There are over 1.3 million entries in this collection. Each entry includes a transcript and many also include an image of the original application card. The amount of information listed varies, but the records usually include the following information:
Year applied for pension
Beneficiary name and relation
Location lived in at that time
This collection is an index of pension application cards for veterans of the U.S. military ranging from 1861 to 1934, and includes images of the original cards. This time period covers veterans of numerous wars including the U.S. Civil War, the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and World War I.
The bulk of these files pertain to service in the U.S. Civil War, which enlisted millions of Americans into the Union army. Pensions were received by these soldiers or their beneficiaries for that service rendered. These records, particularly the original image, will tell you what unit(s) your ancestor served in, what state he (or his beneficiaries) lived in at the time he applied for the pension, names of his widow or children, pension application numbers, previous pension application numbers, certificate numbers, and the name of his attorney.
There are several laws that pertain to pensions and that provide further context for this collection. In particular, the Act to Grant Pensions, passed on 14 July 1862, began the pension system for Civil War veterans who had sustained war-related disabilities. Pensions were also available to the following: widows, children under the age of sixteen, and dependent relatives of soldiers who died in military service from war-related injuries.
Note that some of the images of the original records are difficult to read due to poor quality scans. However, efforts have been made to decipher handwriting where possible.
U.S. Army officer and cavalry commander in the Civil War and American Indian Wars, George A. Custer, appears in the records when his widow, Elizabeth, applied for his pension in April 1877, roughly 10 months after his death at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, also called Custer’s Last Stand.
Ulysses S. Grant, the Commanding General of the Union Army during the Civil War and 18th President of the United States, appears in the records when his widow, Julia, applied for his pension in December 1885, a few months after his death. His application card refers to him as “Late President U.S.”
Robert Gould Shaw, an abolitionist and colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War, commanded the first all-black regiment (54th Massachusetts). He encouraged his men to refuse pay until they received payment equal to that of white troops’ wages. He appears in the records when a woman, named Emily, identified as his widow, applied for his pension in 1873, ten years after his death at the Second Battle of Fort Wagner. Interestingly, his wife’s name was Annie Haggerty Shaw, and it is unlikely “Emily” was a nickname. It is possible, however, that the recorder misheard and recorded the wrong first name.
United States Civil War Pension Files Index 1861-1934 is sourced from FamilySearch.