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Researching Your Civil War Ancestry

Use online resources to learn if your family had roots on the Union or Confederate side

African American Soldiers and Sailors

Although many "free-coloreds" assisted in war efforts from the onset, the Union Army began recruiting slaves in August 1862, with the promise that they, and their families, would be declared free. Paid less than white soldiers, and armed with inferior weapons, about 170 United States Colored Troops (USCT) fought to emancipate the 4 million slaves. Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died in battles or of diseases. For more information, read the "Black Men in Navy Blue During the Civil War" article at Archives.gov/publications/prologue.

Enlistment, muster rolls and service records of the USCT soldiers and sailors may be found at NARA, D.C.  About 18,000 African American sailors who served with the Union Navy are included in the CWSS.

Confederate Soldiers

Many Confederate records have been destroyed, but reconstructing a soldier's military history is possible. The best place to research Confederate soldiers is at the various state archives and historical societies. These organizations keep state volunteer militia, regiments and Confederate pension records. Be sure to also visit local war museums and Confederate cemeteries. Visit Archives.gov/research/military/civil-war/civil-war-genealogy-resources.

Other Service Records

NARA has Compiled Military Service Record  (CMSR) and pension files for each Union volunteer soldier and some Confederate enlisted men and officers. Your ancestor's military career, physical description, occupation and other genealogical treasures may be found, but you must know the soldier's unit and allegiance (Union or Confederate).

Kathleen Brandt is a professional genealogist and the author of a3Genealogy blog.

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