How Black Women Fought for Civil War Pensions and Benefits

Over two million soldiers enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. At its end, the United States had far more veterans and surviving dependents than it had ever had before. In the decades that followed, military pensions became a significant part of the federal budget, accounting for 37% of the budget in 1894.

Despite the huge growth in payments to veterans and their loved ones after the civil war, obtaining compensation could be a difficult process that required a lot of time and resources. The legacy of slavery has made this process especially difficult for black women claiming benefits.

READ MORE: Veterans pensions were once considered government handouts

Marriages of initially unrecognized slave couples

Widows of Civil War soldiers could begin to approach the Pension Office during the war, and one of the first major obstacles for black women who had survived slavery was the office’s marriage requirement. Women had to prove that they had been married to their deceased husband in order to receive survivor benefits. However, because enslaved men and women did not have the legal right to marry, the Bureau of Pensions did not initially recognize their unions.

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