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Civil War Pay

The payment of soldiers is greatly overshadowed by emphasis on military strategy, tactics, weapons, technology, generals, regiments, and personalities. Yet the issue of pay is linked to the greater economic concerns of financing a war as part of the national budget. The paymaster's money box represents the final point of transfer for federal dollars that flowed down the system to the rank and file, who were on the front line in waging the war. During the Civil War, many families relied upon the pay received and sent home by fathers or sons serving in the military, many of whom may have been the family's sole breadwinner. Although soldiers were to be paid every two weeks, pay was often months late. As a result, many families became destitute, leading many soldiers to desert the ranks to take care of their loved ones. Accounts of the logistics of paying the soldier in the field are scarce, although there are many anecdotal accounts of irregular pay.

The Army did not issue safes to paymasters so there are no specifications for their manufacture, but the Quartermaster Department provided paymaster boxes when paymasters submitted requisitions for them. There are records of the purchase of boxes from several manufacturers, primarily in New York, in the Quartermaster Department files at the National Archives. Paymaster safes were made of heavy iron to keep money and records secure from theft as well as from fire.


Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877)

The Civil War (1861-1865) was perhaps the most momentous event in American history. The survival of the United States as one nation was at risk, and on the outcome of the war depended the nation's ability to bring to reality the ideals of liberty, equality, human dignity, and justice.

Abraham Lincoln's election to the presidency in 1860 brought to a climax the long festering debate about the relative powers of the federal and the state governments. By the time of his inauguration, six southern states had seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America, soon to be followed by five more. The war that followed between North and South put constitutional government to its severest test. After four bloody years of war, the Union was preserved, four million African American slaves were freed, and an entire nation was released from the oppressive weight of slavery. The war can be viewed in several different ways: as the final, violent phase in a conflict of two regional subcultures; as the breakdown of a democratic political system; as the climax of several decades of social reform; or as a pivotal chapter in American racial history. However interpreted, the Civil War stands as a story of great heroism, sacrifice, triumph, and tragedy.

As important as the war itself was the tangled problem of how to reconstruct the defeated South. Encouraged by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution, African Americans at last nourished hopes for full equality. Their hopes were to be dashed. By 1877, Southern white resistance and the withdrawal of federal supervision brought about the "redemption" of the South and African Americans were disenfranchised. The redemption measures enforced greater racial separation and increased white intimidation and violence.


"Farewell, Mother(Confederate Parody)"

"Farewell, Mother(Confederate Parody)" from the recording entitled Ballads of the Civil War 1831-1865, Folkways F 5004, provided courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. © 1954 Used by permission.

"Farewell, Mother" is a Confederate Parody on the song "Just Before the Battle, Mother : When will My Darling Boy Return".

Partial Lyrics:
"…I hear the bugle sounding, mother,
My soul is eager for the fray.
I guess I’ll hide behind some cover,
And than I shall be O.K.

Discretion’s the better part of valor,
At least I’ve often heard you say;
And he who loves his life, dear mother,
Won’t fight if he can run away... "


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