U.S. Military Records

by Heather W. Bowers

Let's discuss what type of Military Records are available, what they contain, and where you can find them.


he reference I am using for much of this information can be found in the reference book called The Source Revised Edition; Edited by Loretto Dennis Szucs and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. Here is a Time Line of some the wars that involved citizens of our nation:

Colonial Wars

Revolutionary War and Frontier —
  Conflicts from 1775-1811

There are records for each war, however some of the earlier one's, such as during the Colonial time, it is limited.

For the Colonial Wars, you can obtain Service Records, showing that they actual fought in those wars.  They mainly consist of rolls, rosters, and also lists that survived the wars and also several fires.  You may obtain these records through genealogical and historical libraries that has been published through out the nation.

Despite the fact there are few records for this time period, don't discount what is available.  Any clue can be a lead in tracking where your ancestor has been.

Revolutionary War

The records that are available for the Rev. War are located at the National Archives.  Some of the records had been destroyed by fire, but what records that survived are all located at the National Archives.  The type of records you will find were taken from the rolls and rosters of soldiers who served in Militia Units, Continental Army and state lines.  You may also find filed reports and correspondences of military officers.

What you will find in the Service Records are: name, rank, and the Military Organization of the soldier.  Some records will show the state the soldier was from, the date his name appears on one or more of the rolls.  You will rarely find the date of his separation, but sometimes you will find date or dates of enlistment, or the date of his appointment.  In some categories you will find his physical description, date and place of birth, residence at the time of enlistment, and other personal details.

When I was searching Military Records of my ancestor Capt. Nicholas Webster, I found him with his company, what his wage was, and also included was his very own signature! So search the records well, for you can find some very valuable information.

The Service Records for the Rev. War are indexed and most of them, but not all, have been microfilmed.  There are a few places you can search for these records.  They are the National Archive and Records Administration, known as the N.A.R.A.  There are only 13 of them in the United States. 

Many libraries have some copies of these records.  You may also find many of the records at the Family History Center Library located at "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints", all across the globe.  Just check in your local phone book for the nearest location near you or visit their website at:

While your at this site also check out their Library Catalog. Once there do a locatation search. Type the county you are interested in. Say for example you are interested in Clark Co., GA. Just type the word Clark. It will bring up a list, click on where it will say Clark Co., GA. It will then bring up all they have on Microfilm for that county. Then click on what your interested in, such as Military records.

Write down the title, film#, item# and author. When you go to the Familh History center you can order this film. It costs about $3.50-$4.00 to rent the film. Once they order it and it arrives, they will contact you. Then you can go there and view the microfilm on their microfilm readers.

The three types of records that are available at NARA are:  Pension, Bounty Land Warrant Applications (Meaning land granted to a soldier for his service), and of course Military Service Records. To obtain these actual records you will need to know the soldiers full name, branch of service, state from which he served and of course the war he served in.  You will need to know all this information if you wish to request the actual copies of records from the NARA.  You can access their site on the web at:

Another one of their helpful sites is

You can download the form you need to request information through their site.  Don't forget, many of the records have also been published.

If your able to go to the National Archives, the volunteers there are very helpful. Just ask them you are interested in search the microfilm on Military records, and what time period you are interested in and they would be glad to help you out.

You can view their Microfilm on their readers, and if you find something your interested in and want a copy of it, you can print it on their microfilm printers they have available.

Loyalists and German Auxiliary Troops

There were many American Colonists who kept there allegiance to the British Crown.  There were known as Loyalists.  They were about one third of the population.  Some refused to support the revolutionary cause, while others took up arms against it.  Many fled after the defeat of the British to other areas such as Canada. 

The German Troops came to help suppress the rebellion.  You can find many published works containing genealogical information in regards to the Loyalists and German Auxiliary Troops.  Check out the book called The Source, pages 326 & 327 for bibliographies.

Indian and Mexican Wars- 1812-1848

The records available for these wars are similar to the Service Records of the Colonial and Revolutionary time periods.

You can find in the Mexican War, actual Military and Pension records.  Some information included in the pension records will give marriage information of the soldier.

If you're not able to search at the National Archives or the Family History Center.  You can do a search request through the National Archives by using the NATF form 80.  Available for download on the National Archives website.

Civil War — 1861-1865

Union Records

For Union Army Records you will find muster rolls, prisoner of war records, enlistment papers, death reports and others.  You will find the records indexed by state and military units.  In order to obtain the soldiers record you must know his name, state which he served or the unit in which he served in order to obtain his records. 

Again you need to search the National Archives of those who enlisted to find where he served.  Another avenue would be the big volume set of books called "War Between The States," which you can find at many public Genealogical Libraries through out the nation.

Again the National Archives will do a search for you if you know the necessary information.  You will need to use the NATF Form 80. If they find your information, they will let you know the cost for the search and also for the copies of requested information.

When I found what company and branch my Edward Bowers served in, I requested his military and pension records.  Military information can contain enlistment, rank, company and when he was discharged.  It will also state if he was captured, or died in the war.  If he was discharged for medical reasons, it will state what they are. 

When I received Edward's Military Records it stated he was discharged due to deafness in his left ear.  However his pension record stated a completely different story.  It stated he was with his company and they were in a charge on horse back, when the horse tripped on the rail road tracks. 

Edward fell off and the horse fell on top of him, breaking 3 of his ribs and his left leg.  He was in 3 different Military Hospitals over five months, before he was discharged.  That was the reason for him being discharged. 

I also received in his pension records his marriage certificate, names of his children and affidavits from folks who knew him well.  Later I found out, one of the gentleman who signed one of the affidavits turned out to be his brother John Bowers.  So be sure you get all the records you can, to get a full story and truth about your ancestor.

Those who qualify to receive a pension would be the soldier, spouse, and next of kin (children).

Don't forget to look up the draft records for the Civil War, which occurred from 1863-1865.  These records have not been microfilmed, but they are at the National Archives in Washington DC.  They are part of the National Archives Record Group #110.

Confederate Records

When searching for a Confederate ancestor, there are index cards microfilmed at the National Archives and there are some at the Family History Center.  After the war, the confederate records were turned over to the North, in hopes they would someday preserve the history of the confederate soldiers. 

In 1903 the war department began to compile the service records.  It's called "Compiled Military Service Records."  There are 535 microfilm rolls of indexed records available at the National Archives.

The records may include the following: name, age, place of enlistment, places served, place of discharge or death, and often a physical description.  The index will provide the rank, unit and the name of the soldier.  There is also a list of confederate soldiers that are buried in Federal cemeteries. So don't forget to check into that also.

Another source, if the records were not destroyed by fire, are the County Court House Records.  For many kept a log of all those who served in the Civil War.  Information that can be found in the log would be the soldiers name, company, whom he served under, rank, when he enlisted and from where. 

Also any other information, such as if he was captured, when and where, when he was traded or released, if he died in the war, and what from.  And when he was discharged.  So be sure to check out the Court Records, they are available for the public to view.  Here in Newton Co., GA. you can view the actual log book.

Be sure to check out the 1890 Veteran Census.  It will list the soldier's name, rank, branch of service, company, etc.

Spanish American War Records — 1898 - Present

Since these records are more recent, they are not as readily available.  The only individuals who can request these records are the veterans, next of kin, or individuals who have a release authorizing from the veteran, if deceased, his next of kin.  Many of these records are held at the "National Personal Records Center" in MO. You need to use their Form #180 in requesting the information.

According to The Source, page 296, which I refer to, it states what can be included:

Veteran's age or date of birth, salary, photographs, source of commission, duty status, office telephone number, military and civilian educational level, decorations and awards (including a copy of the citation, if available), present and past duty assignments (including geographical location), future assignments which have been finalized, records of court marshal trials (unless classified), marital status, education/schooling, rank/grade, serial/service number, date of rank/grade, promotion sequence number, and dependents, including name, sex, and age". If identity needs to be verified, they may also provide items such as name of father and/or mother, home address, etc.

It will take several weeks for them to gather the information for you.

There was a fire in 1973 at the National Personal Records Center in Missouri, which destroyed millions of military records and damaged millions more. They have reconstructed a portion of these records. 

You can access the WWI draft records on microfilm.  You can also view them online at The Family History Center has some information on Microfilm on the Korean & Vietnam Wars.

I was lucky in regards to my grandfather who served in WWI and my father who served in WWII, I have their actual discharge papers with all the necessary information. 

There are many web sites out there on different wars.  Just do a keyword search on a particular war you are interested in and it will bring up all the sites pertaining to that topic. Here are a few:

If you happen to know the company and branch of service your ancestor served in, for example for WWII.  Just do a search for it, and you will be amazed what you will find.  I found a site that gave me a whole history of my father's unit, all the places he served etc.  Check out Ancestry and Cyndislist or some Military sites.

Also check out USGenWeb. They have a page for every state in the US, and a web site for every county in every state.  Many of these county sites will list Military information.

When you do research at the National Archives and you find your ancestor listed. Write down all the neccessary information, such as date of enlistment, rank, unit, company name, who he served under if known, and what branch of service. Then you can order his Military Records.

The National Archives also has a indexed film for those who filed for Pension records. Write down this information, the name, file number etc. Now you can order their Pension records.

It will take several weeks for them to gather information for you. You can download the forms at the NARA. While you're at the National Archives you can also ask them if they have any forms


I hope you have enjoyed it and learned something new.  I sure did, while I did research in preparing for it.  This concludes Researching Military Records.

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