Effects of American Civil War on Widowhood


Civil War Propaganda dated 1861

Northern military deaths surpassed Southern military deaths, estimated 380,000 as compared to 258,000, during the American Civil War.1 Because of the smaller population size of the South, southern states suffered disproportionately more than the North.2 These unprecedented high casualty rates brought more attention to the families of Union and Confederate soldiers and in turn was a catalyst for federal pension programs, charities, and children’s centers. Roughly 150,000 to 250,000 widows were created during the American Civil War.3  

Some widows benefited financially receiving the remainder of their husbands’ bonuses from enlistment. Civil War widows were also granted special priority when seeking employment in order to provide for their families. Although there were opportunities for employment and financial bonuses for upper class widows; most widows were dependent on public or private charities for survival. To support their local widows and their families, starting in 1861  Massachusetts legislators stated that “cities and towns were allowed to raise money by taxation to provide aid for the wives, children, or other dependents” of fallen Civil War soldiers.4 Pennsylvania implemented schools for the orphaned children produced by the Civil War.5 But as the war itself became more expensive it became increasingly more difficult for communities to provide financially for Civil War widows. In response to inflation the Confederacy created public assistance programs but were unable to provide substantial amounts of help.6

  1. “The Changing American Family.” Google Books. Google, 1992.

  2. “The Changing American Family.”

  3. “The Changing American Family.”

  4. “The Changing American Family.”

  5. “The Changing American Family.”

  6. “The Changing American Family.”

Civil War Widows