The act of searching out pension files is less than straight forward. There are lots of curves to slow down the journey. If the fellow's name was Robert Smith... then you will find a zillion pension files of that name. If he was in the army then you need to search the unit's records. There could be dozens of the same names in the unit. You need other identifiers such as age or place of enlistment etc. Maybe the fellow did not make a claim for a pension. Maybe he was using a middle name or one made up. Maybe he had four different files... all in different names. It goes on and on.
When and if you finally hit pay dirt, you will find all kinds of very depressing stories about the ailments of the individual and why he feels entitled to a pension. And then you will often find all kinds of roadblocks to his getting the pension. And if he died while drawing it, you then may find a widow left on her own and without much in the way of means, and up against a bureaucracy that send her lots of loopholes to jump through to get a widow's pension. And all this for sometimes amounts of $6 or 8 or 10 a month or even less. I saw one that was raised by less then a dollar after being been drawn for years.
I am going to briefly bring you two cases with a few of the actually letters seeking pensions to show some of this systemic harshness and the incredible burdens it put on those most in need. Both turned out successfully...but not before much time was lost in fighting the system and causing much grief enroute as the letters clearly show.
Now the widowed wife had to fight to get a widows pension. The above, while difficult to read says that she found it difficult to find their excuse acceptable that they had found 4 men with the same name. She added how many had the same name for his wife? She also complained, as above written, that she could not understand their repeated requests that she fill out blanks on forms when they knew that she did not have his discharge papers, papers that were lost in a fire. The widow also noted that she knew other soldiers that knew him and that they had told her that she clearly was entitled to pension and told the pension office she had no intent on giving up the fight to get it.
After the ILLEGAL purge of 1917, the government sent along this certificate (on right, above) telling that his name was still on the Honor Roll of US Heroes and outlined the actions that resulted in his getting his MOH... about 30 years later... and not at the action of government but at the pushing of his, and his country's former enemies. A document on file when they originally refused the pension. A decision later reversed.
There has been a major development in his story which I had hoped to bring you today but time and space are proving problematic. It will have to wait till the next blog, as will be the most interesting information on yet another Canadian hero covered in this space in the past.
These aside, above is another part of the story of Halifax's Charles Robinson. This hero's attempts to secure a pension and not being well treated by government are indicative, by some of the material in this letter. He would get a pension but not without a fight. A fight at a time in his life he didn't need one.
Charles was a navy man and on board a boat that was sunk by the Confederates. One of the massive cannons on that ship was blown up as where many of the men around it. The explosion knocked him across the ship and threw a dead sailor on top of him. He got minor scraps but these disappeared over the years. But he had internal injuries not readily obvious to the naked eye.
As noted above, the military wanted evidence of scars that he did not have. They then wanted a statement from an officer supporting his claim who was not even on the ship at the time. They then were told, that Charles had met other men drawing pensions when they apparently did not even serve. They paid others to do it for them... something legal at the time and known as substitute service. Charles noted that while he served and got injured and cannot get a pension these men got them without even serving. He added that he was also duped out of moneys owed him for the capture of some enemy vessels. This was known as Prize Money and was common through most of the war. The ship would be sold and the funds split up to all crew.
In his case another man used his name and managed to collect the money. The imposter was later caught and thrown in jail. But the government could not recover the money they gave out in error, and said that it was too bad but there was none left for him. Hmmm!
In another letter not shown, he fought with the government when it decided that if a pensioner was no longer living in the US, he could not draw any pension unless he had taken out citizenship. Charles already had. But he was cut off anyway till his argument could be advanced, considered and then later action taken to start the pension again.
After he died his pension was again cancelled and his widow then had to take up the fight encountering her own frustrations before finally starting to get the funds entitled to all along.
The files located at the archives have also revealed many details about the men not readily known. Places of birth, birth dates, terms of service, war injuries and service in other regiments or boats before or after the event where the medal was earned can be found in many of these files. I even found one of the MOH man fighting at Gettysburg before he later earned a MOH.
And then there are the three gems I have been promising you.
They will appear in the next blog. Trust me. This time!