Finding Your Civil War Ancestor

Co. A, 150th PA Infantry (Gettysburg NMP)

(Gettysburg National Military Park)


Researching Civil War Ancestors
by Kimberly Powell at

Locating a Civil War ancestor, whether it is a direct ancestor or a collateral relative, can provide another source of information on your family tree. Civil War pension files, for example, contain statements of family relationships, dates and places of marriage, and lists of various places the soldier lived after the war. Muster-in rolls often contain places of birth, as do descriptive rolls.

Before You Begin
In order to research a Civil War ancestor, you'll first need to know three things:

1. the soldier's name
2. whether he served for the Union or Confederate army
3. the state from which the soldier served

You may still be able to locate information on your Civil War ancestor whether you have all three points of information or not, but it will be more difficult to find it unless he had a uncommon name. If you don't know where your ancestor was living when he enlisted, then the 1860 U.S. Federal Census may at least be able to tell you where he was living just prior to the Civil War.

Civil War Regiments
Once you've determined the state from which your Civil War ancestor likely served, the next helpful step is to learn his company and regiment in which he was assigned. A regiment was composed of ten or twelve companies, which was assigned to a brigade, followed by a division, and then a corps. If your ancestor was a Union soldier, he may have been part of the U.S. Regulars, a unit of the United States Army though most Civil War soldiers served in a volunteer regiment raised by his home state, for example the 11th Virginia Volunteer Infantry or the 4th Maine Volunteer Infantry. If your Civil War ancestor was an artilleryman, you may find him in a "battery" such as Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery or Battery A, 1st North Carolina Artillery, also called "Manly's Battery". African-American soldiers served in regiments ending with U.S.C.T. which stands for "United States Colored Troops" though the officers were Caucasian. While infantry regiments were the most common type of service unit of the Civil War, there were many other branches of service in both Union and Confederate service. Your Civil War ancestor may have been in a heavy artillery regiment, cavalry, engineers or even the navy.

There are many ways to understand the regiment in which your ancestor served. Begin at home by asking your family members. Check photo albums and other old family records as well. If you know where the solider is buried, his tombstone may list his state and unit number. If you know the county where the soldier lived when he enlisted, then county histories or other county resources should provide details of the units formed in the area. Neighbors and family members often enlisted together, which may provide further clues.

Even if you only know the state in which your Civil War ancestor served, most states compiled and published a list of the soldiers in each unit from that state. These can often be found at libraries with a local history or genealogical collection. Some lists have also been partially published online. There are also two country-wide published series that list the soldiers who served in the Union or Confederate armies during the war, along with their regiments:

1. The Roster of Union Soldiers, 1861-1865 (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing) - A thirty-three volume set that lists all of the men who served in the Union armies by state, regiment and company.

2. The Roster of Confederate Soldiers, 1861-1865(Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot Publishing) - A sixteen volume set that lists all of the individuals who served in the southern armies during the war, by state and organization.

For searching on the Internet, you may want to begin with the "Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System" (CWSS) sponsored by the National Park Service at The system features an on-line database of names of soldiers, sailors, and United States Colored Troops who served in the Civil War based on records at the National Archives along with a brief history of almost every Union and Confederate regiment or battery.

The "American Civil War Research Database" at is another excellent resource for online Civil War research. It will cost you a subscription fee, but generally offers further detail than the CWSS database. If your ancestor has a common name, however, it may be difficult to distinguish him in these lists until you have identified his location and regiment.

The National Archives and Records Administration
Detailed military and pension records are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration at their main facility on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC. To acquire the individual's military service records and, if Union, his land file pension records, you will need to fill out Standard Forms 86 and 85 and submit those to the archives. They will contact you with what they have found and cost of the information they will provide to you. Researchers can now download these forms and apply for these records on line at or request copies of the forms by writing to the National Archives and Records Administration, Attention NWTCB, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001.


What Research Sources are at Gettysburg National Military Park?
Gettysburg National Military Park has published rosters of soldiers from many of the states that were represented at Gettysburg including Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia to name a few, but these rosters are primarily lists of names with few additional details. The park does not maintain individual military service or pension records for Civil War personnel, even those of the soldiers who fought at Gettysburg. For further information, visit the park Library and Research Center page.

For those who think their ancestor may have been killed in the Battle of Gettysburg, we recommend these books:

Travis and John Busey, The Union Casualties at Gettysburg: A Comprehensive Record (Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing, 2013)

Travis and John Busey, The Confederate Casualties at Gettysburg: A Comprehensive Record (Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishing, 2016)

John W. Busey, These Honored Dead, The Union Casualties at Gettysburg , (Longstreet House, Hightstown, NJ,1988)

Robert Krick, The Gettysburg Death Roster, The Confederate Dead at Gettysburg, (Morningside Bookshop, Dayton, OH, 1993)

Gregory A. Coco, Gettysburg's Confederate Dead, (Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, 2003)

Searching for Veterans of Other Wars
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) maintains military service records of discharged personnel from the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Information about the center is available on the NARA web site at or you can write to the center:
National Personnel Records Center
Military Personnel Records
9700 Page Avenue
St. Louis, MO 63132-5100

The Veterans Administration (VA) at has information for current active military personnel and their immediate families but they do not maintain records for the interest of gathering family genealogy. The VA does offer a database of burials in their "Nationwide Gravesite Locator" to search for identified burials of veterans from all wars in the national cemeteries of the continental United States. US cemeteries overseas are administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC)at that also has a database of burials in cemeteries in Europe and Asia. The ABMC web site also offers links to the national World War II registry and other areas of interest for the researcher to construct a history of a serviceman's unit.

Last updated: November 9, 2017

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