If your forefathers were in America by 1860, you should search all possible sources to locate records about their likely participation in the Civil War.
The War Between the States began April 12, 1861, and ended May 26, 1865. About 1.5 million men fought for the Union and about 1 million wore Confederate gray.
Ignore family traditions and search Union and Confederate sources, especially if your families lived in border states. And don't limit your hunt to direct ancestors. It may be in his brother's records that you find the genealogical gems.
Don't assume your ancestors were too young or too old to have participated. In my own lines I have found a 14-year-old and one who enlisted at age 57.
Begin your search at the National Archives. Write to Reference Services Branch, National Archives and Records Service, 8th and Pennsylvania Avenues, Washington, D.C. 20408 and request several sets of NATF Form 8000. When you receive the forms, fill them out as completely as possible.
Most men served in the volunteer Union Army or in the Confederate Army. Request a search of military records first; later ask for complete pension records if you have Union ancestors. For Confederate ancestors, you'll have to obtain their pension records from the state archives of the state in which they served. Your Confederate may have enlisted in Georgia but moved to Texas after the war. Request a search of pension indexes at both states' archives.
For an in-depth guide to locating Confederate records, consult "Confederate Research Sources" by James C. Neagles, recently published by Ancestry, Box 476, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110. It's available in a soft-bound edition for $14.50.
If you live near one of the 11 regional branches of the National Archives or an LDS (Mormon) Branch Genealogical Library, you can search many Civil War records that are available on microfilm at these repositories.
During the first two years of the war, many units mustered in for short periods--30 days to one year. After serving in a unit and being discharged, many men re-enlisted. If your ancestor was incapacitated but capable of performing some service, he may have been assigned to the Veterans Reserve Corps. These alphabetical indexes or records are available from National Archives and Salt Lake City's Genealogical Library.
In 1890, along with the population census schedules there was a special census taken of Union soldiers, sailors and Marines or their widows. Unfortunately, the schedules for the states alphabetically from Alabama to Kansas were destroyed and only about half of the schedules for Kentucky exist. Some extant schedules have been indexed and published by Accelerated Indexing Systems. They can be found at branch LDS (Mormon) Libraries.
If any of your veterans were prisoners of war, the National Archives has a file (M347) containing the names of Confederates in Union prisons and Federals in Confederate prisons.
Many men who lived in Southern and border states served in the Union army. There are many instances where a man served on both sides during this war.
Once you learn the regiment in which your ancestor served, consult the three-volume "Military Bibliography of the Civil War" by C. E. Dornbusch--check at your library reference desk or at a university library for this set. Under each state you will find references that chronicle the history of your ancestor's regiment. Obtain this historical information to complete your Civil War veteran's story.
For a beginner's how-to genealogy kit (with charts), send $4 (postage paid) and address your questions (please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope) to Myra Vanderpool Gormley, Box 64316, Tacoma, Wash. 98464.