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Research Your Civil War Ancestor

Civil War Service & Pension Records

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Once you've determined your Civil War soldier's name, state and regiment, it's time to turn to service records and pension records, the meat of Civil War research.

Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR)


Whether fighting for the Union or the Confederacy, each volunteer soldier who served in the Civil War will have a Compiled Military Service Record for each regiment in which he served. The majority of Civil War soldiers served in volunteer regiments, distinguishing them from individuals serving in the regular U.S. Army. The CMSR contains basic information about the soldier's military career, when and where he enlisted, when he was present or absent from camp, amount of bounty paid, how long he served, and when and where he was discharged, or died. Additional detail, when pertinent, may also be included, including information on hospitalization for injury or illness, capture as a prisoner of war, courts martial, etc.

The CMSR is an envelope (called a "jacket") containing one or more cards. Each card contains information compiled several years after the Civil War from original muster rolls and other records that survived the war. This includes Confederate records captured by the Union armies.

How to Obtain Copies of Compiled Military Service Records

  • Online from Fold3.com – Fold3.com, in collaboration with the National Archives, has digitized CMSRs from most states, both Confederate and Union, and put them online where they can be viewed and downloaded for a fee. CMSRs are currently available for most, but not all states at Fold3.com.

  • Order Online from the National Archives – You can order Civil War Service records from the National Archives online or by mail for a fee. To use this service, you will need the soldier's name, regiment, state and allegiance. If you prefer to order a copy by mail, you will need to download and use NATF Form 86.

Civil War Pension Records

Most Union Civil War soldiers, or their widows or other dependents, applied for a pension from the U.S. federal government. The biggest exception were unmarried soldiers who died during or soon after the war. Confederate pensions, on the other hand, were generally only available for disabled or indigent soldiers, and sometimes their dependents.

Union Civil War Pension Records are available from the National Archives. Indexes to these Union pension records are available online by subscription at Fold3.com and Ancestry.com (subscription links). Copies of the full Union Pension File (often containing dozens of pages) and be ordered online or by mail from the National Archives.

Confederate Civil War Pension Records can generally be found in the appropriate State Archives or equivalent agency. Some states have also put indexes to or even digitized copies of their Confederate pension records online.
Confederate Pension Records – A State by State Guide

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