It’s Here! Anthony Mattson’s (Alias William Thompson) Widows and Dependents Pension File

I have been researching the four Mattson brother’s who served in the Civil War for almost 5 years.  They have gradually given up their secrets, but Anthony has been the most illusive. I wasn’t even sure what his name was until I found records of his orphan children at the Chester County Archives in Pennsylvania.  See blogs Missing Mattson Brother Part I & Part II.

Well, his pension file has been just as hard to get my hands on as his name. I was so excited to be able to go to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. last May to finally see what the pension file could tell me. It was a very productive trip, except for being able to get Anthony’s pension file.  I was told by the Archivists that it was being filmed by Fold 3 with all the other Widows and Dependent Pension files. Well, that was back in May 2014 and I have checked Fold3 every month to see if the file was there, and with every attempt I experienced failure. I thought it would take maybe 6 months, but  I didn’t get it by Christmas. I had almost given up, thinking maybe it was lost, until yesterday!  What a surprise to do my standard search and to finally see it!

Anthony Mattson Dependents Pension

Anthony Mattson Dependents Pension

So what secrets did the file reveal?

  • An Affidavit of Anthony’s marriage to Lydia Ann Ryan on 25 Jul 1850 (I only had her first name up till now)
  • Date and details of Anthony’s wife’s death – well actually 3 different dates depending on the document! It could be 10 Dec 1858, 8 Feb 1859 or 15 March 1859 or perhaps something else?
  • Confirmation of the names and birth dates of all of Anthony and Lydia’s children.
  • Additional details of Anthony’s death at the Battle of the Wilderness on 10 May 1864.
  • A letter to my direct ancestor John Conway Mattson (Anthony’s brother) explaining where to write to him and instructions to use the name William Thompson. The letter is quite poignant as he recounts his experiences as a sailor and how being in the army is much better.
  • And finally an explanation of why he had enlisted using the name William Thompson.

So why did he use the name William Thompson to enlist?

I knew that the pension wouldn’t have been approved if Anthony had enlisted for an illegal reason (such as being a bounty jumper), but I still was bewildered as to what could be the cause.  According to the pension records, “William Thompson” was drafted on the 20 July 1863 and mustered in as a Private in Company H in the 90th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers.  Other letters and documents state that Anthony Mattson joined the army as a substitute, but didn’t want to use his own name because of the “prejudice general at this time against substitutes”.  So what was a substitute? The law allowed for a draftee to pay another man $300 to be his “substitute” if  he was drafted, but sometimes they paid a lot more than the $300.  An article on the NARA website gives an example of someone who was paid $1100!

Battle of the Wilderness Reenactment May 2014 - 150 Anniversary

150th Anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness Reenactment May 2014

Anthony was a widower and had 3 children to support, it makes sense that he would want to take advantage of whatever additional financial benefits he could get by joining the war. His letter to his brother John states that he sent his mother $200, but it is unclear if he got more money or not.  I hope that he didn’t get cheated.  He also writes that he intends to see the war through and hopes he isn’t killed. Unfortunately, he is fatally shot at the Battle of the Wilderness while “advancing on the enemy” on 10 May 1864. His children are left without a mother or a father and are raised by their Grandmother Mary Mattson.

You got to love the pension records – it was worth the wait!

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