Friday, July 13, 2012

Genealogy and Army Court Martial Records

How to Obtain A Copy
Court Martial Records should not be overlooked when researching your Army veteran. They may explain an unexpected demotion or even reveal details on the family secret of why Grandpa spent time at Ft. Leavenworth, or other gaps in service stories. Why did he only serve 2 months? Why did he go to Europe in WWI and returned a year before his troop? Why did he not receive a pension? These are just a few scenarios that my peak your interest into researching court martial records.

Where To Start
  1. SF-180 Form. As with copies of any service record, begin with the SF-180 form and request a copy of your veteran’s full service record.  There are Freedom of Information Act stipulations but any court martial procedure will be referenced in the service file, and often you will find full copies of the relevant documents. Remember not all service file records are available due to the 1973 Fire.   
  2. Attorney.  If you are the subject, next of kin, or Power of Attorney, the attorney who tried the case will also have a copy of the court martial records. This resource is often forgotten.
  3. JAG Index. The Judge Advocate General office created an index of court martial cases (1891-1939; not comprehensive) for a quick lookup of veteran by name. You will need to have qualifying information: name, birth, service number (helps), and timeframe. 
What is in RG 153.2.3?
Court Martial cases are part of Record Group (RG) 153.2.3. Know that JAG no longer holds any records, but the Index is available at the National Archives (see below). Record Group 153.2.3 are textural records (not microfilmed). Here is an overview of its contents based on the website: Office of the Judge Advocate General.
  • Copies of records of general courts-martial and courts of inquiry, 1808-1815
  •  Registers of court-martial cases, 1809-90
  • Case files of general courts-martial, courts of inquiry, and military commissions,1809-1939
  • Index, 1891-1917 of general court martial, and courts inquiry
  • Case files lost during the Civil War (later recovered by the Judge Advocate General) 1861-65
  • General courts-martial case number ledgers (1918-50) and offense ledgers (1917-50)
  • Ledger of general courts-martial convictions in the American Expeditionary Forces, 1917-19
  • Applications for and correspondence regarding clemency for prisoners sentenced by general courts-martial to the U.S. Military Prison at Fort Leavenworth, KS, 1887-89. Clemency orders issued by the Assistant Secretary of War, 1894-97.
Where to Locate Army Court Martial Records
Court Martial Records are filed by date and then alphabetized by veteran name. If the file you are searching cannot be located in the veteran’s service file record using the SF-180 form, you may locate the originals at these National Archive repositories:

1803 - 1917 National Archives, Archives I, Washington, DC
Our understanding is these earlier files will remain at the NARA, Archives I.

1918 - 1938 Currently held at National Archives, College, Park, Archives II, but in the process of being transferred to St. Louis, National Personnel Service Center (NPRC). Expected arrival is around October 2012.  During the interim July 1 – Sept 30, 2012 documents are not likely to be accessible.

1939 – 1976 National Personnel Service Center (NPRC), St. Louis. These records were previously held at the Suitland Maryland holding facility 

Other Military Branches
Preliminary plans suggest court martial records of all military branches to be transferred to the NPRC, St. Louis (no timeframe provided).  However, as mentioned, early Army Court Martial records are not included in this transfer. These plans have not been solidified.

How to Order Documents:
The best way to order the above documents is to send your request with your veteran’s vital information and timeframe of court martial to: For more information on ordering copies visit NARA: Need a Form.

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, Accessible Answers

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