May 19, 2022

Penn State University Libraries: Partnership Allows for the Launch of the Pennsylvania Civil War Deserters Database

From PSU Libraries:

After years of development, Penn State University Libraries, in partnership with the Richards Civil War Era Center, has launched the Pennsylvania Civil War Deserters Database. Containing more than 24,000 individual records of soldiers, the interactive database allows users to search the compiled records for individual solders by name, but also identify groups of soldiers by specific criteria such as blacksmiths who deserted or number of desertions following the Battle of Gettysburg.

The database, a digitized copy of an original 1866 roster of Pennsylvania’s Civil War deserters, titled “The Descriptive List of Deserters, Supplied by the U.S.” and compiled by the Provost Marshal General’s Office at the request of the Pennsylvania legislature, represents a powerful untapped resource for researchers and students, specifically for Civil War and military historians, and genealogists.

“We expect this trove of data will get heavy use from military history scholars and inspire creative data uses that can generate new conclusions about who deserted from the Union Army,” said Eric Novotny, history librarian at Penn State University Libraries. “Additionally, we hope community members will make use of the database to learn about family members who served.”

The original document, a 274-page large leather-bound book, was donated to Penn State’s Eberly Family Special Collections Library by the Centre County Library & Historical Museum, where it had been housed for decades. The 1866 roster was created for use by Pennsylvania’s counties for the purpose of disqualifying men from voting who had enlisted in the Union army and later failed to report for duty. Cited as deserters, such men were considered disloyal Democrats by the Republican-dominated Pennsylvania legislature, who sought to discriminate against them by restricting their votes. The document included physical descriptors such as height and weight; military rank and enlistment date; and demographic descriptors including birthplace, occupation and ethnicity.  This information enabled election officials in the 1866 election to challenge suspected deserters at the polls to prevent them from casting ballots.

Learn More: Read the Complete Launch Announcement

Direct to Database

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.