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Ralph's Tips to Easily Find
Your Civil War Soldier

What do you have to know

Don't laugh, but unless he's got some really unusual surname, you'll probably need to know his full name - there were millions of soldiers in the war, and you'll be surprised to see just how many with his surname were in it.

The next crucial bit of information is the state where he's likely to have joined up. You see, for the most part, the soldiers did not serve directly in the Federal Army, nor in the Confederate Army, but in a unit of the army organized from volunteers in their home state. The basic unit formed in a state was called a regiment - they had names like "Tenth Indiana Infantry" or "2nd Georgia Cavalry" or "1st Maine Hvy Arty," which is military speak for "Heavy Artillery." Note that from border states like Tennessee, both the Union and Confederacy had units called "3rd Tennessee Infantry," so it will narrow your search if you know which side he was on.

You'll need to find out your soldier's regiment if you want to get his records from the National Archives, or read about where he fought. The following tips may help you do that.

He's On the List

Our friendly government has made lists of all the soldiers they know about who served in the Civil War, and you can see them on microfilm. Of course they're available at the National Headquarters and Regional Branches of the National Archives. You can also look at the microfilms at your local LDS (Mormon) Family History Center - the film numbers are a little hard to find in the LDS catalog, but I've got the scoop right here.

The reels of microfilm have the soldiers' names in alphabetical order - what you'll see on the film are individual index cards with the soldier's name and the name of a unit he served in.

The names on these lists are not soundexed - if you're looking for "Arrowood", you'll have to check "Airwood" and "Arawod" and so forth - you know the drill.

The Confederate List

I'll start with the confederates - they're easy, because they're all on one combined list, "Consolidated Index to compiled service records of Confederate soldiers," National Archives Film Series M-253. In the LDS locality catalog, look under "United States - Military Records - Civil War, 1861-1865 - Indexes"

Well, they're not really all on that list. That's an index to papers in the possession of the federal government. Many confederate soldiers will only be found in the papers of their native states. Sorry, I don't know much about how to find them there.

Union Lists

There's a separate microfilm series for each state. Look for "Index to Compiled Service Records of Union Soldiers Who Served from Indiana." In the LDS locality catalog, that would be under "Indiana - Military Records." The index card will contain the soldier's name and a unit he served in. Check the southern states, too - every state had units of Union volunteers.

The big bonanza for Union soldiers is the index of pension applications - invalid pensions, widow's pensions, orphan's pensions, mother's pensions - they're all one one list, alphabetized by the soldier's name. See National Archives Film Series T-288, "Combined List of U.S. Pension Applications 1865 - 1931." In the LDS locality catalog, look under "United States - Military Records - Civil War, 1861-1865 - Indexes." Note that, despite the title, it's really the Civil War pension list - Indian fighters and Spanish American War vets have their own lists.

The index card is a little fancier here - it will mention the state where the application was filed, and give the name of the widow or orphan or parent who filed after the soldier was deceased. If the wife outlived the soldier, this makes it a lot easier to identify John and Matilda Smith than to pick old John alone out of the crowd.

Be sure to check with the individual state archives for additional indexes and information.

He's In the Book

A number of states have prepared lists of their soldiers and summary histories of their units. Here are some that I've found useful.


"Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana" has rosters of all of the Indiana regiments. Originally published in 8 volumes, republished in 3 volumes. A large public or university library might have a set. Otherwise, you can order and look at a microfilm copy at your local LDS Family History Center for about $3.50. Look in the LDS locality catalog under INDIANA - MILITARY HISTORY. Note that cavalry regiments are listed in the sequence that all regiments were formed - e.g., the 9th Cavalry was also known as the 121st Indiana Volunteer Regiment. That roster would be in Volume 7 of the set.

North Carolina

"North Carolina Troops," published by the North Carolina State Archives, is a wonderful multi-volume series containing regimental and company histories and rosters of all soldiers. Every North Carolina soldier has a few lines written about his service. Each individual volume has an every name index of soldiers. Volume I covers the artillery units. Volume II covers the cavalry. The remaining volumes cover the infantry. There's a set at the main LDS Family History Library in Salt Lake City. I know it's at the Los Angeles Public Library. You might find a set at a major university.


"Tennesseans in the Civil War" is a two volume set. Part 1 has lists of Confederate and Federal soldiers and their units. Part 2 contains Confederate and Federal unit histories. I own a copy, and yes, I'm willing to look up your Tennessee soldier.

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