War Before the Civil War

by Ruby Coleman

While there were colonial wars and the French and Indian War that our ancestors may have been involved in, our research strategy usually begins with the Revolutionary War. Because of Indian attacks, the colonists were ready when the Second Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776.

Do you have Revolutionary War ancestors? A rule of thumb is that men who served were born between 1740 and 1765. Records of the war are in the National Archives in Washington, DC. Researchers can also use compiled military service records which are on microfilm and also indexed. The microfilm can be used at the National Archives, but is also available at the LDS Family History Library and their many Family History Centers.

The first law creating pensions for Revolutionary War soldiers was on 18 March 1818. Soldiers applied through about 1832 to 1835. This law required that they needed to serve at least nine months and had a need for the pension. The act of 1832 removed the need for requirement and widows could start applying in 1836.

Pension files contain more genealogically interesting information. There is proof of identity, evidence of service and the record of action on the claim. The average pensioner was in his 70s when he applied. The bulk of those applying were then living in Kentucky. If your Revolutionary War ancestor was still living in 1840, you should be able to find him on the 1840 US Census indicating that he had served.

Not only could the Revolutionary War soldier apply for a pension, but some were also entitled to bounty-land warrants. These were issued for service of three years or more in a state or Continental unit. The land awarded was in the Virginia Military District of Ohio (then part of Virginia). Pennsylvania offered “donation land” in the western part of the state. New York awarded land in the western part of that state; Massachusetts awarded land in what later would become Maine. The states of North Carolina/Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Maryland offered bounty land and that information can be found in state archives. The Revolutionary War bounty land warrants have also been microfilmed.

After the Revolutionary War, the United States Army was established as a small regular Army with state and territorial militia. Microfilm also exists for soldiers who served and were involved in Indian campaigns and disturbances. These records are also indexed.

Most of the soldiers involved in the War of 1812 were born around 1790 or slightly before that date. Microfilm exists for the compiled military service records for all states that participated except the Territory of Mississippi. An index is available to the consolidated records and there are indexes for North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana on microfilm.

The first pension act pertaining to War of 1812 soldiers was in 1871 and pertained to those who had served 60 days or widows who had married before 1815. In 1878 an act was passed for veterans with 14 days or more of service and for all widows. These have not been microfilmed, but there is an index on microfilm. Bounty land warrants were taken up primarily in Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois. After 1842 the warrant could be used in other public domain states and after 1852 they could be sold or assigned.

Congress declared war on 13 May 1846 and this subsequently became the Mexican War. The compiled military service records have not been microfilmed except for the Mormon organizations and those from Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Pennsylvania. These are indexed and on microfilm. While pensions were granted, they have not be microfilmed, but there is an index on microfilm.

The following are some interesting Internet sites that will assist you with researching these wars:

The following are extremely helpful books that should be consulted if you are researching ancestors from these wars. The books, all compiled by Virgil D. White, are generally available in larger libraries with genealogical collections ... or ask your librarian to secure them on interlibrary loan.

Genealogical Abstracts of Revolutionary War Pension Files, 4 vols. Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co., 1990-92.

Index to Volunteer Soldiers, 1784-1811. Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co., 1987.

Index to War of 1812 Pension Files, 3 vols. Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co., 1989.

Index to Mexican War Pension Files. Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co., 1989.

Index to Old Wars Pensions Files, 1815-1926, 2 vols. Waynesboro, TN: National Historical Publishing Co., 1987.

Keep in mind that your ancestor may have served, but never applied for a pension or bounty land. You may learn through some of the above books that his application was rejected. It is still a good idea to obtain the file as it may contain a good deal of enlightening information.

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