The Descriptive list of deserters from Pennsylvania military units during the Civil War
The roster was printed in September 1866 by the Provost Marshal General’s office in Washington D.C. at the request of the Pennsylvania Legislature. The document contains physical, military and demographic information for nearly 30,000 Union soldiers who enlisted in the Union army and later failed to report for duty and were subsequently cited as deserters. The roster was compiled from monthly lists that were submitted to the Provost Marshal and Adjutant General between 1861 and 1865.
The “deserter roster” is a group of archival broadsides. The pages were printed and then hung with nails running across the top of the document. The roster, and others like it, were displayed at courthouses and polling stations during the Pennsylvania Legislative election season of 1866 in order to prevent deserters, presumed to be disloyal and predominantly Democrats, from voting after the war. On June 4, 1866 the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania Legislature had amended the election code to allow the denying of rights of voting to military deserters, opening the door for political discrimination. It is not known how widespread this practice was, but it provides fascinating insight into the political atmosphere of the North following the Civil War. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court later overturned the law, declaring that it violated constitutional protections against ex post facto punishments.
The document also contains a wealth of demographic data including height, weight, country of origin, age and occupation. The roster pages have been digitized in the same order that they were received by the Penn State Libraries, with the last page first and regiments listed in descending order.