Author’s Note: In the previous post, A Union Soldier’s Promise, Part One, we get a glimpse into the life of Ohio soldier Joseph W. Collins, beginning with the moment he signed up to join the U.S. Army on his college campus in April 1861. Confederates had just attacked Fort Sumter and President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers. We see from letters Collins wrote to his mother Elizabeth from western Virginia that he was a faithful man, to God and to his family. His promise to send money home was kept, but at a terrible cost.
“A father or mother applying for a pension had to prove he or she was dependent solely upon the son who died in the war, legal marriage to the other parents, as well as the son’s birth. If the applying parent had other children, it was necessary to explain that the other children were deceased or for some other reason unable to support the parent.”
–from “Anatomy of a Union Civil War Pension File,” by Claire Prechtel-Kluskens for NGS Newsmagazine (National Genealogical Society) July-September 2008
“I as yet have received none of my wages from the government but I think it will be forthcoming in a few days. Tell the girls I am intending if it God’s will to help if they desire an education. Adieu.”
–Private Joseph W. Collins, Company C, Seventh Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry, in a letter to his mother from Braxton County, Virginia, July 27, 1861
Exactly one month after Private Collins wrote those words to his mother, he was killed on a battlefield at Kessler’s Cross Lanes, Virginia.
In the years that followed, Joseph’s mother, Elizabeth A. Hanson, applied repeatedly for a U.S. government pension for her son’s service to the Union. She was eligible because her son was unmarried, had no children, she was not able to work consistently because of health problems, and she was dependent on his wages for at least half of her financial support.
According to information from the National Archives about Civil War pension application processing, claims ballooned from those sent to about 10,000 Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans and dependents in 1860 to millions of claims made during and after the Civil War. Not only did pension claims rise steeply over the Civil War years, Congress enacted and expanded pension acts multiple times during the war and in the last years of the 19th Century. Rules about proof of disability or death and eligibility of the pension recipient also changed and, in some cases, became more restrictive.
You’ll see in this claim that Elizabeth submitted to the pension bureau after Joseph’s death that she needed to show proof that her second husband deserted her and her children, and that her son was “celibate,” i.e., not married. Notice that in the line beside “Loyalty,” the word “Declined” is written.
Service: AG [Adjutant General’s Office] shows enrollment June 20/61
Death: and died August ’61 of wounds received in battle
Celibacy of soldier: Shown by competent witness
Relationship: “ “ “ “
Death or disability of husband: Husband deserted her family 1861 and support shown and that up to the time of his enlistment into the service he contributed to the support of his mother was notified while in service
Agent and his P.O. address: J.D. Settle, West Milton, NY
Admitted March 15, 1862 to a Pension of $8.00 per month commencing August 26th, 1861
Although the Bureau of Pensions adopted a policy in early September 1861 that required the oath of allegiance to the United States be taken by pensioners before receiving their stipends, Congress had not yet enacted a law with that requirement. Also, Elizabeth’s case was different because of Joseph’s quick and early response to President Lincoln’s April call for soldiers. He signed up on April 20, 1861, at Oberlin College in Ohio.
A later legal interpretation of pre-1861 pension laws by then Attorney-General Edward Bates found that
…”any militiaman” called into the service of the United States by the President’s proclamation of April 15, 1861, and disabled by wounds received while in that service, was entitled to a pension under the provisions of the act of August 2, 1813.
Because Bates’ ruling contained no loyalty condition, it is likely that rather than declining to declare her loyalty to the Union (she was a New York resident and mother of a Union soldier), her declaration was deemed unnecessary. This would not hold true, however, after Congress passed into law the Pension Act of 1862, which explicitly required that Americans receiving pensions take an oath of allegiance to the United States government.
“And provided, further, That no moneys shall be paid to the widow (referring to mothers) or children, or any heirs of any deceased soldier on account of bounty, back pay, or pensions, who have in any way been engaged in or aided or abetted the existing rebellion in the United States; but the right of such disloyal widow or children, heir or heirs of such soldier, shall be vested in the loyal heir or heirs of the deceased, if any there be.”
In an affidavit dated June 6, 1865, Saratoga County, New York, Elizabeth Hanson officially declared before a Justice of the Peace and witnesses that she had not, in any manner, been engaged in or aided or abetted the rebellion in the United States. In that document, she also confirmed that her first husband, Josiah (Joseph’s father) had died in 1847, and that her second husband, John Hanson, deserted her in 1861.
“….she hath no power to enforce a support from her said husband for the reason that he is a worthless vagabond and does not support himself, as she this deponent informed, and believes that he has departed to parts unknown to this deponent, that hath not cohabited with him or seen him or received any support from him for the time above mentioned (four years past) that she hath no income from any source whatever…..”
–from digitized document, Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War Veterans, 1861-1910, found online at Fold3.com
It was common for recipients to provide the pension bureau with affidavits from family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and employers who would vouch for their continuing eligibility to receive government checks. Elizabeth and multiple witnesses to her good character—including the clerk of her church, her sons-in-law and daughters-in-law—appeared before the Saratoga County Justice of the Peace at least 10 times between 1861 and 1874 to confirm that she was still dependent on Joseph’s pension.
Despite the fact that Private Joseph Collins died very early in the course of the Civil War, in his very first battle at Kessler’s Cross Lanes, Virginia, he did indeed make good on his promise to send his US army income to his mother and younger sisters. He was, in life and even in death, true to his family and his country.