The end of the American Civil War presented many difficult issues to resolve in regards to how the states and individuals previously in rebellion were to be treated. Among the more controversial of these issues was the treatment of soldiers who had served the Confederate cause. Although the United States government provided pensions for veterans of the Union Army, they naturally had no intention to do the same for the veterans of the Confederacy. Over time, the states that formerly constituted the Confederacy, as well as three states that remained in the Union but had large numbers of citizens who fought for the Confederacy, set up their own local pension programs.
Confederate pensions were issued at the state level, rather than the national level like Union pensions, so records are held by the state in which they were issued. Confederate veterans and their widows applied for a pension in the state where they lived, even if the soldier enlisted in a different state. You should, therefore, confirm not just your ancestor's place of enlistment but also any later places of residence in order to find a pension for your ancestor. If your ancestor was eligible to apply for a pension (even if it wasn't granted) the paperwork associated with the application will certainly prove informative and helpful for your research. The details of when pensions were issued, who qualified, and what information the applications and pensions contain vary from state to state.
The Widow's Pension of Mary E. (Brown) Mills
The need to explore both the place of service and place of residence was crucial to find the widow's pension of Noah Wyle's 3rd great-grandmother, Mary E. (Brown) Mills. Her husband, John Henry Mills, had served in the Crescent Regiment, a volunteer infantry regiment hailing from Louisiana, where John resided at the time. After his service, however, John and Mary settled in Pike County, Mississippi, where they lived until John's suicide in 1904.
Although Mississippi had begun granting pensions in 1888, they were only granted to veterans wounded in their service or to their widows and/or orphaned dependents, so John Henry Mills did not qualify in his lifetime. After John's suicide, however, Mary qualified for a widow's pension. Having been left destitute by the business reversals that led to John's suicide, she took advantage of the opportunity to receive a pension.
Pension files contain biographical information that can help flesh out a soldier's life and reveal details of their family and ancestry. Because Mary applied for a widow's pension, she needed to prove that she was the legal wife of the veteran John Henry Mills. Due to a lack of records in the county where they married we had been unable to find John and Mary's marriage record, but Mary noted in her pension application that she and John had married in October 1863 in Summit, Pike County, Mississippi. Although we already knew about John's service, her application also provided exact information about John's enlistment and the company in which he served. We had already explored the circumstances of John's death, but found that Mary also provided the date and place of his death to prove that she was indeed a widow.
Always check to see if there are pension files for any of your Civil War ancestors. The wealth of information contained in their pages can give marvelous insight into the lives that they lived.
A page from Mary's application.
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Tips from AncestryProGenealogists
- Remember that a Confederate veteran or widow applied for a pension in the state where they resided, not necessarily where the soldier served. Check any states where your ancestor lived in the years after pensions had started.
- Check available indexes before visiting a state archives. It is possible that your ancestor did not apply for a pension in the state you anticipated, or that they did not apply at all, so searching online indexes of various states beforehand could save you an unnecessary trip. If you find them in the index, the information will allow you to go directly to the record.
- Even if a veteran or widow did not receive a pension, they still could have applied for one. If you are researching a healthy veteran, a second wife, or any other ancestor who may have received a pension, still check to see if they applied.
As discussed, pensions were granted at the state level, and the original records are kept at the states' archives. The former Confederate states that granted pensions are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Additionally, the Union states of Kentucky and Missouri also issued pensions to Confederate veterans and widows, as did the state of Oklahoma, which was a Union territory during the war. The pensions associated with these states can be found at the following repositories:
- Beginning: 1867
- Repository: The Alabama Department of Archives and History
- Beginning: 1891
- Repository: The Arkansas History Commission
- Beginning: 1885
- Repository: The Florida State Archives
- Beginning: 1870
- Repository: The Georgia Department of Archives and History
- Beginning: 1912
- Repository: The Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives
- Beginning: 1898
- Repository: The Louisiana State Archives
- Beginning: 1888
- Repository: The Mississippi Department of Archives and History
- Beginning: 1911
- Repository: The Missouri State Archives
- North Carolina
- Beginning: 1867
- Repository: The North Carolina State Archives
- Beginning: 1915
- Repository: The Oklahoma Department of Libraries
- South Carolina
- Beginning: 1887
- Repository: The South Carolina Department of Archives and History
- Beginning: 1891
- Repository: The Tennessee State Library and Archives
- Beginning: 1881
- Repository: The Texas State Library and Archives Commission
- Beginning: 1888
- Repository: The Library of Virginia
Although pensions were first granted on the dates listed above, the first pensions were granted to only a select few veterans with special circumstances, usually those wounded in their service. Most pensions, especially for widows, were not granted until the very late 1800s and early 1900s. It is important to note that many of the above pension collections have been indexed and can be searched online, often on the website of the local repository, but Ancestry has indexes for all of the above states, apart from South Carolina, so it is possible to see whether or not your ancestor applied before visiting the local repository in person.
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