LOCATING A UNION CIVIL WAR SOLDIER (1861 1865)
If you have a male ancestor who was born in the 1830s or 1840s, you may use this guide to see if he served in the Civil War. Most who served were in their late teens or early twenties but could have been older or younger. Union military units existed for every state except South Carolina, and these units kept records. To find records, you need to know at least the name of your ancestor and the state where your ancestor lived when the war started in 1861.
Search service records to find the military unit
Military service records may give the rank, dates of service, place of residence prior to enlistment, age, place of birth, physical description, and date and place of death or discharge. To locate your Civil War soldier or sailor check the:
Military service records may give the rank, dates of service, place of residence prior to enlistment, age, place of birth, physical description, and date and place of death or discharge.
What you will need to get started. Service records are normally arranged by state, then by military unit, and then alphabetically by the serviceman's name. In order to find the service records you will need to determine the state from which he served, his military unit, and the name by which your ancestor was identified during the war.
Step 1. Search the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database on the Internet. This easy-to-use database lists over 6 million Confederate and Union soldiers, and 18,000 African American sailors. The search engine finds names alphabetically.
- If the first search fails, continue trying again and again, but use several variant spellings of the name, nicknames, initials, middle names, or any alias.If you find too many matching names, try to narrow the field by using clues from your knowledge of your ancestors, such as his place of residence, or relatives or neighbors that joined up with him. Also, each state's ". . . in the Civil War" page on the Wiki has a link to that state's military units regiment-by-regiment. That regimental list sometimes gives the place where they were first organized or discharged. The majority of regiments were raised mostly in one or two counties..
Sometimes the database shows the same person under more than one spelling of his name.
1. Each entry in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database has the potential to list each serviceman's:
- regiment or battalion (always listed)
- if Confederate or Union (always listed)
- soldier's rank in
- soldier's rank out
- alternate name
- National Archives source microfilm number (always listed)
- If you find your ancestor in this Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database, make a copy of the information, and skip to Step 3.
2. Check each state for an index to the Compiled Military Service Records. These can be searched by name at fold3. This site is free at the Family History Library. The National Archives microfilm indexes at the Family History Library are available on the 2nd floor. They have also been copied into books located on the 3rd floor:
3. Microfilm. For help in finding the microfilm number, go to the military records section of the US/Canada Reference areas. Find the book Register for Federal United States Military Records. Volume 2: The Civil War, pages 57–115. FHL book 973 M2de. Look alphabetically for the state for where your ancestor may have served. Select the microfilm that would alphabetically contain the name of your ancestor.
4. Book. Find FHL Book 973 M29h. The Roster of Union Soldiers, 1861 1865. 33 vols., Janet B. Hewett, ed. Wilmington, N.C.: Broadfoot Pub., 1997–2000.
2. Look for your ancestor’s service record in the Compiled Military Service Records.
These records are available online at fold3. This website is free at the Family History Library.
If your ancestor enlisted in a unit for the Union army in a southern or western state, see volumes 2 and 4 of the Register of Federal United States Military Records, mentioned above, for microfilm numbers to find their service records.
If your ancestor enlisted in other states, you must request copies of the record from the National Archives. There is a fee for this service.
Complete the NATF Form 86 National Archives Order for Copies of Military Service Records. Copies of the form are available online at https://eservices.archives.gov/orderonline/start.swe?SWECmd=Start Send this form to:
Old Military and Civil Records (NWCTB-Military),
Textual Archives Services Division,
National Archives & Records Administration,
700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20408-0001
Search for your ancestor’s pension records.
Pension records contain information on a soldier’s military service, wife and children, and place of residence. The Federal Government issued pensions to veterans and their widows who met the eligibility requirements. Not all veterans received a pension.
1. Find the application or pension numbers you need in order to request Union pension records (pension files). The actual files have not been microfilmed, but the indexes are available at the Family History Library, fold3 and Ancestry.com.
5. First search the index General Index to Pension Files, 1861–1934 (FHL films 540757–41300.) It is alphabetical by the name of the veteran.
If your ancestor was alive between 1907 and 1933, search this index:
6. Veteran’s Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907–1933. (FHL films 1634036–1636574). It is alphabetical by the name of the veteran and widow.
2. Obtain copies of a pension file from the National Archives.
Complete the form, which is available online at https://eservices.archives.gov/orderonline/start.swe?SWECmd=Start NATF Form 85D National Archives Order for Copies of Federal Pension or Bounty Land Warrant Applications.
Send the completed form to the same National Archives address on the previous page.
For additional pension information, see the U.S. Military Records Research Outline, pages 7 and 29–30.
Look for additional information about Civil War records in the National Archives on their Web site:
Search other sources.
Look for additional information about Civil War records in the FamilySearch Research Wiki at www.familysearch.org under the Learn tab. Search the topic United States Civil War and click on the link to Union records.
These can also be found in the Family History Library Catalog under the name of the state and the topic Military Records—Civil War 1861 1865.
Search the records of veteran organizations and lineage societies.
Read the Family History Library’s U.S. Military Records Research Outline, pages 32–33 for help in finding information on veteran organizations and lineage societies.
If your ancestor survived the war, he may have joined a veteran’s organization like the Grand Army of the Republic.
Look in the records of such organizations because they may provide biographical information about their members.
Check with the state archives, historical society, or state library for any available records of the state in which your ancestor lived after the war. See the research outline for the state where your ancestor lived for the addresses.
A descendant of your ancestor may also have joined a lineage society like the Sons of Union Veterans, or Daughters of Union Veterans.
Contact their national headquarters for information.
Use the Sons of Union Veterans Web site: www.suvcw.org.