1883 Pensioners Final Project

Data Description

For this project I chose to look at the 1883 Pensioners. I wanted to explore a data set that involved some aspect of war but with a different twist. When we look at war data it is usually casualty figures that are the main topic of discussion. People forget that for those that are wounded and the families of those killed in action, some sort compensation, a pension, is given as a way of saying thank you for your service and to help alleviate the difficulties that may result from their time in the service. The reasons for the pension can be anything from visible wounds, to psychological trauma, to the loss of the head of household—the breadwinner.

When looking at any given data set, you are almost certainly going to be given numeric data, textual data, and/or geographic data in some quantity. In regards to the 1883 Pensioners data set we are given all three. But, each is represented in a different amount. The textual data is on a very large-scale, as is the numeric figures. There are dozens and dozens of different categories for wounds. From gunshot wounds, to diseases and illnesses, to amputations, to being widowed, the list is extensive. We are also given the names of each person and the month and year of the first pension claim.

For each category that is listed, a number of sub-categories of numeric data is also given. The most interesting of which comes in the form of the monthly rate of payment received by the individual. With this number you can then twist it around to see the average monthly rate, the median monthly rate or the monthly sum. What this allows someone reading this data to do is to compare and contrast the various pension claims to see how they stack up in severity, in terms of monetary compensation. Another aspect of numeric data is seen in the number of records of each pension claim. This too allows us to see what the largest pension claim was.

Geographical data is present in this data set. However, an address is not given. Instead, it is referred to as “Post Office.” This is the city or town that the individual is currently living in at the time of pension submission. This does not provide much in terms of useful information as this list includes individuals strictly in the Capital region. If an address had been provided, we could then create a map of the city of Albany along with the various outskirts and examine just where these veterans or their families are living. Are they generally in poorer neighborhoods as is the general trend with war enlistees? Is it an area that is higher concentration African-American or Caucasian? Unfortunately, when this list was compiled they were not expecting someone to look at it decades later and attempt to create patterns and trends from it. No, it was instead meant to organize those that were receiving government pensions for their role in the Civil War.

Data Visualization 1

For my first visualization, I wanted to take a look at the number of records for claiming a pension. In this visual we will be looking at the “Number of Records” tab.

At first glance it does not look like much. I wanted to create a story that correlated with the figures that show that most of the deaths associated with the Civil War were in fact, not combat related. When I say combat related I am talking about gunshot wounds, hand-to-hand combat and artillery barrages. Instead, the number one killer of soldiers, on both sides, was dysentery (www.civilwar.org). Most of the soldiers that fought during the Civil War were from the rural countryside. They lived their lives on small mom and pop farms and interacted with only a handful of other people outside their community. When you do not have much contact with significantly larger groups of people, your immune system becomes more susceptible to contracting diseases and illnesses that others, from a city for example, would not come down with. For this reason, a substantial number of the deaths during the war were from disease as these farmers interacted with hundreds and thousands of other men for the first time. Other illnesses include smallpox, malaria and chicken pox. Because the medical field had not advanced to the point of having proper medicine to treat this diseases and viruses, large outbreaks were not uncommon with both the Union and Confederates.

While it was my initial goal to show this pattern in my data set, the opposite, in fact, developed. Now before going any further I need to emphasize something about this data set. This data is not an accurate representation of the makeup of soldiers in the Civil War, on either side. It is a rather small sample size of just under 1,000 claims. A claim does not necessary entail that they played a direct role in the Civil War, rather it could be the family applying for a pension for a deceased family member. In looking at the data in the “Number of Records” tab, we see that the largest number of claims fall under the category of Mother/Father/Minor, followed by General Wounds, Gunshot Wounds, Loss of Limb due to Combat, Disease, Injuries, Other, and lastly Amputations. According to this graph, there were a total of 918 records. 408 of these fall under the category of Mother/Father/Minor and only 51 falling under Disease. This data set is telling a different story than what the national story is. Instead of having most of the cases be relegated to be disease related, they are instead a second-party claiming the pension, for example a widow. The General Wounds are second with 215 respective cases, these being injuries as a result of chopping wood or breaking a bone. While there is a significantly large difference between claims as a result of disease or illness and being widowed, it can be safely assumed that a portion of the widowed claims are a result of their loved one dying from some sort of disease.

Process Documentation 1:

All of the groups that are represented in all my visualizations have numerous sub-categories within. For example, if you look at the Gunshot wounds bar, what you have is different types of gunshot wounds making up the 119 total claims. There are gunshot wounds to the head, face, jaw, left leg, right foot, etc. This visual is fairly new. When I first set out on this journey, this particular example was not composed of a neatly grouped list. Instead, I had every single different type of gunshot wound, disease, illness; you think of it and I probably had it listed. Now you would think that the process to create categories to house all the various wounds would be fairly simple. Well, you would be dead wrong. You see, when each reason for filing a pension claim was originally listed, there was no universal language or code to organize things. It was all dependent on the person writing at that moment. Each person had their own unique abbreviations and wordings for various items. This meant that some reasons could be grouped under more than one category. After I was able to discern what should be placed where, I chose to use the default colors that were given to me each time I dragged the “Grouped Wounds” Dimension into the table. These colored groups represented my columns. Next, for my rows, I decided to utilize the “Number of records” measure to show the amount of claims filed in each bar. It was not complete but to further show the differences between each column, I chose to show bars with higher amounts of pension claims as larger in width than those with much smaller amounts. While this makes sense, in practice it can create a problem in viewing such thin bars.

Argument 1:

As I mentioned earlier, the main argument for this particular visualization is that disease and illness were not a particularly large contributor to pension claims, in terms of this data set on the Capital region. Poor hygiene along with interacting with large groups of other soldiers resulted in numerous cases of malaria, dysentery, etc. Outbreaks within regiments were not uncommon and men would often be forced to leave the service to due being sick. This is backed up the need to apply for a pension. Because the people listed in this census are from a highly populated region in the northeast, for the most part at least, their immune systems have been able to build up some sort of tolerance to the various illnesses out there. I would argue that this is the main reason for the low numbers of disease and illness claims filed by these men and their families. This assumption is supported by looking at other pension records that are available (Google Books: 291-303). For example, if we were to look at the city of Utica in Oneida county, we would see a rather large list of wounds that pertain to injuries sustained in battle or by other means. While there are cases of diseases and illnesses, they are trumped by the various wounds. We can also look at the town in which I grew up in, Clinton, also in Oneida County. By today’s standards, Clinton is a very small village. At last check, the population was just under 2,000 so we can only imagine how much smaller it was over 150 years ago. Out of the list of pensions for Clinton, there is only one entry that claims an illness: dysentery which was the number one killer during the Civil War. But the remaining entries are either combat related or because a widow or family member is claiming the pension because they lost a family member in the war. The north was much more populated than the south during the war, same goes today as well, so it makes sense that most of the pensions were in response to wounds other than disease and illness. If you look at South Carolina, (Google Books: 184-189) a startling trend emerges. Here we see the opposite of the north. Instead of mostly gunshot wounds, we see an overwhelming number of widows and illnesses. This can be explained by the sheer number of southern males that were lost during the war as a majority of the fighting took place in the south. The south is also nearly exclusively rural, hence the hundreds of plantations, so the increase in illness cases can be explained by the weaker immune systems of the Confederate Army.

Data Visualization 2:

For my second visualization I chose to examine the role of women during the Civil War. While women have always played key roles in every conflict the United States has fought in, the exact extent to how much they can be involved has always been controversial. Only in the past few years has combat roles been opened up for women to be involved in though they are required to pass the same physical requirements as their male counterparts. But during the Civil War women played a much more behind-the-scenes type of role. Most often referred to as Camp Followers, these women did exactly as their title suggests: they followed the train of soldiers. These were women who, generally, did not have much at home after their husband, brother, father, etc., went off to war. If they had no means to sustain themselves and make money, they often followed their loved ones as they went off to war. They acted as cooks, nurses, cleaners, and prostitutes. Some even went as far as dressing up as a man (Sam Smith) and fighting on the front lines, some even died (www.civilwar.org). While they no where were close in numbers as the men, it is believed that around 500 women secretly fought in the war. Probably the most famous woman fighter is that of Jennie Hodgers, better known as “Albert Cashier” (Civil War Trust). She enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry on August 6, 1862 and would go to fight in over 40 different engagements. It is also believed that at one point she was captured by the Confederates but she broke out of prison and returned to duty. She served three years before her unit was discharged for heavy losses due to combat and illnesses. But her story does not end here. She went on to continue living under the guise of a man, collecting a pension, and would only be discovered in 1910 when she was hit by a car, though the hospital kept her secret quiet. However, 3 years later, as dementia set on she was discovered and forced to live the remainder of her life as a female. She would die 2 years later and be buried in her uniform with full military honor.

Process Documentation 2:

The creation process for this visual is nearly identical to the first. The main differences here are the different dimensions and measures that were used. I chose to have a horizontal graph for this one in order to break the data up into male vs. female. In terms of data, I included type of injury sustained, the average monthly payout and the number of cases for each category. As with the first visual, I created larger bars for the categories that included larger number of records and smaller bars for the categories that included a small number of records.

Argumentation 2:

As I have mentioned earlier in the first visual, this data set is a rather small sample size. To accurately create a significant argument, we would need to also be graphing other 1883 pensions from nearby counties. Luckily, Albany county seems to have had its fair share of females taking part in the fighting during the Civil War. Whether they were injured while fighting or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time as a camp follower is impossible to know for they may have never been discovered. In any case, what we have in our data set is 2 records of females sustaining gunshot wounds and then gaining a pension as a result. In scouring the nearly 1,000 entries, I was unable to find their names which may have led to further research and possibly finding out if they had in fact disguised themselves. Nevertheless, these two women received an average pension of $4.00 a month compared to her male counterpart whom received an average of $5.93. The sample size is way too small and distorted in favor of the men with 117 records of gunshot wounds so it is difficult to say whether they received such a low amount because they were women or because their wounds were not as severe as some of the men. In any case, they did in fact receive a pension for gunshot wounds. Even if we take out the gunshot wounds from the data, historians know for a fact that women played a key role in the Civil War. Clara Barton herself, founder of the Red Cross, was a nurse during the war. Women took on every aspect of the war that the men did including fighting and performing dirty tasks such as amputating limbs. While historians acknowledge their contributions, I do not believe classes teach how much women played a direct role in the war. Up until the Fall of senior year in college, I was unaware of the camp followers. To show that they played this large role in the war, we should be teaching more about them.

Further research Questions:

  1. Were pension claims during the Civil War and claims 20 years after the end of the war greatly differ in terms of monthly payments for similar injuries?
    1. To figure this out I would rearrange the data set in chronological order. I attempted to do this but my efforts were futile as I could not figure out how to correctly get Tableau to do it. With a lot of time on my hands I suppose I could create an Excel spreadsheet that is in chronological order and could even uncover more patterns in the data that we are unable to see otherwise.
  2. Did the pensions differ based on whether you served as a Union soldier or a Confederate?
    1. In a preliminary scour of the Arkansas, Missouri, and South Carolina pension rolls, this would seem to not be the case. No matter the wound, you received nearly the same amount whether or not you were a northerner or a southerner.
  3. Were African-American veterans afforded the same treatment by the Pension Bureau?
    1. When I first chose this data set, I was under the belief that this was a list of African-American soldiers and their families that were receiving pensions. I quickly learned the opposite, that it was probably whites that represented the bulk of the data. That is not to say that African-Americans are not present on the list, however I would imagine if they were a significant contributor to the war effort (which they were), wouldn’t the Pension Bureau have a separate column for race? Every 1883 Pension roll uses the same layout with the name, record number, cause for pension, etc. None of them include the race of the individual. So this begs the question of if they just did not deem that important enough to distinguish in the records or did they just not offer any pensions to African-American veterans. This would, of course, violate the 14th Amendment. I would bet that with some more digging, one could uncover the records of African-Americans receiving pensions, I just do not know where to look for that.



“620,000 Soldiers Died during the Civil War, Two-thirds Died of Disease, Not Wounds: WHY?” Civil War Trust. Accessed May 11, 2016. http://www.civilwar.org/education/pdfs/civil-was-curriculum-medicine.pdf.

Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed May 12, 2016. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/biographies/jennie-hodgers.html.

United States Pension Bureau. “List of Pensioners on the Roll January 1, 1883.” Google Books. January 1, 1883. Accessed May 11, 2016. https://books.google.com/books?id=aLkqAAAAMAAJ.

United States Pension Bureau. “List of Pensioners on the Roll January 1, 1883.” Google Books. January 1, 1883. Accessed May 12, 2016. https://books.google.com/books?id=t7oqAAAAMAAJ.

Smith, Sam. Council on Foreign Relations. Accessed May 12, 2016. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/untold-stories/female-soldiers-in-the-civil.html.

Being Black is Complicated

Often times when people talk and think about slavery, the conversation is centered around the slaves that were in the South and not as much as the African-Americans that were in the North. Although there were not many slaves in the North, there were some. Due to the way the North is “built” (less agriculture), there were not too many slaves but African-Americans did work as servants and other work of that nature. The story that is told about African-Americans not only talks about them as slaves but also as a people who needed saving from themselves. It is seldom that one reads a story about African-Americans and the story is told in a good light, in a way that does not make these people seem as if they did not know how to live and how to be human prior to being taken captive. Many scholars have written about this particular topic and just like with anything else, there are those that tell the story of the bad effects that being held captive had on the slaves and then there are some that believe slavery helped these people who were going nowhere fast.

In the reading, it talks about how long it took people to acknowledge blacks as historical victims, what that suggests is that prior to World War 2, blacks were not known as victims but they may have been known as people who needed to be taken care of and shown how to live. The reading begins by talking about two scholars by the names of Kenneth Stampp and Stanley Elkins. Stampp talked about the harshness of slavery, he brought to people’s attention that slavery was not just this system of trying to help another fellow human being but it was an institution that was destroying another race; three years after Elkins, expanded on this and also brought to people’s attention that slavery caused not only physical but psychological damage to those that experienced it. These two scholars were able to put to rest the idea that slavery was justified but in doing so, a new picture was painted. The picture that was painted was of African-Americans as powerless and victims of oppression by whites.

Many people began to write about the after effects that Slavery had on blacks and how this can be seen in how blacks behave and live their lives today. One particular author by the name of Moynihan wrote about how he believed that because slaves were so dependent on their masters, modern African-Americans are now dependent as well, they depend on others to care for them instead of caring for themselves; he went on to say that “the white America broke the will of the Negro people” and made the assumption that blacks were now ashamed of being black and black heritage had been lost. These  assumptions made by Moynihan prompted studies by others to try to figure out if what he was saying was true, were blacks too dependent?, were they broken? and had the heritage really been lost?, these questions were burning in the minds of many.

Years and years of studies have been done trying debunk this idea that blacks were helpless and victims. The studies talked about blacks as abolitionist, and focused on those in the North. Many of these  studies were focused on blacks that lived in the North and some of the contributions that they made. In one study, emphasis was placed on the ability of blacks to gather together to create a course of action and to implement it, and although the study found that blacks were divided and some saw themselves as powerless they were still indeed active and articulate; this showed that if blacks were able to receive the help they needed they would be prosperous.  Further studies  brought about similar results, showing that blacks were more than capable of being a people of substance and people who can contribute greatly to society. Kenneth Kusmer has suggested a framework that could help others better understand and study African-American life in the North post civil war and even now, he states that internal,external and structural forces all play a role in shaping urban life; he states that viewing free black communities this way will help others to understand how complex it is to be apart of these neighborhoods, how complex it is to always be talked down on and how complex it is to come out of bondage and oppression and try to prosper.


  1. What other connections can be made between how modern African-Americans behave and slavery?
  2. Why do you think that blacks in the North were divided?
  3. What other forces do you think helped to shape black urban life?


Walking Tour Proposal

A) Locations on my Tour

  1. Henry Johnson Memorial – My walking tour starts off at this memorial for Sergeant Henry Johnson. Sergeant Johnson was active during World War I. He moved to Albany as a teenager. He enlisted for the Army and following World War I was considered a war hero. He died in 1929. Johnson was awarded the Purple Heart by President Clinton in 1996.
  2. Washington Ave Armory – The next stop on the tour is the Washington Avenue Armory. The Armory was built in 1890 for the 10th Battalion of the New York State National Guard. It eventually became home to several basketball teams before falling into disuse. In 2004 the Albany Basketball and Sports Corporation purchased the Armory and renovated it.
  3. George Washington Travels through Albany – My next stop is a marker on Washington Avenue. George Washington traveled down Washington Avenue during his tours of the the Mohawk Valley in 1782 and 1783. It is on Washington Avenue near Swan Street.
  4. USS Slater – The next stop is the USS Slater. The former USS Slater is now the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum. There are tours of the ship from April through November.
  5. Schuyler Mansion – Schuyler Mansion was home to Revolutionary War hero, Senator, and entrepreneur Phillip Schuyler. Him and his wife, Catherine Van Rensselaer, came from powerful Dutch Families. His daughter Elizabeth married Alexander Hamilton. The wedding took place in the mansion. There are tours of the mansion year round.

1. Ohlhous, Howard C. “The Battle of Henry Johnson Marker.” The Historical Marker Database. May 18, 2011. Accessed February 29, 2016. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=42675.

2. “About the Armory.” The Armory. 2014. Accessed February 29, 2016. http://www.albanyarmory.com/about/.

3. “Historic Markers.” NYS Museum: Historic Markers. May 5, 2005. Accessed February 29, 2016. http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/historicmarkers/hisaction.cfm.

4. “Destroyer Escort Historical Museum.” USS Slater. Accessed February 29, 2016. http://www.ussslater.org.

5. “Schuyler Mansion Historic Site.” New York State Parks. 2016. Accessed February 29, 2016. http://nysparks.com/historic-sites/33/details.aspx.

B) Google estimates my tour will take a total of 48 minutes.

C) The organizing theme of my tour is Albany history, specifically Albany’s military history. I am looking for places that can show Albany’s military history as well as how it can connect to American history in general. The audience for my tour is probably a slightly older audience. I would not say it is exclusive to older people, but I would say that an older person would probably be the average member of my audience. I could also see this being an elementary school field trip, but as a general audience member I would stick with males who are out of school. I would say my average audience member would be a 25+ male. I feel that teenagers may be bored by some things on this tour, although that is not definite. I feel males would enjoy the war elements of the tour more than females. The big takeaway I am hoping would come from going on my walking tour is a better sense of Albany’s history overall. I feel like after going on my walking tour you would not only learn a lot more about Albany’s own history, but you would also learn about Albany’s spot in the history of the United States. The overarching theme of my tour is the militaristic hot spots of downtown Albany. There are many important spots in Albany that have a lot of value historically. George Washington rode down these streets and Alexander Hamilton was married downtown. Early America and Albany’s history are intertwined in many ways and that is a main point I want to come out during my walking tour. Each of my locations is a piece of Albany history, but also plays some sort of role in American History and that is how each of my locations is connected to each other. They are not all specifically related time wise or subject wise, but overall the theme of Albany and American history intertwining connects every piece of my map.

D) USS Slater

The first image is a photo of the USS Slater from Flickr. This photo has a copyright attached to it and is not in the public domain. The USS Slater is one of the stops on my walking tour of Albany.

Schuyler Mansion

The second image is a photo of the Schuyler Mansion in downtown Albany. It was also found on Flickr. This photo falls into the category of Creative Commons.

E) Three additional questions I need to research to finish my project:

  1. Who was Phillip Schuyler and what role did he play in the Revolutionary War?
  2. What role did Henry Johnson play in World War I and why was he awarded the Purple Heart by Bill Clinton?
  3. What exactly did the USS Slater do and when was it active?

Digitizing of Historical Texts and the possible role of Optical Character Recognition in that process

We had two assigned readings for class on Tuesday. These readings were “How does OCR document scanning work?” by Chris Woodford and “Is Digitizing Historical Texts a Bad Idea?” by Mills. First I would like to discuss the article by Woodford. Woodford gets into OCR or Optical Character Recognition. Optical Character Recognition in simple terms is a program that computers use to view printed text in an easier format. It allows for your computer to recognize printed text. There are two basic ways for OCR to work. The options are Pattern Recognition or Feature Detection. Pattern recognition works to see the pattern of letters and feature detection looks for things such as strokes of handwriting when writing the letter. OCR is a very useful tool. Using it you can almost always at least get a decent guess at what is written. Even if someone with extremely sloppy handwriting is writing a message OCR may be able to decode it using pattern recognition and feature recognition. It simplifies this process even further if you have some background information on what the person may have been trying to say. OCR was invented earlier than I would have thought for sure. It’s roots date all the way back to 1928.

How Does OCR Scanning Work? by Chris Woodford

Postal Worker controlling OCR letter scanner.

In our next reading by Mills the topic is digitizing of historical texts. His main point seems to be that if we digitize texts they lose some of the connection in general. He spoke about how he was showing some students an old book and while they were not excited to start with they became intrigued by the book and by the end enjoyed the whole experience. Would this have happened if he had shown them a digitized version of the same book? While the answer may have been no, there is also an argument on the other side of the spectrum. There are a lot of advantages do digitizing texts. The main advantage is the audience you can reach with digitized text expands greatly. Mills and his colleagues debate over this topic for what he describes as a few weeks and he himself is still unsure while writing this article which way he is siding with. I believe the pros outweigh the cons in digitizing historical texts. In my opinion, digitizing historical texts is beneficial because it opens the text up to a way larger range of people and it becomes easier to access and sometimes even to read. The only argument, although it is a big one, to not digitize historical texts is that it takes away from the physical aspect and the historical connection that the text contains. This is a good point, but I sway towards digitizing these texts.

Is Digitizing Historical Texts a Bad Idea? by Mills

Codex from the book that Mills showed his students.

These two articles are very much intertwined. The OCR article speaks about computers being able to detect handwriting and digitize it and the second article speaks about the debate over digitizing historical texts. If you side with me on the discussion about digitizing historical texts than Optical Character Recognition seems to be a great tool that may be able to be used in the process of digitizing historical texts. In our homework for this week we have to transcribe part of an old Albany census. There are certainly going to be some names that we are not sure about when we are reading the census. An OCR machine may be able to pick up on patterns in writing that we are not able to and digitize this text for us, but it also may not. Also our homework is another good example of why digitizing historical texts is necessary. Us transcribing the census into print makes for a way better resource than the original because it will be easier to get the content even if it takes away from the historical connection.

Questions I would like to pose:

1: Do you think that Optical Character Recognition is reliable and a good source for transcribing?

2: The obvious question of this write-up, do you think it is a good idea to digitize historical texts?

3: Do you think that Optical Character Recognition could play a part in the digitizing of historical texts?