Ridgefield Civil War vet left a pension his widow enjoyed twice

Though John D. Edmonds’s military career was brief, his pension helped his widow a half century after his death.

Edmonds was born on Silver Hill Road in 1832. When he was 18, he was teaching at one of Ridgefield’s one-room schoolhouses, and at 21, married 16-year-old Harriett Eliza “Hattie” Edmond (a first cousin with a “singular spelling”).

Soon the West called — western New York, that is, which had recently opened up to farming development. By 1855, John, Hattie, and their baby daughter were living near the Finger Lakes, at Benton, N.Y. But Benton was not west enough. By 1860 John was teaching in Ada, Mich., outside Grand Rapids.

After the Civil War broke out, Edmonds, 29, enlisted in September 1861 for three years in the Michigan Cavalry Volunteers at Grand Rapids.

Five months later, at the Benton Barracks in Saint Louis, Mo., something spooked the horse he was riding; it took off, out of control. Boards projecting from a shed hit Edmonds in the lower ribs of his right side, and he was thrown from the horse.

The injury was so severe, he was discharged from the army in May. He returned to Grand Rapids. He was unable to work more than a few days at a time.

Since teaching was rather taxing, Edmonds studied and became a lawyer, whose hours he could more easily regulate.

His brief service made him and his family eligible for an army disability pension but required more than 50 pages of applications over the years. In 1863, he started receiving $5.33 a month ($64 a year) — about $112 a month or $1,350 a year today.

With health deteriorating, he moved back to Ridgefield, probably to live with his parents. On July 23, 1865, he died of TB “contracted while in the service.”

After his death Hattie took over his benefits for her and the three children. Hers continued until 1870 when she married Charles P. Scott, and was no longer a single widow. The children each got theirs till they were 21.

Charles Scott died in 1911, leaving Hattie a widow for the second time. It was six years before she realized that, as an unmarried widow of a Civil War-disabled soldier, she was once again eligible for John’s pension payment. In 1917 at age 80 and living in Loveland, Colo., Hattie again began a tedious process of applying for a pension, succeeded, and got $8 a month until her death in 1923. Over half a century, its buying power hardly changed. In 1866, $8 had been worth the modern equivalent of $141. In 1918, it was worth $138. —Jack Sanders