Civil War Widow's Unusual Token of Affection

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Dec. 7 2012 7:30 AM

The Mole Skin That Got a Civil War Widow Her Pension

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

In order to receive a pension, Civil War widows had to prove that they had actually been married to a soldier. Marriage records were far less consistent in the past than they are today, which explains why Charity Snider ended up sending the pressed skin of a dead mole to the federal government.

Snider’s husband, James J. Van Liew, had killed the animal after it infiltrated his Army tent. We don’t know why he sent Snider the skin. It seems like a bizarre love token, but perhaps Van Liew and Snider shared an off-kilter sense of humor.

Advertisement

Snider kept the pelt around for years. By July 1900, when she found herself needing to prove she’d been married to Van Liew, she had lost the original letter that contained the skin. In fact, it seems she may have lost all written correspondence from her husband, which is why she was lucky that he had sent her the mole.

When the letter arrived during the war, she showed the unusual enclosure, and the accompanying missive addressed to “My Dear Wife,” to her friends. Perhaps because of the mole, four of them remembered the letter years later, and they were willing to write testimonials to the government to that effect.

Snider wrapped the mole skin in her explanatory note and sent it along. She got her pension; years later, a National Archives staff member working with the Civil War Widows Certificate Approved Pension Case Files got a funny surprise.

Thanks to Mary Ryan of the National Archives. Read more about this case on the National Archives blog.

civil war widow's mole skin

Letter from Charity Snider, with accompanying mole skin, from her Civil War Widow's Pension Application File. Discoloration on the paper is from the mole skin. (WC843258, Record Group 15), National Archives.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 8:38 AM An Implanted Wearable Gadget Isn’t as Crazy as You’d Think Products like New Deal Design’s UnderSkin may be the future.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.