The Richards Center and the University Libraries have partnered to create a first-of-its-kind, online, interactive database of Pennsylvania soldiers who were listed as deserters during the Civil War. Compiled from an 1866 roster of deserters produced by the Provost Marshal’s office at the request of the Pennsylvania legislature, the database allows users to search the roster’s roughly 24,000 records in a variety of ways. Users can search for individual soldiers, companies, or regiments, or they can track desertions by date, location, rank, or even by soldier occupation.
The commonwealth’s Republican-led legislature commissioned the roster in conjunction with a new state law that disfranchised deserters. Republicans presumed that deserters likely were disloyal Democrats, and the legislature distributed the roster to the polls to enable election officials to identify potential voters who had been listed as deserters and prevent them from casting a ballot. You can read more about the roster and the unique research opportunities that the database offers scholars, genealogists, and anyone with an interest in the Civil War at Penn State News.