Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Ambulance Chasing...Civil War Style

If you're like me, you're local billboards, television, radio, and phone book are decorated with advertisements for accident and injury lawyers. One of the more successful ones in these parts goes by the colorful handle of "The Texas Hammer."

While many Civil War enthusiasts - especially those who have researched ancestors that fought in the war - might be familiar with penison records as s ource of useful information about the service of a particular soldier, they are probably less aware of the important place that Civil War pension attorneys played in the late 19th century.

In looking through some Civil War ephemera in my collection, I came across a circular for "J.B. Cralle, U.S. Claim and Pension Attorney," with offices in Washington, DC. The undated circular is entitled "Diseases Resulting in Other Disabilities," and on the first page, Cralle details - with the aid of "two eminent physicians" - a list of primary diseases and injuries that a Civil War pensioner may have suffered that result in subsequent disabilities for which the veteran may be due an increased pension.

For example:

"MEASLES may result in disease of lungs, heart, or eyes, atrophy of the testicles, asthma and bronchitis"

"DEAFNESS may result in disaese of brain and spinal irritation"

"INJURY TO BACK may result in curvature of spine, paralysis and disease of kidneys"

In all, the Cralle circular suggests more than a hundred complications that could result from about forty primary diseases and injuries. The next three pages of the four-page pamphlet detail the increases that Cralle was able to secure for more than 300 veterans, whom he mentions by name and by the monthly pension increases he was able to secure.

Few modern institutions have done as much research on the evolution of pension law as it relates to Union veterans as the Law, Health Policy, and Disability Center at the University of Iowa. Their studies reveal much about the social, political, and economic aspects of the evolving pension law and attitudes about the attorneys and pensioners themselves.

The Center has a very nice website, with full text access to some of their interesting and detailed studies they have published in medical and legal journals, including:

Union Army Veterans with Hearing Loss and the Evolutions of Disability in America During 1862-1920 (2004) - a short article in which the authors examine the prevalence of hearing loss in Union Army veterans by year, birth cohort, and occupation, and compare Civil War pension and contemporary disability programs by examining monthly dollar awards.

"Never Forget What They Did Here": Civil War Pensions For Gettysburg Union Army Veterans and Disability in Nineteenth-Century America (2003) - a very interesting article in which they follow the post-war disabilities of Gettysburg veterans specifically, comment on the public's perception of disabled veterans, and the important part that the pension system played in maintaining party loyalty

Civil War Pension Attorneys and Disability Politics (2002) - a remarkably detailed and annotated 80-page study that provides a detailed examination of the pension disability
program established after the Civil War for Union Army Veterans.

and several others.

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