William F. Taylor’s Civil War Pension

William F. Taylor enlisted as a private in Company B of the First Regiment of the (Alabama and Tennessee) Independent Volunteer Vidette Cavalry at Bridgeport, Alabama on 1 February 1864 and served for four and a half months under Captain George F. Allen until the regiment was mustered out on 16 June 1864.   Having served for at least 90 days in the U.S. Army he was eligible for pensions based on disability and/or old age beginning with the pension act of 1890.  He drew pensions under the 1890 and subsequent acts, each of which required an application.  Some of the application documents required submission of genealogically significant information that we might not have obtained from any other source.

Summary of Genealogical Information

Among the supporting documents for his pension claims are several genealogically significant statements, many of which were repeated in sworn statements over the course of more than twenty years of filings:

  • He was born in Randolph County, Georgia on 9 February 1841.
  • He married Margaret Morgan in Walker County, Georgia on 10 February 1859.  It was the first marriage for both and was performed by William Bailey, J.P.
  • He moved to Alabama in 1859
  • He was living in Marshall County, Alabama when he was discharged in 1864
  • He subsequently lived in DeKalb County, in or near the town of Ft. Payne, until 1885
  • In February 1885 he moved to Texas, initially to Cookville in Titus County
  • About 1891 he moved a few miles to Omaha, in Morris County, Texas (where he died in 1914)
  • He provided a list of his nine children and their birth dates.

In addition, the pension file contains several physical descriptions, with his height variously given as 5’8″ and 5’10” and weight as 135 to 137 pounds.  His eyes were described as “dark grey” and his hair as “dark”.

He signed his name numerous times as William F. Taylor, and he was consistently referred to in these records as William F. Taylor, but the file contains no clue to his middle name.

The Pension Act of 1890

On 27 June 1890 Congress passed the Dependent and Disability Pension Act, which provided for disability pensions for U.S. Army veterans who were unable to perform manual labor, regardless of how or when their disability was incurred.   The pension amount was $6 to $12 per month depending on the severity of disability.  Any soldier who served for 90 days or more was eligible, regardless of income, as was the widow of any soldier regardless of when they married.

Although $6 to $12 sounds trivial to us, it was anything but at the time.   Half a million veterans and their widows were added to the pension rolls as a result of the 1890 Act.  By a very large margin, it was the largest single appropriation act in history.   By 1894, when William Taylor’s case was settled, military pension payments consumed a whopping 37% of the federal budget.  The Act was passed largely through the efforts of the largest lobbying organization ever seen in America, the 400,000-member Grand Army of the Republic.  The G. A. R., while a fraternal organization, existed largely to procure benefits for veterans by assuring the election of sympathetic politicians.

William F. Taylor’s 1890-91 Filings

In December 1890, a few months after the act was passed, William F. Taylor applied for a pension claiming disability due to rheumatism.   His family physician, Dr. Thaddeus S. Burford of Cookville, provided an affidavit in January 1891 testifying that William F. Taylor suffered from interstitial nephritis (a kidney disease that can cause back pain).  He wrote that “Mr. Taylor’s financial circumstances are such that he is dependent on his labor for a living” but the pain associated with bending and stooping limited him to light labor.  Asked to estimate the percentage of ability lost, Dr. Burford responded that he could not place a figure on it but he supposed it might be as much as three-fourths as “he is wholly unable to perform heavy manual labor” to support his family of a wife and five children.

Two Cookville residents, William H. Norrell (a neighbor in Alabama who had also moved to  Cookville) and D. E. Welborn, swore in a January 1891 affidavit that they had known William Taylor for several years and that he “is often laid up with his back or spine… is not able to perform manual labor…often complains of a heavy dragging pain in the lower part of his back and kidneys.”   Testifying as to his character, they swore “he is a man of temperate habits and known as a sober, peaceable, and very respectable old gentleman.”

Unfortunately his application initially misidentified the regiment in which he served as the 4th (sic) Regiment of Independent Alabama Vidette Cavalry, which resulted in a delay until War Department identified the correct unit.

On 26 August 1891 he filed a supplemental claim that as a result of his army service he incurred a “spinal affection” causing “pain in my back, right hip and leg frequently extending into my head. Stooping over hurts me so I cannot work in the spring or in changeable weather”.   A pension board in Texarkana examined him and decided that he suffered from “rheumatism of the muscles of the back, right thigh and leg”. Because it found him otherwise healthy, the board recommended only a one-third disability pension of $6 per month.    He was eventually approved for a $6 pension on certificate no. 749299 in March 1892.

His 1892-95 Filings

He almost immediately sought to have the amount increased.   In May 1892, now residing in Omaha, he applied for a $12 (two-thirds disability) pension on the grounds that he had a kidney disease in addition to rheumatism and was unable to perform manual labor on which his family depended.   He had acquired a new physician named Strickland, and in June 1892 Dr. Strickland testified that William F. Taylor “has rheumatism and is not able to do manual labor to the extent that is necessary to make a living for his family.”  He estimated that “I don’t think he is able to do more than one fourth of the amount of labor that might be performed by a healthy man.”

The pension board considered his claim but decided that his disability was not sufficient for an increase in pension and, in fact, might not qualify for a disability pension at all.  The Bureau of Pensions notified him in April 1893 that his pension would be reconsidered and could be discontinued unless he submitted new evidence of his incapacity to perform manual labor.

The case dragged on for the next few years.  In April 1894 he responded, adding “disease of kidneys” to his rheumatism condition, and stating that “my rheumatism affects me so that I cannot sleep and I am unable to do more than [a] half hand’s work.”   However, later that month he was examined by the pension board in Texarkana which found no evidence of rheumatism or other disability and declared his physical condition “good”.   The board’s doctor measured his height at 5′ 8″ and weight as 137 pounds.

A year after that, in response to a notification that he was to be dropped from the pension rolls, he penned a handwritten letter (noting that there were no typewriters in Omaha) to the Bureau of Pensions pleading that the loss of his pension would “work a hardship on me the remainder of my days.”  He enclosed a medical opinion from yet another physician, D. L. Kirby, who endorsed his disability claim.   And Dr. Joseph T. Dunagan, who had been his physician for four months, filed an affidavit declaring that William F. Taylor was now suffering from “heart trouble” in addition to rheumatism and was unable to “do more than fifty percent of manual labor.”

He was partially successful.  The pension wasn’t dropped but no increase was granted either.  The Bureau of Pensions decided in June 1895 to continue his $6 per month partial disability pension.

Theodore Roosevelt’s 1904 Executive Order

President Roosevelt, who critics accused of pandering to the G.A.R. in an election year, issued Executive Order 78 that extended pensions to all veterans over 62, effectively declaring old age to be a disability in itself.   Effective 13 April 1904 veterans who had served 90 days or more (or their widows) were eligible for $6 pensions at age 62 with the amount increasing with age to as much as $15.  Roosevelt’s critics accused him of yet another instance of exceeding his authority by issuing an illegal and unconstitutional order.  Nevertheless, the Department of the Interior, where the pension bureau resided, proceeded to implement the Executive Order.

On 7 June 1904 William F. Taylor hand-wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Pensions asking if he was now eligible for an increase of his $6 pension since he was over 63 years old.   The response was negative, as he wasn’t quite old enough.  Though he could have received the same amount under the E.O. without proof of disability, he apparently chose not to do so.

Two years later, at the age of 65, he formally applied for an increase to his pension because “as I grow older [my rheumatism] gets worse on me.”  A $2 increase was granted in April 1906 to $8 per month.

In 1907 Congress made the debate over Executive Order 78 moot by converting it into law.

The Pension Act of 6 February 1907

On 6 February 1907 Congress provided for veteran pensions based on age rather than disability.   Veterans who had served at least 90 days were to be paid $12 at age 62, $15 at age 70, and $20 at age 75.    Most veterans who were receiving pensions under the 1890 act transferred to the 1907 act in order to receive increased amounts.  The 1907 act completed a transition from a combat-disability pension system to an age-based system.  In 1870, when pensions were based on combat-related injury, only 5% of veterans were receiving pensions.  By 1910 fully 93% of all army veterans were pensioned.

The 1907 and Later Filings

Like nearly all pensioners, William F. Taylor almost immediately initiated an application for a pension under the 1907 law which would give him a 50% increase to $12 per month.  His application process spanned the period of May to December 1907.  Among the questionnaires and documents in the application was his statement that he enlisted on 1 February 1864 at Stevenson (sic), Alabama in Company B of the First Independent Vidette Cavalry and served until 16 June 1864 under Captain George F. Allen.   He gave his height as 5 feet 10 inches, and described himself as having a dark complexion with dark hair and eyes — exactly as recorded more than forty years earlier at his enlistment.

He further stated that he lived in Fort Payne, Alabama following the war until February 1885 when he moved to Texas “near Omaha”. His present address was a farm outside Omaha.  Three locals named J. M. Riddle, A. W. Hayes, and J. B. Davis testified to his veracity.  In filling out the pension application he stated that his wife was named Margaret, that “her maiden name was Morgan”, and that they were married 10 February 1859 in Walker County, Georgia by William Baily, J.P. He also provided a list of all his children and their birth dates.

The pension was issued at $12 per month effective in February 1908.

By 1911, when he reached the age of 70, he became eligible for an increase to $15 per month.  He applied for and received the increase to be effective in April 1911.  A year later the pension act was amended to make him eligible for a pension of $18 per month, which became effective in June 1912.

In applications filed on 5 April 1911 and on 17 June 1912 (this one under the Act of 11 May 1912) in order to receive an increased pension for veterans aged 70 or more, he added the information that he was born in Randolph County, Georgia on 9 February 1841 and lived in Georgia until 1859.  He lived in Marshall County, Alabama when discharged from service, then lived in DeKalb County, Alabama until moving to Texas in 1885.  He lived first in Cookville then at Omaha.  He also stated that his wife died on 3 August 1908.  Under “names of comrades” he listed his brother James F. Taylor, David Evans, and Macklen McCurdy all of whom also served in Company B.

His last pension check was returned by the Omaha postmaster with the notation that William F. Taylor had died on 28 April 1914.