COLUMBIA For decades, maybe for many decades, nobody examined a hard-bound copy of an 1898 compilation of Confederate Civil War soldier rolls at the Richland County Public Library.
Even library employees didn’t know it was there.
Debbie Bloom, who became manager of the library’s local history room three years ago, was stunned early this year when she came across the 18-by-30-inch index. It was stacked in a storage section where nonlocal documents were piled during the library’s 1993 move from its longtime home on Sumter Street to the current Assembly Street location.
“I noticed this big, huge book and thought, ‘What the heck is this? I think this might be important,’ ” Bloom recalled.
The discovery probably isn’t a historical breakthrough. Experts suspect most of the names in the book can be found in other public documents, including the post-war compilation known as the Memory Rolls, stored at the S.C. Archives and History Center and the Civil War Compiled Service Records at the National Archives.
But the authors of the 1898 ledger tried to dig up new information by interviewing survivors. The book may have new details on some soldiers, such as the battles in which they fought.
It will be interesting to compare the 1898 document with the Memory Rolls, said Patrick McCawley of the archives center.
The library plans to send the book to the archives center, which is better equipped to preserve it, Bloom said.
The public will never get the chance to leaf through the physical pages. The binding has deteriorated, and the paper is brittle. But anyone can check it out online, thanks to the digitization efforts at the University of South Carolina’s Thomas Cooper Library. You even can search for a particular name at http://digital.tcl.sc.edu/cdm/ref/collection/confedrolls/id/705.
The 1898 document was designed to fill in missing information from earlier compilations of Confederate soldier rosters. The state Legislature passed an act calling for the compilation in 1882. With little work apparently done on the project, a similar act was passed in 1893. John P. Thomas took over the work after the first two men given the task died.
In a yellowed newspaper clipping found inside in the book, Thomas explains the process of compiling the list and regrets the many gaps in information. He said the lists in the ledger include 397 of the 569 infantry companies, artillery batteries and cavalry troops. The information on some of the companies listed is incomplete.
But if you’re a Civil War buff or simply interested in answering genealogical questions, you may be able to discover new information with a quick search of the digitized version of the book.