Civil War Pensions Index

Records: 2,987,384 · Complete: 99%


The Civil War Pensions Index collection contains over two million index cards for pension applications of veterans who served in the US Army between 1861 and 1900. Every person who was eligible for pension benefits was required to apply to claim them. Because the pension was a federal benefit, at first only Union soldiers were eligible. Confederate soldiers were not eligible but could apply for state benefits from the state where they resided.

An index of all those application cards was kept by the Pension Office. This collection contains the index in its entirety. Most of the records are from the Civil War, but there are also several from four later wars including:

  • The Spanish-American War

  • The Philippine Insurrection

  • Indian Wars

  • World War I

How To Interpret the Index Cards

At first glance, a pension index card might be confusing. The index cards generally contain the following information:

  • Name of the soldier

  • Rank, company and regiment

  • State

  • Date the pension application was filed

  • Invalid (The soldier survived the war but is sick, incapacitated or disabled).

  • Application number – this is the SO or Soldier’s Original number.

  • Certificate number—this is the SC or Soldier’s Certificate.

  • Widow application number—this is the WO or Widow’s Original.

  • Widow Certificate number – this is the WC or Widow’s Certificate. The WC is generally the last number and the number that the entire pension file is filed under.

  • If the index card is stamped “Dead” in the top, left corner, it often includes the soldier’s death date and where he died on the bottom of the card.

A Second Index?

Occasionally index cards are illegible, difficult to read, or might even be missing numbers. A second index was compiled and is a wonderful tool for cross-referencing information. The Pension Numerical Index complements the Civil War Pensions Index and allows you to cross-reference names, numbers, alias names that may have been used or to check illegible words or letters. This index contains both application and certificate numbers. For an in-depth explanation of how to use this index, view the description at the beginning of the archive.

Presidential Pensions

As commanders in chief, presidents of the United States were entitled to military pensions, even if they did not serve in the military. In the Civil War Pensions Index at Fold3, you will find index cards for twelve US presidents and a vice president (Thomas R. Marshall, vice president under Woodrow Wilson).

The image of each president's index card is shown here. There are two for William McKinley. Several of the presidents in this index were not alive during the time period covered by this index (1861-1900), nor were their wives. So, the question may be asked - why is there a pension card?

United States Presidents in the Civil War Pensions Index (with presidential term, followed by life span in italics and parentheses)

  • George Washington, 1789-97 (1732-1799)
  • James Madison, 1809-17 (1751-1836)
  • William Henry Harrison, 1889-93 (1833-1901)
  • John Tyler, 1841-45 (1790-1862)
  • James K. Polk, 1845-49 (1795-1849)
  • Zachary Taylor, 1849-50 (1784-1850)
  • Abraham Lincoln, 1861-65 (1809-1865)
  • Ulysses S. Grant, 1869-77 (1822-1885)
  • James A. Garfield, 1881 (1831-1881)
  • William McKinley, 1897-1901 (1843-1901)
  • Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-09 (1858-1919)
  • Woodrow Wilson, 1913-21 (1856-1924)