Initially, Union soldiers who were injured or suffered debilitating illness during the Civil War could apply for federal pension benefits. If a soldier was killed, his widow was also eligible to apply for a pension. Confederate soldiers were not eligible for this federal benefit but could apply directly to the states they resided in for assistance. It wasn’t until the 1900s that Confederate veterans and their widows were granted federal pensions.
After the Civil War ended, legislation was expanded to allow pensions for widows and dependents of soldiers who served, survived the war, and died later. Under this Dependent Pension Act, approved on June 27, 1890, widows of soldiers serving in the Union Army could apply for a pension by proving the following:
- that the soldier served the Union for at least ninety days during the Civil War;
- that he was honorably discharged;
- that the widow provide proof of death, but it need not have been the result of his army service;
- that the widow is without other means of support than her day labor;
- that she married the soldier prior to June 27, 1890, the date of the act.
Documents Found in Pension Files
Pension files are a rich source of information. It is not uncommon for a pension file to contain 100 pages of documentation. This can include information on the soldier’s spouse, children, and even dependent parents. The size varies by the number of dependents and the complexity of the pension. Most pension files will include the following:
Proof of soldier’s service
Proof of death
Proof of marriage – affidavits or certificates proved that the widow seeking the pension was, indeed married to the soldier.
Proof of children - when children are listed, you often find copies of bible records or town records
Declaration of a Widow for Restoration of Pension – When a second marriage revoked the pension, and the death of the second husband left the widow once again without support
Dropped from rolls – this record will give a date of death or other circumstance which required the widow be dropped from the rolls.