Santa Cruz County History - People

Old Soldiers: Santa Cruz County Civil War Veterans
by Robert L. Nelson


Santa Cruz Sentinel (July 28, 1921)

Soldiers’ Bonus

Ed. "Sentinel": Since this subject is now being discussed, it might interest this generation to consider how California treated her civil war volunteers- the men who fought to preserve the union.

In order to furnish its quota of troops and avoid a draft, California offered $160 bounty and $5 per month in addition to amounts given by the federal government, both these sums to be paid in gold. However, instead of gold, these payments were made in state warrants, greatly depreciated at the time, realizing to the soldiers less than 50 cents on the dollar in a great majority of cases.

The federal government gave these volunteers, at the same time $100 per year bounty and the regular army allowance of $16 per month. But it must be remembered that there payments were made in greenbacks, which as California held to the gold standard, averaged less than fifty cents on the dollar.

This writer remembers well walking into a broker's office on Montgomery St. and exchanging his one hundred dollars bounty for two twenty dollar gold pieces. The New York gold quotation that day was 250. It was in August 1864.

The soldiers' outfit of clothing and rations then was far inferior to the present allowance- to that issued to men of the last war. Nor were they attended on their campaign by such benevolent organizations as the Red Cross and Y.M.C.A. They did not exist. Although they were entitled to their discharge at the close of the war, many were held at frontier outposts for upwards of one year thereafter, when they finally were relieved and returned from long Indian campaigns in Arizona, New Mexico or Nevada. No receptions were given the boys, nor were the doors of clubs, public or private houses open to them. They were assembled at the Presidio, mustered out, and so melted away. The only concern San Francisco, seemed to take in the event was to get what little money the boys had, for they had to run the gauntlet of an army of boarding house runners, cheap clothing sharks and denizens of the under world.

The town was "wide open," and it can readily be imagined what usually happened.

Well, a generation passed and age was beginning to tell on the G.A.R. boys before there was any thought of pension or bonus. The majority had answered the last call, the remainder were long past "three score and ten" before the present pension act giving them $50 per month was passed.

The above is not intended as a criticism upon the demands of those who served in the great world war. Doubtless they are fully entitled to all they ask. We are living in a different world than that of 1861-1865- a world that is bound and will deal justly and generously with its preservers and defenders. Geo. McGowan.....Felton

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