Civil War Roots
Locating Civil War Service Records
Confederate - Union
The hardest part in finding a Civil War soldier is find him among all the other soldiers with the same name. You don't want to be paying money sending off for records you do not need. The following is a step-by-step process to narrow your search and create a preponderance of evidence to identify your soldier.
Step 1 - Know your Soldiers name. Now you say; "I know my Soldiers Name". And I will tell you that you may not. These ancestors were mighty tricky. Lets take the SURNAME first. Knowing that you would be looking for them and to throw you off the track, they would change the spelling from the way you are spelling it today. They did all kind of things like add or delete an "e" at the end of the name; switch vowels that sounded similar; and some of those devils went as far as to change the first letter in the name (example Carr to Karr). Now, let's look at the GIVEN or as some call it CHRISTIAN Name. As further evidence that they were hiding from you, they would use their middle name or just use their initials or even a nickname. In truth, most soldiers did not know how to read and write and the rolls and records were kept by a Sergeant that could and he wrote them as he felt it should be and not how you wanted to see them.
Step 2 - Gather a list of names, whether Confederate or Union, of all spellings to start your weeding process. Now the question is where to you find this list. The online source for this is http://Ancestry.com which has both Confederate and Union. Broadfoot's Roster of Confederate Soldier's
Step 3 - Is to determine where your Soldier would have been when he Enlisted. (State and County) Men usually enlisted in companies that were raised in their hometown, county, or general locale. The general practice for both Confederate and Union was that a company (100 men) would be recruited from a county and then assigned to a regiment. Other companies recruited in the same county may or may not be assigned to a different regiment. (1000 men)
To locate any Civil War military service record, the absolute first thing to do is to positively find the county and state where an individual was living when the war began. Usually the 1860 Federal Census (available on microfilm at any good library) will prove adequate for this purpose. ***Unless you have additional information to work with, you must do this first or you are wasting time!***
If you already know the county where the individual was living, go to the 'Links Section' (scroll the Index at left or bottom). There you will find a Reference of what military units received volunteers from that county. If you already know what unit the soldier served in, you will also find a Cross-Reference of Units to Counties.
You must allow plenty of flexibility in the spelling of names, and the use of nicknames, in identifying an individual on census and military records...or for that matter on all types of records.
Once you have identified an individual in a particular county and state, you are ready to make your first attempt at contacting the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)...AND the Department of Archives and History of that state, to obtain a copy of the soldier's military service record. (Do NOT email this page coordinator with these requests; I do NOT have the records of individual soldiers!) Contrary to popular myth, especially in the case of Confederate service, both national and state archives resources must be checked. Also, if you find evidence to believe an individual ended service in either army before the war ended, you must explore the possibility the soldier 'changed sides'. Many men did so (sometimes more than once) during the course of the war.
On 'Links Page One' you will have the opportunity to go directly to the website for the NARA and ADAH (Alabama Department of Archives and History), where you will find complete instructions for ordering copies of records.
When ordering copies of records from NARA, be sure to print in bold letters, across the top and along the side of the form..."SEND COMPLETE FILE". Otherwise, you will not get the complete record. (Again, ...do NOT email this page coordinator with these requests!)
Do not be surprised if you receive copies of records that appear to be those of multiple individuals with the same name, due to the fact that several military units are specified in the records you receive. It was very common for soldiers to serve in more than one unit during the course of the war. Also, units were constantly being reorganized and given new unit identifications, thus creating a deceiving outward appearance of your having received records for several men with the same name.
If your ancestor survived the war, the possibility exists that he or his widow may have eventually applied for a pension. You may link to that page below, but it is recommended that you next visit "Alabama in the Civil War".
If your ancestor survived the war, the possibility exists that he or his widow may have eventually applied for a pension. Whether the pension was granted or not, those applications can contain a wealth of genealogical information.
An application for pension for Confederate service will be found in the state where the veteran was living at the time he made application, not necessarily in the state from which he served during the war.
Alabama Civil War Service Database - This link is to the description of the project and to search the available records click on the Go Search at the bottom of the page.
Example: If he served in an Alabama regiment, then moved to Texas after the war as many die, his or widow's application for pension will be found in the Texas State Archives in Austin. (Incidentally, Texas pension applications are indexed alphabetically and online. You may access them by clicking here: Texas Confederate Pensions.)
Pension applications based on service in the Union forces will be found in the National Archives.
Do not overlook the fact that Veterans and-or their widows had to submit their own separate applications. This means there could be two separate documents offering information about the same couple, frequently filed many years apart, and under two separate names, and possibly even in two different states.
Do not feel 'disappointed' if it turns out the application was denied! It does not mean the man didn't serve. It could mean that (1) the individual simply did not meet the financial indigence or medical disability pre-requisites, or (2) that sufficient records to verify his service could not be located at the time. In the case of the latter, remember the South's governmental infrastructure was shattered by invading Union armies. Previously lost records are still being discovered to this day.
The following is an abstract of information received from Mr. Ken Tilley, Reference and Photo Archivist, of the Alabama Department of Archives and History...
- On February 19, 1867, an act was approved, "...for the relief of maimed Officers and Soldiers who belonged to military organizations of this State, or of the Confederate States." Under this Act, the Governor was authorized to contract for artificial limbs. Persons so maimed as to receive no benefit from the Act received payment of $100 in lieu.
- When funds from the Act of 1867 were exhausted, an act in 1876 constituted the beginning of annual appropriations to continue the benefit.
- In 1886, a provision for the first time introduced authorizing the payment of pensions to the widows of soldiers in certain cases.
- In 1902, the Confederate Soldier's Home was established at Mountain Creek, between Birmingham and Montgomery, for the care of indigent Confederate veterans, and their wives when accompanied by their husbands, who had been bona vide residents of Alabama for two years before applying for admission.
- *Although the last actual Confederate veteran died in 1959, the State of Alabama still maintained the funds and infrastructure to continue this benefit, apparently for the care of soldier's widows...(*This note, mine.)
On 'Links Page One', you will have the opportunity to link to the Alabama Department of Archives and History website, where you will find complete instructions for ordering copies of pension applications.
To my knowledge there is no Alabama Pension Index; the closest I know of, and that for soldiers who served w/ Georgia Regiments, but resided in Alabama after the war; that is available from Pioneer Publishing Company. Homer Jones
Other Links for Help in Searching for your Civil War Ancestors
The Alabama Civil War Roots' webmaster, James D. Allen, passed away February 5, 2003. His tireless dedication to making available information on all our Civil War ancestors will always be our inspiration. We dedicate the continuation of this site to him. Jimmy, we miss you.
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Website placed online: October 1998
CopyrightŠ 2003-2007 Carolyn Golowka