Mexican War Veteran Research

Introduction | Veterans' Organizations | Types of Records | Indexes to Records
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Types of Veteran Records

Although the majority of Mexican War veterans served in volunteer regiments raised by the several states, those organizations were all mustered into federal service. As a result, both volunteer and regular service records are on file in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. rather than in state archives. It was also the federal government, not the states, which awarded Mexican War veterans bounty land warrants as a reward for their service. Additionally, it was the federal government, rather than the states, to which veterans had to apply for disability pensions, widows pensions, orphans pensions, and service pensions. Consequently, there may be from one to three files relating to any given Mexican War veteran in the National Archives. The following is a brief description of what researchers might hope to find.

Military Service Files are of limited use to genealogists since they rarely contain papers which would be useful in establishing familial links. The files usually contain one or more cards stating the name of the soldier, his rank, the identifying letter, number, or name of the military organization to which he belonged and the date and place where he was mustered into service. The file might also reveal whether he was killed or wounded, died in service, or was discharged for disability or some other reason. Sometimes there is a physical description of the soldier (height, hair color, complexion, and so on) and his place of birth might also be stated. Some soldiers were offered a cash bounty for enlisting. Payment of the bounty may be recorded in the service file as well as payments for clothing, etc. The file's primary importance lies in establishing that the man was indeed a veteran. Of course, this information is vital for any person who wishes to apply for membership in The Descendants of Mexican War Veterans. The National Archives has produced an alphabetical index of Mexican War volunteer on microfilm as well as microfilm of the regular army enlistments, and marine corps and naval enlistments.

Veterans of the Mexican War were eligible, upon discharge, to receive a federal bounty land warrent redeemable for 160 acres of land anywhere in the United States. All the veteran had to do was send a request to the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., along with some proof of service, such as a discharge certificate. Sadly, unscrupulous land speculators preyed on young, uneducated veterans who probably did not realize the true worth of these warrants, purchasing them for as little as $25. Some received no money at all. A number of these speculators did business in New Orleans, where many regiments were mustered out of service. Copies of papers in the bounty land file should reveal whether or not the veteran sold his warrant or redeemed it. If the latter, the redeemed warrant may be among the papers in the file. The discharge certificate is also likely to be there. Both documents should be of interest to genealogists since the former will show where the veteran settled after the war and the latter not only gives a physical description of the soldier but also states his age and place of birth, information not always given in the service file. Unfortunately, there is no alphabetical index to these files available to researchers in the form of either microfilm or print.

Veterans who were disabled by illness, war wounds or service-connected injuries were eligible for a federal pension of half-pay (for a private this amounted to $3.50 per month) from the day they were discharged. Widows of men who were killed or died in service were also eligible. Children of deceased veterans could apply for an orphan's pension.

Service pensions were granted by an act of Congress approved January 29, 1887. Both veterans and widows were eligible for an $8 per month pension. After the turn of the century these were increased to $12, then $20 per month. It appears the majority of recipients applied within the first three years of the pension's availability. Applications were accepted until 1926.

Papers found in pension files are probably the most valuable to genealogists in terms of establishing relationships. They might also provide answers to long-held questions. Each applicant not only had to fill out a lengthy application but also had to back up his or her claim with affidavits from witnesses. Date and place of marriage, date and place of death, and former or present places of residence might be among the information these papers provide.

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