Civil War

Prepared by Elisabeth Lindsay.

A civil war occurs when people within a given nation or society take opposing sides and fight against each other to gain power. A civil war becomes a revolution when a major restructuring of the society takes place as a result.

The American Civil War is the civil war most commonly referenced in genealogy. Known also the "War Between the States" and the "War of the Rebellion," the Civil War took place in 1861-1865. The opposing sides in the Civil War were the Union, representing the United States; and the Confederate States of America, representing seven southern states that decided to secede or withdraw from the Union rather than accept its law regarding slavery. Over 600,000 soldiers died in the Civil War, including those who died in battle and of disease. As an outcome of the war, the United States prevailed, consequently, there are more available records for Union soldiers than for Confederate soldiers. The Confederacy was not recognized as an entity after the war, and many Confederate records did not survive the destruction. It was up to the individual states to recognize the service of the Confederate soldiers; thus, Confederate pensions were awarded state by state.

When researching Civil War ancestors, it is important to know whether they served on side of the Union or the Confederacy, from which state they served and, ideally, the regiment. Two records are of primary importance to genealogy research: the military service record and the pension record. The Compiled Military Service Records (CSMR) for both the Union and Confederacy are housed at the United States National Archives, along with a number of other Civil War holdings. The National Archive houses pension records for Union soldiers; while Confederate pension records are typically housed in the state archives of the state from which the soldier served or the state of the soldier's residence at the time the pension was approved. Indexes to service and pension records for both the Union and Confederacy are available online, and in some cases the images of actual service records are available. Numerous other publications and Internet resources are available on the regiment histories, battles, and historical context of the war.

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