Genealogy: Civil War Ancestors

The American Civil War has been referred to the Civil War, War of the Rebellion, and the War Between the States. Whatever it’s called, many genealogists want to know if they had ancestors who fought in it. Today’s post will discuss ways to learn whether any of your ancestors wore the blue or the gray (or both!) between 1861 and 1865.

To identify a potential Civil War soldier, determine his birthdate. Most soldiers and sailors were between 18 and 30 years old, and would have been born between 1831 and 1846. However, some of them could have been as young as 10 or as old as 70, so that widens the span to between 1791 and 1854. If your potential soldier died between April 1861 and June 1865 in a Southern state, or he was from a Southern state and died in a different Southern state, this may indicate that he was died as a soldier in the Civil War.

The next step is to identify the county and state where your ancestor lived around 1861, so if you don’t know the location, you should check the 1860 census. You can search digitized images of this census for free at FamilySearch – https://familysearch.org – or on a subscription site like Ancestry or Fold 3. If your ancestor lived in a state that took a census between federal censuses, you should check those records as well; some asked for Civil War-related information. Once you’ve located the person, you need to find out if he fought for the Union or the Confederacy. Every state had some men fighting for each side:

Union states included California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Border states included Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and West Virginia, which were pro-Union but had many slave-owning residents who sided with the Confederacy.

Territories included Colorado, Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico (including Arizona), Utah, and Washington.

Confederate states included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, as well as the southern half of New Mexico and Arizona, and Oklahoma.

Another set of clues may be found in the 1910 and 1930 censuses. The 1910 census (column 30) indicates whether the person was a “survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy.” If he was one of these, you’ll see “UA” for Union Army, “UN” for Union Navy, “CA” for Confederate Army, or “CN” for Confederate Navy. The 1930 census (column 31) indicates Civil War veterans merely with the abbreviation “CW.”

Once you’ve identified the county and state, you’ll need to locate the person’s regiment and company. This is necessary because the soldier’s regiment and company are often needed to find his records and identify the soldier. A great way to do this for free is to check the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database: https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm

This site also has information such as histories of Union and Confederate regiments, links to descriptions of significant battles, and selected lists of prisoner-of-war records and cemetery records, which will be amended over time.

Another good resource is the 1890 Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, which is also freely available on FamilySearch at https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/1877095. This record includes the veteran’s name, rank, company, name of regiment or vessel, enlistment date, discharge date, length of service, post office address, his disability, and remarks. Also, many Confederate veterans were mistakenly listed. FamilySearch has a name index to this census as well as digitized images; Ancestry has the same, but it doesn’t have indexes to Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Next, see if you can locate information about your ancestor’s regiment or a regimental history. There are several ways to do this. You may find some in the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database, or you can use Google or another search engine using the regimental information you’ve already found. Another resource for Union histories is the Civil War Archive Regimental Index: http://www.civilwararchive.com/regim.htm. HathiTrust has a free digital copy of the eight-volume The Union Army: A History of Military Affairs in the Loyal States, 1861-65 — Records of the Regiments in the Union Army — Cyclopedia of Battles — Memoirs of Commanders and Soldiers. Volumes 1-4 contain various regimental histories for Northern units: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008997641. Grapevine Library has the 11-volume publication Compendium of the Confederate Armies by Stewart Sifakis which provides a history of each unit, a list of battles and campaigns in which the unit was involved, and a bibliography of suggested readings.

The FamilySearch Wiki has great information on Civil War information relating to individual states. For example, https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Alabama_in_the_Civil_War contains valuable resources about Civil War veterans from that state. After you login to the site, go to the Wiki and enter “[State] in the Civil War.”

FamilySearch also has indexes to Union and Confederate compiled service records. These records are chronologies of a person’s war service in one or more units, and may indicate hospitalizations, deaths, and presence at musters. Digital images of these records are on the subscription site Fold3.

Confederate veterans could not apply for federal pensions; they had to apply for them in the former Confederate states in which they resided after the war. The FamilySearch Wiki entries on these states have information about availability of these pensions. For Union Veterans, FamilySearch also has “Civil War Pension Index Cards – An Index to Pension Applications of Veterans who Served in the U. S.  Army between 1861-1917.” Each card gives the soldier’s name, application and certificate numbers, state of enlistment, and might include rank and death information. The majority of the records are of Civil War veterans, but the collection also includes records for veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, the Indian Wars, and World War I. Pensions have not been microfilmed or digitized and must be ordered from the National Archives.

Additional resources that may also include Civil War service of veterans residing in various communities are county histories and newspaper articles.

Here are just a few books at the Grapevine Library that can help you identify and learn more about Civil War ancestors:

Nancy Justus Morebeck, Locating Union and Confederate Records: A Guide to the Most Commonly Used Civil War Records of the National Archives and Family History Library

Bertram Hawthorne Groene, Tracing Your Civil War Ancestor

Maureen Alice Taylor, Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

George K. Schweitzer, Civil War Genealogy

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