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Service Records

Available for:

  • War of 1812
  • Mexican-American
  • Early Indian Wars
  • Civil War
  • Spanish-American War

Compiled Military Service Records (CMSR) are a collection of each soldier’s military records that were gathered together from a variety of original sources, including muster rolls, hospital records, casualty sheets, etc. The CMSRs are therefore derivative records, compiled in the late 1800s and early 1900s to quickly verify service and facilitate pension processing.

The outer jacket indicates the soldier’s name (and sometimes aliases), company, regiment, ranks upon mustering in/out, a list of abstract cards, the number of personal papers, and sometimes a bookmark and/or cross-reference.

They typically contain card abstracts representing by-monthly pay periods and indicating for each period whether the soldier was present, absent, missing, on detached service, on furlough, in a hospital, held as a prisoner of war, deserted, killed, etc.   They also commonly indicate when and where the soldier mustered in and out and his rank at those times. A soldier’s service record will frequently mention when he was a promoted, transferred, resigned, or discharged, for instance.

In some cases, a service record will include “personal papers” or supporting documentation like enlistment papers, copies of orders, casualty reports, hospital records, prisoner of war records, a discharge certificate, record of death and internment, inventory of personal effects (upon death), correspondence, and others.

Although the information in service records are recorded for military purposes, they sometimes contain some biographical or genealogical details, including aliases and spelling variations, age or year of birth, place of birth or residence, a physical description, occupation before the war, and, in more rare cases, even the name/address of a spouse or parent.

By contrast, a soldier’s Pension File very commonly includes biographical and genealogical information. For more information, please read about Pension Files.

Pro Tip: A soldier’s service file and his pension file can both be very enlightening.  They served different purposes and therefore focus on different kinds of data.  For the most complete picture of the soldier’s life, military service, and family, you should obtain copies of both files whenever possible. 

Note that soldiers very commonly served in more than one unit. And upon being discharged with a disability, a soldier might also have re-enlisted for light duty in the “Veteran Reserve Corps.”  There should be an independent service file for each unit in which he served and each service file is subject to the same fee.  If we find that your soldier served in more units than you identified, then we will request approval before pulling the additional service files.

Sometimes the bottom of a service file jacket will reflect a “book mark.”  That is typically a reference to an investigation by the Adjutant General’s Office in order to resolve an error or ambiguity that was discovered in the original records.  The book mark case file (if it still exists) will be retrieved and digitized as part of the service file at no additional charge.

Following are a few sample cards from a typical Civil War service record. (Click to zoom in).

Of course, the file may contain many more cards, as well as other documents as described above.  The size of the file is typically a function of the soldier’s term of service.  That is, soldiers who were in the unit for longer time will usually have larger service files.  Your soldier’s service file may contain a different number and combination of cards, of course.  Every service file is different.

Full service files for Union soldiers in the Civil War are online on ($) for:

Some special collections of Union service records have also been digitized by ($)

At Gopher Records, we have access to some powerful search tools that are not available to the general public – like the ability to search the Soldiers and Sailors Database for phonetic matches (Soundex or Metaphone).  

Service files for any other state or regiment must be retrieved directly from the National Archives. In order for us to retrieve such a service file, it must first be located in an index.  The Soldiers & Sailors Database (free) is maintained by the National Park Service and has transcriptions of the service record index cards.  The actual index cards are searchable on Fold3 ($) and MyHeritage ($).  Abstracts are also available on Ancestry (free) but to see the actual card, you’ll need to go to Fold3.

If you have a Service File Index Card, then please upload it when you place an order.  If not, we will use all of our available tools in an effort to find it for you.

Confederate service files (to the extent that they still exist) have been digitized in their entirety and are online on ($).

Service files for the War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Early Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, and Philippine Insurrection are available only from the National Archives.  Click on the appropriate link to order those records.

Our prices are based on a flat rate and do not vary based on the number of pages in the file(s). So while you will not be charged less if the file contains only a few pages, you will also not be charged more if the file is much larger than average.

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      There is a long list of possible answers. The soldier may have been running from something (like the law, a slave master, or a spouse/family) and didn’t want to be found. Or he may have been underage but lied about his age and enlisted without the permission of his parents. Many years later at the prospect of receiving money for his service in the form of a pension, he might ‘fess up.

      Or he may have been a bounty jumper – one who would enlist in a regiment, receive a monetary bounty for enlistment, desert his unit, and enlist again somewhere else (maybe even with the enemy) under a different name.

      There were even several hundred women who concealed their identity and enlisted with a man’s name – typically in order to stay close to her husband, father, or brother.

      But the most common reason wasn’t quite so devious. A very large percentage of the enlisted soldiers were illiterate. They didn’t know how to spell their name so an adjutant or clerk would guess at the spelling based on its sound. This was complicated by the fact that many of the soldiers were immigrants and may have had a thick accent or spoke only broken English. Or their name may have been translated or Anglicized by the soldier or the clerk.

      Keep in mind that in the 19th century, spelling was just not the priority that we think of it today. Many people would spell their name in different ways over the course of their lifetime – or sometimes even within the same document! When it came to qualifying for a pension, however, they would be highly-motivated to resolve any such inconsistencies in army documents. A pension file for someone who used an alias, therefore, usually includes an explanation and often testimonials from other parties about the various names by which the soldier was known.

      I hope that this helps.

      (I think that I’ll copy this to our blog so that others will benefit from your excellent question.)

  1. Sandra Chapman


    My Great-Grandfather, James Monroe Grimsley enlisted in North Carolina in 1864 as a 1st Sergeant, 37th Infantry. When I was in Wilkes, NC searching at the Genealogical Library, I was told that there were payroll records or pay stubs from the Union Army for him. Are there records to search that would verify this rumor?

    • Gopher Records


      They may have been referring to the fact that there are Compiled Military Service Records (CMSRs) that effectively document his presence, absence, etc., during each pay day. But he was paid by the Confederate army, of course, not the Union. His CMSRs have been digitized (42 pages) and are available on the National Archives site here:

      There was a James M. Grimsley (sometimes spelled Grimley) who fought for the Union army. He was in Co. K, 5th Tennessee Infantry (USA). His service records are online here: . He received pension payments from the Federal government starting in 1890. We could help you get those records if you are interested.

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