Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Civil War Pay

Recently I was looking through the Missouri State Guard Letter and Order Book 1861-1862 as transcribed by James E. McGhee, and one page in the book about soldiers' pay caught my eye. I'm not sure how closely the pay received by soldiers in the Missouri State Guard corresponds to the pay received by soldiers in the Union Army or the Confederate Army, but I doubt that the difference was very great.
The pay varied, of course, according to rank but also according to whether the soldier was in an infantry unit or in a cavalry or artillery unit. Somewhat surprising to me, soldiers in infantry units tended to receive less than those in cavalry or artillery units, particularly at the lower ranks.
A sergeant major received $21 per month, a quartermaster sergeant also received $21, and a sergeant received $17, regardless of branch. However, artillery or cavalry corporals received $14 while infantry corporals received only $13. Artillery or cavalry privates received $12, while infantry privates received just $11.
That wasn't much money to live on, even in 1861, but then, I guess, the soldiers didn't have a lot of expenses either. Food, of course, was paid for, although there were times when little was available. Clothes, however, were not paid for. Boots and so forth were sometimes issued at or shortly after enlistment, but the soldiers were charged for those items when settling up their accounts upon their discharges. And the amount they were paid seems very small in comparison to the amount they were charged for clothing. A pair of woolen pants cost $3.50, for instance, about one-third of a private's monthly pay. Cotton pants were $2.00. A pair of boots was $3.50. A winter coat was $8.00, and an overcoat was $6.00, but if you could get by with just a summer coat, that was only $2.50.
However you look at, a Civil War soldier wasn't left with much money to save or send home or spend on personal items. Viewed from today's perspective, $11.00 a month seems like a paltry sum, but when I stop and think about it, I recall that I was paid only about $31 or $32 a month when I first went into the U.S. Army in 1969 as a basic training trainee. The pay, even for trainees, has gone up a lot since then. But from 1861 to 1969, a period of 108 years, the pay only went up about $20. However, I should also add, to satisfy the terms of full disclosure, that my pay of $31 didn't last very long. As soon as I completed by eight weeks of basic, I was bumped up to the princely sum of about $115.

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