Discovery Your Family History

Military Records Research

After performing your LDS family search you may find that some of your ancestors served in the military, if this is the case then you are going to have to look into tracing military records. The purpose of this article is to guide you through some of the terms you may come across when researching military records for your LDS family search. Unless you are well versed in the military you may not understand some of the terms that you will come across when researching military records. For example; division, platoon, regiment, battalion, company, squadron and army corps, these are all designations of units that make up the military and they are some of the military terms that will show up frequently when you are performing research for one of your ancestors that served inside the military.

Many of these military terms have been used for over a hundred years and are still current today. However over time some of these terms may have taken on different meanings which can complicate things greatly when you are trying to perform research, even more so if you are not versed in military history.

To gain an accurate interpretation of your ancestor’s service within the military and any information on their wartime experience can be difficult if you do not have a solid understanding of the unit in which they served. The information contained in this article will aim to provide you as a researcher a basic knowledge of the basic military organizations and also ranks of the men who commanded and served in them.

Infantry And Company

As is always the case with any research starting from the bottom and working your way up is always the best place to start and this is no different in terms of researching the units of the military. Although the platoon being a subdivision of the modern infantry company was recognized as an organization during the civil war it was not recognized as a formal unit like it is today. For practical purposes a company was composed of around 100 men and this was the foundation of both the Union and confederate armies. An infantry regiment would usually be made up of around 10 companies consisting of around 1000 men and officers. These numbers would actually be much smaller after a little over a year’s service due to a number of different reasons such as deaths as a result of combat, discharges through disability and other reasons. Taking these variables into consideration the actual field strength of an infantry regiment would be around 400 men.

The majority of soldiers in the Civil War were usually infantrymen serving in infantry regiments, these infantry regiments composed in their entirety of volunteers would be designated using a number and the state in which they were raised and their particular branch of service. Here are a couple of examples 3rd New Jersey infantry and 1st Indiana Infantry. The companies that made up the regiments were also designated by a letter from A to K in a standard ten company regiment. Interestingly the letter J was not used as it looked too much like the letter I due to the handwriting found in that Era.

Officers/Non Commissioned officers

Units in the army would be commanded by officers that were commissioned. An infantry company would be commanded by a Captain who would be assisted by a 1st lieutenant and a 2nd lieutenant and an infantry regiment would be commanded by a colonel. Staff that made up the regimental headquarters would consist of a lieutenant colonel, a major and a 1st lieutenant adjutant. It was the job of the lieutenant colonel and the major to assist the colonel and they would also be his replacement due to him being killed or becoming disabled. In some cases due to casualties or other absences units would very often find themselves being commanded by lesser ranked officers. A 1st or 2nd lieutenant could find themselves in command of a company and a Major or a lieutenant colonel could find themselves in command of a regiment.

The majority of men enlisted in the army would be privates but some of them could be selected as non-commissioned officers. It was the job of non-commissioned officers to assist the commissioned officers in the running of the regiment and the company. A company would have eight corporals with four sergeants and a 1st sergeant above them. The 1st sergeant would often be referred to as an orderly sergeant. At the army headquarters non-commissioned officers would include a sergeant major. The sergeant major was the regiment’s highest ranking non-commissioned officer. It was the sergeant majors job to assist the adjutant, the quartermaster and the commissary sergeants. The sergeant major would also assist the commissary sergeants whose job it was to assist the quartermaster in the distribution of food and supplies.


Cavalry regiments had a structure similar to that of infantry regiments each made up of around 10 companies. Although during combat situations 2 companies would often be grouped together as a squadron. Cavalry regiments would be authorized more commissioned officers and other non-commissioned personnel including veterinary sergeants, veterinary surgeons, saddlers and blacksmiths (farriers). Cavalry regiments made up of twelve companies would generally be split into three battalions of 2 companies. They would also have additional majors and non-commissioned staff including commissary sergeants, veterinary sergeants and sergeant majors.


The formation that made up the artillery was known as the battery, this was much smaller than a cavalry or infantry regiment, more comparable in size to a cavalry or infantry company. The battery was usually made of around 120 men and would be commanded by a captain, it would also contain 12 sergeants and around 4 lieutenants. Each battery unit was authorized six artillery pieces which would be divided further into 3 two gun sections. As the war progressed many artillery batteries were reduced to 4 guns. Non-commissioned officers within an artillery battery consisted of a first sergeant, around 12 sergeants and corporals and a quartermaster sergeant.

 Divisions, Brigades and Army Corps

Cavalry and infantry regiments used to be grouped into brigades, around four regiments to a brigade at the start of the war. As the war continued and there were more and more casualties brigades would often consist of six or even as many as ten regiments. The majority of brigades were made up of regiments from a number of different states, although there were exceptions. Regiments such as the 1st New Jersey brigade was composed entirely of regiments from a single state throughout the conflict. Divisions were usually made up of 3 brigades with 3 divisions making up a corps. A number corps would be combined to make up an army and would usually be named after a river. Some examples of this include the army of Shenandoah, Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Ohio. A fast way of determining which theatre of combat a particular army fought in is by looking at the river designation in the name.

From 1863 onwards many army corps started to wear badges, these badges would usually be red for the 1st division, white for the 2nd and blue for the 3rd. When you are performing your research using old wartime photos these badges could be of significant use in tracing which army your ancestor was part of.

Hopefully the information found inside this article will assist you in when it comes to researching military records for your LDS family tree.

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