August 1862. The American Civil War had been raging for over a year. So far, it had seemed remote to the residents of Athens County, Ohio. But now news arrived that the rebels were on the move and rumor had it their goal was crossing the Ohio River and bringing the horrors of war to peaceful southern Ohio.
There was a rush of men to the recruiters. Defend the home! Repel the raiders! Included in these new recruits were three brothers from Athens County – Loren, William, and Eli Persons. They travelled to Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, Ohio where William and Loren were duly mustered into the Federal service with the 73rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Eli, however, volunteered to defend the river crossings.
The process for joining the army during the Civil War, especially by 1862 when things had been “regularized”, was bureaucratic and time-consuming. Recruits would travel from their homes to local recruiters where they would be “enrolled” and then sent to a depot or “camp” where they would be examined by a physician, issued a uniform and equipment, and, at some point, they would “muster in” to service. It was this last step, where their names were placed on a muster roll, that their service usually officially began.
Loren’s and William’s records show they enrolled August 22 at Athens and were mustered in on October 18 at Camp Dennison. Eli does not appear on a muster roll. There is a document in his service record, dated October 21, 1862, that says he was absent when the recruits were mustered in. In April 1863 Eli tried to obtain a discharge. There is a record signed by Dr. William Blackstone from May 1863 that notes Eli is incapable of service. It is a very sparse document, however, with no organization or discharge information completed.
An affidavit from 1871 where he was applying for a disability (invalid, in the parlance of the day) pension, states he was given his uniform on or about 1 September 1862. Another affidavit, by Lieutenant John Kinney, who was acting as a recruiter for the 73rd Ohio in Athens in 1862, states that Eli was accepted for service August 31, 1862. Captain Higgins, in command of the recruits, asked for volunteers to repel the rebels – John Hunt Morgan and his cavalry was on the move! Eli raised his hand. He went with a detachment of volunteers to the Licking River in Kentucky. There, serving guard duty for two weeks continuously, he caught “cold which settled into his eyes”.
Another affidavit, from 1875, notes that he was sent home, sick, and never went to a field hospital. In Athens he was treated by local doctors Moore and Blackstone. This is not surprising since the regiment, the 73rd Ohio, was in service with the Army of the Potomac, at that time licking its wounds from the Second Battle of Manassas in camp in front of Washington, D. C. The regimental surgeon was likely quite busy and hundreds of miles away.
Eli’s “cold”, in the words of Doctor Moore, left him totally blind in one eye and virtually blind in the other.
Congress had passed the first Invalid Pension Act on July 14, 1862, granting a monthly payment of $8 for soldiers suffering “total disability” for the performance of manual labor. That is, the Act was passed before Eli walked off his farm to help repel the rebel invasion. An updated Act of June 6, 1866, expanded this to award those incapacitated for the performance of “any manual labor.”
Being totally or virtually blind, one would think, qualified Eli for a pension under either Act. But Eli did not apply until November 1871. One wonders how he and wife Susan, and their four children (all under age 10 when he returned from Kentucky) got by.
On November 13, 1871, Eli applied for an invalid pension. He acquired affidavits from Dr. Mordecai Moore who had treated him upon his return to Athens, Dr. Eusebius B. Waterman and Dr. Sebastian Rehm, who both treated Eli in the spring of 1863. He also included a plaintive report:
“there is no other Doctors whose affidavit I can obtain. Doctor Stuart who treated my Eyes a Short time Is I Believe Still living. But I can not learn his address. Dr. Cornell of Chester, Ohio who treated me a Short time, has become a habitual drunkard and claims that he cannot Remember of treating my Eyes. Dr. Ferrell of Cincinnati, Ohio is Dead. He also having treated my Eyes for Some time.”
Eli included an examination performed January 15, 1872 which confirmed he was still blind and would remain so – total and permanent disability. The above-mentioned Lieutenant Kinney’s affidavit was included. Finally, included in the application were affidavits from Alonzo Buck and Alpheus C. McGrath recounting Eli’s service story - he had enlisted, volunteered to fight Morgan, become sick leading to blindness while on duty.
Also in his record is a note from the War Department to the Pension Office (part of the validation process) with the ominous statement, “The name of Eli Persons does not appear on rolls Co “K” 73rd Regt Ohio Vols on file in this office.” Nothing more.
Next in the record is a letter from Eli’s attorney, W. W. McCormick, dated October 10, 1872, almost a full year after the application, asking for the status. A note on the back, apparently by a clerk in the Pension Office, states the application had been referred to General Foster on August 29. My, how the wheels of bureaucracy turn!
Patience, however, was eventually rewarded. Although there are no documents in the record in 1873 and 1874 one can imagine a bureaucratic exchange of letters. Finally, Eli was granted a pension under the Special Act No. 28 of 1875, in the amount of $24 per month starting February 11, 1875. This amount was rapidly increased over the next year, to $31.25, then $50 and finally, on June 17, 1878, to $72 per month. In May 1904 this was increased again, to $100 per month.
When Eli moved, in 1886, to Minnesota, his pension was switched to the Milwaukee office and the money continued to arrive. He and Susan settled into life in the town of Long Prairie, near where their children had taken up their trades - Sam and Sylvester in agriculture and Elizabeth was managing a growing family beside her blacksmith husband.
However, on the 4th of July 1905, a challenge was made. Henry Baugh, a plasterer and (later) mason, filed a letter with the Chief of the Pension Bureau reporting “a large pension being drawn by fraudulent means.”
Baugh had moved with his family to Minnesota from Indiana when he was 5. The 1875 Minnesota Census shows him living with his parents in Gordon Township, Todd County. He and his second wife, Charlotte, had moved to Long Prairie at the beginning of 1905 (according to the 1905 Minnesota Census). The 1910 US Census showed them living only a couple houses away from Susan.
Henry’s source of information is lost to history. But, in a letter to the Bureau of Pensions, dated August 15, 1905, he says “I do not believe he [Eli] was ever mustered into the service”. He names three witnesses – one in Todd County and two more still in Athens County, Ohio. Curiously Henry states the pension amount to be $72; clearly not knowing about the 1904 increase. The first line of the last paragraph is also interesting – “Please keep my name out of it as I cannot swear to anything.”
There is a response from the Milwaukee Pension agent to the Commissioner in Washington, D.C., dated August 29, 1905, where Eli’s particulars are included. There is a note in Eli’s file of Henry’s protest. However, the Commissioner replied to Henry on September 13, 1905: “…you are advised that the papers in this claim show that Mr. Persons was originally granted a pension by a Special Act of Congress, and that the facts relative to the soldier’s service were known to the Senate Committee on Pensions, where the bill of his relief originated.” Eli’s pension was not interrupted.
On February 20, 1908, Eli died. Susan filed for a widow’s pension the next month. Only to be rejected.
A clerk’s slip in the record, dated May 12, 1908, directs the Western Division to send a letter rejecting Susan’s claim. A note on the outer jacket of Eli’s pension record states the rejection was because the “soldier never mustered in service.” The reasoning for rejection was that because Eli was added to the pension rolls by Special Act and not regularly, she had no “title” to widow’s benefits, as they were only available to those who had been “mustered in.”
There is no communication in the file past this. Apparently, Susan did not receive any benefit. Perhaps Henry Baugh grinned from across the street at her misfortune.
Thank you to Dan Persons for the discharge documents.