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The Health Consequences of Moses’ Civil War Experience

November 5, 2011
Moses Woodington

Moses Woodington

In an earlier post, the Civil War service of Moses (26 Oct 1837 – 18 Feb 1919) and Jonathan (16 Dec 1842 – 13 Oct 1918) Woodington was explored. The brothers mustered in (entered) the Army on January 30, 1865 and mustered out (were honorably discharged) the following fall on November 15, 1865. They completed their service in Austin, Texas and then were left to find their way back to southwestern Wisconsin.

About twenty years after the war, Moses applied for a veteran’s disability. His first attempt was denied, but his next application was accepted. The disability application was an extensive process including proof of his identity, proof of his service as a veteran, notarized reports by witnesses who knew him before and after the war and who knew of his disability (and that the disabilities were not from “vicious habits”–a phrase used frequently throughout the paperwork), signed reports by physicians, and Moses’ own testimony of when the diseases occurred and their ongoing effects.

The basis of his claim to disability was that when he was serving in Memphis, TN in May of 1865, he suffered a sunstroke while “getting out timbers for barracks.” He also contracted “disease of the eyes” that one physician’s report said was consistent with Trachoma. Additionally, he suffered “malarial poisoning” which was treated in camp and while he marched and which apparently also made him susceptible to carbuncle infections on his neck. When the Regiment arrived in Alexandria, LA in July, Moses came down with Bilious Fever, a recurring fever marked by diarrhea and vomiting. All of these continued to trouble Moses for the rest of his life.

Moses Woodington Disabilty Application
The basis of Moses’ claim for disability from his Civil War military service.

By the time of his application for disability, he was also suffering rheumatism with swollen knees, hips, shoulders, and fingers. About 70% of the deaths in his Regiment were from disease–a statistic too common for soldiers in the Civil War because of the terrible living conditions and poor hygiene. Clearly, it had lifelong consequences for Moses.

A few years after he returned home, Moses was working at a sawmill and lost some fingers on his right hand. As he wrote the story when he amended his application for disability, “under the new law by alleging loss of fingers of right hand which was caused by a circular saw in a saw mill in which I was there engaged as a sawyar (sic) a man spoke to me and as I turned to answer him the saw struck my hand and cut off three fingers about June 15th, 1868.” Later medical reports stated that the third and ring fingers were cut off close to the hand and his little finger was amputated at the second knuckle.

Moses did get disability and the monthly payments gradually increased as he aged and as the Federal government increased payments with economic changes. Eventually, heart disease and arteriosclerosis were also added to his health issues. His government benefits covered the medical care he needed in the last few years of his life and also paid for most of his funeral costs.

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