I retreated like a green recruit from the prospect of spending $80 on the Civil War Pension files of my ancestors. It seemed an exorbitant cost, particularly since I faced a line of seven brothers, the sons of my great, great, great-grandparents, all members of two Ohio Volunteer Infantry regiments. But I charged ahead. Well, I didn’t charge but rather crawled forward, ordering four records. And, in the end, I found the sacrifice small. Through them I discovered far more than the surface reward of some genealogical win. I found humanity, and a cost paid out that far exceeded any charge to my account.
Their words, and those of friends, relatives, comrades, and doctors, revealed a landscape strewn with individual fortitude, pain, and heartbreak, one laid bare in the aftermath of war. Like an armchair traveler, I slipped each CD into my computer and travelled back, beyond birth and death dates, into the lives of Robert, David, Greer, and Calvin Croy.
Robert served with Company G of the 92nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry (OVI) beginning on the 5th of August 1862, but it was in Georgia at the Battle of Chickamauga that he encountered his life long disability, as he stated in his own hand in the Claimant’s Affidavit (transcribed in own words with punctuation added for clarity).
“…on or about the 20th of September 1863 at the Battle of Chicamanga [Tennessee] I had my hearing of Both Ears affected which at the time was alright[.] Was not treated for it at the time … or Since By a Physician[.] the only treatment I have had was self treatment[.] I had not the means to Enploy Physicians. at the Present time my Right Ear is total deaf and the left Partial.”
A comrade, George L Camp of Seattle, Washington, provided the most vivid account of how Robert lost his hearing.
“At Chickamauga we lay about 50 feet to the right of our Brig[ade] Battery-which were 12 pound pieces[,] and they were double charged most of the time for the entire day of Sunday the 20th of Sept. 1863-and the concussion would nearly raise us from the ground…”
As for his feelings when he filed in August of 1897, he ended one of his affidavits this way.
“the Evidence Called fer July 16, 1891 I cannot furnish for while in Service I never Complained as Some did to get Excused But always tried to do my duty. It would have been Better for me if I had[,] for then I Could of furnished the testimony Called fer”
Arthritis and deterioration of knees, feet, and back were common pension complaints for those of the 92nd who marched on foot from Chickamauga to Atlanta and then up through the Carolinas to Washington DC. The regiment, with the rest of Sherman’s troops, marched approximately 1,500 miles and averaged 15 miles a day through swamps and rough terrain, performing heavy manual labor along the way. Often, even with evidence of hospital stays, the Bureau of Pensions deemed many of these applications invalid. The toll of these decisions impacted whole families.
Calvin joined the 92nd late, at Savannah, to march through the Carolinas at the beginning of 1865. Still, he entered the field hospital for rheumatism from April 17th to April 30th of 1865. Standing tall at six feet one inch and 156 pounds, he filed for a pension in 1880 and finally earned it commencing in 1890 , not for rheumatism but for a ruptured hernia. This comment by J.B. Sands provides insight into the family’s burden.
“He is a coal miner and incapacitated for that kind of work. I know personally that he keeps his boys out of school to help earn a support for his family.”
Tuberculosis, or consumption as people called it at the time, percolated freely in the confined environments where soldiers shared all. The lethal bacteria could lie hidden for years and early symptoms often mimicked other diseases. The close quarters, so new to young men use to open country, provided a perfect incubator.
“took cold from exposure on the Steamer being transported with the Reg[iment] from Nashville to Carthage, Tenn. Which settled in his throat and lungs giving him Consumption of the lungs and totally disabling him at the time.”
This statement by N.B. Sisson (?) of Porter, Ohio pleads for understanding of the conditions when determining eligibility.
“At Carthage Tenn, winter 62 & 63, Spring 63. The 92 Ohio Vols passed through a severe crisis of grave diseases-Measles, Scurvy, Typhoid fever, and dysentery and diarrhea; at which time for several months the sen[ior] & jun[ior] Surgeons were absent. The jun[ior surgeon] resigning, and so severe were the duties in caring for the sick of the Reg[iment] I am not certain I kept a record of every case of Even severe disease…Defective supplies of vegetables on that frontier caused much disease…These remarks are to enable the department to some Extent understand & appreciate the difficulty; Now of doing (?) justice to the suffering & their widows & orphans.”
Again falling ill and possibly missing action at Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge, David moved in and out of the field hospital from May of 1863 through January of 1864 with “catarrh, diarrhea, sore feet, typhoid fever, debility, and dysentery.”
David died March 10, 1878, aged 34, never receiving the pension for which he applied. His wife Mary received a Widow’s Pension instead.
David’s brother Greer also suffered from consumption but his story was more complicated and brief. Blue-eyed and brown-haired, at just under 5’8” and four inches shorter than David or Calvin, he volunteered for duty first of the seven brothers, joining F Company of the 36th OVI and serving until:
“On the 19th day of October 1864 at [the] Battle of Cedar Creek he was shot through the right hip with a minnie ball, from this point was taken to Camden hospital Baltimore & from there discharged.” Writing in strict medical terms, at the time of his discharge, George O. Heldreth, Examining Surgeon, noted[:] The ball entered the right groin and passed out immediately behind the neck of the femur fracturing the margin of the acetabulum, anchylosis of the hip has resulted. The leg is shortened, and in walking the heel does not touch the ground.”
But his brother William tells the larger tale, one infused with a level distress and awe.
“Said Greer Croy was wounded three times. I have seen all of the wounds. It is stated that he was wounded in [the] foot at south mountain which rendered him unable for Duty at the time of the wound. 2nd wounded in the Head at Chicamuga which I understood caused partial Insanity. 3rd Place at Cedar Creek by Gun Shot wounded in hip which made him a cripple for life[.] said Claimant frequently complained of suffering from cough which I fully believe originated in the United States service as I never knew him to be sick or cough Prior to his enlistment. I am an elder Brother of Deceased and know the facts as set forth above. Said Greer Croy was very ambitious & I suppose he thought circumstances compelled him to work[,] & frequently did work more or less at some kinds of Labor[,] when I am satisfied he ought not to have worked.”
Greer died October 28, 1872 of consumption, aged 34, a little over eight years after his injury at Cedar Creek.
Eighty dollars for some pension files? A small price to pay by comparison and invaluable for their insights into human cost of war, of far greater worth than an accounting of dates. I will update you when I receive the last three records of the seven brothers. I anticipate being richer still when I receive them.
My Seven Part Civil War Blog and National Archive Citations