Researching A Civil War Ancestor at the KY Dept. of Libraries and Archives

Researching A Civil War Ancestor at the KY Dept. of Libraries and Archives

According to official records, over 75,000 Kentuckians, including 23,000 African American volunteers, fought for the Union during the Civil War. This figure does not include the estimated 12,000 men who saw active service with Kentucky's state forces, nor the hundreds who belonged to irregular units such as self-styled "Home Guards" or "Independent Scouts."

The exact number of Kentuckians who fought for the Confederacy may never be known. Historians estimate that between 25,000 and 40,000 Kentucky volunteers served in the Confederate army. The fact that service records for many of these individuals were either poorly kept, lost, or destroyed during the war presents a considerable challenge for researchers.

The following federal, state, and local government source material is available for research at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA) Archives Research Room.


Compiled Service Records

Consisting of over 515 rolls of microfilm, the compiled services records pertain to Kentucky volunteers mustered into the Federal service. A master index provides the name, rank, and unit of each soldier. Individual service files typically consist of information abstracted from original muster rolls, regimental returns, hospital rolls, descriptive books, lists of deserters, and originals of any papers relating solely to the particular soldier.

This collection also includes two groups of supplemental records entitled "Miscellaneous Card Abstracts" and "Personal Papers." This material was originally to be interfiled with the compiled service records. The "Personal Papers" are arranged alphabetically by surname and the "Abstracts" are organized first by unit and then by veteran's name. These records generally complement the information found with the compiled service records.

These records do not contain information on Kentuckians who served in the U. S. Regulars, the U. S. Colored Troops, the Navy, or the Marines. Information regarding these records may be obtained from the National Archives.

The 1890 Census of Union Veterans and Widows

Pension records for Union veterans and their widows may be obtained from the National Archives in Washington. KDLA has the 1890 Census of Union veterans and widows in Kentucky available on microfilm. Congress authorized this special census in an effort to locate individuals entitled to pensions or disability benefits. These records include name, rank, unit, length of service and the nature of any service related disability. A published index to the census is available.

Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky

This two-volume report was published in 1866 in conformity with a resolution of the General Assembly passed in 1864. The report contains rosters of those Kentucky units mustered into the Federal service, U.S. Colored Troops, Kentucky State Troops, and Enrolled Militia. The report also contains an alphabetical list of officers and a complete list of general and staff officers from Kentucky. An index is available on microfilm.

For additional information on U. S. Colored Troops, Kentucky State Troops, and Enrolled Militia, researchers should contact the Kentucky Department of Military Affairs, Military Records and Research Branch. The Library contains the original records of the Adjutant Generals Office, including original muster rolls and other records related to Kentucky's Federal, State and "Colored" volunteers.

Judicial Records

Kentucky's courts were flooded with war-related actions both during and after the conflict. Circuit Court (or Commonwealth) Order Books yield a multitude of charges against Union soldiers. A battle-related death or the capture of property during military operations frequently resulted in indictments for "murder", "grand larceny" or "horse-stealing" once peace was declared.

Civil and Criminal Case Files may contain detailed information on these war-related charges, including lengthy depositions by participants and/or witnesses. These files are especially helpful in determining whether an ancestor served in irregular units such as "Home Guards," local organizations whose members are rarely listed in official records.

KDLA has records available from many of the circuit courts around the state.

Governor's Papers

Evidence of war-related charges could mean that a veteran submitted a petition for pardon to the Governor. KDLA houses the official papers of Kentucky's governors including those who served during the war years. The Papers of Governor Thomas E. Bramlette contain petitions stemming from the conflict. Many petitions contain detailed information on the war-time incident that prompted the indictment as well as copies of the indictments themselves. These records are particularly valuable if the original case files and/or indictments are not available. The Governor's Executive Journals, arranged chronologically, provide dates for these pardons.


Like their Union adversaries, many Kentucky Confederates returned home from the conflict to find themselves under indictment for war-related acts. Circuit court case files and the papers of the Governors also contain a considerable amount of material pertaining to Confederate soldiers. These records may provide names of Confederate soldiers not found in official records.

KDLA also has other records that relate specifically to Kentucky's Confederate volunteers, including:

Compiled Service Records

These records consist of over 136 rolls of microfilm pertaining to Confederate soldiers in Kentucky units. A microfilmed index provides the name, rank and unit of each soldier. Individual service files typically consist of abstracts from entries found in muster rolls, returns, rosters, payrolls, appointment books, hospital registers, Union prison registers, parole records, and inspection reports. These files may also contain papers relating solely to the particular soldier.

In addition to the records of Kentucky volunteers, the KDLA has copies of the records of Kentuckians who served in Confederate commands that were composed of volunteers from two or more southern states. For example, the 7th Confederate Cavalry Battalion was composed of companies recruited in eastern Kentucky and western Virginia. The names of these soldiers are not included in the index for Kentucky Confederate volunteers; however, the name of each Confederate volunteer is arranged alphabetically under each unit.

Records do not contain information on staff officers, or pro-Confederate citizens. Information on these groups may be obtained from the National Archives.

Louisville Military Prison Registers

The Louisville Military Prison was Kentucky's primary facility for the confinement of prisoners-of-war. It served as a major shipping point for prisoners bound for the prison camps of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Obtained from the National Archives, these microfilmed records cover the period from 1862 to 1865. The register for civilian prisoners contains references to those Kentuckians charged with treason, spying or engaging in guerrilla warfare.

McLean Barracks Military Prison Records

Many Kentucky Confederates were confined in this facility between 1863 and 1865. Records relating to military prisoners were abstracted for inclusion in the compiled service records for Kentucky Confederate volunteers. The registers relating to civilian prisoners contain information on Kentuckians charged with engaging in guerrilla warfare or various acts of disloyalty to the U.S. government.

Register of Confederate Prisoners Who Died in Federal Prisons

The Register was compiled in 1912 by the U. S. Office of the Commissioner for Marking the Graves of Confederate Dead. This microfilmed record was obtained from the National Archives. Those searching for Kentucky Confederates should concentrate on cemeteries located in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana or Illinois. Soldiers names are arranged alphabetically within each cemetery.

Amnesty Papers

These records are applications for pardon submitted by former Kentucky Confederates to President Andrew Johnson between 1865 and 1867. Arranged alphabetically by surname, the amnesty papers provide information on a cross-section of both soldiers and civilians who supported the South.

Report of the Adjutant General

This two-volume report was published in 1915 in conformity with a resolution of the Kentucky General Assembly which called for the collection of "all the data obtainable concerning the different organizations who enlisted or served in the Army of the Confederate States in the War of the Rebellion." Based primarily on surviving muster rolls, the report, which contains many errors and omissions, remains an adequate source for initial research. An index is available.

Confederate Pension Applications

Passed by the Kentucky General Assembly on March 4, 1912, the Confederate Pension Act provided aid to indigent and disabled Confederate veterans and their widows. In some cases, the application and supporting documents are the only surviving records of a soldier's service. Generally, each application contains the veteran's date and place of birth, his unit designation, and term of service. Some files may also contain marriage and death records. The Index of Confederate Pension Applications, published by KDLA in 1978, provides access to this material.

The Kentucky Confederate Home

The Confederate Veterans Home, which was located at Pewee Valley in Oldham County, was established by an Act of the Kentucky General Assembly in 1902. This collection of material remains largely unprocessed. A list of inmates dated 1912 is among the records available to researchers on microfilm. Unprocessed material includes applications for admission by Confederate veterans on microfiche as well as Reference Book B, and a roster of applicants dated 1903-1909.

Miscellaneous Sources

The least obvious source for information on Kentucky Confederates is the Compiled Service Records for Union volunteers. In many cases Southern sympathizers were drafted or otherwise forced into the Union army against their will. These records frequently yield references to "desertion to the enemy," i.e. the Confederate Army. Researchers may want to check both the Union and Confederate Indexes to these records when they begin research.

Additional clues may be found in the 1890 Census of Union Veterans. Many Confederate veterans were accidentally enumerated in this census. While their names are lightly crossed out , the information is still legible. As in the case of Union veterans, said information includes rank, unit, length of service, and the nature of the service related disability. The 1910 Federal Population Census contains a category for both Union and Confederate veterans. Veterans are denoted by a "U" or a "C" in the appropriate column.

Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives
Last revised: April 17, 2000

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