An Overview of Records at the National Archives Relating to Military Service
Fall 2002, Vol. 34, No. 3 | Genealogy Notes
By Trevor K. Plante
When researchers contact the National Archives to conduct research on their ancestors, they often ask about records relating to military service. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. The inquiry, in fact, leads to more questions: What branch of service did the person serve in? Do you know the conflict they fought in or their dates of service? Was the person in the Regular Army or a volunteer unit? Did the individual serve as an officer or enlisted man? Did the person apply for or receive a pension? These questions are important, for the answers help determine which search paths to follow.
The two main repositories for records relating to military service are the National Archives and the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC).
The National Archives Building, Washington, D.C., holds records relating to
- Volunteer enlisted men and officers whose military service was performed during an emergency and whose service was considered to be in the federal interest, 1775 to 1902
- Regular Army enlisted personnel, serving 1789–October 31, 1912
- Regular Army officers, serving 1789–June 30, 1917
- U.S. Navy enlisted personnel, serving 1798–1885
- U.S. Navy officers, serving 1798–1902
- U.S. Marine Corps enlisted personnel, serving 1798–1904
- Some U.S. Marine Corps officers, serving 1798–1895
- Those who served in predecessor agencies to the U.S. Coast Guard (i.e., the Revenue Cutter Service [Revenue Marine], the Life-Saving Service, and the Lighthouse Service, 1791–1919)
The National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri, holds military personnel files of
- U.S. Army officers separated after June 30, 1917, and enlisted personnel separated after October 31, 1912
- U.S. Air Force officers and enlisted personnel separated after September 1947
- U.S. Navy officers separated after 1902 and enlisted personnel separated after 1885
- U.S. Marine Corps officers eparated after 1895 and enlisted personnel separated after 1904
- U.S. Coast Guard officers separated after 1928 and enlisted personnel separated after 1914; civilian employees of Coast Guard predecessor agencies such as Revenue Cutter Service, Lifesaving Service, and Lighthouse Service, 1864–1919
To request copies of an individual's military personnel file held at the National Personnel Records Center, use a Standard Form 180, "Request Pertaining to Military Records." For more information on what records are available at NPRC and who may request them, consult their web site.
The following information is intended to serve as a useful starting point for those researching individuals whose service records may be in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.
When researching volunteers, start with the compiled military service records. A volunteer's compiled service record consists of an envelope containing card abstracts taken from muster rolls, returns, pay vouchers, and other records. The abstracted information may include references to wounds, hospitalization, absence from the unit, courts-martial, and death.
The general name index and compiled service records for Revolutionary War soldiers are both available on microfilm.1 The indexes to the War of 1812, early Indian Wars, Mexican War, Spanish-American War, and the Philippine Insurrection are on microfilm, but the compiled military service records for these conflicts are not. The Philippine Insurrection is the last conflict for which the War Department compiled military service records for volunteers.
Civil War records are more complicated. There is no overall general name index for Union soldiers, but there are microfilmed name indexes for each state. Most of the compiled military service records for Union soldiers have not been microfilmed. Consult state archives for records of state or local militias or National Guard units that were not federalized.
Begin your research by consulting the appropriate name indexes on National Archives microfilm. These index cards are arranged alphabetically by surname and show the soldier's name, rank, and the unit or units in which he served. There are also cross-references to names that appear in the records under various spellings. Consult the National Archives' Microfilm Resources for Research: A Comprehensive Catalog (2000) for a list of microfilmed name indexes and compiled service records.2 Military Service Records: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (1985) is also a helpful resource.3
If the compiled military service records have not been reproduced on microfilm, researchers may request to see the original records at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. Researchers unable to come to Washington may request copies of these records by using NATF Form 86, "National Archives Order for Copies of Military Service Records."
For medical information about soldiers who fought in the Mexican and Civil Wars, consult carded medical records found in Record Group (RG) 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's–1917, entry 534. These cards relate to volunteers admitted to hospitals for treatment and may include information such as name; rank; organization; complaint; date of admission; hospital to which admitted; and date returned to duty, deserted, discharged, sent to general hospital, furloughed, or died. This series is arranged by state, thereunder by the number of the regiment (cavalry, infantry, and artillery are filed together under the common regiment number) and then by initial letter of surname. For example, the First Pennsylvania Cavalry is filed under "1 Pennsylvania" along with the First Pennsylvania Infantry, First Pennsylvania Heavy Artillery, First Pennsylvania Light Artillery, and First Pennsylvania Reserves.
Carded medical records of volunteers who served in the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection are filed with the individual's compiled military service record.
The War Department did not compile military service records for those who served in the Regular Army. The place to start researching enlisted men is the Regular Army Enlistment Papers, 1798–1894 (RG 94, entry 91). This series is arranged alphabetically by name of soldier and generally shows the soldier's name, place of enlistment, date, by whom enlisted, age, place of birth, occupation, personal description, regimental assignment, and certifications of the examining surgeon and recruiting officer. Soldiers usually have multiple enlistment papers if they served two or more enlistments.
Researchers should also consult the Register of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798–1914, National Archives Microfilm Publication M233. The register of enlistments is arranged chronologically and thereunder alphabetically by first letter of surname. The register usually shows the individual's name, military organization, physical description, age at time of enlistment, place of birth, enlistment information, discharge information, and remarks. For more detailed information concerning service, consult the unit muster rolls, which are arranged by arm of service; thereunder by regiment number; then alphabetically by company, troop, or battery; and thereunder chronologically. The muster rolls are found in RG 94, entry 53, Muster Rolls of Regular Army Organizations, 1784–October 31, 1912.
For medical information, consult carded medical records found in RG 94, entries 529 (for the years 1821–1885) and 530 (1894–1912). These cards relate to Regular Army personnel admitted to hospitals for treatment and may include information such as name, rank, organization, age, race, birthplace, date entered service, cause of admission, date of admission, hospital to which admitted, and disposition of the case. This series is arranged by the regiment number (cavalry, infantry, and artillery are filed together under the common regiment number) and then by initial letter of surname.
When researching army officers, researchers should first consult Francis B. Heitman's Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, From Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903, two volumes. Volume one, a register of army officers, provides a brief history of each man's service. Volume two contains a "chronological list of battles, actions, etc., in which troops of the Regular Army have participated and troops engaged."
The War Department did not maintain or compile personnel files for Regular Army officers until 1863. For service prior to that date, records are in several different series in RG 94. The best place to start is the series of letters received by the adjutant general, microfilmed as M566, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1805–1821; M567, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General (Main Series), 1822–1860; and M619, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General (Main Series), 1861–1870. The registers have been reproduced on M711, Registers of Letters Received, Office of the Adjutant General, 1812–1889.
For an officer's military service after 1863, consult the Commission Branch (CB) and Appointment, Commission and Personal Branch (ACP) records, both found in RG 94, entry 297, Letters Received, 1863–1894. There is a card index arranged by name of officer for each of these files. CB files are reproduced on National Archives Microfilm Publication M1064, Letters Received by the Commission Branch of the Adjutant General's Office, 1863–1870. A select number of ACP files have been reproduced on National Archives microfiche M1395, Letters Received by the Appointment, Commission and Personal Branch, 1871–1894. For service after 1894, consult M698, Index to General Correspondence of the Adjutant General's Office, 1890–1917. The index provides document file numbers to RG 94, entry 25, Document File, 1890–1917.
If the officer attended West Point, consult M688, U.S. Military Academy Cadet Application Papers, 1805–1866, and M91, Records Relating to the U.S. Military Academy, 1812–1867. For medical information, consult carded medical records found in RG 94, entries 529 (for the years 1821–1885) and 530 (1894–1912). These cards relate to Regular Army personnel admitted to hospitals for treatment and may include information such as name, rank, organization, age, race, birthplace, date entered service, cause of admission, date of admission, hospital to which admitted, and disposition of the case. This series is arranged by the number of the regiment (cavalry, infantry, and artillery are filed together under the common regiment number) and then by initial letter of surname.
Additional information about Regular Army enlisted men and officers may be found in post and unit returns. National Archives Microfilm Publication M617, Returns from U.S. Military Posts, 1800–1916, contains returns for many military posts, camps, and stations. Returns generally show units stationed at the post and their strength, the names and duties of officers, the number of officers present and absent, and a record of events.
Returns for Regular Army units are reproduced on M665, Returns from Regular Army Infantry Regiments, June 1821–December 1916; M744, Returns from Regular Army Cavalry Regiments, 1833–1916; and M727, Returns from Regular Army Artillery Regiments, June 1821–January 1901.4 These monthly returns of military organizations report stations of companies; names of company commanders; unit strength, including men present, absent, sick, on extra duty or daily duty, and in arrest or confinement; and significant remarks.5
Court-martial records are a great source of information not only for a particular individual but also for providing insights into the trials and tribulations faced by soldiers. Records related to the proceedings of U.S. Army courts-martial, courts of inquiry, and military commissions can be found in Record Group 153, Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army). To find an individual's case file, first consult National Archives Microfilm Publication M1105, Registers of the Records of the Proceedings of the U.S. Army General Courts-martial, 1809–1890. The registers direct you to an alphanumeric series of case file numbers. The case files are located in RG 153, entry 15. Only a few select cases have been reproduced on microfilm.6
Begin your research on navy enlisted men by looking in the pension files. A pension file may provide leads such as dates of service and the ship(s) or duty station(s) where the sailor served. Pensions usually provide the most genealogical information. The section on pension files, found later in this article, describes how to use those records.
Your next step is to search rendezvous reports. A rendezvous was the recruiting station where the men signed up to enlist in the navy. Officers at the rendezvous kept a record of each man enlisted and reported the information weekly to the Navy Department. These documents, known as the "rendezvous reports," provide the following information: name of recruit, date and term of enlistment and rating, previous naval service, usual place of residence, place of birth, occupation, and personal description. The index to these records are available on microfilm T1098, Index to Rendezvous Reports, Before and After the Civil War, 1846–1861, 1865–1884, and T1099, Index to Rendezvous Reports, Civil War, 1861–1865. Next search Record Group 24, Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel, entry 224, Keys to and Register of Enlistment Returns, 1846–1902. The keys to enlistment show names of men enlisting at rendezvous or on board vessels, enlistment data, and a summary of service.
Another good source is jackets of enlisted men found in RG 24, entry 204, Records Relating to Enlisted Men Who Served in the Navy Between 1842 and 1885, 1885–1941. The correspondence in these "jackets" are arranged alphabetically by sailor's name and contain correspondence that was collected on men who served in the navy between 1842 and 1885. The jackets also contain material for the years 1885 to 1941 if the sailor applied for a pension, filed a claim, or requested verification documents. Jackets may contain letters received, copies of letters sent, endorsements, applications for certificates of honorable discharge, or copies of other types of certificates.
To track the service of an enlisted man in the navy, consult the muster rolls and payrolls. There are several series of bound volumes of muster rolls and payrolls of ships and stations. Muster rolls generally show the name of the enlisted man, the ship or station on which he was serving, his dates of service, and in some cases, the ship or station from which he had transferred. Payrolls generally show the name of the enlisted man, his station or rank, date of commencement of his service, and terms of service. To use muster rolls and payrolls, you should know where your subject was stationed during the time pertinent to the research. Generally, muster and pay rolls are arranged alphabetically by name of ship or station and thereunder chronologically.
For medical information, consult Record Group 52, Records of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (Navy), entry 21, Medical Journals of Shore Stations, 1812–89; entry 22, Medical Journals of Ships, 1813–1910; entry 30, Reports of Diseases and Deaths, July 1828–December 1846; entry 31, Certificates of Death, Disability, Pension and Medical Survey, June 1842–January 1896; and entry 51, Registers of Patients, 1812–1929.
For Revolutionary War sailors, the War Department compiled service records, but these records are very fragmentary. Begin with the index on M879, Index to Compiled Service Records of American Naval Personnel Who Served During the Revolutionary War. The compiled service records are reproduced on M880, Compiled Service Records of American Naval Personnel and Members of the Departments of the Quartermaster General and the Commissary General of Military Stores Who Served During the Revolutionary War.
When beginning research on U.S. Navy officers, first consult the List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900, edited by Edward W. Callahan.7 Then consult the pension files, which are discussed later in this article. The pension file may provide leads such as dates of service and the ship(s) or duty station(s) where the officer served.
Your next step is to consult the abstracts of service. These records have been reproduced as National Archives Microfilm Publication M330, Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers ("Records of Officers"), 1798–1893, and M1328, Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers ("Records of Officers"), 1829–1924. The descriptive pamphlet for M1328 provides a name index to the abstracts. If the officer attended the Naval Academy, check M991, U.S. Naval Registers of Delinquencies, 1846–1850, 1853–1882, and Academic and Conduct Records of Cadets, 1881–1908. You can also consult various records relating to applications and appointments of naval cadets found in several series in RG 24.
Additional information on naval officers can be found in examining board and retiring board files in Record Group 125, Records of the Judge Advocate General (Navy). The records of these boards are found in entry 58, Records of the Proceedings of Naval and Marine Examining Boards, 1861–1903, and entry 56, Records of Proceedings of Naval and Marine Retiring Boards, 1861–1909.
For Revolutionary War naval officers, the War Department compiled service records, but these records are very fragmentary. Begin with the index on M879, Index to Compiled Service Records of American Naval Personnel Who Served During the Revolutionary War. The compiled service records are reproduced on M880, Compiled Service Records of American Naval Personnel and Members of the Departments of the Quartermaster General and the Commissary General of Military Stores Who Served During the Revolutionary War.
Navy court-martial records in Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Navy), RG 125, relate also to officers and enlisted men of the Marine Corps. The records include transcripts of proceedings of general courts-martial. A name index identifies the case file of a particular person and the records relating to a court of inquiry. Each dossier, when complete, contains the precept appointing the court; letters detailing or detaching its several members; a letter dissolving the court; the charges and specifications; minutes of the court, consisting chiefly of a verbatim transcript of testimony; the plea of the defendant (often printed); copies of correspondence introduced as part of the minutes; the finding of the court; the sentence in case of a finding of guilty; and various endorsements. Earlier records are available as M273, Records of General Courts-martial and Courts of Inquiry of the Navy Department, 1799–1867. Later records can be found in entry 28, Registers of General Courts-martial, 1861–1904; entry 27, Records of Proceedings of General Courts-martial, 1866–1940; entry 30, Records of Proceedings of Courts of Inquiry, Boards of Investigation, and Boards of Inquest, 1866–1940; entry 31, Registers of Courts of Inquiry, Boards of Investigation, and Boards of Inquest, 1866–1940; and entry 49, Index to Summary Courts-martial, 1895–1904.
Navy Deck Logs
U.S. Navy deck logs typically provide information on a ship's performance and location, weather conditions, personnel (names of officers, assignments, transfers, desertions, deaths, injuries, and courts-martial), supplies received, and miscellaneous observations. Consult the National Archives Special List 44, List of Logbooks of U.S. Navy Ships, Stations, and Miscellaneous Units, 1801–1947.
For brief histories of U.S. Navy vessels, consult the multivolume Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. In this publication you will find an alphabetical listing of navy ships that includes a brief history of each vessel and provides statistics such as type or classification, tonnage or displacement, length, beam, draft, speed, complement, armament, and class. Consulting the dictionary allows you to confirm that the ship was a U.S. Navy vessel and verify dates of service. Before starting your search in archival records, make sure you have information on the correct vessel. Because several ships served at different times under the same name, the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships can help you find the dates of service of the vessel you are looking for.
Generally, service records for enlisted marines who separated from service prior to 1905 are held in Washington, D.C. Service records or "case files" of enlisted marines at the National Archives are found in Record Group 127, Records of the U.S. Marine Corps, entry 76. Service records may include enlistment and reenlistment papers, descriptive lists, conduct records, notice of discharge, military history, and the issuance of campaign badges and awards. There are two series of case files. The first (marines who enlisted prior to 1895) is arranged by date of enlistment or last reenlistment. If the enlistment date is unknown, researchers can use the card index found in RG 127, entry 75, Alphabetical Card List of Enlisted Men of the Marine Corps, 1798–1941. The second series of case files, for those marines who enlisted after 1895, is arranged alphabetically. It was not unusual for enlisted marines to use aliases during this period. Service records and enlistment cards are filed under the name the marine used while in service.
To track a marine's service, consult the Marine Corps muster rolls. The muster rolls, 1798–1940, are arranged chronologically by year and month, and thereunder by post, station, ship detachment, or unit. There are indexes in most volumes to the names of ships, stations, and units. A muster roll generally shows name of ship, station, or unit and provides name of officer or enlisted man, rank, date of enlistment or reenlistment, and if applicable, date of desertion or apprehension, sentence of court-martial (and the offense), injuries sustained or illness and type of treatment, and date of death or discharge. Depending on the date, the researcher must know the vessel on which the marine served, the unit in which he served, or duty station. Marine Corps muster rolls have been reproduced on microfilm publication T1118, Muster Rolls of the U.S. Marine Corps, 1798–1902, and T977, Muster Rolls of Officers and Enlisted Men of the U.S. Marine Corps, 1893–1940. For more information, consult the correspondence files in RG 127.
A good source to verify service of a marine officer is the List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900, edited by Edward W. Callahan. A one-volume register in RG 127 in the National Archives shows the name, rank, and state of birth of commissioned officers of the Marine Corps in each year from 1819 to 1848. A similar register for each year, 1849–1858 (contained in the front part of the first of two volumes of abstracts of military service of Marine Corps officers), shows the same information plus date of entry into service, state from which appointed, and state of residence. The remainder of that first volume pertains to officers serving during the period 1869–1873, and the second volume, to officers serving during the period 1899–1904. Entries are arranged by rank, but there are name indexes in the volumes. The entries give information about promotions, appointments to boards, assignments and transfers, and retirement. The second volume also shows, for each officer, date and place of birth, state from which appointed, state of residence, and date of commission. Another series of two volumes contains press copies of military histories and statements of service of officers that were prepared by the Marine Corps during the period 1904–1911 in response to inquiries from military officials. The records are arranged chronologically, but there are name indexes.
Correspondence files in RG 127 will also be of interest. Several series of letters received or general correspondence files covering the years 1799 to 1938 may contain letters or reports written by or about Marine Corps officers.
The National Archives has records relating to the Coast Guard and its predecessor agencies: the Lighthouse Service, Revenue Cutter Service, and the Lifesaving Service. These records are found in Record Group 26, Records of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Registers of Lighthouse Keepers, 1845–1912, were compiled chronologically and have been reproduced on M1373, Registers of Lighthouse Keepers, 1845–1912. Each volume has an index, arranged alphabetically by surname of keeper or name of lighthouse. The registers include the names of keepers and assistant keepers. The registers typically consist of the person's name; the district and the name of the light; date of appointment; date of resignation, discharge, or death; and sometimes annual salary.
Correspondence Concerning Keepers and Assistant Keepers, 1821–1902, are arranged alphabetically by surname. These letters may contain nominations of keepers and assistant keepers with testimonials, lists of examination questions, notifications of appointments, oaths of office, requests for transfer, recommendations for promotion, complaints, petitions, reports of inspectors, and letters of resignation.
Records relating to officers of the Revenue Cutter Service include records of officer personnel, 1791–1919, indexed alphabetically by name of officer. These volumes provide dates of service, citations to pertinent correspondence, and charges. There are also copies of commissions, 1791–1910, in two series. One, for 1791–1848, is arranged chronologically as commissions were issued; the other, for 1815–1910, is arranged chronologically, and thereunder alphabetically by surname of officer.
The records relating to enlisted crew members of the Revenue Cutter Service include muster rolls, payrolls, and shipping articles. In one series of muster rolls are unbound monthly reports, 1848–1910, arranged by name of vessel and thereunder chronologically. Because they are not indexed, they can be searched only by name of vessel and the individual's approximate date of service. Muster rolls and payrolls show the name, and when appropriate, signature or mark of each crew member. Muster rolls for the Revenue Cutter Service/Coast Guard, 1833–1932, provide for each crew member: name, rating, date and place of enlistment, place of birth, age, occupation, personal description, and number of days served during the reported month, along with notes if the crewman was detached, transferred, or discharged or if he deserted or died during the report period. The records are arranged alphabetically by name of vessel.
The shipping articles, 1863–1915, are volumes arranged alphabetically by name of vessel and are not indexed. To use these records, you must know the name of the ship and the approximate date of crewman's service. Information includes crew member's name, rating, wages, date and place of enlistment, place of birth, age, occupation, personal description, and signature or mark.
Useful records relating to the Lifesaving Service include registers, service record cards, and articles of engagement. The registers of employees, 1866–1913, usually show name of employee (keeper or surfmen), post office address, previous occupation, year of birth, year when employee would reach age fifty-five, present age, military service if any, state from which appointed, date of appointment, compensation, date discharged, and reason for leaving.
The service record cards, 1900–1914, show name of employee, legal residence, place of birth, place and status of employment, changes of status, and salary. The cards are arranged alphabetically.
Articles of engagement for surfmen, 1875–1914, are arranged chronologically and thereunder by district. The articles show a list of surfmen, terms of engagement, and compensation. They may include reports of changes in crew, along with the reason for the change, and biographical information on new crew members. Often, medical inspection reports providing physical descriptions of the surfmen examined are also included.
The National Archives has pension applications and records of pension payments for veterans, their widows, and other heirs. The pension records are based on service in the armed forces of the United States between 1775 and 1916. Application files often contain supporting documents such as discharge papers, affidavits, depositions of witnesses, narratives of events during service, marriage certificates, birth records, death certificates, pages from family bibles, and other supporting papers. Pension files usually provide the most genealogical information for researchers.
The pension files in the National Archives are divided into these major series: Revolutionary War, Old Wars, War of 1812, Indian Wars, Mexican War, and Civil War and later.8 The records in each series are arranged alphabetically by name of veteran, except those in the Civil War and later series, which are arranged numerically by application, certificate, or file number. All series of pension application files have alphabetical name indexes.
For the Civil War and later pensions, consult National Archives Microfilm Publication T288, General Index to Pension Files, 1861–1934, which is arranged alphabetically by the individual's last name. The index cards include the individual's unit(s), making it easier to decipher individuals with the same name. Once you find the application number or pension certificate number, you can request to view the pension file. Pension files (including application files) often contain valuable personal information on soldiers, sailors, and marines not found in other records. For a listing of microfilm publications to other pension indexes and pension files, consult the National Archives' Microfilm Resources for Research: A Comprehensive Catalog (2000). For more information on pension records, consult chapter seven of the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives (2000).
Bounty land warrant application files relate to claims based on wartime service between 1775 and March 3, 1855. If your ancestor served in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, early Indian Wars, or the Mexican War, a search of these records may be worthwhile. Documents found in these records are similar to those in pension files. Please note that many of the bounty land application files relating to Revolutionary War and War of 1812 service have been combined with the pension files. There is also a series of unindexed bounty land warrant applications based on service between 1812 and 1855, which includes disapproved applications based on Revolutionary War service. This series is arranged alphabetically by name of veteran.
All indexes and compiled military service records relating to service in the Confederate Army are available on microfilm. The general name index has been reproduced on M253, Consolidated Index to Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers. There are also name indexes to soldiers who served in organizations from each of the Confederate states plus the Arizona Territory, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. For a listing of microfilm publications of indexes and compiled service records relating to Confederate service, consult the National Archives' Microfilm Resources for Research: A Comprehensive Catalog (2000) under Record Group 109.
Confederate pensions are not at the National Archives. Pensions based on military service for the Confederate States of America were granted by the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. To search these records, contact the state where the veteran lived after the war. Descriptions of state pension laws and addresses and telephone numbers of state archives that hold these records are available on the National Archives web site.9
Locating the Records
The records and microfilm publications described in this article are available at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. Some microfilm publications are available at NARA's regional facilities. Consult the online Microfilm Catalog to find out which facilities may have the microfilm you are looking for.
For researchers unable to visit the National Archives, copies of compiled military service records, pension files, and bounty land records held by NARA can be obtained through the mail. To obtain the proper request form, please write to Old Military and Civil Records, National Archives and Records Administration, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20408-0001. NATF Form 80 is now obsolete and has been replaced by NATF Form 85, "National Archives Order for Copies of Federal Pension or Bounty Land Warrant Applications," and Form 86, "National Archives Order for Copies of Military Service Records." Forms can also be requested through our web site.
If requesting information on military records related to Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard personnel, please do not use a form; send a written inquiry either by mail to the address above or by email to Contact NARA.
For additional information beyond the scope of this article, consult the Guide to Genealogical Research in the National Archives of the United States (2000). There is a section on military records containing chapters on records of the Regular Army, service records of volunteers, naval and marine service records, pension records, bounty land warrant records, and other records relating to military service.
1 M860, General Index to Compiled Military Service Records of Revolutionary War Soldiers, and M881, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War.
2 The contents of the catalog are available online as the Microfilm Catalog.
3 The Military Service Records catalog is available online and lists the contents of all the microfilm rolls. Microfilm Resources for Research is more up to date but does not have the contents of each publication.
4 There are also returns on these National Archives Microfilm Publications: M690, Returns from Regular Army Engineer Battalions, September 1846–June 1916; M691, Returns from Regular Army Coast Artillery Corps Companies, February 1901–June 1916; M727, Returns from Regular Army Artillery Regiments, June 1821–January 1901; M728, Returns from Regular Army Field Artillery Batteries and Regiments, February 1901–December 1916; M851, Returns of the Corps of Engineers, April 1832–December 1916; and M852, Returns of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, November 1831–February 1863.
5 For additional information on records related to posts and units, consult Record Group 391, Records of United States Regular Army Mobile Units, 1821–1942; Record Group 393, Records of U.S. Army Continental Commands, 1821–1920; and Record Group 395, Records of U.S. Army Overseas Operations and Commands, 1898–1942.
6 See M1523, Proceedings of U.S. Army Courts-martial and Military Commissions of Union Soldiers Executed by U.S. Military Authorities, 1861–1866. The court of inquiry for Marcus Reno is reproduced on M592, and the general court-martial trial of George Armstrong Custer is reproduced on T1103.
7 Also consult M2078, General Register of the United States Navy and Marine Corps, 1782–1882.
8 The series of "Old War" pensions relate primarily to claims based on death or disability incurred in service in the Regular Army, U.S. Navy, or Marine Corps between the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783 and the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. The series of "Indian War" pension application records relates to service performed in the Indian campaigns between 1817 and 1898. Consolidated with this series are some Indian War pension application files that were formerly in the Old War series.
9 The federal government did not authorize pensions for former Confederates until 1959. Pension records for 1959 and later have not yet been transferred to the National Archives.
Trevor K. Plante is an archivist in the Old Military and Civil Records unit, National Archives and Records Administration. He specializes in military records prior to World War II.