An Introduction To Civil War Pension Records
As you read Civil War pension files, you will realize just how much times have changed. What today would be considered minor infirmities, easily treated and quickly cured by modern medicine, were truly life-ruining afflictions. Hemorrhoids, hernias, and gunshot wounds that did not heal properly sometimes proved to be totally debilitating. Diseases which we hardly ever experience today, like rheumatic fever and dysentery, were not uncommon among military men, and often went undiagnosed and untreated. Here are just few examples from the Bisbee family:
Leroy H. Bisbee seems to have contracted rheumatic fever while serving in a cavalry unit in the Shenandoah Valley. It destroyed the valves in his heart. Although he is described as an "ambitious" man, he suffered extreme pain in the area of his heart whenever he did any vigorous exercise. For the rest of his relatively short life he and his wife remained impoverished because he could not get a job that paid good wages.
Elisha Bisbee fought at Gettysburg and suffered severe hemorrhoids a couple of years after returning from the war. He was barely able to earn a living from his trade as a blacksmith and, although he married twice, he must have been in a great deal of pain and embarrassment.
John Bisbee suffered a gunshot wound to his wrist at Chancellorsville. It never healed properly and he was never again able to do manual labor without the wrist swelling and laying him up for days or weeks at a time. There were few desk jobs and if you could not perform manual labor, you could not accumulate property. Your standard of living suffered greatly.
I hope you enjoy reading these records. Perhaps you will come away, as I did, with a heightened sense of empathy and respect for our great-grandfathers, as well as feeling fortunate indeed to have been born in modern times.
William F. Bisbee
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