Military Pensions

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The following information on U.S. Pension Acts is a brief over-view of legislation which provided benefits to Veterans of Military service in the Colonies, and later in the United States. A wealth of information can be found in these applications, considered Primary or Original documents.

I. U.S. Pension Records:

  • More than 100 years before the Revolutionary War the British Colonies had pensions for disabled soldiers and sailors. During the colonial period in America most able-bodied men between the ages of 16 to 60 were called on to be part of the local militia. These groups were organized by towns, counties or colonies. After the Revolutionary War, each state retained a militia organization. These units evolved into the National Guard after the Civil War. Records of militia and national guard units were kept by local and state governments. State archives, state adjutant generals'offices, historical societies, courthouses and libraries may have records of local citizens who served in the military:

    1. Disability or Invalid Pensions for those injured in the line of duty.
    2. Service Pensions for those who rendered service for a specified period of time.
    3. Widows Pensions for those whose husbands were killed in wartime.

  • 26 Aug 1776: Pension Legislation for American Colonies as a group authorized one-half pay for disabled to continue for the duration of the disability.

  • 15 May 1778: one-half pay for seven years after conclusion of the war to all officers who remained in service to the war's end; enlisted men received $80.00 gratuity.

  • 24 Aug 1780: One-half pay for seven years to the widows and orphans who met the requirements of the previous enactment.

  • 21 Oct 1780: Amendment to Act of 15 May 1778 to provide one-half pay for life. This was amended again on 22 Mar 1783 to five years full pay.

  • 29 Sep 1789: Newly established FEDERAL GOVERNMENT continued the previous acts for period of 1 year.

  • 23 Mar 1792: [1 STAT.243] Vets not already getting Invalid Pensions could apply directly to the Federal Government. The stipulated war service was to be for 9 months or to the end of the war. Pensions granted under this act were for life.

  • Act of 1818: Required those after 1818 to submit certified schedule of income and estate.

  • 29 Jul 1848: [9 STAT.265] Life pensions for widows married before 2 Jan 1800. Subsequent acts removed all marriage restrictions, and allowed for vets serving as little as 14 days time.

II. Bounty-Land Warrant Legislation:

Rights to free land held in Public Domain to the heirs of Revolutionary War Vets and heirs if they met eligibility standards of the Acts passed between 1776-1856. Records to be provided as proof included Marriage before 1910. Revolutionary War Pension application papers were placed in 3 series:

  1. Survivors: Name of state; S [Indicates Survivor] and # [File number].
  2. Widows: State; Name; Wife; File #; and...
  3. Rejected Applications: Both of the above that were rejected; includes State, Soldier and Widow's name.

III. Federal Service Records: Military service records, which may give:
  • Rank
  • Dates of service
  • Age
  • Place of residence prior to enlistment
  • Physical description
  • Date and place of discharege or death

In addition to the records listed above, additional compiled records include:

  1. Loyalist Sources: There are many published books and manuscripts listing Loyalists or Tories, who opposed the rebellion remaining loyal to England. They may be found under the subject "American Loyalists" or "United Empire Loyalists" in the Family History Library Catalog.

  2. Compiled Records : Secondary sources contain information about Revolutionary War soldiers that was compiled from original sources long after the war, often by lineage societies:
    • DAR Patriot Index: The Daughters of the American Revolution require that members submit proof of descent from a revolutionary soldier. The names of all of the soldiers whose service has been used to prove eligibility for the DAR have been indexed in this DAR Patriot Index, vol. 1-2 and the 1982 supplement; FHL book, 973, C42da.

    • DAR Lineage Books: If a soldier's name is listed in the DAR Patriot Index, an abstract of the application may be published in the DAR Lineaage Books, which are indexed in the Index of the Rolls of Honor in the Lineage Books of the NSDAR. There are 160 volumes which provide brief biographical information with the names and years of birth, marriage and death of direct-line descendants: FHL book, 973, D2d.


IV. Civil War Documents:
  1. CONFEDERATE: If you have a male ancestor who was born between 1820 and 1845 and who lived in a southern or border state, you will probably find information about him in Confederate records for the War Between the States. You will want to search the service records, pension records, and published rosters.

    • Service Records: Military service records may give rank, dates of service, place of residence prior to enlistment, age, physical description, place of birth, and date of discharge or death. There is a general index to the names of Confederate soldiers plus indexes of soldiers in each state. For additional information and library microfilm numbers, consult Register of United States Federal Military Records: Civil War (vol. 2, pp. 145-61 and vol. 4, supplemental). This may be obtained through the LDS FHL.

    • Pension Records: The Federal Government did not issue pensions to soldiers who fought in the Confederate Army. In an effort to compensate disabled veterans or widows, most of the southern states began paying pensions to Confederate veterans from state funds. Pen sion files may include information on a soldier’s military service, family members, places of residence, or other genealogical data.

    • Published Records: Many rosters of soldiers, lists of veteran burials, and compilations of biographical data have been published. You may find information by checking the Library Catalog at the www.familysearch.org for MILITARY RECORDS – CIVIL WAR, 1861-1865. Also try checking the Confederate Veteran magazine and its index (FHL book 73.B2cv)


  2. UNION: If you have a male ancestor who was born circa 1820-1845, you might find information about him in Civil War military records. Every state except South Carolina supplied military units to the Union Army. In most cases, you will want to check all available service, pension, and published records.

    • Service Records: Military service records may give rank, dates of service, place of residence prior to enlistment, age, physical description, place of birth, and date of discharge or death. There is no master index to the names of soldiers in the Union Army. You must know the state where an individual enlisted to use the service records. The Family History Library of the LDS Church has indexes for all states and the service records of Union Army regiments enlisted from southern states. The indexes give only name, rank, and unit. To get copies of the service records, request NATF form 80 at the reference counter or write: National Archives & Records Administration; General Reference Branch; 7th and Pennsylvania Ave. NW; Washington, D.C. 20408

    • Pension Records: The Federal Government issued pensions to soldiers who met the criteria. Pension files may include information on a soldier’s military service, family members, places of residence, and other genealogical information.

      Union pensions have not been microfilmed, but three indexes to them are available at the Family History Library:

      1. General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934 (T288). Film numbers are found in the Military Register, vol. 2, pp. 29-47.
      2. Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933 (M850). Film numbers are found in the Military Register, vol. 4, pp. 507-553.
      3. Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861-1900 (T289). Some units are listed in the Military Register, vol. 4, pp. 559-60. The entire index is listed in the Family History Library Catalog under: UNITED STATES/MILITARY RECORDS/PENSIONS/INDEXES. Use NATF Form 80 to obtain copies.

    • Published Records: Many rosters of soldiers, lists of veteran burials, and compilations of biographical data have been published. Check local and state records.

Another great source for Wars and Conflicts is found at The War Generations.




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Web Author: Dianne Elizabeth, © 1999
To reach me by E-mail: deharley@yahoo.com

Web Site: Dianne Elizabeth's Family History, Created July 17th, 1999
Page Title: Military Pensions
Page Created: April 3rd, 2000
Revised: December 20, 2012
URL: http://www.dianneelizabeth.com/Military/pensions.html