Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Question #3

Today, our state and federal governments share responsibility for care of military veterans, but that certainly wasn’t the case for a million Confederate veterans after the Civil War. I’m often asked, “Who built the Confederate soldiers homes? Who paid to run them?”

The United States government wasn’t about to pay pensions or provide support to the million ex-Confederates who had fought to overthrow it. A few cash-strapped Southern states implemented modest pension or aid programs but, generally, disabled Confederate veterans were left to the care of family or friends.

The impetus to build and operate Confederate veterans’ homes came, in the most part, from the veterans themselves, who saw the decrepit condition of some of their old comrades as unseemly and disrespectful to the Lost Cause. Employing a dozen different financial schemes (and failing at almost as many attempts to open and operate a sustainable veterans’ home), ex-Confederates and their sympathizers learned that a successful Confederate soldiers home required energetic Confederate veterans’ groups, a supportive public and a generous state government.

The homes in Missouri, Kentucky and Georgia (among others) resulted when those states’ United Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy launched statewide lobbying and fundraising programs to build and equip a home, then sought state appropriations to pay operating costs. (Georgians misjudged the political climate, and their original Confederate soldiers’ home remained vacant for almost a decade when legislators failed to vote funding to support it.)

As time passed and the Confederate generation died out, the states took full financial responsibility for the homes. But, as one old veteran put it in the 1930s, “Nary a federal greenback was ever spent to put a roof over the heads or a meal in the mouths of our old boys in the Home.”

(For brief answers to other common questions, click the “Most-Asked Questions” button under the header of the blog.)

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