unanimously elected Jefferson Davis President and Alexander H. Stephens Vice President of the Confederacy and on February 18, 1861, the President was inaugurated. The first act of the Provisional Congress, adopted on February 9, 1861, continued in force all laws of the United States in force and in use in the Confederate States on November 1, 1860, that were not inconsistent with the constitution of the Confederate States. On February 21, 1861, a series of acts that were approved organizing the Confederate Government. These acts established a Department of State, a Treasury Department, a War Department, a Navy Department, a Post Office Department, and a Department of Justice. The heads of these departments formed the President's Cabinet. Subsequent acts provided for the internal organization of these departments, but no additional Government departments were created. These six departments continued in existence until the end of the Confederate Government.
On March 11, 1861, the same six States which had adopted the provisional constitution, plus Texas, adopted the permanent constitution, which vested the executive power in a President, the legislative power in a Senate and House of Representatives, and the judicial power in a Supreme Court and inferior courts to be established by Congress. The President and Vice President were to hold their offices for a term of 6 years and the President was not eligible for reelection. They were to be chosen by electors from each state, who were appointed in such manner as the State legislature should direct. Each State was entitled to the same number electors as its total number of Senators and Representatives. Representatives in the House of Representatives was determined by population, three-fifths of the number of slaves being counted, and each State was entiteld to two Senators. Members of the House were selected for a 2 year tem, and Senators were elected for a 6 year term.
The Congress was given the power to admit new States, and in May 1861 acts were approved admitting Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas, bringing to 11 the total number of States legally admitted to the Confederacy. On May 6, 1861, an act was approved recognizing the existence of war between the United States and the Confederate States and authorizing the President to use the whole land and naval force of the Confederate States to meet the needs of war. Pursuant to a congressional resolution adopted on May 21, 1861, the seat of Government was removed from Montgomery, Ala. to Richmond, Va. Elections were held in November 1861 for President, Vice President, and members of Congress, and the permanent Government was installed in Richmond in February 1862.
By early 1864 communication between Richmond and that part of the Confederacy west of the Mississippi River had become so difficult that several Government departments were set up in the Trans-Mississippi military department. On January 27, 1864, an act of Congress authorized the appointment of an agent of the Treasury Department to discharge the duties of the Secretary of the Treasury west of the Mississippi, and on February 10, 1864, a similar act was approved relating to the Post Office Department. These acts were to expire on the day a treaty of peace should be ratified between the Confederate States and the United States. On February 17, 1864, an act was approved authorizing the organization of auxiliary bureaus of the War Department west of the Mississippi.
In the spring of 1865, after 4 years of war, the defeat of the Confederate armies was imminent, and on April 2, the President and his Cabinet evacuated Richmond, taking with them the most important of the Government archives. Many of the records that were left behind were destroyed by a fire that broke out in Richmond on April 3. Of the records taken with the Government from Richmond, some were destroyed at various places along the retreat to avoid capture, and others were surrendered to or captured by Union officers and turned over to the Federal Government. Other records, at later dates, came into the hands of the Federal Government through either donation or purchase. The records that came into the possession of the War Department and that in 1938 were transferred to the National Archives as the War Department Collection of Confederate Records are chiefly those of the Confederate War Department and Army, but include smaller collections of records of the Confederate Congress and Executive, the Treasury, Navy, and Post Office Departments, and the Judiciary; and records relating to various States of the Confederacy.
While the records were in the custody of the War Department certain related records of the Federal Government were placed with them and became a part of the Collection. These related materials include records of Federal prisons relating to Confederates held prisoner, records of the Archive Office of the Adjutant General's Office, which was the earliest custodian of the Confederate records, and compilations of data made by the War Department in connection with arranging and servicing records. Thus, part of the records described in this inventory are dated considerably later than 1865, but they relate to the records created during the war years. Also described are copies of the records. In 1878 an agreement was reached between the War Department and the Southern Historical Society whereby the Department's Archive Office would have the privilege of obtaining copies of records in the Society's possession and vice versa. In the years that followed copies were made by or for the Archives Office from original documents that were in private, State, or organizational custody and were added to the Collection.
The identification of many of the volumes described in this inventory by chapter and volume numbers has its origin in the early determination by the Federal Congress to publish documents relating to the War of the Rebellion. A joint resolution of Congress approved May 19, 1864, directed the Secretary of War to furnish the superintendent of public printing with copies of all documents "relating to the existing rebellion, to be found..., which may be, in the opinion of the Secretary, proper to be published." The project did not at first succeed, however, and was suspended, resurrected, and reorganized, so that it was not until 1880 that Congress appropriated money to begin actual publication, and in 1881 that the first volume of The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies was published. It was in the course of selecting suitable documents for this publication, apparently, that the bound volumes were classified, according to a crude approximation of provernance, into groups called "chapters" and the volumes numbered serially within each "chapter."
This preliminary inventory describes the materials in Record Group 109, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, in the National Archives. The volume of the records is 5,739 cubic feet. Other records of the Confederate Treasury Department are in Record Group 56, General Records of the Department of the Treasury and other records of the Confederate Navy Department are in Record Group 45, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library, in the National Archives. Correspondence concerning the Union and Confederate prisoners and other records of Federal prisons are in Record Group 249, Records of the Commissary of Prisoners, in the National Archives. Records of the Confederate State Department and the Confederate Post Office Department are in the Library of Congress. For further information regarding the whereabouts of Confederate records, see "The Fate of Confederate Archives," by Dallas D. Irvine, published in the American Historical Review, 44:823-841 (July 1939)
Source: Preliminary Inventory of the War Department Collection of Confederate Records (Record Group 109), Originally compiled by Elizabeth Bethel. Additions and indexing by Craig R. Scott, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.