I’ve always had a weakness for the American Civil War. There’s something about friends and brothers on opposite battle lines that lends itself to romanticism. When you study American history, something about us changes after the Civil War. The United States starts down a path to moderism that necessarily sheds the cloak of chivalry.
I knew they were out there, my Civil War ancestors. Nearly every family with boots on the ground in the 1860’s had a twig or two in the Civil War—and not always on the same side. While my mother has done a great deal of geneological research, she saved the Civil War ancestors for me. I needed to get started, so if you’ve ever wondered how to access this kind of information about your own family, read on!
The National Archives is the culmination point of your search, but you need some general information first, such as name, whether the soldier fought for North or South, and the state in which your soldier mustered into service. To narrow the field even further, finding the specific unit in which your soldier served can be helpful. Most non-elisted servicemen would be in “volunteer” regiments that may have mustered in close to where the soldier lived. You do not necessarily need to know the regiment, but if your ancesor had a fairly common name, this information would make him easier to find.
The National Park Service website offers a searchable Civil War Soldier database that, if you have the name and state, can generate pertinent information, such as the regiment, rank in and rank out, and the film number at the National Archive on which the soldier’s records can be found:
The unit informtion is clickable, and will give you the entire regimental roster, so if you have more than one relative in the same unit, this is convenient. To learn anything about your soldier beyond this information, you have to dig further. Luckily, much of this information has gone digial.
Fold3 offers an easy to use, searchable douments database through the National Archives that will provide service records, if available: http://go.fold3.com/civilwar
You can also order directly from the National Archives at http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/ , but the process is a little more frustrating. You can order records either by mail or online, being sure to request all service records, pension records, and medical records. The majority of this information is free and can be delivered digitally (see below, via Fold3), but may require a fee if you request copies be made and sent from the National Archives.
That’s enough to get you started and lead you in the right direction, but it’s good to know that the National Archives aren’t the only resource. State archives are also goldmines and may be more convenient if you live near by and prefer to put your hands on things. For census records, the Latter Day Saints have compiled a mountain of genealogical research that you can access by visiting your local LDS community or online at http://ldsgenealogy.com/