Known to many as the "OR", the Official Records, or more correctly The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, the 128 volume series is comprised of virtually every record from both sides that made it through the war. The idea began with General-in-ChiefHenry Halleck when he had to complete his 1863 report to the U. S. Senate.
Republican Senator Henry Wilson, Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs proposed legislation calling for the creation of the official records. It was quickly passed by Congress and signed by President Lincoln. Compiling the records took almost 40 years. Included in the records are orders, reports, and summaries of actions.
On June 23, 1874, Congress appropriated money "to enable the Secretary of War to begin the publication of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, both of the Union and Confederate Armies, and directed him to preserve "all reports, letters, telegrams, and general orders...properly arranged in chronological order."
Once the records were accumulated, printing and binding was approved by Congress on June 16, 1880 "under direction of the Secretary of War, of
10,000 copies" and that "of said number, 7,000 copies shall be for the use of the House of Representatives, 2,000 copies for the use of the Senate, and 1,000 copies for the use of the Executive Departments." The publication "...will embrace all official documents that can be obtained by the compiler, and that appear to be of any historical value."
Accuracy of the Official Records are often debated. For example, some of John Bell Hood's reports were not written until months after the action. The commanding officer had the opportunity to review the reports and summaries and would frequently asked for changes to cover up mistakes. Others, like Joe Hooker wrote reports that overstated opponents losses, his own actions or subordinates competency or lack thereof.
Good authors are extremely careful in using the OR not to use unsubstantiated facts. Normally, facts appearing in a divisional or brigade level can be verified at the regimental level or a contemporary entry in diary. Also, some of the reports were edited after the fact to save space in the records.
Series I: Contains the formal reports, both Union and Confederate, of the first seizures of United States property in the Southern States, and of all military operations in the field, with the correspondence, orders, and returns relating specially thereto, and, as proposed is to be accompanied by an Atlas. In this series the reports will be arranged according to the campaigns and several theaters of operations (in the chronological order of the events), and the Union reports of any event will, as a rule, be immediately followed by the Confederate accounts. The correspondence, etc., not embraced in the "reports" proper will follow (first Union and next Confederate) in chronological order.
Chapter I - Operations in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Dec. 20, 1860-Apr. 4, 1861
Chapter II - The secession of Georgia. Jan. 3-26, 1861.
Chapter III - The secession of Alabama and Mississippi. Jan. 4-20, 1861.
Chapter IV - Operations in Florida. Jan. 6-Aug. 31, 1861.
Chapter V - The secession of North Carolina. Jan. 9-May 20, 1861.
Chapter VI - The secession of Louisiana. Jan. 10-Feb. 19, 1861.
Chapter VII - Operations in Texas and New Mexico. Feb. 1-Jun 11, 1861.
Chapter VIII - Operations in Arkansas, the Indian Territory, and Missouri. Feb. 7-May 9, 1861.
Chapter XI - Operations in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Jun 11, 1861-Feb. 1, 1862.
Chapter XII - Operations in Kentucky and Tennessee. Jul 1-Nov. 19, 1861.
Chapter XIII - Operations in North Carolina and Southeastern Virginia. Aug. 1, 1861-Jan. 11, 1862.
Chapter XV - Operations on the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and Middle and East Florida. Aug 21, 1861-Apr 11, 1862.
Chapter XVI - Operations in West Florida, Southern alabama, Southern Mississippi, and Louisiana. Sep 1, 1861-May 12, 1862.
Chapter XXVII - Operations in West Florida, Southern Alabama, Southern Mississippi (embracing all operations against Vicksburg, May 18-Jul 27, 1862); and Louisiana, May 12, 1862-May 14, 1863; and operations in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, Sep 20,1862-May 14, 1863.
Volume XVI - in Two Parts. 1886. (Vol. 16, Chap. 28)
Chapter XXVIII - Operations in Kentucky, Middle and East Tennessee, North Alabama, and Southwest Virginia. Jun 10-Oct 31, 1862.
Volume LI - in Two Parts. 1897. (Vol. 51, Chap. 63) SUPPLEMENT
Chapter LXIII - Operations in Maryland, Eastern North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia (except Southwestern), and West Virginia. January 1, 1861-June 30, 1865.
SUPPLEMENT Embracing Documents Found or Received Too Late for Insertion in Volumes 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 11, 12, 18, 19, 21, 25, 27, 29, 33, 36, 37, 40, 42, 43, and 46. [Note: The number in brackets at the lower left hand of each document indicates the volume to which it properly belongs.]
Volume LII - in Two Parts. 1898. (Vol. 52, Chap. 64) SUPPLEMENT
Chapter LXIV - Operations in Southwestern Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, West Florida, and Northern Georgia. January 1, 1861-June 30, 1865.
SUPPLEMENT Embracing Documents Found or Received Too Late for Insertion in Volumes 1, 4, 6, 7, 10, 15, 16, 17, 20, 23, 24, 26, 30, 31, 32, 38, 39, 45, and 49. [Note: The number in brackets at the lower left hand of each document indicates the volume to which it properly belongs.]
Chapter LXV - Operations in South Carolina, Southern Georgia, Middle and East Florida, and Western North Carolina. January 1, 1861-June 30, 1865.
SUPPLEMENT Embracing Documents Found or Received Too Late for Insertion in Volumes 1, 6, 14, 28, 35, 44, and 47. [Note: The number in brackets at the lower left hand of each document indicates the volume to which it properly belongs.]
Reports and Correspondence.
Series II: Contains the correspondence, orders, reports, and returns, Union and Confederate, relating to prisoners of war, and (so far as the military authorities were concerned) to State or political prisoners.
Correspondence, Orders, etc., from January 1, 1865, to the end.
Series III: Contains the correspondence, orders, reports, and returns of the Union authorities (embracing their correspondence with the Confederate officials) not relating specially to the subjects of the first and second series. It will set forth the annual and special reports of the Secretary of War, of the General-in-Chief, and of the chiefs of the several staff corps and departments; the calls for troops, and the correspondence between the national and the several State authorities.
Correspondence, Orders, etc., from April 1, 1862, to December 31, 1862.
Volume III. 1899. Correspondence, Orders, etc., from January 1, 1863, to December 31, 1863.
Volume IV. 1900. Correspondence, Orders, etc., from January 1, 1864, to April 30, 1865.
Volume V. 1900. Correspondence, Orders, etc., from May 1, 1865, to the end.
Series IV: Contains the correspondence, orders, reports, and returns of the Confederate authorities, similar to that indicated for the Union officials, as of the third series, but excluding the correspondence between the Union and Confederate authorities given in that series.
Volume I. 1900. Correspondence, Orders, etc., from December 20, 1860, to June 30, 1862.
Volume II. 1900. Correspondence, Orders, etc., from July 1, 1862, to December 31, 1863.
Synopsis of the contents of volumes.
Special Index for the principal armies, army corps, military divisions and departments.
Table showing volumes pertaining to contemporaneous operations.