The Distillation of Pension Law in Nineteenth-Century Print Publications

“United States Pension Office, New York, NY,” Courtesy of House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College, http://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/45047.

By Moyra Schauffler

In the November 1863 inaugural issue of the Sanitary Commission Bulletin, the narrator of the “Introduction” identified a key intention of the bimonthly publication. After a detailed, self-congratulatory prelude that noted the critical role of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) in assisting the federal army in organizing and providing donated goods for men serving the Union in the Civil War, the narrator explained how the Bulletin was going to assist both soldiers in the field and their families on the home front:

“We purpose to make the BULLETIN the place where all information necessary to soldiers or to soldiers’ families is to be found. Who are entitled to bounties and pensions, and how to procure them at the least expense; how our prisoners of war in the enemies’ hands may be communicated with; how to get convalescents or sick men home; everything about the burial of the dead; these and similar questions will be carefully and reliably answered in our columns.”[1]

According to the USSC writers, the Bulletin was going to be a widely-circulated publication that included highly practical information for its readers. This section of the introduction clearly stated that soldiers and their dependents at home could use the newspaper to learn how to navigate the complex, ever-changing pension system, as well as constructive tips on communicating with imprisoned loved ones, transporting injured soldiers home, and finding and burying the dead.

The most striking aspect of this paragraph is the USSC’s recognition that soldiers and family members were going to need assistance in understanding and maneuvering the pension system. Developed during the Civil War and throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, this system represented an early opportunity for Americans of diverse backgrounds to engage with the federal legal system. Given that this engagement was unfamiliar, nineteenth-century print culture offered a point of access to understanding a system that regularly changed and was discriminatory towards people of color, women, and those of lower socioeconomic status.

One strategy for distilling pension law employed by both the New York Times and the Sanitary Commission Bulletin was to condense the long, convoluted text of the original law into a clear, easily digestible list. This was a particularly useful format for communicating the major changes to pension law created by An Act to grant Pensions, which Congress passed on July 14, 1862. Broadly, this law stated that any soldier or officer in the Union army who had suffered an injury or contracted a disease while serving was eligible for a federal pension at a rate correspondent to his rank. Additionally, if the soldier or officer died as a result of his injury or disease, the law permitted compensation for unmarried widows, legitimate children, dependent mothers, and orphaned sisters. While the rest of the law covered important topics such as when pensions were awarded, the process for accessing pensions, and definitions of and penalties for pension fraud, eligibility was the core of the 1862 law.[2]

The first section of An Act to grant Pensions illustrates why publications transformed the information into a list rather than simply publish the text of the law. The original text read:

“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That if any officer, non-commissioned officer, musician, or private of the army, including regulars, volunteers, and militia, or any officer, warrant, or petty officer, musician, seaman, ordinary seaman, flotilla-man, marine, clerk, landsman, pilot, or other person in the navy or marine corps, has been, since the fourth day of March, eighteen hundred and sixty-one, or shall hereafter be, disabled by reason of any wound received or disease contracted while in the service of the United States, and in the line of duty, he shall, upon making due proof of the fact according to such forms and regulations as are or may be provided by or in pursuance of law, be placed upon the list of invalid pensions of the United States, and be entitled to receive, for the highest rate of disability, such pension as is hereinafter provided in such cases, and for an inferior disability an amount proportionate to the highest disability, to commence as hereinafter provided, and continue during the existence of such disability.”[3]

The very structure of this paragraph, one long sentence that communicates multiple ideas, would have been unfriendly to many readers. Additionally, words such as “pursuance” and “commence” among others used in the first portion of this law likely fell outside of mid-nineteenth vernacular.[4] When many of the laws passed by Congress had little impact on Americans of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, this language would have been of little importance. However, as the law clearly pertained to wounded or diseased Union soldiers from the lowliest private or musician to the highest-ranking officer, the accessibility of language was imperative.

Although the New York Times and the Sanitary Commission Bulletin differed in many ways, their coverage of An Act to grant Pensions included a list of eligible pensioners at the beginning of their articles and in a similar order to how they appear in the law. In an August 12, 1862 article entitled “Army Pensions: Instructions and Forms to be Observed in Applying for Them, Under the Act of July 14, 1862,” the New York Times used this strategy. The beginning of the article read: “Under the act of Congress approved July 14, 1862, pensions are granted to the following classes of persons: “I. Invalids, disabled since March 4, 1861, in the military or naval service of the United States, in the line of duty.”[5] The simplicity of this statement is striking when placed alongside the original text of the law. In one short line, the Times successfully summarized the large portion of the Union army affected by this legislation. The article then included a list of the information found in sections two through four of the Act, all of which outlined the tiered eligibility of widows, children, mothers, and sisters. For example, the section on children’s eligibility read: “III. Children, under sixteen years of age, of such deceased persons, if there is no widow surviving, or from the time of the widow’s remarriage.”[6] Interestingly, while the widow’s and children’s eligibilities were combined in the original text of the law, the Times divided them into separate sections, thus making the list even more explicit.

Like the New York Times, the Sanitary Commission Bulletin also listed each group that could collect a pension. In an article in the December 15, 1863 issue entitled “Pensions, Furloughs, and Backpay,” brief descriptions of soldiers, widows, children, mothers, and sisters appeared after Roman numerals. In fact, the list in the Bulletin appears to be an exact copy of the list in the Times. Both included the same introduction and identical descriptions of lawful pensioners. Additionally, like the Times, the third description in the list pertained to children of deceased soldiers: “III. CHILDREN, under sixteen years of age, of such deceased persons, if there is no widow surviving, or from the time of the widow’s remarriage.” The Bulletin even split the description of widow’s and children’s eligibility in the same way as the Times.[7] Although knowing why the Bulletin published an identical version of the Times’s list of eligible pensioners is impossible, the two publications were produced in the same city, meaning a USSC member likely saw the preceding Times article and thought it was an effective distillation of An Act to grant Pensions.

By listing eligibility in the order in which an individual could claim it, the Times and the Bulletin streamlined the process of comprehending the law. One can imagine each article being read by a range of readers, from wealthy, highly literate officers and their families, to poor, barely literate privates and their dependents. Furthermore, the list would have also been friendly to those reading the text aloud to illiterate audiences. One does not get lost in complex words and long legalistic sentences. Overall, the language is simple, the structure is clear, and each communicates the same information found in the law’s original text. Thus, while employing slightly different information in addition to the same text in some places, the writers at the New York Times and the Sanitary Commission Bulletin increased the accessibility to An Act to grant Pensions in the months after the law’s passage.

[1] “Introduction,” The Sanitary Commission Bulletin 1, no. 1 (November 1, 1863): 2, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/njp.32101018043412.

[2]An Act to grant Pensions,” July 14, 1862, Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/law/help/statutes-at-large/37th-congress/session-2/c37s2ch166.pdf.

[3]An Act to grant Pensions,” July 14, 1862.

[4] For a useful study on nineteenth-century reading and access to print publications, see David M. Henkin, City Reading: Written Words and Public Spaces in Antebellum New York (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).

[5] “Army Pensions: Instructions and Forms to be Observed in Applying for Them, Under the Act of July 14, 1862,” New York Times, August 12, 1862, ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Pensions, Furloughs, and Back Pay,” The Sanitary Commission Bulletin 1, no. 4 (December 15, 1863): 126, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/njp.32101018043412.

Reconstructing Manhood with Prostheses: The Story of Brigadier General William Francis Bartlett

(Image of Daniel Chester French’s bust of William Francis Bartlett courtesy of Harvard University Portrait Collection)

By Moyra Schauffler

Amputation was perhaps the most infamous type of destruction inflicted during the Civil War. It not only left soldiers with ghastly wounds permanently “broken,” it also forced them to return home incomplete men. Injured soldiers’ wounds were evidence of bravery, an important male characteristic, but the after-effects of amputation such as physical imperfection, difficulty moving, and the inability to complete tasks independently interfered with masculinity. With negative implications on an amputee’s ability to fulfill male-gendered expectations such as soldiering, marriage, and earning a living to support family at stake, the prosthesis industry stepped in to reconstruct amputee veterans’ bodies by restoring them to natural symmetry.[1] The case of Brigadier General William Francis Bartlett, who was severely wounded in the leg, survived an above-knee amputation, returned to leading soldiers while wearing a prosthesis within months of his injury, and went on to participate in some of the war’s most notorious battles clearly demonstrates the critical role prostheses played in reconstructing both soldiers’ bodies and their manhood.

On April 24, 1862, William Francis Bartlett, a captain in the Twentieth Massachusetts Infantry, was wounded near Yorktown, Virginia. In his diary, which Francis Winthrop Palfrey, a comrade of Bartlett’s, quoted in his work Memoir of William Francis Bartlett (1878), Bartlett reported that a Confederate sharpshooter, “…hit me in the knee with a minié ball, shattering the bone down to my ankle. Dr. Hayward amputated it four inches above the knee, and I started for Baltimore in the same afternoon.”[2] After commenting on the nonchalant nature with which Bartlett described his severe wound, Palfrey went on to recount the incident and add his own assessment of the effects of his friend’s injury and amputation:

He was carried to the rear on a stretcher very soon after he received the wound, and the operation was performed at once. The writer was with him all the time. He looked up once and said, ‘It’s rough Frank, isn’t it?’ and this was the solitary word of complaint that escaped him. His fine, slender figure had by this time filled out to be a magnificent specimen of manly vigor, and it was pitiful to see it so maimed.[3]

Palfrey’s commentary on Bartlett’s injury and amputation provides a clear example of how nineteenth-century Americans viewed the impact of limb loss on a man. After he ensured the reader that his account of the incident was credible because he was present for its entirety, Palfrey commented on implications of Bartlett’s amputation. He first referenced the strength with which Bartlett endured the intense pain he likely experienced, but then alluded to the tragic effects on Bartlett’s manhood. He described Bartlett’s pre-amputation body as a “magnificent specimen of manly vigor,” thus linking complete physical form with the ideal man. He then lamented the minié ball’s maiming of Bartlett because it disrupted the ideal the soldier had, but clearly no longer, exemplified.

Within weeks of his injury, Captain Bartlett demonstrated a commitment to reconstructing the manhood that amputation threatened by indicating that he had every intention of getting back to fighting. He achieved his goal of returning to the army when he was offered command of Camp Briggs in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on September 6, 1862, roughly five months after his amputation. While he trained soldiers at Camp Briggs, Bartlett used crutches to move around, but was lauded for completing tasks such as teaching musketry without his walking aids. Soon after he was elected colonel of a new regiment, the Forty-ninth Massachusetts Volunteers, Bartlett began wearing an artificial leg.[4]

In his memoir of Bartlett, Palfrey gives the reader a sense of his friend’s miraculous recovery. He detailed the increased responsibility Bartlett held as a colonel, all while his regiment moved south from Massachusetts, to New York, and eventually Louisiana. From the fall of 1862 through the spring of 1863, Bartlett endured a tumultuous boat voyage south, commanded troops in battle, survived typhoid fever, and was wounded two more times in a battle at Port Hudson that almost cost him an arm, all while wearing his prosthetic leg.[5] Bartlett’s return to the war is striking in its normalcy. The account Palfrey put together, which includes correspondence written by Bartlett, seemed to detail the life of an officer who had four functioning limbs because the colonel was not at all inhibited by his disability.

This same sense of normalcy continued when Bartlett, named a colonel of the Fifty-Seventh Massachusetts Infantry after the Forty-Ninth disbanded, proceeded to Virginia in the spring of 1864 after recovering from his wounds for several months in Massachusetts.[6] Like in Louisiana, Bartlett moved with his troops, commanded them in battle, and was wounded yet again at the Wilderness, this time close to his temple. Although his wound was not severe, he also injured his stump and was unable to wear his prosthetic leg.[7] The spring of 1864 continued similarly for Bartlett. Notably, he fought in The Crater on July 30th, the infamous battle in which Union forces detonated explosives in a tunnel under Confederate lines around Petersburg, Virginia, and his wooden leg was shattered by a large “bowlder of clay” that killed the man next to him. Although he survived the encounter, he was captured by Confederates.[8] While a prisoner, Bartlett suffered from dysentery and struggled without his prosthesis, but was eventually released from Libby Prison Hospital in late September 1864. Bartlett spent the remainder of the war, from October 1864 to April 1865 convalescing at his home in Winthrop, Massachusetts.[9]

William Francis Bartlett’s remarkable service record demonstrates the lengths he was able to go to prove his manhood after his amputation in the spring of 1862. By wearing a prosthetic leg, he was able to return to the army and prove his masculinity by fighting, being wounded, and surviving in some of the Civil War’s most nightmarish locales. His testimonial of his artificial leg, which was designed by Dr. Benjamin Palmer, concisely summed up his extensive and turbulent war experience following amputation. In an 1865 Palmer advertising pamphlet, Bartlett spoke to the merits of his artificial leg:

Dear Sir: I have now used the Palmer Leg (full length) for more than two years. During most of that time I have been on active duty in the field. It has stood the severe test of campaigning, exposure to all weathers, and constant use in the saddle, admirably; not better than I had hoped, but far better than I expected. I have never been kept off duty an hour by any fault in its mechanism.[10]

Like his brief description of the severe wound he experienced in Yorktown, Bartlett’s description of his post-amputation service lacks significant detail about the trauma he suffered while wearing the leg. He failed to mention his multiple wounds and the ill-fate of his first prosthesis at The Crater. Without going into detail, the testimonial displayed the range of soldiering tasks he could complete with the Palmer leg. Bartlett highlighted his ability to return to active duty, campaign, spend significant time outside, and ride horses with the prosthesis. This list would have ensured potential Palmer customers that despite missing part or all of a limb, an artificial replacement made classic male-gendered tasks achievable.

Ultimately, the story of Brigadier General William Francis Bartlett and his prosthesis sheds light on several key aspects of the Civil War and its aftermath for the soldiers who fought in it. First, Bartlett’s multiple injuries speak to the intense suffering and destruction the war wrought on those fighting in it. His survival of injuries to his leg, wrist, and head, as well as dysentery while in a Confederate prison hospital is miraculous in itself. Second, Bartlett’s ability to achieve martial success through promotion from captain to brigadier general despite losing a leg demonstrates the important role his prosthesis played in reconstructing the masculinity Francis Winthrop Palfrey thought he had lost when his leg was amputated four inches above the knee. Finally, Bartlett’s emphasis on his soldiering duties in a testimonial to the brand of prosthetic leg he used shows that the role of a prosthesis was as much about assisting an amputee in regaining the ability to fill expected masculine roles as it was about replacing a lost limb.

[1] Megan Kate Nelson, Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2012), 188-227.

[2] Francis Winthrop Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett (Cambridge: The Riverdale Press, 1878), 40-41, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/uc1.$b309757.

[3] Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, 41.

[4] Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, 51-54.

[5] Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, 56-82.

[6] Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, 94-98.

[7] Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, 101-102.

[8] Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, 119-121.

[9] Palfrey, Memoir of William Francis Bartlett, 128-148.

[10] Benjamin Franklin Palmer, The Palmer Arm and Leg, Adopted for the U.S. Army and Navy, By the Surgeon-General, U.S.A. and by the Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, U.S.N. (Philadelphia: C. Sherman and Son, printer, 1865), The National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, Maryland, 30.

Reviewed: Aberration of Mind by Diane Miller Sommerville

(Photo courtesy of the University of North Carolina Press website)

By Moyra Schauffler

Sommerville, Diane Miller. Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War-Era South. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2018. Pp. 448. $34.95.

In her new monograph, Aberration of Mind: Suicide and Suffering in the Civil War-Era South, Diane Miller Sommerville explores the psychological impacts of the Civil War and its aftermath on the population of the American South. The author examines cases of suicidal behavior that include successful and failed suicide attempts, suicidal ideation, as well as fantasies about and wishes for death. This expanded definition, coupled with Sommerville’s analysis of Confederate men and women, as well as enslaved and emancipated African Americans results in a thoroughly detailed study of the intense suffering Southerners experienced in the second half of the nineteenth century. She persuasively argues that the pervasive suffering of the Southern population during and after the Civil War catalyzed a more empathetic and heroic view of suicide that by the end of the nineteenth century became a pillar of Lost Cause ideology in the former Confederacy.

Although historians have previously examined the psychological effects of the Civil War on the soldiers who fought in it, Aberration of Mind is the first to exclusively study suicidal behavior.[1] The text is one of the recent additions to the “new-revisionist” historiography of Civil War scholarship. Within this line of study, scholars are taking what Yael Sternhell calls an “emphatic antiwar stance” and placing new emphasis on the darker aspects of the Civil War.[2] Drew Gilpin Faust’s influential This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008) examines how the extreme number of casualties produced by the conflict changed Northern and Southern Americans’ perceptions of and reactions to death. Subsequently, in Ruin Nation: Destruction and the American Civil War (2012), Megan Kate Nelson looks at different kinds of destruction, that of cities, homes, natural environments, and soldiers, to determine how Americans North and South reacted to the war’s intense physical devastation. Another study of exclusively Southerners, Brian Craig Miller’s Empty Sleeves: Amputation in the Civil War South (2015), explores the meaning of amputation for former Confederates. Sommerville’s contribution adds a new dimension to this historiography as it is the first study that focuses on suicidal behavior as a distinct type of suffering experienced by Southern soldiers and civilians in the Civil War Era.

The organization of Aberration of Mind ensures that Sommerville devotes space to the gender, class, and racial dynamics of suicidal behavior during the Civil War Era. This commitment to examining suicidal behavior among free, enslaved, and newly emancipated Southerners leads to an organization that she calls “more asymmetrical and unconventional than is ideal” due to an uneven source base for the different groups that comprise her study.[3] For this reason, the work begins with a section on Confederate men and women during the war, moves on to a set of chapters on African Americans during slavery and following emancipation, then includes another section on Confederate men and women in the post-war period, and concludes with a chapter on the changing cultural conceptions of suicide in the South throughout the nineteenth century. Despite the unconventional organization, Sommerville successfully accords attention to understudied groups such as African Americans, women, and children in the war-torn South.

Diane Miller Sommerville is forthright about the abundant challenges facing a historian researching suicide in the nineteenth century American South. A lack of statistical data kept by states before and after the Civil War, as well as dismal record keeping by the Confederate government, makes a quantitative approach to analyzing suicide among Southerners impossible. Instead, she uses Southern newspapers, like the New Orleans Courier and the Macon Telegraph, records from asylums like the Western Lunatic Asylum of Virginia and the South Carolina State Hospital, as well as personal letters, diaries, and the few available military records. These sources offer vital information about singular cases of suicide that assist Sommerville in identifying suicidal patterns across the South. Additionally, Sommerville’s expanded definition of suicide creates a broad analytical framework which she uses to expand her source base with personal documents and medical records that allude to suicidal thoughts and behavior instead of sources that only focus on completed suicides.

In her analysis of primary sources, Sommerville uses modern studies of trauma in war zones of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries to reinforce her conclusions. Integral to her argument is that violence, physical destruction, and economic devastation caused white and black Southerners to experience increased psychological stress during and after the Civil War. Although there is no data on the nineteenth century American South that supports her claim, Sommerville accepts modern sociological, psychological, neurobiological, and medical research that details the symptoms of trauma in war zones. To support her interpretation of Southern sources, Sommerville cites studies such as Frank Biess’s Homecomings: Returning POWs and the Legacies of Defeat in Postwar Germany (2006) because they provide insight on how other societies grappled with losing war and on the psychological impacts felt by a parallel set of soldiers and civilians. While this choice has the potential to be controversial, she skillfully avoids overstepping and diagnosing Southerners who engaged in suicidal behavior with modern conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. By applying modern scientific studies and using secondary literature of conflicts other than the Civil War, Sommerville finds new meaning in available nineteenth century sources.

Ultimately, Sommerville persuasively concludes that Southern perceptions of suicide evolved over the course of the nineteenth century. She clearly illustrates the transition of Southerners’ conception of suicide as a Christian mortal sin to a more sympathetic and compassionate outlook. Her exploration and analysis of white Southerners’ references to the economic, psychological, and physical trauma during the war reinforce this interpretation. She is clear to emphasize, however, that this evolving understanding of suicide did not apply to African Americans. Instead, enslaved and emancipated black Southerners’ suicides were denied in the antebellum and postbellum years because Southern whites believed African Americans too inferior to experience the complex emotions associated with self-murder and too cowardly to successfully kill themselves. Moreover, in instances in which an African American’s suicide was irrefutable, white Southerners diagnosed them with mania, which was associated with extreme insanity, rather than the superior, “civilized” diagnosis of melancholia, which was almost exclusively applied to white suicides. Over the course of the postwar period then, as suicide in the South became an example of ex-Confederate heroism, African Americans were continuously denied the recognition of psychological trauma wrought by slavery, war, and post-emancipation struggles.

Diane Miller Sommerville has made a significant contribution to the historiography of the Civil War Era South with Aberration of Mind. Her impressive and even-handed treatment of all elements of the Southern population cuts across gender, race, and class lines. Her prose is clear, engaging, and readable for an educated audience; readers with both familiarity and little experience with the history of this era will appreciate her work. While this text successfully and extensively explores suicide and suicidal behavior in the South, there is no similar study of Northern civilians, soldiers, and veterans. Such a study would allow for comparison between the two regions, and in turn, lead to a balanced understanding of the intense psychological trauma caused by the Civil War and its turbulent aftermath that Sommerville has begun in Aberration of Mind.

[1] See for example, Eric Dean, Shook Over Hell: Post-Traumatic Stress, Vietnam, and the Civil War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).

[2] Yael A. Sternhell, “Revisionism Reinvented?: The Antiwar Turn in Civil War Scholarship,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 3, no. 2 (2013), 242.

[3] Sommerville, Aberration of the Mind, 17.

With Malice Toward None and Charity for All: The Pennsylvania Memorial Home and the Care of Civil War Veterans and Their Families

 

By Moyra Schauffler (@moschauffs)

If you follow current events, one of the consistent stories penetrating American news outlets is the state of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). A simple search for recent articles about the VA comes up with a disturbing number of negative stories about the care of American veterans. As someone whose research interests include Civil War veterans, I can see more than a few parallels between challenges faced by soldiers of the nineteenth century and today, which is a bit unsettling. For this reason, I was struck that the agency’s Mission Statement is: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.”[1] Lincoln’s words, famously from his second inaugural address on March 4, 1865, come from the final, extended statement meant to reinvigorate the Union’s support for the bloody conflict that had raged since 1861:

With malice toward none, charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in, to bind the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.[2]

While Lincoln’s words pertaining to aiding soldiers, their widows, and their orphans are moving, they do not reflect the post-Civil War practice of government officials or opinions of the northern public. The Woman’s Relief Corps (WRC), an auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), however, did answer Lincoln’s call by opening a facility in Brookville, Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Memorial Home (PMH), which opened its doors to old soldiers, their wives, widows, and orphans in 1890 met the President’s expectation for post-war care.

The origin of today’s Department of Veteran Affairs is the nineteenth century National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (NHDVS). Although an early home existed for disabled Mexican War and regular army veterans before the Civil War, it was not until the unprecedented number of wounded Union men came home that Congress recognized a need for facilities to assist in the care of disabled veterans. By the 1870s, a network of homes existed under the auspices of the NHDVS. Early on, the requirements for entrance into these homes stated that a veteran had to have obtained an injury or contracted a disease while serving in the Union Army and, because of these ailments, caused difficulties for their families. As veterans aged, however, Congress recognized that the national homes needed to accept more veterans, which in turn led to more facilities, but also overcrowding of the existing ones. In the 1880s, Congress expanded the eligibility for the NHDVS, which led men with varying war time experience as well as different social standings to receive the same level of care. Although these homes provided adequate and necessary care for disabled and elderly veterans, their families were ineligible to receive the same benefits.[3] By opening the Pennsylvania Memorial Home in 1890, the Woman’s Relief Corps met the needs of veterans who were struggling, but wanted to remain with their families.

In descriptions of the Pennsylvania Memorial Home in late-nineteenth century newspapers and reports of the Woman’s Relief Corps and Grand Army of the Republic, the facility was often introduced as one for soldiers and their families in need. This is significant because of the lack of other facilities like it in the federal and state systems of soldiers’ homes. For example, in an October 1891 article about an early fundraiser for the PMH, the Pittsburg Dispatch wrote, “The Memorial Home at Brookville (Pa.), Jefferson County, established by the Woman’s Relief Corps about two years ago for needy old soldiers, their wives, their widows and orphans, is the first home of that kind in the world.”[4] While there is no evidence that the newspaper is correct in identifying the home was the first of its kind in the world, the claim of the PMH as a groundbreaking institution, which by the end of 1894 included thirty-four inhabitants, makes sense when placed in the context of the national network of veterans’ homes in the late-nineteenth century.[5]

While the National Home benefitted from federal funding, the Pennsylvania Memorial Home relied on state appropriations, local fundraisers, private donations, and inhabitants’ pensions to operate. After the PMH opened, the state of Pennsylvania appropriated $5,000 for its maintenance and $10,000 to assist in paying off the building’s mortgage. The condition, however, was that the WRC had to raise an amount close to $10,000 to contribute towards liquidation of the debt.[6] Despite receiving these and subsequent appropriations from the state, the women running the PMH had to expend unceasing effort to provide for the veterans and their families living at the facility.

Their largest documented fundraiser was a week-long fair in Pittsburgh in April 1892 that was speculated to have raised $1000 to be contributed towards the debt. Although well short of the Relief Corps’ goal of $2,000, the fair received positive press coverage.[7] Through other fundraisers such as cookbook sales and donations from WRC members across Pennsylvania, the WRC eventually accomplished their goal. By February 1900, the women in charge of the PMH had successfully paid off the facility’s debt. A Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania, newspaper included an article from the Brookville Democrat celebrating the accomplishment that read:

This is good news. To raise the money has caused much anxiety and labor. The women of the Relief Corps are entitled to the greater part of the credit for bringing about this desirable result. This Home is a noble charity, and the Woman’s Relief Corps may well be proud of it, for it is their creation.[8]

The WRC fundraising for the PMH and eventual achievement of financial freedom in the service of veterans and their families constitutes a unique and highly significant development. The result, was a home, run by private citizens with funding from state budgets and individual donors that more successfully answered Lincoln’s call to action than did any of the NHDVS homes.

The Pennsylvania Memorial Home is a challenging piece of history to research because its paper trail is thin. The home’s official records are incomplete and missing from the local history center in Brookville, meaning that the majority of information about it comes from newspaper accounts covering the home when it operated as opposed to accounts and data from the people that operated it and those who lived there. Despite this gap in the available information about the home, one can still appreciate the noble work of the Woman’s Relief Corps in running this facility when it is juxtaposed with the National Home for Disable Volunteer Soldiers. The NHDVS also carried out noble work, but as the precursor to today’s Department of Veterans Affairs, whose Mission Statement explicitly includes care for the families of American veterans, it fell well short of the work of courageous, compassionate, and business-minded women volunteers at the Pennsylvania Memorial Home.

[1] “About VA,” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, accessed December 6, 2018, https://www.va.gov/ABOUT_VA/index.asp.

[2] Abraham Lincoln, “Second Inaugural Address,” The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy, Yale University Law School, accessed December 6, 2018, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lincoln2.asp.

[3] Patrick J. Kelly, Creating a National Home: Building the Veterans’ Welfare State, 1860-1900 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), 3-5.

[4] “The Brookville Memorial Home,” Pittsburg Dispatch (Pittsburgh, PA), October 25, 1891, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84024546/1891-10-25/ed-1/seq-19.

[5] “The Memorial Home,” The Star (Reynoldsville, PA), July 31, 1895, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87078321/1895-07-31/ed-1/seq-5.

[6] “The Brookville Memorial Home,” Pittsburg Dispatch (Pittsburgh, PA), October 25, 1891.

[7] Pittsburg Dispatch (Pittsburgh, PA), April 26, 1892, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress, http://chronclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84024546/ed-1/seq-4.

[8] “Memorial Home Free of Debt,” The Star (Reynoldsville, PA), February 21, 1900, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87078321/1900-02-21/ed-1/seq-4.

Reviewed: Marching Home by Brian Matthew Jordan

Jordan, Brian Matthew. Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War. New York: Liveright, 2014. Pp. 384. $28.95.

(Review by Moyra Schauffler)

Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War by Brian Matthew Jordan details the longstanding challenges Civil War veterans faced upon returning home. As they transitioned from army life to the civilian life, veterans of the Union army faced a new series of battles that required them to fight for what they felt entitled to in the form of care, pensions, and respect, and fight against both the federal government and an increasingly disinterested northern public. Jordan argues that these challenges deeply divided veterans, who remained angry about the crimes committed by former Confederates, from a government and northern population that prioritized postwar reconciliation.

The significance of Marching Home is clear when placed in the context of the historiography of Civil War veterans. Jordan identifies previous historians’ recycling what he calls the “hibernation thesis” laid out by Gerald F. Linderman in Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War (1989). Jordan writes, “According to Linderman, Union veterans permitted their ‘martial past’ to simply fade away. They ‘hibernated’ for decades after the war, only to reemerge in the late nineteenth century as nostalgic heroes – cherished heirlooms who willingly relinquished to their former enemies the war’s meaning and legacy.”[1] Throughout his work, Jordan consistently rejects that Union veterans quietly moved on from the war throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, and that they romantically reemerged at century’s end as old heroes.

Jordan identifies pieces of the historiography of Civil War veterans that also reject the hibernation thesis but maintains that they lack the deep analysis of former Union soldiers’ experiences present in Marching Home. Stuart McConnell’s Glorious Contentment: The Grand Army of the Republic, 1865-1900 (1992), for example, identifies how Union veterans banded together in the postwar years through the most popular national veterans’ organization, the Grand Army of the Republic. Additionally, James Marten’s Sing Not War: The Lives of Union & Confederate Veterans in Gilded Age America (2011) also rejects the hibernation thesis, but it juxtaposes the challenging experiences of Union veterans with the revered nature of Confederate veterans during the era of the Lost Cause, the South’s reinterpretation of its noble fight on behalf of state’s rights. These two valuable contributions provide important support for Jordan’s presentation of Union veterans’ challenges, while also leaving room for Marching Home to make a significant impact on this historiography through its analysis of Union veterans as a self-reliant population who maintained wartime camaraderie, lived with physical and psychological injuries, and managed addictions and poverty.

Rather than writing chronologically, Jordan organized Marching Home thematically with chapter names from Homer’s Odyssey, alluding to the epic journey undertaken by veterans in the months and years following Appomattox. Beginning with a portrayal of the Grand Review, which took place in Washington on May 23 and 24, 1865, that presents this patriotic celebration as aimed towards the northern public more than the veterans it claimed to celebrate, Jordan describes the chaotic and challenging mustering out process. The enormity of Union forces at the end of the war caused varying timelines for troop demobilization which frustrated many veterans, and even caused some to desert before receiving their muster-out papers. Jordan goes on to detail the immediate difficulties veterans confronted as they returned home. These difficulties largely stemmed from a Revolutionary Era civilian distrust of standing armies which was exacerbated by the unprecedented numbers of veterans returning from the Civil War. This distrust led to fraught relations between the general public and the veterans, who were dismayed and outraged at the lack of sympathy.

As this chasm opened between civilians and veterans, incidents of disorderly conduct, alcoholism, and vagrancy on the part of veterans only widened it. The unwillingness of the federal government to acknowledge the service of all veterans in the form of pensions frustrated former soldiers. Jordan details how former soldiers combatted the isolation caused by the tension with the northern public and lack of support from the government by banding together in the form of veterans’ organizations, veterans’ newspapers, and the writing of regimental histories. While confronting what we know today as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe wartime injuries such as amputated limbs, and the complex pension system, these forms of support proved essential for veterans to process the results of the war and navigate the unabating challenges of the post-war period. Jordan ends Marching Home by detailing the changing perception of Union veterans following the end of the first World War and the Great Depression. He explains that at this point, the old Union veterans filled the country’s “need of nostalgia” and were “no longer menacing reminders of the nation’s rift, [but] heroic symbols of what turned out to be a monumental turning point in American history.”[2]

One of the many strengths of Marching Home is the extensive primary source research conducted by Jordan to elucidate Union veterans’ “unending civil war.” His use of Union veterans’ newspapers, for example, is a fascinating window into a type of publication that emerged because of the deep divide between Union veterans and the civilian population whose purpose was to support their ailing readership. Two early examples include the Soldier’s Friend and the Great Republic. These newspapers and their nationwide counterparts ran stories that emphasized the unapologetic nature of former Confederates, allowed veterans to place advertisements looking for lost comrades, and included personal war stories contributed by veterans. Jordan illuminates the therapeutic nature of writing about one’s personal wartime experiences, as evidenced by the newspapers. One example he cites is a competition held by the Soldier’s Friend that called for essay submissions on patriotic themes written using the left hand from previously right-handed soldiers who had lost their right arms during the war. The submissions offered hundreds of veterans the opportunity to process their injuries and the trauma of war in a communal and supportive environment. The impeccable research and strong analysis of this primary source, along with many others, is one more indicator of the importance of Marching Home.

 Brian Matthew Jordan successfully argues that Union veterans’ fight continued after the official end of the Civil War. By detailing the ways in which the northern public and the federal government disregarded the physical, emotional, and financial struggles of Union veterans in favor of reconciliation with the former Confederate states, Jordan proves that a deep divide existed between those who fought and those who remained on the home front, which continued to expand well into the twentieth century. Jordan satisfactorily shows that, to fill this divide, Union veterans found ways to maintain their wartime camaraderie in the form of fraternal orders, publications, and regimental reunions to fill the space opened by a disinterested public and government. The result of this well-articulated argument is a monograph that paints a new picture of the post-Civil War Union veteran experience.

Despite the depth of Marching Home’s analysis of Union veterans, a noticeable void is the contributions of women caring for veterans. For example, Jordan omits the work of the Woman’s Relief Corps, an auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic which maintained a network of veterans’ homes that included space for families, communicated with government bureaucracy on behalf of veterans, and raised money for disabled and deceased former soldiers and their dependents. This omission further demonstrates the need for more scholarship on the contributions of women’s organizations to the care of Civil War veterans. Ultimately, Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War is an excellent book for those interested in what the aftermath of the Civil War looked like for a largely romanticized, and by extension forgotten, group of men that was forced to navigate the complexity of a rapidly changing United States, while still nursing the many different forms of wounds left by war.

[1] Jordan, Brian Matthew, Marching Home: Union Veterans and Their Unending Civil War (New York: Liveright, 2014), 2.

[2] Jordan, Marching Home, 199-201.