A Brief Introduction to Genealogy and the American Civil War

The American Civil War provided many documents which have information vital for those interested in family history. Many men born from 1825 to 1847 served in the armies, but many older men and some young boys also participated. In addition, draft reg istration provides records of others in that age group who did not serve.

Table of Contents

How-to books that I like

Each of these books gives detailed information and sources to aid your research.

  • Tracing Your Civil War Ancestor
    by Bertram H. Groene. (1987) John F. Blair, publisher, Winston-Salem, NC.
  • Civil War Genealogy
    by George K. Schweitzer, Knoxville, TN

In which unit did your soldier serve? [top]

In most cases, to use other sources you must know the state and the unit in which the soldier served because I have found no complete listing of all soldiers. Here is an outline some ways to find out the state and unit for your soldier.

  1. Easy sources
    • Oral family history: ask parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents
    • His tombstone: many list the state and unit numbers
    • Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System contains approximately 6 million soldier names
    • If he ever lived in Nebraska or Colorado, check GAR and census resources available from the Denver Public Library [Colorado GAR Members -- Nebraska GAR & 1890 Census]
    • If he lived in Oklahoma, check records at the Electric Cemetery
    • Tennesseans in the Civil War - Part I and II by the Centennial Civil War Commission of TN. supply regimental history including commanding officers of both Federal and Confederate TN Units; rosters with rank and unit; narrow a search down by checking groups which were formed or mustered in their counties or area of research. (Thanks to Mark Lowe's recommendation of this reference)
    • The Roster of Confederate Soldiers 1861-1865 by Janet B. Hewett, Broadfoot Publishing Co, Wilmington, NC (1996).
  2. If you know his county of residence when he enlisted:
    • Check the units which were formed in that area.
      Many units consisted of groups of neighbors. Lists of these units can often be found in a county history or through a local historical or genealogical society.
  3. If you know his state of residence when he enlisted:
    • For most states, some sort of index exists which lists the soldiers in each unit from that state--often published in northern states by the state's Adjutant General's Office . You can also try the Index to the Compiled Service Records of Union Soldiers, microfilmed records at the National Archives and available through some research libraries.
  4. If you don't know his residence when he enlisted:
    • Using the 1860 Federal Census records, you may be able to find where he lived in 1860. Most of these records have an index to the head of the households, which could be the soldier or the soldier's father.
    • If he served in the Confederate army, you may find him in the Consolidated Index to Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers, microfilmed records at the National Archives and available through some research libraries.

Which states were Confederate and which were Union? [top]

Map of USA showing Union & Confederate States

Confederate States of America

     Alabama    Georgia       N. Carolina     Texas          
     Arkansas   Louisiana     S. Carolina     Virginia      
     Florida    Mississippi   Tennessee    
                        Kentucky*       Missouri*

   * Kentucky and Missouri were represented by stars on the Confederate flag 
     and had representation in the CSA.  However, the pre-war governments of 
     these states never seceded from the Union. Reports suggest that over
     twice as many soldiers from Kentucky served with the Union than with the 
     Confederacy [Wooster, R. A., The Secession Conventions of the South, 1962,
     Princeton, NJ].  

However, there were units in the Union Army from all of the states of the CSA.

The Union

The states not listed above remained in the Union. West Virginia was admitted as a Union state in June 1863.
[Kentucky and Missouri remained in the Union, though both were represented in the CSA]. However there were units in the Union Army from all states of the Confederacy and soldiers from Union states sometimes joined the Confederate army. One famous example is the Orphan Brigade of Confederate soldiers from Kentucky.

Note: Some of the states which remained in the Union had been slave states. For example, Kentucky and Missouri.

Regimental History [top]

The briefest regimental histories generally list the major engagements of the regiment and things which make the regiment unique. For some regiments, entire books have been written.

Short Regimental Histories

  • Union units
    F. H. Dyer's Compendium of the Rebellion which can be found at many libraries.
  • Confederate units
    Compendium of the Confederate armies. by Stewart Sifakis (New York : Facts on File) is a similar publication for Confederate units which is being published by state.
  • Regimental Histories from the CWSS

Pensions [top]

Pension applications resulting from Civil War service often contain family information and can be useful for genealogists.

Many soldiers, widows, and children received pensions from the government following the war. For soldiers who served the Union, the pensions were paid by the U.S. Government. For soldiers who served the Confederacy, pensions were paid by some of the Confederate states.

UNION----Pensions from the U.S. Goverment were issued to Union veterans and the files are maintained by the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The files have not been microfilmed and are available only through in-person or by-snail-mail research. Pension files may be obtained for a fee from the National Archives and Records Administration.
See: http://www.archives.gov/research/order/

CONFEDERATE----Pensions for Confederate veterans were issued by some former Confederate states, including Tennessee and Texas. Most of these are maintained within the state's archives.

A useful reference:
Confederate research sources : a guide to archive collections
by Neagles, James C. [1986] Salt Lake City, UT : Ancestry Pub.

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