History of the Military Pension
South Carolina Genealogy Trails
Transcribed by Dena Thomason-Whitesell
 

The inauguration of a military pension system by the government of the United States followed closely upon the Declaration of Independence, the first national pension law bearing date of August 26, 1776. Such a system was in full accord with over a century of colonial legislation and practice. (History of Military Pension Legislattion in the U.S., by William Henry Glasson, Ph.B, 1900, pg. 12)

An act of March 3, 1865, broadened the construction of the act of 1862 in the interest of the children of deceased officers and soldiers." Where a widow should die or marry without payment to her of any part of a pension to which she was entitled, it provided that the pension should go to the child or children under sixteen years of age, just as in cases where there was no widow. If the pension had been paid to the widow, the child or children were, in case of her death or remarriage, to succeed to the pension until they severally attained the age of sixteen years. The second of the increase acts was that of July 25, 1866. Its main object was the relief of widows who had large families dependent upon them for support. Pensions of such widows were increased at the rate of two dollars per month for each child of the deceased soldier or sailor under the age of sixteen years. Where there was no widow living and entitled to a pension, and there was more than one child, the children were granted a pension equal in amount to that which, under the circumstances, would have been allowed to a widow. (History of Military Pension Legislattion in the U.S., by William Henry Glasson, Ph.B, 1900, pg 79)

Previous legislation was had left the order of precedence of dependent relatives in the receipt of pensions somewhat indefinite, and declaratory legislation on the question was needed. This was supplied by the first section of the act of 1868, which gave precedence to dependent relatives of deceased soldiers leaving neither widow nor child " in the following order, namely: first, mothers; secondly, fathers; thirdly, orphan brothers or sisters under sixteen years of age," who were to be pensioned jointly if there was more than one. Where the dependent mother and father were both living, the father was given the right to succeed to the pension on the death of the mother. And, upon the death of the father and mother, the dependent brothers and sisters under sixteen years of age were given joint title to the pension until they attained the age of sixteen years, respectively; the pension to date from the death of the party who, preceding them, would have been entitled to the same. No pension already awarded was to be affected by the foregoing provisions. (History of Military Pension Legislattion in the U.S., by William Henry Glasson, Ph.B, 1900, pgs 81-82)

The second secton of the act of 1868 was also important as defining the conditions under which pensions would be granted for disabilities incurred in time of peace.

It provided :   "That no person shall be entitled to a pension by reason of wounds received, or disease contracted, in the service of the United States, subsequently to the passage of this act, unless the person who was wounded or contracted disease was in the line of duty; and, if in the military service, was at the time actually in the field, or on the march, or at some post, fort or garrison; or, if in the naval service, was at the time borne on the books of some ship, or other vessel of the United States, at sea or in harbor, actually in commission, or was on his way, by direction of competent authority, to the United States, or to some other vessel or naval station." (History of Military Pension Legislattion in the U.S., by William Henry Glasson, Ph.B, 1900 pgs 81-82)

In order to secure the benefits of this arrears provision, it was required that the application for the pension should be filed with the Commissioner of Pensions within five years after the right thereto had accrued. An exception to this limitation was made in favor of insane persons and children under sixteen years of age without guardians or other proper legal representatives.  Failure to claim a pension for three years was made presumptive evidence that the pension had legally terminated, subject to a right of restoration on a new application, with evidence satisfactorily accounting for the failure to claim the pension. Where a soldier or sailor died leaving a widow entitled to a pension, and also a child or children under sixteen years of age by a former wife, a pension of two dollars per month was provided for each of such children, thus placing them upon the same footing as the children of a surviving widow.  (History of Military Pension Legislattion in the U.S., by William Henry Glasson, Ph.B, 1900 pgs 82-83)

The increase act of March 19, 1886, provided that the pensions of all widows, minor children and dependent relatives already on the pension rolls, or who might thereafter be placed upon the pension rolls, should be increased from eight to twelve dollars per month.1 Nothing in the act was to affect the existing allowance of two dollars per month for each child under the age of sixteen years. It was further provided that the law should apply only to widows who were married to the deceased soldier or sailor prior to its passage, and to those who might thereafter marry prior to, or during the service of the soldier or sailor. (History of Military Pension Legislattion in the U.S., by William Henry Glasson, Ph.B, 1900, pgs 105)

Widows of those who served ninety days during the Civil War and were honorably discharged, are, under the act of 1890, granted . pensions at the rate of eight dollars per month without proving the soldier's death to be the result of his army service. As under the general law, an additional allowance of two dollars per month is made for each child of the deceased soldier under the age of sixteen years. The widow, to be pensioned, must have married the soldier prior to the passage of the act and must be dependent upon her daily labor for support. She loses the pension if she remarries. In case of her death or remarriage, the pension is paid to any surviving children of the soldier until they reach the age of sixteen. When a minor child is insane, idiotic or otherwise permanently helpless, the pension continues during life or during the period of disability. Attorney's fees under the law are limited to ten dollars. (History of Military Pension Legislattion in the U.S., by William Henry Glasson, Ph.B, 1900, pg 115)

By the act of August 5,1892, all women employed by the Surgeon-General of the army as nurses during the Civil War for a period of six months or more, and who were honorably relieved from such service, are granted a pension of twelve dollars a month, provided they are unable to earn a support. (History of Military Pension Legislattion in the U.S., by William Henry Glasson, Ph.B, 1900, pg 119)

The law of March 3, 1899 provides that a pensioner who has deserted his wife, or children under sixteen years of age, for a period of over six months, or who is an inmate of a Soldiers' Home, must give up one-half of his pension to his wife, she being a woman of good moral character and in necessitous circumstances, or to the guardian of his child or children. In this way the Pension Bureau is enabled to afford relief in many worthy cases upon appeal from the wives and children concerned.  The same act also provides that, in the future, no pension shall be granted to a widow under the laws of the United States unless the marriage of the widow to the soldier on account of whose service the pension is asked, was duly and legally contracted prio the passage of the act, or unless she shall have lived and cohabited with the soldier continuously from the date of the marriage until the date of his death, or unless the marriage shall take place hereafter and prior to or during the military service of the soldier on account of whose service pension is claimed. This proviso does not apply to the widows of soldiers who served in the War with Spain. It is intended to stop the common abusefound in the marriage of young women to aged soldiers for the sake of acquiring a pensionable status. (History of Military Pension Legislattion in the U.S., by William Henry Glasson, Ph.B, 1900, pg 120-121)

The following official table exhibits in a concise form all of the rates established by law fro specific disabilities from 1864 to the present (History of Military Pension Legislattion in the U.S., by William Henry Glasson, Ph.B, 1900, pg 76-77)

Rates & Disabilities

From July 4, 1864

From Mar. 3, 1865

From June 6, 1866

From June 4, 1873

From June 4, 1874

From Feb. 28, 1877

From June 17, 1878

From Mar 3, 1879

From Mar. 3, 1883

From Mar. 3, 1885

From aug. 4, 1886

From aug 27, 1888

From Feb 12, 1889

From Mar 4, 1890

Act of July 14, 1898

Loss of both hands

$25.00

.

.

$31.25

$50.00

.

$72.00

.

.

.

.

.

$100.00

.

$100.00

Loss of sight of both eyes

$25.00

.

.

$31.25

$50.00

.

$72.00

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Loss of both fee

$20.00

.

.

$31.25

$50.00

.

$72.00

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Loss of sight of one eye, the sight of the other lost before enlistment

.

.

$25.00

$31.25

$50.00

.

$72.00

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Total disability in both hands

.

.

$25.00

$31.25

$50.00

.

$72.00

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Regular aid and attendance (first grade)

.

.

$25.00

$31.25

$50.00

.

$72.00

.

.

.

.

.

.

$72.00

(*)

Periodical aid and attendance

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

$50.00

Loss of a leg at hip joint

.

.

$15.00

$24.00

.

.

.

$37.1/3

.

.

$45.00

.

.

.

.

Loss of an arm at shoulder joint

.

.

$15.00

$18.00

$24.00

.

.

.

$30.00

$37.1/3

$45.00

.

.

.

.

Loss of an arm at or above elbow, or a leg at or above knee

.

.

$15.00

$18.00

$24.00

.

.

.

$30.00

.

$36.00

.

.

.

.

Loss of a leg above the knee causing inability to wear an artificial limb

.

.

$15.00

$24.00

.

.

.

.

$30.00

.

$36.00

.

.

.

.

Loss of one hand and one foot

.

$20.00

.

$24.00

.

$36.00

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Total disability in one arm and one leg

.

.

$15.00

$18.00

.

.

.

.

$24.00

.

$36.00

.

.

.

.

Total disability in one hand or one foot

.

.

$20.00

$24.00

.

$36.00

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Total disability in both feet

.

.

$20.00

$31. 25

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Loss of a hand or a foot

.

.

$15.00

$18.00

.

.

.

.

$24.00

.

$30.00

.

.

.

.

Total disability in one hand or one foot

.

.

$15.00

$18.00

.

.

.

.

$24.00

.

$30.00

.

.

.

.

Incapacity to perform manual labor

.

.

$20.00

$24.00

.

.

.

.

$30.00

.

.

.

.

.

.

Total deafness

.

.

.

$13.00

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

$30.00

.

.

.

Disability equivalent to the loss of a hand or a foot

.

.

$15.00

$18.00

.

.

.

.

$24.00

.

.

.

.

.

.

Confederate Pension
(taken from the South Carolina State Archives)

South Carolina began granting pensions to needy Confederate veterans and their widows in 1887, but initially limited the pensions to veterans who were disabled by loss of limb or other injury during the war and widows of soldiers or sailors who had died in service. Both had to meet means tests, which were made even more restrictive in 1900. Responding to a provision of the 1895 state constitution, the General Assembly in 1896 expanded eligibility to poor uninjured veterans over 60 and poor widows over 60 and ushered in a major growth period for both pension funding and the number of applicants. Revisions enacted in 1900 refined the classification and procedures for pensions, defining a system that would remain in force until 1919. Unfortunately, few applications for Confederate pensions under any of the pre-1919 acts survive either at the state or local level.

Act No. 176, 1919 S.C. Acts 275 established a Confederate Pension Department under the direction of a commissioner and a seven-member board and required all existing pensioners to reapply. The state board appointed a three-member board for each county to approve applications from local residents. Eligible pensioners included all veterans and widows over the age of sixty who had married veterans before 1890. The state pension board set the compensation and adjudicated any disputes forwarded from the county boards. The General Assembly provided $500,000 to pay for pensions. Changes the following year (Act No. 609, 1920 S.C. Acts 1099) eliminated the state board, named the comptroller general as pension commissioner, and authorized the local veterans camp to hear appeals of each county board's decision.

Act No. 63, 1923 S.C. Acts 107 allowed African Americans who had served at least six months as cooks, servants, or attendants to apply for a pension. Then in 1924, apparently because there were too many applications, the act was amended to eliminate all laborers, teamsters, and non-South Carolinians by extending eligibility only to South Carolina residents who had served the state for at least six months as "body servants or male camp cooks."

The legislature dropped the age of eligibility for widows to 55 in 1920, to 50 in 1921, and to 45 in 1930. Under the 1920 amendment, widows were eligible if they had been married by 1900, but a 1929 amendment extended eligibility to widows who had been married at least ten years. The state continued to pay Confederate widow pensions until the last widow died in 1990.

The series holdings at the South Carolina State Archives includes applications from all counties except Williamsburg and York, which are missing. Veterans' applications give the units in which they served, dates of service, place of residence, and, in some cases, other details such as dates of birth and wounds received in service. Widows' applications give husbands' service record, dates of birth and marriage, place of residence, and dates of husbands' death. Some applications include other valuable miscellaneous biographical information or testimony as to character and place in the community.  With the exception of one widow's application from 1956, the latest applications date from 1938.


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