Introduction: In this article – part of an ongoing “Introduction to Genealogy” series – Gena Philibert-Ortega shows some of the many sources available to research your Confederate Civil War ancestor, including military service records and pension records. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
Ready to research your Civil War ancestor from the South? You might assume that a Confederate Civil War soldier is researched in the same way as a Union soldier, but there are some differences. One of the main differences has to do with where pension records are kept and who was eligible to receive a military pension.
Keeping history in mind as you conduct your family history research is beneficial as you reconstruct your Civil War ancestor’s life. Below are a few tips for finding the military and pension files of a Confederate soldier.
Find His Name*
One of the first places to confirm your Civil War ancestor’s military service is the free National Park Service’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database website. To search for a specific soldier, click on the “Soldiers” tab and then enter his information such as name, state, and side (choose Confederacy in this case). Your results list will provide a name, battle unit, and any alternative names. You can click on your ancestor’s name and you will find a few more details including rank and National Archives microfilm number.
Don’t forget to click on the hyperlinked battle unit name to learn more about your ancestor’s unit.
Genealogy Tip: Note the names of other soldiers in your ancestor’s unit. You may find the names of relatives or neighbors.
Obtain His Military Records
Now that you have found some information about your Confederate soldier, you may want to obtain copies of his military service records. Digitized military service records for both Confederate and Union soldiers can be found on the subscription website Fold3. Access to Fold3 is available through an individual subscription or by using the website at a nearby Family History Center. Please note that Fold3 has other Civil War records as well. You can also order the military records from the National Archives.
What about a Pension?
Pensions were granted differently for Confederate soldiers. Confederate soldiers did not receive a pension from the federal government. Their pension would have been paid, if available, from the state – but not necessarily the state that they served. They could have benefits from the state they were living in.
The following list can be found on the National Archives website** and it provides information about each former Confederate state (and associated states) and their pensions. Records may be found via the FamilySearch Catalog or the applicable state archive. See the National Archive webpage Confederate Pension Records for more information.
“In 1867 Alabama began granting pensions to Confederate veterans who had lost arms or legs. In 1886 the State began granting pensions to veterans’ widows. In 1891 the law was amended to grant pensions to indigent veterans or their widows.”
“Arkansas began granting pensions to indigent Confederate veterans. In 1915 the State began granting pensions to their widows and mothers.”
“In 1885 Florida began granting pensions to Confederate veterans. In 1889 the State began granting pensions to their widows.”
“In 1870 Georgia began granting pensions to soldiers with artificial limbs. In 1879 the State began granting pensions to other disabled Confederate veterans or their widows who then resided in Georgia. By 1894 eligible disabilities had been expanded to include old age and poverty.”
“In 1912, Kentucky began granting pensions to Confederate veterans or their widows.”
“In 1898 Louisiana began granting pensions to indigent Confederate veterans or their widows.”
“In 1888 Mississippi began granting pensions to indigent Confederate veterans or their widows.”
“In 1911 Missouri began granting pensions to indigent Confederate veterans only; none were granted to widows.”
“In 1867 North Carolina began granting pensions to Confederate veterans who were blinded or lost an arm or leg during their service. In 1885 the State began granting pensions to all other disabled indigent Confederate veterans or widows.”
“In 1915 Oklahoma began granting pensions to Confederate veterans or their widows.”
“A state law enacted December 24, 1887, permitted financially needy Confederate veterans and widows to apply for a pension; however, few applications survive from the 1888-1918 era. Beginning in 1889, the South Carolina Comptroller began publishing lists of such veterans receiving pensions in his Annual Report. From 1919 to 1925, South Carolina granted pensions to Confederate veterans and widows regardless of financial need.”
“In 1891 Tennessee began granting pensions to indigent Confederate veterans. In 1905 the State began granting pensions to their widows.”
“In 1881 Texas set aside 1,280 acres for disabled Confederate veterans. In 1889 the State began granting pensions to indigent Confederate veterans and their widows.”
“In 1888 Virginia began granting pensions to Confederate veterans or their widows.”
Continue Your Research
There’s more to learn about your Confederate ancestor, including what you can find in an online collection of newspapers such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives. Learn more about researching Civil War ancestors by consulting the book Genealogical Resources of the Civil War Era by William Dollarhide, and the FamilySearch Wiki.
* I’m referring to men as soldiers but there were some women who fought in the Civil War dressed as men.
** “Confederate Pension Records,” National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/research/military/civil-war/confederate/pension.html: accessed 23 May 2017).