Returning Civil War veterans faced uncertain futures
Daniel Smith of York County, Pennsylvania, served in Company D of the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry, a regiment raised in York and Adams counties in 1861 to serve for three years. Smith and his comrades mostly served in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia during their time in the army. They suffered a major defeat at the Second Battle of Winchester in 1863 and the following year played a key role in the Battle of Monocacy. Photo courtesy of Smith’s great-great-grandson, David Spangler.
As the soldiers, both blue and gray, returned home from the war, they faced uncertainty. For many in the South, their homes and lands were ruined, the economy was reeling, and their world had changed forever. In the North, the situation was clearly better, but some ex-soldiers opted to move West for a fresh start.
The most uncertainty faced those with medical issue resulting from exposure, illness, injuries, or wounds suffered during the Civil War.
Pension records of veterans such as Daniel Smith often reveal much about their war-time experiences and post-war health struggles.
On January 24, 1889, Daniel Smith filed his Declaration for an Original Invalid Pension, a form that needed to be executed before a Court of Record or similar legal entity commissioned by the Federal government to examine petitioners’ claims. The 53-year-old Smith appeared before the Clerk of the Orphan Court and declared that while serving in [West] Virginia back in September 1862 (the same day as the Battle of Antietam, ironically}, he “took sick and was placed in the Hospital & remained there about 2 or 3 months and was treated by the regimental surgeon” for typhoid fever. His leg swelled considerably, which caused him great pain. Subsequent treatments at Clarksburg, WV failed show any substantial improvement for some time.
Eventually Smith rejoined the 87th Pa. and participated in the fighting at Second Winchester, a disaster for the Union forces, which routed from the field. Smith despite his bad leg walked all the way from the Shenandoah Valley north to Bloody Run (now Everett) in southern Pennsylvania. He “could do no duty” as a result of his incessantly painful leg.
Later while on furlough in his hometown of York, Smith’s leg again bothered him and his colonel, George Hay, ordered him to be admitted to the York Hospital for rest and treatment. He remained in the hospital for 13 months until his term of service expired and he was discharged from both the medical facility and the army.
He claimed in his invalid pension application “My leg is a running sore at times and is very painful and I am disabled more than one half as I was before this…”
The clerk signed the application form and forwarded it to the U.S. government for processing.
On June 3, the War Department confirmed Smith’s military record in a one-page form letter signed by Acting Adjutant General J. C. Keeton. They confirmed that Corporal Daniel Smith had been “sick in hosp’l at York since July 5, ’63” until August 3, 1864.
In 1912 Smith had to file additional paperwork, apparently because he still had not received his disability pension.
Such was often the case for the returning veterans – paperwork, government red tape, and delays.