During the Revolutionary War there was an adjutant general of the Army, but after the military forces were disbanded in 1783 no provision was made for that officer until the passage of an act of March 5, 1792, which provided for an adjutant, who was to do also the duty of inspector. An act of March 3, 1813, established an Adjutant General's Department and an Inspector General's Department under one head who was known as the Adjutant and Inspector General. Separate heads for the two departments were provided by an act of March 2, 1821. The organization of the Adjutant General's Office has been changed by various acts of Congress and has expanded and contracted to meet the changing needs created by wars and ther cessation. Its existence has been continuous since 1821 except for a brief period, 1904-7, when its functions were combined with those of the Record and Pension Office to form a new office designated the Military Secretary's Office. Col. Fred C. Ainsworth, the Chief of The Record and Pension Office, was made the Military Secretary. Only the Adjutant General himself was not included in this combination of the two offices. When Gen. Henry C. Corbin vacated the office of Adjutant General as a result of advancement in grade, Congress by an act of March 2, 1907, restored the Office of the Adjutant General and Ainsworth became the Adjutant General. The functions of the Office were performed under the direction of the Secretary of War, but with the creation of the General Staff in 1903 the work of the Office came under the general supervision of the Chief of Staff. At the time of the reorganization of the War Department in 1942, the Adjutant General's Office was placed under the Commanding General, Services of Supply (later designated as Army Service Forces.) With the dissolution of the latter organizations in June 1946, the Office of the Adjutant General reverted to its former status.
During the years since the creation of his office, the Adjutant General, has been charged with matters pertaining to the command, discipline, and administration of the military establishment and has had the duties of recording, authenticating, and communicating to troops and individuals in the military service orders, instructions, and regulations issued by the Secretary of War; of preparing and distributing commissions; of compiling and issuing the Army Register and the Army List and Directory; of consolidating the general returns of the Army and Militia; and of managing the recruiting service. He has also had other duties falling within the functions of the Office.
The Adjutant General's Office is, then, essentially one handling records, orders, and correspondence of the Army. To it finally come for custody practically all records concerned with the Military Establishment, including personnel of the Army, both Regular and Volunteer, together with large bodies of other records representing discontinued commands, special collections, and noncurrent holdings of bureaus of the War Department. The records representing the central correspondence of the Office constitute one continuous series of files from 1800 to date. During the entire period the records bear only the file marks of the Adjutant General's Office, except for the years 1862-89 and 1890-94, when the file marks show that the records were maintained by the Miscellaneous Branch and the Principal Record Division, respectively; and for the years 1904-7, when the Military Secretary's Office replaced the Office of the Adjutant General. Closely associated with the central correspondence of the Office are the orders, muster rolls, returns, records relating to the Army and to wars, and other records that were sent in for purposes of reporting and filing.
The record keeping of the Office falls into three distinct periods designated as follows: (1) The "Book Period," 1800-1889, during which incoming correspondence was maintained in a letters received file, after being entered in registers of letters received, and outgoing correspondence was copied in letters sent volumes; (2) the "Record Card Period," 1890-1917, during which the information formerly entered in registers of letters received and letters sent volumes was copied on cards and the copies of outgoing correspondence were added to the letters received to form what was known as the "document file"; and (3) the "Decimal Classification Period," beginning in 1917, in which incoming papers and copies of outgoing correspondence were arranged in one file and classified by subject according to the War Department decimal classification scheme. From about 1920, this file has been referred to as the "central files" of the War Department, as it comtains a considerable amount of correspondence of various other offices of the Department, notably those of the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff.
The history of the internal organization of the Adjutant General's Office is a complex one. Divisions were organized from time to time as the need arose to handle specific functions. Some continued for brief periods and went out of existence; some were redesignated or consolidated with other offices. There were divisions that performed their duties without creating separate records; such corespondence as they carried on was in the name of the Adjutant General and is to be found in the main files of his Office. Others maintained their own records, and Adjutant General's Office. These divisions, the records of which are described in this inventory (together with certain related records of earlier and later dates than those of the divisions as shown here) include the Appointment, Commission and Personnel Branch, 1863-94; the Bounty and Claims Division, 1862-89; the Colored Troops Division, 1863-88; the Deserters Division, 1866-69, the Drafted Bureau, 1863-66; the Enlisted Branch, 1862-89; The Enrollment Division, 1866-89; The Freedman's Branch, 1872-79; the Fund Branch, 1871-83; the General Courts Martial Division, 1866-70; the Military Prison Record Division, 1875-89; the Military Reservation Division, 1882-90; the Recruiting Division, 1862-82; and the Volunteer Service Division, 1861-89.
In addition to the records of the Adjutant General's Office and its divisions, there were large groups of records maintained by the Office in the capacity of a custodian. Among these were the War Department's collection of Revolutionary War records (RG 93); the captured records of the Confederacy (RG 109); captured records of the Phillipine Insurgents (entry 196); and papers of the United States Christian Commission(entries 738-799). Similarly the Office became the repository for records of discontinued units, including those of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands (RG 105), the Headquarters of the Army (RG 108), the Office of the Commissary General of Prisoners (RG 249), the Office of the Provost Marshal General (RG 110), and the United States Army Commands (RG 98). All of the above named groups, except the captured records of the Phillipine Insurgents and the papers of the United States Christian Commission, are considered separate record groups in the National Archives and are not included in this inventory. A great may of these and other records came into the Adjutant General's custody by way of the Recordd and Pension Office in 1904, when the two offices were consolidated and designated the Military Secretary's Orrice. Among these are the Revolutionary War records (RG 93), the bulk of the records of the Office of the Secretary of War (RG 107), and most of the medical records described in this inventory. They also include small groups of papers of the Hawkins Taylor Commission, the Smith-Brady Commission, and the Howard Court of Inquiry.
The history and records of the Record and Pension Office are closely interwoven with those of the Adjutant General's Office. Formed by a combination of a division of the Surgeon General's Office and 13 divisions of the Adjutant General's Office, this unit consists separately from 1889 to 1904, when, as noted above, it was combined with the Adjutant General's Office to form the Military Secretary's Office, which in 1907 became the Adjutant General's Office. The Record and Pension Office records obtained by this combination now form an integral part of the records of the Adjutant General's Office and are described in this inventory. They are highly significant for historical research and for information concerning the military service of individuals who fought in the wars from the Revolution through the Spanish-American War.
The War Records Office, while not a division of the Adjutant General's Office, was closely associated with the latter during the period of its separate existence, 1875-99, as it drew heavily on AGO records and personnel in compiling the history of the Union and Confederate Armies in the Civil War. Its records were inherited by the Adjutant General's Office through the Records and Pension Office, with which it was merged in 1899, and are also described in this inventory.