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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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We believe the pension system is the proper substitute for military asylums. We could desire that the wholly disabled, who claim public support, should be pensioned to the full extent of their living, board, and clothes, and then suffered to go where they please, and look up their own residence and their own protectors. It would be both more humane, more economical for the country, and more favorable to the temper and spirit of our people.


This may, be illustrated by the history of the National Soldiers' Home at Washington. We had 73,260 officers and men engaged in the Mexican war. The National Soldiers' Home was founded, we believe, on the money paid General Scott by the city of Mexico for sparing the captured city from sack. To this sum, doubtless, large appropriations have been besides the amount collected from the assessment which is laid upon all soldiers of the regular army. What it has cost, we have no means of knowing; but we should be surprised to find it less than half a million. It is a beautiful and attractive place, both as to house and grounds, and in the immediate vicinity of Washington. All regulars and pensioners of the volunteers, on relinquishing their pension for the time, have a right to a residence in this Home. At the beginning of the war, there were only 80 inmates. The present number is 15.


The average cost per man, including food, clothing, lights, fuel, and medical treatment, (but not including rent or interest on original outlay,) was for the year -- 1861..................................................$262.00 1862...................................................265.70 1863...................................................312.12 1864...................................................413.87


Those who are able and willing to work as common laborers are paid 25 cents per day; mechanics, $14 per month.


It is very difficult to keep the men in any state of contentment. Those who have pensions to fall back upon, soon weary of the Home, and prefer to take their chances in the world of freedom with that small dependence at command. Many who resort there, are, it is said, of a rough and unruly disposition.


Now, if the sum expended upon these men were allowed them in pensions, not only would the cost of the building and grounds be saved -- although that we do not consider a very important item -- but the spirit and independence of the soldier's name and character, and his rapid return to civic virtues and independence of life, would be favored, while the vices which come from herding coarse men together in purely masculine and official hands, would be entirely obviated.


We cannot doubt that if the pension rates were doubled, it would be as economical for the country as it would be honorable to its gratitude and useful and blessed for the invalid's, widows, and orphans of the war. And this brings us to the last point.


The testimony of the letters referred to is, that soldiers' families -- their widows and orphans -- present a much more urgent and suffering claim than disabled soldiers themselves, and it is even said that the widow and orphans, are pecuniarily better off than those families who have had a maimed and disabled husband and father returned to them to be supported. Some of the States have made special provisions for this class, both during and since the war. Special laws have been passed in Massachusetts for their relief. But too much was done during the war, and too little has been done since, and is doing now. In the city of New York, a profuse and injurious relief was afforded the families of absent soldiers by the city, at a time when wages were high enough to make the general condition of the poor easier than at any period within our memory. Thus soldiers were encouraged to spend their wages on themselves and to their own hurt, instead of sending them home, and many women accustomed to honest labor fell into dependent and dissolute ways. But that relief was suddenly cut off, and now the difficulty is the other way. But it is not in cities alone that the orphaned families of our brave soldiers are most in need. Everywhere, and from all quarters, we hear but one story of their sufferings and distress; and we see with great satisfaction numerous private charities and public associations moving for their relief. We must not permit the freedmen, or the needy Southerners, to absorb our attention to the neglect of this most deserving class of our own people -- the widow's and orphans of the war. Again, we repeat, we know no way of meeting their necessities so free from objection as that of prompt and generous aid through the Pension system. It is, however, worthy of consideration whether an immediate and temporary appropriation of say five millions of dollars for the relief of the widows and orphans of the war, additional to their permanent pension, and payable by the Pension agents on some equitable scale of pro rata, would not be the most popular, humane, and righteous act the present Congress could pass.

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