Now What: Understanding Confederate Discharge Papers

Now What: Understanding Confederate Discharge Papers

Do you have questions about your ancestors military discharge form? David A. Fryxell answers your genealogy research questions in Now What.

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Question: My great-grandfather’s Confederate army Certificate of Disability for Discharge annotates “enlisted,” replacing it in two places with “enrolled.” What does this mean?

Answer: We here at the “Now What?” brain trust aren’t afraid to admit when we’re stumped. We even turned to Mike Millner, systems support librarian for the North Carolina Government & Heritage Library, who said, “I can find no information about the difference between the terms ‘enrolled’ and ‘enlisted’ in this context.”

Some sources suggest that “enrolled” might refer to soldiers who served as substitutes for men who were drafted but paid for someone to take their place. As the Confederate cause grew more desperate, this practice was forbidden by an order issued Jan. 13, 1864. This order continued: “All persons who have heretofore been exempted from military service by reason of having furnished substitutes, are rendered liable to such service. Commandants will forthwith proceed to the enrollment of all persons who have been exempted by reason having furnished substitutes. A distinct roll will be kept of the persons thus enrolled, containing the name of the substitute, the date of the substitution, the company and regiment in which the substitution was made, and as far as practicable whether the substitute is still in service, and if not, whether lost by desertion, discharge or casualty.” You can learn more about Confederate States of America (CSA) conscription rules here.

Since your ancestor was discharged for medical reasons, you might also learn more from the CSA military document transcribed, particularly the section covering discharges, which begins on page 48. It doesn’t answer your specific question, but it does give an idea what written instructions were given to CSA doctors.

If readers can supply any further explanation of the difference between “enrolled” and “enlisted,” we’re all ears—email us at

From the January/February 2018 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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