Your Civil War Story: It’s All in the Details

In my last column I introduced you to Robert Bryant of Kentucky. He was born about 1802 in Virginia, and in 1860 he was in Nicholas County, Kentucky. We were trying to determine if this Robert Bryant is the same Robert Bryant who served in the 7th Kentucky Cavalry for the Union.

Before we go too much further let me correct a couple of errors I made. On the compiled service record cards that I have for Robert, it says he served in the K company, not the B company.

That was me being careless. It’s a good reminder that having someone review your work is always a good idea! The same reader that pointed this out to me also pointed out something else that took a very keen eye. On the 1850 census where some truly ambitious census enumerator decided to list not only the state of birth, he listed the county as well.

But as this reader noticed, there are no tick marks for county for Robert Bryant.

I did not look closely and take my time and truly evaluate the record. I hang my head momentarily in genealogical shame. And then I remember that in one of the Compiled Service Record cards that I found on Fold3, it mentioned that Robert was born in Augusta, Virginia. 

It appears that in my excitement, I may have missed some details in the compiled service cards. I decided to go back and read them more carefully. I find this statement on a Certificate of Disability card.

It also tells us that Robert Bryant is age fifty and some other details that we’ve seen elsewhere. It also states that he has been unfit for forty days. Then we look at the bottom half.

This states his disability as “old age; he is sixty four years of age. He is also afflickted (sic) with Rumatism (sic). He is worn out.”

This one document states he is fifty years old AND sixty-four years old. It is dated 27 Jan 1863. If he is sixty-four in 1863, it means
he was born about 1799. Is it possible that that Robert lied to get into the service? It was not unusual. If the sixty-four is true, this helps support the case that this is our Robert Bryant.

So, where should we look next? My to-do list suggests that I look for a pension. Maria Bryant was left a widow with young dependent children. It is reasonable to assume that she applied for a pension.
First, I search for Robert Bryant/Maria Bryant in the Fold3 pension index—specifically, Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900.
 Here’s what I found.

Company K, 7th Kentucky Cavalry. The application was filed by the widow; application number was 21190, and the certificate number was 82035. It was filed on 11 May 1863 which was about two months after Robert’s death. I suspect that this is the Robert I am looking for. I then search the pension index on which is different (Civil War Pension Index: General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934).

This record is slightly different, because it states the widow’s name, Maria Bryant. This is the first piece of evidence that I have tying this Robert who served in the 7th Kentucky Cavalry to the Robert who was married to Maria. I think this makes this not just possible, but probable that this is the Robert I’m looking for. What I really need now is the pension filed on behalf of Robert Bryant dependents. I can’t be certain what is in there, but it could list his dependent children which would help solidify our case.

So let’s go to the National Archives’ records request page  and select “Order Reproductions.” From there, I’ll select “Military Service and Pension Records.”

Then I choose “Federal Military Pension Application-Civil War and Later Complete File (NATF 85D)”

From here I can choose between ordering a CD or DVD or a paper copy of the file, which can, in some cases include more than 100 pages. (If you haven’t ordered records from the National Archives before, you’ll be prompted to register as a new user. If you have, you’ll need to log in.)

Now I am at the order form and enter what I know. This is going to cost me $75, but I need to know, so I order away. Genealogy is not a cheap hobby is it? 

Make sure you put in the certificate number. It’s over on the right. And add whatever you know. It can help the folks at the National Archives decide whether they have the correct file.

Now, I get to wait. It could be weeks, it could be months. When I hear back from NARA, we’ll examine the pension file.

In my next column, we shall examine how to start assembling your soldier’s Civil War story, using Robert Bryant as our first case study.

Happy Searching!
Ancestry Anne

Anne Gillespie Mitchell is a Senior Search Product Manager at She is an active blogger on and writes the “Ask Ancestry Anne” column for the “Monthly Update” newsletter. She has been chasing her ancestors through Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina for many years, and is pursuing her CG certification.