U.S. Government Still Pays Two Civil War Pensions

Lauren Fox U.S. News & World Report
February 10, 2012

Despite the fact that the Civil War ended April 9, 1865 (53,630 days ago, for reference), the government is still paying out veterans’ pensions.

Records from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs show that two children of Civil War veterans, as of September, are receiving pensions from their fathers’ service.

Department of Veteran Affairs spokesman Phil Budahn says the VA last checked in on the benefits recipients in the fall. Both were alive, but in poor health.

Budahn says it’s likely that the children of the Civil War veterans, who have wished to remain anonymous, both had illnesses that prevented them from ever becoming self-sufficient..

Trevor Plante, a reference chief at the National Archives says it’s also possible that the beneficiaries were young when their fathers died and had no living mothers to care for them, which would also qualify them for their fathers’ pensions.

Plante says unlike current times, where pensions are granted to dependents based off military service numbers or social security numbers, in the late 19th century, people had to prove their connection to a deceased veteran by sending the government evidence of their relationship. Children, parents and spouses submitted photographs, love letters, marriage certificates, diaries and gifts to prove they were eligible for pensions.

"Genealogists love pension files because you never know what you are going to get. Civil War pensions are especially fascinating because of the wide array of things people submitted as evidence."

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, only Union soldiers were eligible for military benefits. It wasn’t until the 1930s that confederate soldiers began receiving pensions from the federal government. Prior to that, confederate soldiers could apply for benefits through the state they resided in.

The last verified Civil War veteran, Albert Woolson, died in 1956 at age 109. The last widow, Gertrude Janeway, died in 2003 at age 93.

Budhan says he respects the request for privacy, but would be fascinated to learn about the lives and memories of the last two people receiving pensions from the Civil War.

"I was hoping that someone would be able to talk to these folks," he says.

Copyright © 2012, Tribune Media Services

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