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Fighting on Behalf of Veterans

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Most Civil War veterans had been farmers or laborers prior to their military service. As they aged, it became more difficult for them to work. By the 1890s most of the veterans were in their fifties and sixties. Their hometowns threw parades for them and they were honored at public functions, but what they really needed was financial assistance. A pension system had been in place since 1862 for Union soldiers disabled in the war. Dependents of those killed were also eligible. The pension provided eight dollars a month. It was a popular program and even served as a recruiting tool. But as time went on, it became obvious that aging veterans also needed help.

In 1890 the system was changed to cover all disabled veterans, even if their disability was not related to their service. With many more veterans receiving pensions, the program amounted to more than forty percent of the federal government’s revenue. By 1907 the district including Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas paid pensions to almost forty-four thousand veterans. This amounted to over seven million dollars.

Veterans were held in high esteem in North Dakota. The first North Dakota chapters of the Grand Army of the Republic were established in 1882. The GAR was politically active, and while many politicians resisted any increase in pension funding, veterans had a champion in North Dakota Senator Porter J. McCumber. On this date in 1906, North Dakotans learned that a McCumber pension bill was being favorably received by other members of Congress. He advocated for an increase to twelve dollars a month for all honorably discharged soldiers when they reached age sixty-two. The support would increase to fifteen dollars at age seventy and twenty dollars at seventy-five.

McCumber was successful. The increase passed in 1907, with old age considered a disability. By 1910 more than 90% of living Union veterans received government assistance. The last pension recipient died in 1956, and the last wife of a Civil War veteran died in 2008.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Washburn Leader. “Senator McCumber’s pension bill.” Washburn ND. 4/27/1906. Page 4.

Essential Civil War Curriculum. “Civil War Pensions.” https://www.essentialcivilwarcurriculum.com/civil-war-pensions.html Accessed 3/21/2022.

Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. “North Dakota.” https://suvcw.org/garrecords/garposts/nd.pdf Accessed 3/21/2022.

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