Beginning United States Civil War ResearchEdit This Page

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Many records are available to help you find information about your Civil War ancestor. The following are good ways to start:

Contents

Step 1. Identify an ancestor who may have served in the Civil War

New York Civil War Infantry Officers
Look at your ancestors' information to determine which match the following criteria:
- Ages: Most soldiers and sailors were men between the ages of 18 and 30, so they would have been born between 1831 and 1846. Some were as young as 10 or as old as 70, which widens the birth years to between 1791 and 1854.
- Death: Did your ancestor die between April 1861 and June 1865? Did he die in a Southern state or a different state than where his family was living?  These might indicate that he died as a soldier in the Civil War. For example, Samuel Potter and his family were listed in Michigan in the 1860 census. Family records showed that he died in April 1861 in Tennessee. Research discovered that Samuel was in Company C, 12th Regiment, Michigan Infantry and died in the Battle of Shiloh, April 6, 1861.

Step 2. Identify the county and state where your ancestor lived around 1861

If you do not know the county and state where your ancestor lived at the start of the war, check the following:

  • The 1860 federal census for the soldier or his family. The following have digital versions of the 1860 census:
- FamilySearch
- Ancestry($)
- Fold3 ($)
- Heritage Quest ($)
  • Several states took censuses, usually in the years between the federal censuses. A list of links to articles about the censuses in each state is on the United States Census page.

Step 3. Decide whether your soldier fought for the Union or the Confederacy

Civil War soldiers came from all over the continental United States. Note: Every state had some men who fought for the Union, and some men who fought for the Confederacy.

Union, Confederate, and Border States in 1863. Union states and territories are blue and light blue. Border states are yellow. Confederate states and territories are brown and tan.
Union States

24 states and 7 territories
States= California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin
Border states (4 states were for the Union but had slaves. Many men served in the Confederacy instead of the Union)= Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, West Virginia
Territories=Colorado, Dakota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico (all of New Mexico and Arizona), Utah, Washington

Confederate States
11 states and 2 territories
States= Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia
Territories=Arizona (Southern half of New Mexico and Arizona), Oklahoma


More maps of the United States during the Civil War are available on the Wikipedia page Territorial Evolution of the United States.

Step 4. Find your soldier's regiment and company

4th United States Colored Infantry, Company E, about 1864
Your soldier's regiment and company are often needed to find his records and to recognize him in the records. Some ways to find his regiment and company are:


You may find several soldiers who match your ancestor. If this happens, copy the information about all of them and continue searching to eliminate all but one.
- Look at each regiment Wiki page to find the county for the company or regiment. If some counties don't match what you know about your ancestor, this could eliminate some of the possible soldiers.
  • 1890 Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War
Information in the 1890 veterans schedules normally includes name, rank, company, name of regiment or vessel, date of enlistment, date of discharge, length of service, post office address, disability incurred, and remarks. Many Confederate veterans were mistakenly listed as well.
- 1890 Veterans SchedulesAncestry.com ($), has every name indexes and images to all veterans schedules except indexes to Ohio and Pennsylvania.
- United States, 1890 Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War, FamilySearch.org, has images only but can be browsed by county
Surviving schedules of the 1890 census include Washington D.C., the eastern half of Kentucky, and the rest of the U.S. States in alphabetical order Louisiana through Wyoming, Indian territories, and U.S. ships and navy yards. Unfortunately the census pages were destroyed for the states in alphabetical order from Alabama through the western half of Kentucky.


  • State censuses sometimes asked for information on military service. For instance, the Iowa 1895 State Census asked for information about the company, regiment, state, and rank of those who fought in the War of the Rebellion (Civil War).

Step 5. Check the Wiki article for your ancestor's regiment

The indexes for Civil War soldiers often list more than one soldier with the same name in the same state. By finding the counties for the companies in a regiment, you will have additional information to help determine which might be the your ancestor.

On the regiment page, the list of companies will give the county or counties where many men were recruited.

Note: The Research Wiki will eventually have information about each regiment including links to Internet sites, lists of books, pictures, etc. If the Research Wiki does not yet have information about your ancestor's regiment, please check back.  If you know additionl information about the regiment or company, please add it or send the information to uswiki@familysearch.org, and we will add it.

Step 6. Search Internet Databases

Many Internet sites have information about the Civil War and those who fought. Three sites that have broad coverage rather than just 1 or 2 states are Ancestry, Fold3, and FamilySearch. The links below are to lists of databases available on each, so when you go to the sites, you will know what to look for.

Step 7. Check sources listed on the following Wiki pages

- United States Civil War, 1861 to 1865, Part 2
describes records and resources on the national level.
- [state] in the Civil War describes state records and resources. See the list below for links to the state pages.
- The regiment article for the regiment of your soldier gives information about the regiment and its companies with links to the counties where the companies recruited men. For links to the regiment pages, see the table on the state page.
- The county page for the county where a company recruited men describes county records and resources. This is a good way to find records about an ancestor and his family.
- Begin a search for Union records describes major Union records.
- Begin a search for Confederate records describes major Confederate records.

Decide what else you want to find.

Focus your research by deciding to find just one or two things, such as age, death date and place, pension record, or service record.

The chart, US Military Record Selection Table, shows which type of military record has the various types of information you may want to find.

Online Classes about the Civil War

States and Regiments in the Civil War

State Civil War Records

Many additional records have been created either by the state or about the state. Click the state of interest below to see explanations of these records and for links to pages about the each of the state's military units.

Union Regular Troops

These troops were supported solely by the federal government rather than partly by a state. The men came from many states, but the troops were not organized by state.

Union Regular Army in the Civil War

Union Volunteers in the Civil War

Veteran Reserve Corps in the Civil War

Union Navy

Union Navy in the Civil War

Confederate Regular Troops

Confederate Regular Troops in the Civil War

Confederate Navy

Confederate Navy in the Civil War

Ethnic Groups

Cherokee Confederates Reunion



 

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