Veterans’ benefits have been offered to America’s soldiers since colonial times, when Plymouth Colony provided pensions to soldiers disabled defending the colony from Indian attack. After independence and in the years leading up the Civil War, pension eligibility gradually broadened to include widows and orphans of the disabled, and then to include veterans who were simply “in need.”
The Civil War greatly increased the number of veterans, from about 80,000 in 1861 to nearly 2 million by 1865, not including Confederate veterans. Early in the war, the General Pension Act (1862) again broadened eligibility, providing disability payments based on rank and on the extent of the disability, and increasing benefits for widows, children and dependent relatives. Under this legislation, benefits could be drawn for disabilities incurred during peacetime. The General Pension Act officially recognized, for the first time, the serious toll that communicable disease took on soldiers, and provided compensation for diseases contracted while serving in the military.
After the war, Union veterans organized The Grand Army of the Republic. The largest veterans’ organization to date, the GAR successfully worked to increase disabled veterans’ benefits. The organization won a great victory with the passage of The Consolidation Act in 1873, which mandated that the degree of disability alone, without regard to rank, was the basis for the amount awarded to a veteran. Disability remained the only reason for awarding a pension until passage of The Dependent Pension Act of 1890, which broadened coverage to those veterans who were now incapable of doing manual labor, whether or not they had been discharged for medical reasons. This act nearly doubled the pension roll. It wasn’t until the Sherwood Act of 1912, that all veterans, regardless of their medical condition, received benefits at the age of 62.
We can easily imagine that with each new pension legislation, many, probably most, veterans looked at their circumstances and considered the possible gain to be had by making yet another pension application. For sheer tenacity in his determined efforts to overcome bureaucratic red tape and constantly increase his benefits, one pensioner, Henry Harrison Melick, deserves notice.
|Pvt. Henry Harrison Melick|
32nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Henry Harrison Melick, son of William Melick and Ann Rhodes, was born on August 8, 1840 in Roseville, Ohio. He served in Company G, 32nd Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry from August 1, 1861-July20, 1865. Army muster rolls and pension papers indicate that Henry took part in the Vicksburg Campaign and in Sherman’s Campaign. He was captured at the Battle of Atlanta and spent four months in Andersonville Prison before being paroled. Henry returned to Roseville after being mustered out, and a year and a half later, on December 26, 1866, married Susan Lenhart, a descendant of two sets of my great-great-great-great grandparents.
Henry spent decades (1879-1928) trying to get an “Increase in Invalid Pension” payment, citing health problems linked to the Andersonville confinement. With each increase, he would file for yet another. His pension file, obtained from the National Archives, weighs 3 lbs. Henry’s pension history, briefly, is as follows:
· Henry made his Original Invalid Pension application in November, 1879. In that application, he deposed that he was captured at Atlanta and confined at Andersonville, Millen (Camp Lawton), and Savannah for 4 months and 4 days” beginning July 22, 1864. The confinement and resulting exposure to the weather resulted in chronic “disease of the throat” and “disease of the lungs. All of Henry’s subsequent medical exams revealed a chronically inflamed throat and detailed a number of unpleasant accompanying characteristics of this chronic condition. Not all agreed on the severity of the lung “disease” or even that there was a serious lung condition.
· A report from the Adjutant General’s Office (April 21, 1881) reveals the first of several confused facts regarding Pvt. Melick’s imprisonment. One record had Henry paroled at Savannah November 26, 1864 contradicting the original report stating he was part of a prisoner exchange March/April 1865. The same reports stated he was Away with Leave during May/June 1865 while the company muster rolls show him present.
· In a letter to the Adjutant General’s Office dated December 1881, Henry got a little “testy”, noting with some sarcasm that he was answering some of the same questions answered previously. The modern-day reader can well appreciate his exasperation, but Henry’s efforts literally paid off, and as of January 24, 1882, he began to receive $4 monthly for his disability.
· In April 1884, Henry made the first of many applications for increase in pension, claiming inability to work “at any labour”. The examining surgeon believed his worsening condition warranted being awarded “total disability”. His pension was increased to $8 per month, but Henry was not granted the total disability status the surgeon had recommended.
· The surgeon’s assertion that Henry should be granted “total disability” probably led Henry to request another medical exam. On March 2, 1886, he deposed that he was now “totally disabled” and wanted his pension increased to the maximum of $24. He suggested that there was some prejudice against his case and asked to be examined at Lancaster, where he thought he would receive “fair and impartial” attention. In May, following that medical examination, the government denied his request for a pension increase.
· On December 13, 1886, Henry again applied for an increase. His deposition stated: “He believes he has not yet drawn a pension commensurate to the extent of his disability, and by some means the examiners have not properly considered his disability, as he is now totally disabled from all kinds of manual labor.” He asked to be sent to Zanesville for the exam, “as he believes when last examined at Lancaster Ohio in May 1886 he did not have justice done him”.
· At the medical exam of January 19, 1887, the surgeon declared that Henry “looks feeble”; “his nutrition is not perfect”; “his muscles are soft and flabby”. An increase in pension was recommended and Henry was awarded $10 per month.
· In February 1888, Henry filed another increase application. He wanted the amount increased to $24, claiming that he was told his “disability is equivelent [sic] to the loss of a hand or foot”. (The loss of either was the benchmark for determining the extent of a veteran’s disability; the disability had to be judged by a surgeon as incapacitating as one of these losses.) The previous medical examiner had directly addressed this equivalence, and stated that Henry’s disability was not as severe as one of these losses. Further, Henry claimed prejudice again, and asked to be examined at New Lexington “where he believes he can have justice done.” To his original complaints of “disease of the throat”and “disease of the lungs”, Henry added “chills”, “rheumatism”, and “head pain”. His claim was rejected in August.
· In May 1889, Henry again applied for an increase in invalid pension benefits to $24 per month, and also asked that the $8 he now received would be paid retroactively to when he was first awarded an invalid pension. (Note: Although Henry was awarded $10 monthly in 1887, he apparently never received the increase.) As he did in all of his applications, Henry stated that he was too disabled to do “any labor of any kind.” He also asked to be examined by “the new board at New Lexington” as he “did not have justice done.” To his original war-related complaints, he now, possibly in desperation, added “heart disease.” Although the examining doctor seemed to think there was a heart problem, Henry ‘s claim was again rejected because the rheumatism and heart problem were not related to his war service.
|The Battle of Vicksburg was one of the longest and hardest fought actions of the American Civil War|
· In November 1893, Henry filed a new application to be awarded $24 monthly, claiming that he suffered, in addition to the previous complaints, “nervous spells” as well as heart disease “all as he is informed the result of pensioned cause.” (Note: The medical reports do not support Henry’s assertion, so his informant was more likely someone in his family, a friend, or neighbor.) He claimed, as before, that “justice was not done” and asked to be examined in Lancaster again.
· Henry was examined in March 1894. The surgeon noted Henry’s complaints (“Has nervous spells on taking any exercise, with fluttering of the heart. Feet swell some during the day “) but did not find anything seriously wrong beyond the chronic throat condition.
· Between July and October 1897, Henry began a new application process, obtaining affidavits from G. French of Crooksville and Francis Rider of Roseville attesting to the fact that army life and imprisonment had permanently ruined Henry’s health. He also obtained affidavits from Dr. William Melick and Dr. O. M. Norman attesting that rheumatism and later complaints were directly related to his throat and lung disease. His wife Susan’s affidavit, filed on the day Henry filed his new application, is interesting, especially for the addition of the last sentence, which suggests that some might have thought her under duress to make this statement.
I am the wife of Henry H. Melick and I ought to know more about his disability than any one else, except himself. When he enlisted, he was strong, healthy and active, but when he returned from the service on furlough Dec. 1864, he was but a wreck of his former self. He came home about three weeks after his liberation from prison (Andersonville) and he then weighed only 92 lbs. We were not married then, but were well acquainted and I saw him at that time. He was then suffering from throat and lung trouble, and was extremely nervous. He got some better however, and returned to his Company and served until it [sic] was discharged in Aug. 1865. I saw him at that time and he was still in poor health, though not so bad as when home on furlough. He had not been able to do duty. We were married in Dec. 1866 and though he was improved Physically, he was not strong at all. He still suffered from throat trouble and lung affiction [sic] He also had rheumatism. Had it when he was discharged, and to be brief, he has suffered from throat and lung affection [sic] and rheumatism ever since his return from the army. Has always been extremely nervous also, these disabilities were chronic and became gradually more severe until of late years he has been unfit for manual labor to the extent of earning a living. I wrote this myself.
|Henry Melick wearing Grand Army of|
the Republic ribbon
· Henry’s application of 1897 (which included the above affidavits) claimed (as did Susan’s affidavit) that rheumatism and “nervousness” were part of the original disability, although these complaints were neither mentioned in the Original Invalid Pension request, nor in three subsequent applications.
· Perhaps in response to the new complaints added in Henry’s application of October 4, 1897, the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Pensions requested “a complete military and medical history of the soldier since 1881”. The bureaucrats, it seems, had become as exasperated with Henry as he was them.
· The Zanesville surgeon examining Henry in November 1898, found him underweight, but not otherwise unhealthy, although he confirmed the throat ailment. Interestingly, given Henry’s claim that he was completely disabled from work, the surgeon noted, “Hands show work. Potter by trade”. Nevertheless, he recommended an increase to $12 per month.
· In 1900, Henry filed another request for an increase in his disability pension. (It appears that he never received the increase recommended in 1898.) In this application, Henry added deafness in the left ear to his complaints, and claimed that the throat and lung trouble were “first contracted at Vicksburg Miss after 47 days of siege”.
· Henry was re-examined by a surgeon in New Lexington in May 1901. Although the doctor did not find anything seriously wrong, he recommended an increase in pension to $16.
· In May 1903, Henry applied again for a pension increase based only on disease of throat and lungs, and asked to be examined in McConnelsville or New Lexington. It appears that despite recommendations for increases, Henry still only received $10. This is the first application in which Henry stated he was a farmer.
· In October 1903, the examining surgeon at McConnelsville found Henry to be malnourished and to have bad musculature, in addition to the throat problem. However, he found his hearing to be normal. He recommended an increase to $18.
· In December 1904, Henry filed again. It appears he now received $14 per month.
· In January 1905, Roseville doctor, G. L. Kennedy, signed an affidavit attesting to the severity of Henry’s throat and lung troubles.
· An examining surgeon at New Lexington noted, in 1905, that Henry’s troubles began at Andersonville. This is the claim that Henry made all along, except for his application of 1900. The surgeon noted “some deafness” in one ear. Henry gave his occupation as “traveling salesman”. This was the third job that Henry said he held, despite his assertion beginning in 1884 that he was incapable of doing any work, yet in typical bureaucratic fashion, no one seemed to catch this discrepancy. The surgeon recommended an increase to $20 per month.
· In October 1907, Henry employed Joseph Hunt, “Solicitor of Pension and Patent Cases”, to help him get a pension increase. He claimed the disability had worsened, and asked to be examined at McConnelsville. The surgeon there confirmed that Henry looked in poor health, and recommended an increase to $18. At the time of this examination, Henry declared he was a farmer.
· A pension bureau document dated September 1, 1910 suggests to the reader that Henry actually had been a victim of some bureaucratic bungling. A report on the documentation regarding Henry’s case noted only “3 enclosures” (after all of the applications and surgeon’s reports noted to this point!) and stated there was “no other report on file”. The documents were returned to the Commissioner of Pensions stating “Name Henry H. Melick not found”.
· In October 1910, Henry went to Cambridge to be re-examined. The surgeon noted Henry’s general poor health, and contrary to the previous surgeon ‘s assessment, reported that his “hands do not denote any labor”. He recommended an increase to $30 per month. Henry’s occupation at the time of this examine was “farmer”.
|Union soldiers endured unspeakable conditions at Andersonville Prison|
· Four years later, in another application, Henry claimed that “throat and lung troubles [were] contracted in 1863”. This date is prior to his capture and confinement at Andersonville, and contradicts nearly all of Henry’s previous claims as to the cause of his disability.
· A month later, an examining surgeon at Zanesville wrote: “Is slightly anemic and decidedly on the borderland of emaciation but moves in a surprisingly vigorous manner, considering his condition and appearance. Walks with a cane that is too small and slim to be of service”. Although the doctor noted Henry’s use of a prop (the cane) to game his case, he nevertheless recommended another pension increase. At this time, Henry received $24.
· In September 1922, Henry was examined at New Lexington in response to another application. At this examination, Henry claimed, in addition to the usual litany of complaints, kidney trouble and neuralgia of the neck resulting from his participation in the Battle of Vicksburg. The surgeon reported no evidence of kidney disease or rheumatism. Prostate problems and “beginning senility” were noted, as was the fact that Henry “came alone from his home...does not need (at this time) assistance in the ordinary things” such as eating, attending to calls of nature, etc.
· In May 1925, Henry applied for another increase. In addition to the usual complaints, Henry added “vertigo” and stated that he now needed help in feeding and getting dressed. The examining surgeon at Zanesville noted: “General appearance of claimant is that of an old man who is rapidly approaching the end”. Henry was receiving $50 per month at this time, and the surgeon recommended he receive $72.
|Henry's GAR memorabilia found in his daughter Faye Melick's house after her death|
Henry H. Melick died in Roseville on March 24, 1928. He was 87 years old. Bureaucratic problems hounded Henry even in death. Between December 26, 1929 and March 21, 1930, Henry’s daughter Faye sought reimbursement from the Veterans’ Bureau for burial expenses of $280. In response to her request, the Bureau notified her that “affidavit Form 536 is not acceptable” and must be resubmitted along with other papers relative to death and burial costs. After Faye resubmitted, she was informed that she needed to furnish a copy of the death certificate. The required document was rejected and returned for “lack of certification of Registrar.” Eventually, the Bureau awarded Faye $107.