What is a Civil War pension file?
Most Civil War soldiers were eligible to apply for pension benefits after the war. In some cases they were immediately eligible, but in most cases it wasn’t until later in life.
Pension files are, on average, about 50-100 pages long for Union soldiers. Confederate pensions tend to be smaller. There are many that are longer than that, but there are some that are smaller too. They are among the most genealogically significant files that are out there for Civil War soldiers.
Any correspondence with the pension bureau is included in the pension file. This would include the original application and supporting documentation. This documentation can include things such as marriage certificates, doctor’s reports, testimonies from fellow soldiers, character references from friends and family, etc. If you’re looking for a good overview of your soldier’s service and his life after the war, these are great documents to get.
You may have a pension index card (pictured below), but that is NOT the pension file in itself. That's just the index card, telling you the file number for the actual pension file at the National Archives. If you have the index card, don't stop with that. The next step is to get the actual file from the National Archives.
All of the Union pensions are at the National Archives, and most of them aren’t online anywhere. The Confederate pensions are at the individual state archives, but some of those are online.
We’ll be back at the National Archives once they reopen from the pandemic. If you’re interested in getting your ancestor’s pension file, let us know. We’d be happy to help!