Using the Pennsylvania Civil War Deserters Database

This database allows users to search over 24,000 records in the Deserter Roster in a variety of ways. Searching by Name: this can be done on the main search page, or on the Advanced Search page, section 1. Names have been entered as they appear in the original source document. There may be spelling errors depending on the accuracy of the original. The Soldier Index retrieves all the entries in the database in alphabetical order. Note: this list can take 45-90 seconds to load.  

Advanced Search – READ FIRST

On the Advanced search users can search for individual soldiers by name, or search for groups of soldiers by various criteria (rank, occupation, etc…) and specify date limits on searches.

BEFORE selecting any search criteria users must go to Section 2 of the Advanced Search, click on the drop-down menu for the Country search box, and select Union. Searches in this section will not return any results if the user does not select Union in this search box. After selecting Union in the Country search box, users can choose to limit their searches in a variety of ways.  

Advanced Search for Regiments or Units

To search specific regiments and/or units in the Advanced Search, Section 2, users must first click on the State drop-down menu and select Pennsylvania. Once Pennsylvania has been selected in the State search box, the Regiment search box will be populated with all of the Pennsylvania military units contained in the roster. If users select a specific regiment to search, they also will have the option to click on the Unit search box and select a specific unit (company) within the regiment.  

Advanced Search – Births, Enlistments, & Desertions

In the Advanced Search Section 3, users can choose one of three events to search for within the Event drop-down search box: Born, Enlisted, Deserted. When users select one of the three available events, additional search boxes will appear, allowing users to narrow their event search by Country, State, County/Township, City/Town, and Place/Address in which the selected event occurred. Users can further limit their search in this section by choosing custom start and end dates.  

Once Union has been selected in the Country drop-down menu in Section 2 and any other search parameters have been selected, users must go to Section 4 and click on the Search button.  

A few notes about the data

  • Birthdates are typically estimated based on the enlistment date. Because birthdates are estimated, they are not associated with a rank, regiment or unit. This means that users cannot search for “Born” as an event in Section 3 in conjunction with Rank, Branch, Regiment, or Unit criteria from Section 2. It is possible to search “Born” as an Event in Section 3 in combination with the Occupation field in Section 2, but only if the user does not select “Pennsylvania” in the State drop-down menu.
  • Occupations - some effort was made to combine variant spellings. Selecting “cigarmaker” will retrieve results for cigar-maker and “segar maker”.
  • Placenames - some effort was made to standardize spellings. Selecting Pittsburgh will also retrieve entries where the location was spelled “Pittsburg”. Entries believed to be erroneous can be compared to the Original - look for the Original Source link on individual soldier records. 

The Browse Locations page allows users to browse all of the locations where soldiers in this roster are recorded as having been born, enlisted, and deserted.

For more information or for questions about the People's Contest project, contact Matt Isham at or Eric Novotny at

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