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Sanitary Commission Report, No. 95: Provision Required For The Relief And Support Disabled Soldiers And Sailors And Their Dependents

Creator: Henry W. Bellows (author)
Date: 1865
Source: Available at selected libraries

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To revert again to the nationality of our disabled men applying for public aid, they are, in the Eastern and Middle States, Irish and German almost exclusively, and in the proportion of 75 and 20 per cent., respectively, of the whole number; while in the Northwest, and probably in the West, they are German and Irish, perhaps in about equal proportion, or 45 per cent. each of the whole.


It is a just source of pride that while about 80 per cent. of our whole army was composed of native citizens, 90 per cent. of all the drafted men requiring aid, are of foreign extraction; a fact which that portion of the English press, long in the habit of attributing our victories to mercenaries from abroad, may digest as it best can.


It is plain, from all that has been said, that the anxiety of the public in regard to wholly disabled men, requiring care and support in public asylums, which now appears to be a comparatively small and very manageable class, has distracted attention from that vastly more important class of sufferers, lingering uncomplainingly in their homes, who have claims on the Pension Bureau, which, small as they are, are very slowly settled, and which, when paid, furnish a very meagre expression of the gratitude of the country towards its most self-sacrificing benefactors.


The Sanitary Commission, early feeling the importance of the relief which the present system might afford the invalids of the war and their families, established a Special Bureau for the gratuitous collection of soldiers claims, (back pay, bounty, pensions, &c.,) which, extending all over the United States, has rendered most efficient service in saving soldiers and their families from the thousand harpies preying on their ignorance and their necessities. By making known the rights and claims of soldier in all communities, it has also advanced the work of the Pension Bureau in a very important degree. It is alleged, that half the claims of soldiers and their families, for a given period, passed through our offices. But no effort of ours could very much relieve the delay which, unavoidably or otherwise, has occurred in the settlement of soldiers' claims and those of their widows and orphans. But leaving the question of the settlement of soldiers' claims, there is a question of still more importance, which concerns the insufficiency of the pension allowed.


Eight dollars per month for a man who has lost a limb, or is otherwise equally disabled, twenty for one who has lost both feet, and twenty-five for one who has lost both hands or both eyes, is much too little to meet their necessities. What a feeble reciprocation, too, is eight dollars per month to the poor widow, with her orphan children to support and educate, who has given her husband and the protector of their offspring up to his country? The subject is too large and too complicated to be treated here in anything but the most general way. It is full of minute and embarrassing details, which only an expert can understand, and there is no official work on the subject. What we have to suggest is, that the pension system is the true system for the relief of our invalided and disabled soldiers -- their widows and orphans; it deserves a far more careful, generous, and constant consideration than it seems to receive; that it should occupy the time and sympathies which are so much more readily expended upon schemes of showy, debilitating charity. The pension is a debt due the soldier and his widow and his orphans, which it does not demean them to receive, which they have a moral right to claim, and which ought to be adjusted, to their necessities, and made adequate to their relief or support. If there be any direction in which the public money may be expended with freedom, without complaint on the part of tax-payers, though with a generous-ity- leaning to indulgence, it is in the matter of pensions. At present, the provision is pernicious and disgraceful to the nation. We desire, in a democratic country, to see the private soldier honored and his life, services, and sacrifices valued at the full by a grateful country. The disposition to heap richly merited honors and emoluments on a few distinguished officers only, is not worthy of a nation that knows no difference in the political claims of its citizens, and value's men not for rank or station, but for merit and personal worth. We have seen too much of the patriotic spirit of our common soldiers, and of their wives and children, not to feel that they are wronged by the scrimped and paltry pensions they draw, after the precious sacrifices they have made. Two years ago we offered bounties with an almost humiliating eagerness to the worst men whom we could press into the ranks -- bounties which, in one sum, often exceeded what ten years' pension pays a disabled soldier, or his widowed and orphaned family. Now, looking back on the services we were ready to bribe so lavishly, we are slow to value them, after they are rendered, at any reasonable sum! For ourselves, we held the bounty system as a disgrace, reproaching the spirit of our volunteers, demoralizing the country, and letting down the war, by its mercenary aspect, both in foreign eyes and our own. But a fit pendant for this disgrace, is the present set of pension laws. If the bounties already paid could only have been saved to increase the pensions, how much better and more honorable for the country it would be! Still it is fair to say, that no country offers as good military pensions as ours, even at present rates; but let it be remembered that foreign wages are no standard for America, and foreign pensions no rule for us.

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