Civil War Pension File Question

rbortega

Private
Joined
May 4, 2013
Has anybody had an ancestor who made a false statement when applying for a Civil War pension? For example, my 4 x Great Grandfather DeWitt C. Greenman (23rd Iowa Infantry) claimed he had not been previously married, even though DeWitt, his first wife, and their five sons are listed in four different census records prior to his applying for a pension.
 

John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
None of my relatives received a pension. However, I have researched many a CW vet and read a number of pension files. The only one I've found where somebody lied was filed by a man who was notoriously dishonest (he was a politician in Cincinnati after the war and lost his position due to graft). His wife - who he divorced so he could marry his much-younger girlfriend - even stated in a newspaper article that he'd lied. Remarkably, he still got his pension.

So, in my experience it's one guy who lied and something like 60 who were very honest (and provided proof).
 

BrianB

Corporal
Joined
May 16, 2014
If you look through the pension index, it is not uncommon to spot an individual listed as a "contesting widow". in other words, the veteran died, a woman filed for pension benefits as his widow, then a second woman also filed claiming that SHE was the actual widow. In fact, I have seen a pension index card that listed 3 contesting widows (one original claimant to be the widow and three separate challengers).

While the deceased veteran might have been a traveling salesman with a wife in every town <g>, I suspect that some of these 'contesting widows' claims were completely fabricated.
 

lupaglupa

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
Location
Upstate New York
Define "lie." I have seen a number of pensions that shade the truth a bit. I've seen applications by widows that have details wrong. I haven't yet found one that out and out lies in a way so obvious as to be a known to the submitter lie. But, knowing human nature, I'm sure they are out there. I mean - we are talking about money here. Money that was available if you met certain criteria. Surely some folks who didn't quite meet the standard and thought they should fudged the facts a little. Or a lot.
 

Bob Velke

Private
Official Vendor
Joined
Jan 25, 2014
While declined pension applications would typically say that the Pension Office could not validate (or the applicant could not provide evidence of) the claim, this was an age in which bounty jumping and desertion were fairly common. A newspaper search for “pension fraud” provides plenty of evidence of that practice.

This is from a 1868 Missouri paper:
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I can’t think of any case that I’ve investigated where the applicant was directly accused of fraud or prosecuted on the grounds that he didn’t served when he said he did. I think that it was much more common for these old gentlemen to shade the truth about the source or extent of a disability.

I did encounter a case in the late 1880s where a veteran claimed a service-related injury but there was no war-time documentation of it. Worse, the investigator found evidence that the old man had recently fallen off a scaffold while painting his house.

There was testimony back and forth about the cause of his injuries but then the law changed in 1890 and the applicant was no longer required to prove that the disability was service related. He re-applied and it was approved. If there had been strong enough evidence that he had committed pension fraud in the first application, then he would have been disqualified for the second one.
 
Joined
Aug 2, 2019
Define "lie." I have seen a number of pensions that shade the truth a bit. I've seen applications by widows that have details wrong. I haven't yet found one that out and out lies in a way so obvious as to be a known to the submitter lie. But, knowing human nature, I'm sure they are out there. I mean - we are talking about money here. Money that was available if you met certain criteria. Surely some folks who didn't quite meet the standard and thought they should fudged the facts a little. Or a lot.
Other than the fact that today is my birthday and it ends with an "0", I don't know how old I a most days without doing some math first.

And sometimes the census taker would ask the landlord questions, and the landlord was not necessarily aware of things like past spouses or tenant's actual ages.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
Absolutely--yes! A genealogy society friend had a ancestor who tried to gain a pension by claiming to be his cousin of the same name. The government checked thoroughly and while the claim was rejected, the file was a gold mine of family information.

Fraudulent pension claims are so numerous that they are kept in special files (often called "rejected claims") and have plagued the pension system since the Revolution. Pension files are filled with letters supporting a claimant's entitlement. Any time there is money involved, these primary documents are suspect and need to be treated with care.
 

Fairfield

Sergeant Major
Member of the Month
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
If you look through the pension index, it is not uncommon to spot an individual listed as a "contesting widow". in other words, the veteran died, a woman filed for pension benefits as his widow, then a second woman also filed claiming that SHE was the actual widow. In fact, I have seen a pension index card that listed 3 contesting widows (one original claimant to be the widow and three separate challengers).

While the deceased veteran might have been a traveling salesman with a wife in every town <g>, I suspect that some of these 'contesting widows' claims were completely fabricated.
Your suspicion certainly may be correct. However, in my study of soldiers from my town, the "contest widow" was usually the last wife (and often the one who had lived with him for years). The successful claimant was the first wife whose husband marched off to war and simply never returned. The contest widow often didn't know that her husband had been married previously until the original wife presented her claim.

I've researched one such woman who obtained her absent husband's whereabouts and his date of death via a psychic :wink:(his family members in a nearby town helped). In another, the contest widow was actually living with her husband's parents and everyone seemed to have liked her better; when the pension was awarded to the first wife, the father was able to obtain pensions for the minor children that the soldier had with the contest widow.
 

Championhilz

First Sergeant
Joined
Mar 18, 2011
Location
Clinton, Mississippi
My G-G Grandmother, Catherine Speer, filed for a U.S. Pension claiming her husband, Alexander Speer, had served in the 1st Mississippi Mounted Rifles, the only white regiment raised from the state - he had indeed served, but in the 3rd Mississippi Cavalry (State Troops,) a Confederate unit.
 
Joined
Mar 2, 2019
Location
Reno, Nevada
I'm sure it happened. One of my great-great-grandfathers disappeared about 1880 (he's in Chicago records in 1880), and when my great-great-grandmother applied for a pension in her third husband's name she claimed her first husband (my gg-grandfather) was run over by horses and killed in 1878. That's probably what she fantasized about as she was raising their two small children alone until she married her second husband who was twice her age. She didn't declare her second marriage in the pension application. (Her second and third marriages probably were bigamy.)
 
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