Pennsylvania Volunteers of the Civil War
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Requesting Copies of Veterans Records

First, note that there are two basic files available on almost every Union soldier, while there is very little available on the Confederate counterparts. (When the war ended the Confederate Government went on a burning spree).
  1. MILITARY RECORDS This is the soldiers muster slips, record of enlistment, some medical records, promotion documents, etc., and once in a great while there is a photo but this is rare. This file will most often tell you his age, his eye color, hair color, height, occupation, where and when he enlisted and for how long, as well as in which company and regiment. The muster slips include data like where the soldier was on payday, which was supposed to be about every two months. There usually will be some muster out information in this file.
  2. PENSION RECORDS This file will contain a soldiers application for a military pension and will usually include residency data, marriage data, family information, medical information, affidavits from friends and doctors, and in general will have documents trying to prove that he is entitled to receive a pension. Note that not every soldier applied for a pension. When the soldier died his widow usually continued to receive the pension, and if so, then some data on her will probably be in here, too.

First, you need to contact the National Archives and obtain one each of the blank forms used to request the records of the soldier you are requesting information on. You may try getting them from or write to them directly at: Textual Reference Branch (NWDT1), National Archives and Records Administration, 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20408. Send no payment at this point, and be sure to specify just exactly what you are requesting. Be sure to tell them it is for the Civil War. Don't request any more than two of each, as they'll only send a couple anyway. Now, be very patient, they are busy.

In a few weeks you'll get your forms. Read them VERY carefully and do exactly as instructed. I've done many of these things and they will send it right back to you for the most obvious things. They will not correct a mistake for you, if it is not right, you'll get it back. You'll need to know minimal information about the soldier: full name, branch of service, state from which he served, war in which he served, and if Civil War they need to know if he was Union or Confederate. There are some blanks where other information may be provided if you know it.

Mail the form to the address indicated on the form. Send no money yet!

In a few weeks they'll write back and say they have (or have not) located the file and they will (most likely) instruct you to mail the payment back to them with the paper they just sent you. They will accept credit cards but in my experience it saved no time and actually took longer. I use personal checks and have had no problems with that method.

In a couple of weeks you should get your records! I have tried to send more than two forms in one envelope and some got "lost." I'd suggest no more than two forms per envelope. And I must stress that you be patient. Getting one set of records customarily takes two months or more from your first mailing.

Another way you might wish to obtain the records is to contact Carolyn Billups, a professional researcher who has access to the National Archives. She can be reached through her email at: and considering the personal attention she gives to the research it is well worth her modest fee.

Two websites you may also like to check out for the historic documents and photos online are: This is the National Archives Information Locator (NAIL). This is the United States Army Military History Institute.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact me!

Harold Hand, Jr., author of "ONE GOOD REGIMENT," the first regimental history of the 13th PA Cavalry. Civil War Databases

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