The National Archives is an excellent source of information on individual Civil War soldiers. There are two major kinds of records available; military records and Pension records. The information likely to be found in each of these kinds of records is described below.
To obtain either kind of record write to:
Textual Reference Branch (NWDT1)
National Archives and Records Administration
7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington DC 20408
Request a copy of "Military Pension/Bounty Land Warrant Applications (NATF 85)" for each pension record you wish to obtain and Military Service Records (NATF 86)" for each military record. These forms take a long time to come and they are free, so ask for an extra set if you think you might need them.
You can also order these forms online at:
When the forms come, fill out as much information as you can and check off the box that makes it either a request for a military record or a pension record. You need to fill out one form for the soldier's military record and one for his pension record. The best genealogical data is in the pension record, but both will be interesting. Send these forms in and wait. In our experience, the Military Record arrives several months ahead of the pension record if they were requested at the same time. Both take months to arrive, so be patient.
The last requests we made cost $10.00 per record ($10 for the military record and $10 for the pension record or $20 per soldier). If the people at the National Archives find nothing, you pay nothing.
There are two ways to pay. They can search for the records, bill you and send the records after they receive payment, or you can prepay by credit card. Since they do not have to wait for your payment it speeds things up to prepay by credit card.
Civil War soldier's Military Records
Records sent for at the same time.
What you can expect to find in a Civil War soldier's Military Record
For all soldiers the following can usually be found.
Age of soldier when mustered in (some young men lied about their age)
Date and place where soldier mustered in.
Occupation before mustering in.
Physical description (height, hair color, eye color, complexion.)
Report of locations where soldier was at various times.
Date of Mustering out.
For all soldiers the following can sometimes also be found
Medical records for illness and wounds.
Surgeon's certificates of disability.
Dates of detachment from the regiment and what unit the soldier was detached to.
Transfers and where the soldier was transferred too.
Charges the soldier and actions by court martial.
Promotion/demotion with ranks and dates.
For officers the following additional information can sometimes be found.
Resignation letters and supporting letters from surgeons.
Special orders pertaining to the officer such as those sending him to recruit or on other missions.
Some limited correspondence in the case of officers who held regimental command. (Sullivan, Parker, Lindsey and Bering had correspondence in their files.)
Civil War soldier's Pension Records
Civil War Soldiers Pension Records are more variable. We have seen the following in Pension records.
Summaries of the soldier's service similar to the military record but less complete.
Birth and death dates of Soldier and death certificates.
Marriage dates and marriage certificates.
Widow's claim for benefits.
Name of widow's second husband and marriage date.
Notarized letters from friends and relatives supporting a widow's claim to benefits.
Newspaper clippings documenting the soldier's service record.
Detailed descriptions and explanations of disability including letters from physicians and surgeons.
Lists of every place the soldier lived since the war and the dates he lived there.
The occupation of the soldier after the war.
Lists of the soldier's children.
National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System
The NPS maintains an online database of information about soldiers and sailors in the Civil War. Included are name, regiment, company, rank in and rank out as well as alternative names.
NPS Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System