I know the name of my Civil War ancestor, but nothing more. How do I find out the regiment in which he served?

The easiest way to find the regiment of your Civil War ancestor is by using the U.S. Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System created by the National Park Service. The URL is: http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/

On the site, click on “Soldiers” and provide the information that you know. The listings in this database are from the alphabetical index to the compiled service records (documents assembled by the U.S. War Department for both sides after the war). The listing may not be exactly as you know your ancestor’s name. You may know a first name, but the index may have only initials, or vice-versa. You will want to try several variations. The result of your search may be a single direct hit, a few likely prospects, or a staggering number of possible matches (if the name you are searching is a common one such as Smith, Jones, or Williams). If the search reveals so many possibilities that there is no apparent way to narrow the field, you can try several options:

1) If you know the state in which your ancestor lived and in which he likely enlisted, look only for the men from that state.
2) If you know the part of the state (town, county, or region), you can click on the “Regiment Name” for each of the search results and see where that unit was raised.
3) If this process does not help narrow down the possibilities, you will then need to find other sources (most of them not available on the Web) for those units that offer further biographical and demographic details about the men in those units.

Be aware that many soldiers served in several different units during the course of the war. If you find what look to be several different “hits,” any or all may be the man for whom you are looking.

For examples on searching Walk in Their Footsteps, see these case study examples or video tutorials.

I know the town (or county or state) from which my Civil War ancestor came, but nothing else. How can I find out more?

If you know only the town, city, or county from which a man enlisted or may have enlisted, your best resources are local. Local historical or genealogical societies and libraries may have produced lists of units and sometimes even the specific men who served in the Civil War from that county, city, or town. Check with the local library or historical society about the existence of such lists.

If these resources do not exist, the process may be indirect and laborious. The best on-line resource for identifying Civil War soldiers is the U.S. Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System created by the National Park Service. The URL is: http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/. Click on the Regiments tab and fill in the state in which you are interested. The entry for each unit includes a listing of the counties from which that unit was raised. For the units that were raised in a county that may have been home to a Civil War ancestor, you can then search for an alphabetical list of men who served in it.


This program lists all of the major battles in Virginia in which my ancestor's regiment was engaged - - but how will I know if my ancestor actually fought in the battles listed?

Soldiers were occasionally absent from their units, usually because they were sick or wounded, detailed for other duties, detailed to find a new horse (cavalry soldiers), or absent without leave. In order to learn whether a particular soldier was present for a specific battle or campaign, you will need to obtain his Compiled Service Record (CSR). You can do this by using either the on-line U.S. Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System or the published Roster of Union Soldiers or Roster of Confederate Soldiers, both published by Broadfoot Publishing. The System and the Rosters are based on the indexes to the CSR. The listings in the System and in the Rosters for soldiers are the way their names appear in the CSR. You may obtain photocopies of the CSR from the state archives from which the man served or from one of several different on-line pay sites, including Broadfoot Publishing, civilwardata.com, or footnote.com.

Be aware that CSRs were compiled in the early 20th century from surviving and available original documents and that there were large gaps in those surviving records, especially for Confederates late in the war. There may be no surviving records for the last year of the war and, therefore, no way of knowing with certainty which men were present.


Where can I get more information about a particular regiment (e.g., regimental history, causalities, etc.)

Histories of regiments and other military units, and published diaries, letters, and memoirs are among the most plentiful of all Civil War books and also appear in the pages of Civil War magazines and journals. The most comprehensive published guides to published histories and other sources are:

  • Charles E. Dornbusch, Military Bibliography of the Civil War, 4 volumes. New York: New York Public Library, 1967, 1974, 2003. It lists units by state, branch (artillery, cavalry, and infantry)
  • Garold Cole, Civil War Eyewitnesses: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1955-1986 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986)
  • Garlold Cole, Civil War Eyewitnesses: An Annotated Bibliography of Books and Articles, 1986-1996 (University of South Carolina Press, 2000).

In addition, descendants of Civil War soldiers, reenactors, and historians have taken the initiative of creating excellent websites dedicated to the history of specific units. A simple web search will reveal these sources.


I want to visit the sites of these battles. Where do I start?

Once you have searched for your Civil War ancestor’s regiment, you can begin to make an itinerary from the “Engagements” tab of the regiment’s history by following these steps:

1) A pin, colored according to year on Virginia’s map, denotes each engagement a regiment participated in. To find out more about a particular engagement, click the pin, and a pop-up from the map will list the name of the battle, the date, and two links: one for more details, and another to “Add to Battle Plan.”
2) Click this “Add to Battle Plan” link in order to add this engagement to your itinerary. On the left-hand side of the window, you will see that your Battle Plan Itinerary has added a destination. Repeat this process with as many battles as you want to visit.
3) Once you have added all of the engagements you wish to visit to your itinerary, click the blue “Create Itinerary” on the left-hand side of the window. This will open another window with the battles you added according to the order you added them in.
4) From this window, you can print your itinerary with the link on the top right-hand corner. You can also find directions to each battlefield and search for Civil War geocaches for each engagement. Boxes on the right-hand side of the page will highlight Civil War museums, Virginia Civil War Trails, and Visitor Centers to visit for the battles you have chosen.


What is geocaching, and how can it help me explore these sites?

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment. Learn more about getting started or begin searching.


I have photographs, diaries, or journal entries related to a particular regiment or battle. How can I share them electronically?

The Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission and the Library of Virginia are partnering to identify and locate original manuscript material concerning the Civil War with the Civil War 150 Legacy Project. These materials may include letters, photographs, diaries, maps and other Civil War-era materials.

The Library of Virginia is sending teams of archivists to scan privately held manuscript material for inclusion on both the Library of Virginia and the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission websites. The teams are coordinating visits with local sesquicentennial committees to ensure coverage of the whole of Virginia. Please visit the Civil War 150 Legacy Project website for more information.


How can I post information about an online resource related to this regiment (e.g., blog, regimental history, descendent's group, etc.)?

In order to submit additional information about a regiment, follow these steps:

1) Search for the regiment you have information on with the keyword search or our drop-down menu on the search page.
2) Click on the regiment’s “Overview.”
3) From there, scroll through the regiment’s summary to “Additional Resources.” There, you will find a form in which you can enter your information and comments about the regiment and the website. You must include your name, email, address, and phone number in order to include your information on the website.


My ancestor fought in the Civil War. Why is his regiment not included in Walk in Their Footsteps?

This program shows regiments that fought in Virginia during the Civil War. If your ancestor's regiment is not listed, it is likely that they did not serve in Virginia.


Does this database include naval battles that occurred during the Civil War?

No – this database includes only land battles that occurred in Virginia. For more information on naval activity in the Civil War, see the U.S. Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System created by the National Park Service. The URL is: http://www.itd.nps.gov/cwss/.