Congressional Support for Confederate Soldiers
At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a move in the North was made to reconcile with Southerners. President McKinley was instrumental in this movement. When the Spanish-American War concluded successfully in December 1898, President McKinley used this as an opportunity to “mend the fences”.
On 14 December 1898 he gave a speech in which he urged reconciliation based on the outstanding service of Southerners during the recent war with Spain. Remember, as part of the conciliation, several former Confederate officers were commissioned as generals to include former Confederate cavalry general, Wheeler. This is what McKinley said:
“…every soldier’s grave made during our unfortunate civil war [sic] is a tribute to American valor [my emphasis]… And the time has now come… when in the spirit of fraternity we should share in the care of the graves of the Confederate soldiers…The cordial feeling now happily existing between the North and South prompts this gracious act and if it needed further justification it is found in the gallant loyalty to the Union and the flag so conspicuously shown in the year just passed by the sons and grandsons of those heroic dead.”
The response from Congress to this plea was magnanimous and resulted in the Appropriations Act of FY 1901 (below).
Congressional Appropriations Act, FY 1901, signed 6 June 1900
Congress passed an act of appropriations for $2,500 that enabled the “Secretary of War to have reburied in some suitable spot in the national cemetery at Arlington, Virginia, and to place proper headstones at their graves, the bodies of about 128 Confederate soldiers now buried in the National Soldiers Home near Washington, D.C., and the bodies of about 136 Confederate soldiers now buried in the national cemetery at Arlington, Virginia.”
Remarks: More important than the amount (worth substantially more in 1900 than in 2000) is the move to support reconciliation by Congressional act. In 1906, Confederate Battle flags were ordered to be returned to the states from whence they originated. Some states refused to return the flags. Wisconsin still has at least one flag it refuses to return.
Congressional Act of 9 March 1906
We Honor Our Fallen Ancestors
(P.L. 38, 59th Congress, Chap. 631-34 Stat. 56)
Authorized the furnishing of headstones for the graves of Confederates who died, primarily in Union prison camps and were buried in Federal cemeteries.
Remarks: This act formally reaffirmed Confederate soldiers as military combatants with legal standing. It granted recognition to deceased Confederate soldiers commensurate with the status of deceased Union soldiers.
U.S. Public Law 810, Approved by 17th Congress 26 February 1929
(45 Stat 1307 – Currently on the books as 38 U.S. Code, Sec. 2306)
This law, passed by the U.S. Congress, authorized the “Secretary of War to erect headstones over the graves of soldiers who served in the Confederate Army and to direct him to preserve in the records of the War Department the names and places of burial of all soldiers for whom such headstones shall have been erected.”
Remarks: This act broadened the scope of recognition further for all Confederate soldiers to receive burial benefits equivalent to Union soldiers. It authorized the use of U.S. government (public) funds to mark Confederate graves and record their locations.
U.S. Public Law 85-425: Sec. 410 Approved 23 May 1958
The Administrator shall pay to each person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War a monthly pension in the same amounts and subject to the same conditions as would have been applicable to such person under the laws in effect on December 31, 1957, if his service in such forces had been service in the military or naval forces of the United States.
Remarks: While this was only a gesture since the last Confederate veteran died in 1958, it is meaningful in that only forty-five years ago (from 2003), the Congress of the United States saw fit to consider Confederate soldiers as equivalent to U.S. soldiers for service benefits. This final act of reconciliation was made almost one hundred years after the beginning of the war and was meant as symbolism more than substantive reward.
Additional Note by the Critical History: Under current U.S. Federal Code, Confederate Veterans are equivalent to Union Veterans.
U.S. Code Title 38 – Veterans’ Benefits, Part II – General Benefits, Chapter 15 – Pension for Non-Service-Connected Disability or Death or for Service, Subchapter I – General, § 1501. Definitions: (3) The term “Civil War veteran” includes a person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, and the term “active military or naval service” includes active service in those forces.
Researched by: Tim Renick, Combined Arms Library Staff, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Member: Brigadier General William Steele SCV Camp 1857.
Edited By: Lt. Col. (Retired) Edwin L. Kennedy, Jr. Member: Brigadier General William Steele SCV Camp 1857.