How do I obtain proof of Civil War service?

You can request copies of a veteran's Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) from the National Archives in Washington, DC. These papers generally show when and where he enlisted, the amount he earned each pay period, and any days he was absent from duty. There is very little to no genealogical information available in these records, but they serve as proof of service. Sometimes they will include a physical description of the veteran. To purchase copies of your ancestor's military service records, use form NATF-86.

Civil War pension records are a much better source of genealogical information; however, not every Union soldier applied for a pension. If your ancestor died in the Civil War, his widow, his dependent children, or his dependent parents may have filed for a pension. If your ancestor survived the war, he may have applied for a pension himself, or his widow may have applied after his death.

There are two indices to the Civil War Pensions. NARA Microfilm Series T288 is sorted by surname and is available at the National Archives, as well as on Ancestry.com (a subscription service sometimes available at no charge at local libraries). When looking for a pension file by surname, be sure to check not just the veteran's name, but also the names of his parents and his wife or wives. NARA Microfilm Series T289 is sorted by Regiment, Company, and then surname. This series is available at the National Archives, and online at fold3.com (another subscription service that may be available at your local library). Once you have found a pension, you can purchase a copy of it from the National Archives, using form NATF-85.

You can pick up copies of both forms at the National Archives at New York City at One Bowling Green, Room 328, or you can order or download forms online from the National Achives and Records Administration (NARA). If you don't want to use a paper form, you can place an order directly online by creating a login ID and choosing the ORDER ONLINE option.