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What is a Spanish American War Discharge Document?

By Patrick McSherry

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General:

We often reference a soldier's military discharge record. What is the military discharge? What does it look like? What kind of data does it contain. This article will address the issues.

The example discharge shown below is that of Paul D. Marable who served in Company K of the 4th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry. Mr. Marable was the great-grandson of John Hartwell Marable, a congressman and friend of Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston. Marable attending Southwestern Presbyterean University in Clarkesville. After serving in the 4th Tennessee, he joined the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and worked as a surveyor, mapping portions of "Indian Territory" (present day Oklahoma). He also served as a surveyor for the line of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. He eventually returned to Tennessee, moving to Memphis. Later  he relocated to Chicago, Illinois where he served as the chief tariff officer of the Illinois Central Railroad. He died on July 25, 1937 at the age of 58. Marable was apparently also active in politics, and served as campaign manager.

The Military Discharge:

Receiving the disharge document was an important event for the soldier. This was his key to returning to civilian life. The goverment, interestingly, seemed to have a sense of humor about this as can be see in the text of the cardboard cylinder that was provided to contain the document. Surviving discharges are not rare particularly, but are getting more so as time goes on. However, the tube that was provided to house the document was often discarded and is rare. An example of the tube that came with the discharge shown at the bottom of this page is shown here:

Military Dischage Container, 1898

The cardboard cylinder noted that the discharge was for a member of a volunteer regiment, as opposed
to a member of the U.S. Regulars. It had the very welcome printed note stating "Am I Going Home? Oh! Yes."


Military Dischage Container, 1898

The oppposite side of the cardboard cyclinder read "Home, Sweet Home." and noted the company and regiment
of the soldier being discharged.




The document itself provides several sets of information on the veteran, based on records retained by the regiment in their "Regimental Discriptive Book" or "Company Descriptive Book." These books contained the records on each of the soldiers, and was updated as things changed. The upper portion of the dicharge lists the soldier's name, his final rank (he may have enlisted as a private but rose in rank...or vice versa) at the time of mustering out, his company and regiment. The document will incude the date that he enrolled in the regiment and what length of enlistment he agreed to by joining this regiment. The document states the reason for the soldier's discharge from the regiment. In this case it provides the most common reason - the regiment was mustered out, or officially disbanded, being no longer needed. Other reasons that may be listed include being discharged by the order of the regimental surgeon, being discharged by courtmartial (dishonorable discharge), etc.

The lower portion of the document provides a description of the soldier, listing the town he stated was his place of residence at the time of enlistment, his age, and a physical description consisting of height, complexion, hair color and eye color. The soldier's occupation at the time of his enlistment is also provided.

The location that the discharge document was issued is listed and one of his commanding officers will have signed the document. Also listed is the officer charged with mustering the regiment out. Usually this was an officer of the regular army as opposed to an officer of a volunteer regiment. The mustering officer has no association with the regiment, but only serves to officially muster the soldier (or the entire regiment) out of service.

Soldiers usually held on to this document as it was important when the soldier attempted to obtain any benefits from the government. This document provided all of the basic information he would need to complete the required forms and was his proof of service.

Discharge Document of Paul Marable, 4th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry


Bibliography:

Hammer, Sue - the discharge and container, as well as data on Paul Marable.

"Paul D. Marable" Chattanooga Daily Times. July 25, 1937, Page 7. 


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