Genealogy: Civil War 1861-1865, Researching and finding military records

Civil War Bay Barry J. Ewell
The following categories and additional resources are provided to aid your research and finding of military records for the Civil War 1861-1865:

  • Civil War Overview
    • Northern and Confederate states
  • Researching the U.S. Civil War military records
    • Build a search profile for each male
    • Where to find the personal information
    • Sample U.S. Civil War male search profile
  • Where to find regiment and company information
    • Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS)
    • 1890 U.S. Federal Census Veterans Schedule
    • 1910 U.S. Federal Census
    • State censuses
  • Search for Civil War Records
    • Union pension records
    • Pension records for Confederate soldiers
  • Start first with online databases
  • Expand your search on the internet
  • Search for Civil War groups and organizations
  • Search the cemetery
    • Department of Veterans Affairs National Gravesite Locator
    • Headstones Provided for Deceased Union War Veterans circa 1879-1903
    • Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
    • Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS)
    • Confederate soldiers
    • Historical society headstone symbolism

Civil War Overview
Fought between the years of 1861-1865 the U.S. Civil war resulted from decades of tensions between the North and South related to slavery and states’ rights which came to a head after the election of Abraham Lincoln n 1860.  Within 11 months, eleven southern states seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. The Civil War was the largest military conflict in United States history with over 3.3 million soldiers engaged in the action (2. 1 million solders for the North and 1.1 million for the South.) It cost 600,000-plus American lives, more than in World War I and World War II combined.  The consequences of the war were far reaching with which included 1) Emancipation of four million enslaved African Americans 2) Vast changes to the nation’s financial system 3) Alteration of the relationship between the states and the federal government.

Northern and Confederate states. The following map provides an overview of the alignment of Union and Confederate states during the Civil War:

Civil War States

Northern States (blue)CaliforniaConnecticutIllinoisIndiana
IowaKansasMainMassachusetts
MichiganMinnesotaNew HampshireNew Jersey
New YorkOhioOregonPennsylvania
Rhode IslandVermontWest VirginiaWisconsin
Southern States (Red) Seceded before 15 April 1861AlabamaFloridaGeorgiaLouisiana
MississippiSouth CarolinaTexas
Slaves States (Yellow) Did not secedeArkansasNorth CarolinaTennesseeVirginia
DelawareDistrict of ColumbiaKentuckyMaryland
Missouri
Territories not yet formedArizonaColoradoIdahoOklahoma
MontanaNebraskaNevadaNew Mexico
North DakotaSouth DakotaUtah Washington

Researching the U.S. Civil War military records
I have made it practice to search for Civil War military records for males that I find in the 1860-1910 U.S. Federal censuses who would have been between ages of 10 and 70 during Civil War years of 1861-1865.  Yes, I realize that a 10 year old boy or 70 year old men would have rarely be in the war, however, the Civil War was a conflict that involved the nation, loss of life and property was catastrophic, boys/men served at all ages. With the online availability of records, searching for military records should be part of your research process for males who were born between the years of 1791 and 1854.

Soldier familyBuild a search profile for each male. Begin by developing a short profile for each male you will be researching. You will use the list as a reference for your search.  Include the following

  • Name of male and variations
  • Approximate age at the beginning and end of the Civil War
  • Approximate birth year or birth date
  • Approximate death year or death date
  • Name of the wife and children during their life time
  • Whether they served for the Union Army or the Confederate Army
  • State (include county if possible) where male lived before, during and after during the Civil War
  • Regiment or company if known (You will need this information to search for records, separate them from others with similar name, search the internet for records associated with the units)

Where to find the personal information. I would begin to build my search profile viewing the information on the 1860 and 1870 U.S. Federal census.

Check the 1860 U.S. Federal census to identify

  • Living males between the ages of 6 and 66
  • Place of birth for each male
  • Whether they were single or married
  • If married, name of spouse and children and their ages
  • Place of residence (state and county) at the time of the census

Note: If you can’t find you ancestor in the 1860 census, look at the 1850 census and see if they appear in the 1870 census.

Check the 1870 U. S. Federal census to identify

  • Living males between the ages of 16 and 76
  • Males who are in the 1860 census and not in the 1870 census (may indicate he died in the war)
  • Place of birth for the male
  • If married, name of spouse and children and their ages
  • Place of residence (state and county) at the time of the census

Check the 1880-1910 U.S. Federal censuses for

  • Additional children
  • Change in marital status
  • Death of individual
  • Change in location

Start with at least the 1860 and 1870 census and expand to the 1850, 1880, 1900, 1890 and 1910 censuses as needed. A sample search profile is as follows:

Sample U.S. Civil War male search profile
Census yearNameAge and approx birth yearFamilyLocationPlace of birth
1850 CensusJohn Isacc Stewart14 (1836)Living with father James M. StewartFranklin co., New YorkNew York
1860 CensusJohn I. Stewart25 (1835)(F) Sarah 23
(F) Mary 2
(M) James 1
Dauphin co., PennsylvaniaNew York
1870 CensusJ. I. Stewart35 (1835)(F) Sarah 33
(F) Mary 12
(M) Jim 11
(M) Robert 9
(M) Joshua 4
Dauphin co., Pennsylvania
1880 CensusJohn Stewart45 (1835)(F) Sarah 43
(M) Robert 19
(M) Joshua 14
(F) Martha 13
Dauphin co., Pennsylvania
1900 CensusJohn Stewart54 (1834)(F) Sarah 53
(F) Martha 23
Dauphin co., Pennsylvania
1910 CensusJ. Stewart64 (1834)(F) Sarah 63
(F) Martha 33
(F) Amy 6
Dauphin co., Pennsylvania
1920 CensusNot Listed(F) Sarah 73Dauphin co., Pennsylvania
Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS) websiteBattle unit nameSideCompanySoldier’s rankAlternate name
95th Regiment, Pennsylvania InfantryUnionCSergeant
Film numberNotes
M233 Roll 30General Note – See original register for additional information.
1890 Special Schedule Enumerating Union Veterans and Widows of Union Veterans of the Civil WarNameRankCompanyName of Regiment or VesselDate of Enlistment
John StewartSergeantCo. C95 PA Inf (95th Pennsylvania Infentry)21 June 1861
Date of DischargeLength of ServicePost Office AddressDisability incurredRemarks
20 September 18654 years 1 monthBerrysburg, PaLeft hip wound
1910 Census question (Confed or Union Veteran)Sarah listed as dependent

Where to find regiment and company information
There are several places that you can search for regiment and company information. They include:

Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS), free service,  sponsored by the US National Parks Service. This database contains information about the men who served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Other information on the site includes histories of Union and Confederate regiments, links to descriptions of significant battles, and selected lists of prisoner-of-war records and cemetery records, which are amended as new information is available. CWSS contains information transcribed from the General Index Cards.

1890 U.S. Federal Census Veterans Schedule.  The schedule includes the following information:

  • State, county, and district where person lived
  • Date of census
  • Full name of surviving soldier, sailor, marine, or widow
  • Rank
  • Company
  • Regiment or vessel
  • Date of enlistment
  • Date of discharge
  • Length of service in years, months and days

You can search this schedule on FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com. Also locate libraries where you can search the microfilm resource using Worldcat (use the search term, 1890 Union veterans and widows of Union veterans of the Civil War) and LDS Family History Centers/Library.

1910 U.S. Federal Census.  This census asked whether the person was survivor widow of the Civil War.  Abbreviations were as follows:  Union Army (UA), Union Navy (UN), Confederate Army (CA), and Confederate Navy (CN).

State censuses.  Check to see if a state census from where you ancestor lived included questions. For example:

  • Alabama 1907, 1921, 1927
  • Arkansas 1911
  • Louisiana 1911
  • New York 1865
  • Wisconsin 1885

Search for Civil War Records
Once you have developed a  U.S. Civil War search profile for  the males you want to research with available information, your are now ready to search multiple online databases, websites and microfilm.

There is no one repository that will contain all the records related to your ancestor’s service.  Why? There was heavy destruction throughout the war because of intense military activity and deliberate burring of court houses, libraries and other repositories. You will need search multiple resources to gain as complete a picture from among the available fragments that still exist.   I would suggest starting your search for pension records and Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR).

Pension records will vary for Union and Confederate soldiers.

  • Union pension records.   If you ancestor served in the Union army, search to see he, his widow or dependents applied for a pension.  These records are also available from the National Archives, state libraries and archives, state Ancestry.com, and Fold3. Note: check to see if you library has the free version of the subscription databases. If you end up ordering the original  records from the National Archives, make sure you ask to have all the pages copied otherwise you will only get a few.
  • Pension records for Confederate soldiers.  Most confederate states sponsored their own pension programs. Some programs would only cover the indigent or disabled Confederate veterans, widows or orphans.  The veteran could apply to the state where he lived even if he served in a unit from another state. Search the state archives/libraries and county and state historical societies. The pensions are also available on microfilm from the LDS Family History Library.  Several states have put information online. For more information see the National Archives Confederate Pension Records.

Every soldier had a CMSR for every regiment he served in.  If your ancestor was in more than one, I would search for all of them.   The CMSR can include information from muster roles and related records of the period of time he was in the regiment, facts related to enlistment and discharge, wounds and hospitalization,   personal papers , and prisoner of war records.

Start first with online databases
The following are a few of the resources I would suggest to visit and research for records of the males you have listed on the search profile.

The American Civil War Research Database, subscription-based, is a historic effort to compile and link all available records of common soldiers in the American Civil War. Historic Data Systems has compiled and interlinked a wide array of records including state rosters, pension records, regimental histories, photos, and journals. Database is also available on Ancestry.com.  Check to see if you can access the database from your library or LDS Family History Center/Library.

U.S. Civil War Era Records, free service, sponsored by FamilySearch and arranged by state for Union and Confederate soldiers. The records include a jacket-envelope for each soldier, labeled with his name, his rank, and the unit in which he served. The jacket-envelope typically contains card abstracts of entries relating to the soldier as found in original muster rolls, returns, rosters, payrolls, appointment books, hospital registers, Union prison registers and rolls, parole rolls, inspection reports; and the originals of any papers relating solely to the particular soldier. For each military unit the service records are arranged alphabetically by the soldier’s surname.

Ancestry.com and Fold3, subscription websites, have an extensive list of available records from the Civil War.  Check to see if you library has subscriptions to these services. Sample of available records includes:

Union
  • Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934
  • Headstones Provided for Deceased Union Civil War Veterans, 1879-1903
  • U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments, 1798-1914
  • U.S., Civil War Draft Registrations Records, 1863-1865
  • U.S. Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles
  • U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1861-1865
  • U.S. Military and Naval Academies, Cadet Records and Applications, 1805-1908
  • U.S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938
  • U.S. Navy Pensions Index, 1861-1910
  • U.S. Pensioners, 1818-1872
  • U.S., Union Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865
  • U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006
Confederate
  • Confederate Service Records, 1861-1865
  • U.S., Confederate Pensions, 1884-1958
  • U.S., Confederate Soldiers Compiled Service Records, 1861-1865

*Do a Google search on any of the above titles and locate where you can search these records.

National Archives has resources that are microfilm and available at libraries and LDS Family History Centers and digital versions at Ancestry/Fold3 and databases. For example find:

  • Bounty land warrant applications based on wartime military service 1775-1855
  • Pension claims based on military service from 1775-1916
  • Military personnel serving for the confederate states government from 1861-1865
  • Enlisted personnel serving in the U.S. Army from 1789 to October 1912
  • Officers serving in the U.S. army from 1789- to June 1917
  • Officers in the Revenue Cutter service, the Life-Saving Service, or the Lighthouse Service from 1791-1919
  • Officers in the Revenue Cutter Service terms of service extended beyond 1915
  • Officers serving in the Coast Guard from 1890 to 1929
  • Enlisted personnel serving in the Marine Corps from 1789 to 1904
  • Officers serving in the Marine Corps form 1789 to 1895
  • Enlisted personnel serving in the U.S. Navy from 1789 to December 1885
  • Officers serving in the U.S. Navy from 1789 to December 1902

*Do a Google search on any of the above titles and locate where you can search these records.

Expand your search on the internet
I have had good success searching the internet for resources provided by the National Archives, state libraries and archives, historical and lineage societies, regional libraries, and family organizations. The records that are available for the Civil War availability will vary depending on whether they served in the military for the United States and Confederate States of America. I make sure that I always counsel with the librarian as to their knowledge of available Civil War records at the local, regional and state level as well as who else I can counsel with to help me locate records.

Many of the collections have been put online by the various groups that include service records and rosters.  For example, many historical societies have done extensive research on the units representing their communities. See if these records have been put online with a Google searches such as

  • Virginia “Civil War”
  • Maryland “Civil War” genealogy
  • Mississippi “Civil War” records
  • Texas Historical Society “Civil War”
  • Goochland County Historical Society “Civil War”
  • Pennsylvania Civil War Records
  • Alabama Confederate Records

Wherever I have use the name of a state our county, simply replace the word with the name of the places where your ancestor lived.

If you have the company company and regiment of your ancestor you can search the internet for available e information that can include histories and lists to detailed records about individuals:  Example of Google search query could be:

  • 95th Pennsylvania Infantry
  • 95th Pennsylvania OR Penna Infantry
  • 95th Pennsylvania OR Penna Inf OR Infantry
  • 95th Pennsylvania Infantry Company C
  • 95th Pennsylvania Inf OR Infantry co OR company C
  • 95th Pennsylvania Regiment
  • 95th Pennsylvania OR Penna regt OR reg’t OR regiment

Many states have put online a variety of documents related to the Civil War. See the article: “Genealogy: Find U.S. Civil War 1861-1865 records on the internet

Search for Civil War groups and organizations
As I have researched my Civil War ancestors, I learned that several of them join organizations specifically related to their service.  I first learned about these organizations from symbols I found on headstones.  Check to see if records the organizations have available, publications and index to the publications, and whether they have groups near you. Also look in state/county historical societies to if they have information from these groups.  Also check to see what is available on LDS Family History microfilm.

Some of the more well-known Union organizations that exist today as hereditary societies (i.e., need to prove lineage) include:

The Confederate organizations include:

Search the cemetery
Finding graves of your ancestors from the Civil War era for both Union and Confederate soldiers is easier than you might think. The following are few resources.

Department of Veterans Affairs National Gravesite Locator. Search for burial locations of veterans and their family members in VA National Cemeteries, state veterans cemeteries, various other military and Department of Interior cemeteries, and for veterans buried in private cemeteries when the grave is marked with a government grave marker using the Gravesite Locator.

Headstones Provided for Deceased Union War Veterans circa 1879-1903.  An act of Congress of February 3, 1879, extended the privilege of government-provided gravestones to soldiers buried in private cemeteries.  There are 166,000 cards recording these headstones has been reproduced on microfilm (NARA microfilm M1845-22 rolls).  You can find the film at LDS Family History Library/Centers and National Archives and regional record services. These records consist of 3-inch by 4-inch cards arranged alphabetically by surname, thereunder by first name. The cards include some or all of the following information about each soldier: rank, company, and regiment; place of burial, including the cemetery’s name, and the city or town, county, and state in which it is located; grave number, if any; date of death; name of contractor who supplied the headstone and the date of the contract under which the stone was provided. Most of the burials occurred in private cemeteries, probably in the county of the soldier’s last residence. Some occurred in cemeteries at National Homes for Disabled Volunteers Soldiers.  For additional information, see the articles:

The following is an example of Civil War headstone:

Union soldier
Civil War Confederate soldier

Civil War Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. The organization has a national graves registration database that primarily lists burials for Union soldiers, however, some Confederate soldiers are also listed. Information that may be given for a person includes birth and death dates, age, unit, rank, enlistment and discharge dates, and name and address of cemetery.

Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System (CWSS). The CWSS now includes a lookup capability for Civil War Monument graphical images. These images are associated with units and states, and the capability now exists to link the unit history narratives (above) to images of all monuments associated with a particular unit. The National Park Service manages 14 National Cemeteries, all but one of which is related to a Civil War battlefield park. The NPS is planning on listing all names of burials in these cemeteries on the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System. The first phase involves data taken from written records of Poplar Grove National Cemetery at Petersburg National Battlefield, and also includes images of the headstones.

Confederate soldiers. There is an estimated 250,000-plus confederate graves that are not very well marked. The LDS Family History Library has microfilms of two books  written by Raymond W. Watkins. Deaths of Confederate Soldiers in Confederate Hospitals (15 volumes)  (FHL book 975 V2w.) and Confederate Burials (28 volumes) (FHL book 975 V3w.).

Historical society headstone symbolism. Also be on the lookout symbols on graves of family members that were members of the historical societies.

Knowing that family members were members of these societies provide clues that your family may have copies of the research and applications that were used to apply for membership or that one of your ancestors did fight the Revolutionary War and you should be searching for military records.  Each of these organizations required the person to provide genealogical proof that their ancestor did in deed fight in the Civil War.  See the following articles for examples headstone symbols you will find: “Genealogy: Search the cemetery for U.S. Civil War 1861-1865  information

Examples of gravestone symbols for related to the societies are as follows:

Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)
Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)GAR 2Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)Grand Army of the Republic (GAR)
Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War
Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil WarGAR 8Sons of Confederate Veterans
ConfederateCivil WarUnited Daughters of the Confederacy

Civil War